Rebel Bankers Are Forging A "Noah's Ark" Of Female Finance


Grace Belgravia.Photo courtesy of Grace.

  • A culture of mansplaining, laddy sports events, and a failure to recognize female leaders has been failing the female pound.
  • Today, three-quarters of women say financial services is the industry they’re most disappointed with.
  • This has to change: female private wealth is booming (increasing from $34 trillion to $51 trillion in the years 2010-2015, and expected to hit $72 trillion by 2020).

Between the multimillion pound properties of London’s Kensington and Chelsea, is Grace, a women’s-only business club where the capital’s female business leaders pay £5,500 a month or £35,000 for lifetime membership. Secretly, the most powerful female figureheads of global finance have been holding meetups in its luxurious lounges for the past two years.

More than 20 senior businesswomen from finance, including the likes of JPMorgan, Barclays, Citi, Goldman Sachs, AXA and UBS, are nowfor the first timebringing this underground alliance into the open.

Why? Because a culture of mansplaining, laddy events, and a failure to recognize female leaders isn’t just failing women in finance, it’s failing women served by it, leaving three-quarters of female clients disappointed, they tell Forbes.

Lauren Garey, banker at JP Morgan.Photo courtesy of JP Morgan.

Female billionaires hold $876 billion of global wealth, women represent a market bigger than China and India’s combined GDP, and their private wealth is rising, set to grow up to $72 trillion by 2020 according to the Boston Consulting Group. The world’s banks are acting now because the female pound cannot be ignored.

“There are open ongoing dialogues, and there are disagreements,” says JPMorgan banker Lauren Garey, who started the ‘Difference & Dividend’ group after six years in finance (she affectionately nicknamed this the “Noah’s Ark of female finance” thanks to its collection of high profile members). But Garey’s aim is clear: to help women receive the services they need and to bring better gender balance across finance.

Unlike typical banking socials, meetings at Grace are not an excuse to knock back pinot grigio, or indulge in the spa or wellness treatment the club offers. At once both friends and competitors, the collective shares best practice at least every quarter over glasses of fresh-squeezed orange juice at Grace, or sometimes it heads to JPMorgan’s Mayfair office for presentations.

Garey, aged 27—one of the group’s younger members—calls for a “gender-neutral” approach to female finance, an end to female-only advisory committees, and a focus on the individual. “Our female clients tell us they want to be in ‘the club’ not in ‘the girls club’,” she tells Forbes.

Events too are changing. “She doesn’t need a bank to invite her shopping or for a glass of champagne: she can do that on her own,” says Garey of JP Morgan’s female clients. Instead, Garey pushes intellectual capital, with recent JPMorgan events hosted by millionaire fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg, multi-millionaire telecoms Director Miranda Curtis, and Sarah Wood, founder of Unruly, the British video startup sold for £114 million in 2015.

Deborah Sayer, banker at Investec.Photo courtesy of Investec.

Deborah Sayagh, a private banker at Investec group, is also part of the alliance. She told Forbes her female clients had called out “mansplaining” financial advisors in a perception study commissioned by the firm last March: the male asset managers mistakenly assuming their female clients would be financially illiterate.

But equal treatment doesn’t always mean the same treatment. Sayagh says her female clients prefer a “subtler” personal sell, with more face-to-face meetings. The banker also supports the bank’s shift from cricket and rugby sponsorship to “neutral” activities around the arts, theatre, and fine dining—in February, Investec hosted a women’s dinner at Core, the restaurant run by 3-time Michelin star chef Clare Smyth.

Promoting gender diversity within the sector will also improve the experience of female clients the group agrees. Finance boasts a 50/50 gender split, but Britain’s debut Gender Pay Gap reports show few women are promoted to senior positions, or into the sector’s well-paid areas of investment banking and trading. JPMorgan is not alone in its reflection of this, with men earning salaries 26% higher than women, receiving bonuses that are 41% higher, and women making up just 22% of top-tier roles at the firm.

Selina-Valencia McDonald, a banker at Barclays, and another member of the group, is one of five women working on a floor of more than 70 men. But where a scarcity of women might previously have created a “queen bee attitude” amongst her peers, McDonald says women are today nurturing each other’s professional growth more than ever, both within Barclays and externally. “You don’t have to take on masculine character traits,” she adds. “You can be a female who will succeed and I love that.”

Jo Andrews, cofounder Equileap.Photo courtesy of Equileap.

Group member Jo Andrews, cofounder of gender equality data firm Equileap, says banks not only need gender diversity to attract the best talent, but that diversity will soon govern banks’ access to capital. More and more funds are being channeled towards companies that put gender diversity at their heart, Andrews explains, and since it launched in September 2017, Equileap has processed $500 million in what has been dubbed “gender lens investing”, a practice that grew by 41% last year.

Closing the gender pay gap won’t be easy. Comments like “this isn’t even an issue” and “why are we discussing this” remain common. But as Garey, who is sailing her Noah’s Ark out into the open for the first time, says: gender diversity and equal service for female clients should be “business as usual”.  



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