…First and foremost, women who hold senior positions in companies must be visible if they are to help inspire others within their own company and beyond. It’s crucial that these women have adequate airtime both inside and outside the company because unless we have role models who look like us, it’s next to impossible to visualise yourself in that position.
I had the pleasure to interview Tara Annison. Tara is a Product Manager at the PR9 Network, which provides real-time trading and settlement for blockchain-based assets held in cold storage.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the Banking/Finance field?
After graduating from the University of York with a Bachelor of Science (BSc) in Mathematics and Philosophy I joined the HSBC Global Banking and Markets Commercial Graduate Scheme. I then left the graduate scheme to take up a full time role in the Corporate and Institutional Digital department where I worked my way up to Program Manager — Digital Media and Product Owner. There I led the ideation, development, and deployment of the bank’s digital learning platform, DigitalDownload, a now triple award-winning website which focuses on improving staff awareness of new technologies and digital trends, and which is now visited by over 75,000 of the bank’s employees.
After that, I joined Lendingblock, a securities lending platform for cryptocurrencies and digital assets, where I was responsible for defining the product vision, roadmap and feature set, as well as creating all user requirements, personas and user stories.
I currently serve as Technical Product Manager at the PR9 Network, which provides real-time trading and settlement for blockchain-based assets held in cold storage.
Wall Street and Finance used to be an “all white boys club”. This has changed a lot recently. In your opinion, what caused this change?
While there is still a lack of women in traditional finance and technology roles across the board, over the last number of years a spotlight has been shone on gender imbalance and I do believe attitudes are starting to change. No doubt this is down to global movements such as #MeToo, the 30% Club, and even ‘Satoshi is Female’ — all of which aim to highlight the important role that diversity plays in driving companies forward and creating a better workplace.
Today women (and men) entering the workplace expect to challenge the status quo.
The future leaders of tomorrow are already smashing stereotypes and are more aware than ever of the need for diversity in the workplace including things like flexible working hours and hiring bias-free.
On a personal note, I’ve had the privilege to work alongside some fantastic female leaders and in incredibly diverse teams with people from all across the world — I think these are the teams that truly flourish and are a joy to work in.
Of course, despite the progress, we still have a lot more work to do to achieve parity. According to this report in CNBC, less than 17 percent of senior positions in investment banks are held by women. In your opinion or experience, what 3 things can be done by a)individuals b)companies and/or c) society to support this movement going forward?
First and foremost, women who hold senior positions in companies must be visible if they are to help inspire others within their own company and beyond. It’s crucial that these women have adequate airtime both inside and outside the company because unless we have role models who look like us, it’s next to impossible to visualise yourself in that position.
There also needs to be greater support for women who take a career break (whether that’s to have children or not) and then re-enter the workforce. I am a firm believer that this support must come from the company — be that in terms of flexible hours, return to work strategies, or job shares as well as a societal shift. Whilst shared maternity leave is a step in the right direction, as reported by the BBC last year uptake may be as low as 2%. This needs to change to ensure women can return to work, knowing they are supported at home.
Finally, we need to start improving board diversity — gender, race, religion, economic background, and more — so these boards represent the work base and the company’s customers. Board diversity will ultimately ensure better policies for employees, smarter corporate decision making, and be a source of inspiration for those who want to progress in the company.
You are a “finance insider”. If you had to advise your adult child about 3 non intuitive things one should do to become more financially literate, what would you say? Can you please give a story or example for each.
- Get used to saving
I always ensure that as soon as my salary comes in, I move a proportion into my savings. That could be £50 or a few hundred pounds but I always make sure I move something across. Once you get into that habit it’s easy to see it start building up and you get used to putting a little aside a month.
As well as keeping your assets in a savings account, explore the wealth of other options out there. Whether that’s traditional asset classes such as precious metals or stocks and shares via platforms such as eToro or even newer assets such as cryptocurrencies. With these, you’ll need to follow the news regarding your investment and learn about it — whether it’s about a company’s stock you’ve bought or a cryptocurrency you’ve invested in. It’s a great chance to learn more about something and understand how these markets work. As always though, these are riskier investments so don’t risk more than you’re willing to lose.
- Learn about tax codes
It’s not something they teach you in school but it’s useful to understand what they mean and how they work. There’s plenty of informative resources out there and it may just stop you being on the wrong tax code further down the line.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
There are two people who come to mind when I think of those who have helped shape my career today. The first is someone I worked with at HSBC who gave me some tough love and difficult words to hear. I had just launched the second phase of my product and was enjoying the growing visitor numbers, global marketing campaign, and praise from across the bank when Kaushalya told me in no uncertain terms that I should leave the bank and wasn’t suited to a career in traditional banking. This came as somewhat of a surprise to me since I wasn’t considering leaving the bank at that time and it was in stark contrast to everyone else’s comments off the back of the product launch. Whilst I initially felt a little dejected and confused by the comments, it soon became clear that the opportunities available to me were BAU rather than new product launches and, despite my best efforts, the bank’s attitude on cryptocurrency and blockchain didn’t match my own enthusiasm.
Moving into a cryptocurrency start-up was the push I needed to spread my wings even further. I led the development of an industry-first product, learned a host of new technical capabilities, was involved in all aspects of a new product, and I could speak about bitcoin all day every day! Whilst I may have progressed in a traditional banking career, I flourished in the start-up world.
The second is a close friend of mine who I met within the commercial graduate scheme at HSBC and who left to follow her passion with a role in an anti-human trafficking NGO in Hong Kong. Phoebe is a fantastic role model and support and is always happy to hear me talk about blockchain!
She has travelled across Asia speaking at conferences despite only a few years ago not being able to introduce herself in a small classroom of people for fear of public speaking. She is working tirelessly in a difficult political environment and is actively challenging the status quo of gender disparity which still exists in Hong Kong. Every day I feel a little more inspired in my own role because of the work she’s doing and the attitude she has. She’s also launched a blockchain-based product to fight modern-day slavery which proves that you can never discuss blockchain with someone too much, as you never know when it may help their industry!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Never get too comfortable!
If you’re too comfortable in a role then you stop learning, progressing, or being challenged. Whilst the stressful parts of your job should always be balanced with some level of comfort, if you know how every operation works, who to speak to for every challenge, and how to approach every task, then I would advise looking for that next opportunity. Whether that’s an unfamiliar project, different department, or even a new company, you should always strive to be learning and developing.
This was one of the motivators for me to leave traditional banking and pursue a career in cryptocurrency and alternative finance. I had launched my product, as well as a second phase of it, and it was in BAU. I was then asked to use my knowledge to guide other product owners with their product launches, however, I didn’t feel this would challenge or excite me. I therefore moved into a Product Manager role in a cryptocurrency start-up where every day I was approaching new challenges, using new tools, and asking what a new technical word meant!
Whilst it may feel uneasy to jump outside of your comfort zone, that’s where you’ll grow the most.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
We have to take better care of the planet — unfortunately, we’re heading in a dangerous direction where 8 million pieces of plastic are dumped into our oceans every day, the Arctic could become ice-free by 2030, 1.8 billion people will be living in water poverty by 2025, and by 2050 we may not be able to produce enough food to sustain the population. It’s a damning picture and one which should worry us all.
There are many fantastic NGOs, charities, and groups trying to make a positive impact on this issue but there needs to be more government-led support, funding and emphasis on how we reduce climate change, and the damage to our planet. Banning single-use plastic items is a step in the right direction but it’s a little too late for the 269,000 tonnes of plastic already in the sea. As such, there needs to be a focus on both preventative measures as well as innovative solutions to help reduce the problems already caused.