Emma Graham has been the business development director at Hodge Bank for nearly two years and previously worked for Principality Building Society as its key account manager.
Have you always wanted to work in the finance sector? (if not, what job did you picture yourself doing?)
Honestly no. No one in my family worked in the financial sector and so it wasn’t really on my career radar. My only aspiration was to work in a big office, which I think was mostly inspired by watching ‘9 to 5’.
How did you get into the industry?
After graduating and a stint travelling around Australia, I fell into a job at a branch of Principality Building Society in 1998. I was 23 at the time and the rest as they say is history.
I quickly moved from the branch into head office where I worked as an underwriter, a relationship manager, a mortgage product manager, a business development manager and then a national account manager. I then moved onto Hodge where I am business development director.
Have you ever found it quite hard to fit in as a woman?
It’s never really been an issue for me. I’ve been lucky enough to work at progressive organisations such as Principality and Hodge where training, personal development and succession planning has always been high on the agenda.
This was also the case when I worked in financial services in the UAE in 2009.
Building a balanced and diverse workforce was a priority for them, which many were surprised at as they would assume it was a country and industry that would be very male–dominated, but Abu Dhabi Finance had a number of senior women across its executive committee which was really pleasing to see.
Have you noticed a change in the number of women in the field since you’ve worked in it?
Yes absolutely, and in a relatively short space of time.
It’s fantastic to see an ever-growing female presence throughout the financial sector with a number of senior women leading the way in the mortgage market across lenders, networks, clubs and key firms.
I think this speaks volumes about the way in which gender inequality has captured the attention of the sector through its publications, events and awards making it a really welcoming industry for women to thrive in.
Would you encourage other women to join the finance sector? What would you say to them about it?
I wouldn’t hesitate to encourage other women to join the financial services sector. It’s such a dynamic environment to be in and no day is ever the same.
It’s probably one of the most forward-thinking industries as it continues to undergo constant change and innovation which means you never stop learning.
What skills or qualities do you believe you bring to the role?
Along with over 20 years’ experience working in the intermediary mortgage market, I’d like to think I bring energy and a sense of empathy to the role.
Embedding empathy is key as it enables sales teams to challenge decisions and processes where the right customer outcomes might have been impacted.
How does your role fit or benefit your lifestyle?
I think it’s fair to say that working in sales in financial services is a way of life and in short, I do it because I love it and it energises me. I am lucky enough to collaborate with a variety of amazing people across the mortgage sector which I find really fulfilling and hugely enjoyable.
With a young daughter, flexible working and having the ability to manage my own diary means I can fit some of the school drop offs and pickups around my meetings which ensures a good work-life balance, so I can be there for my daughter when she needs me.
What are your hobbies?
Holding down hobbies is a challenge, but when I’m not running my eight-year-old around to all of her various activities I like to spend as much time as I can in West Wales. It’s tough to beat the Pembrokeshire coastline, but I’m probably biased.
What improvements regarding gender equality would you like to see in the finance sector?
I think the financial sector continues to make great strides from a gender equality perspective, so the key here is for lenders, key firms and distributors to keep on pushing the agenda.
They cannot rest on their laurels, but keep pushing forward with the work they are doing around gender.
Was there any particular person who encouraged you to become a business development manager (BDM)?
Back in 2006, while working at the Principality it was my manager Dawn Gunter who encouraged me to apply for my first BDM role.
I remember her looking through the job description with me, I was talking about my concerns that I didn’t have experience in some of the aspects of the job and she categorically told me that job descriptions were essentially wish lists that could be broken down into ‘must haves’ and ‘nice to haves’.
She insisted that having experience of 70 per cent of the attributes listed in any job description made you a viable contender for any role allowing for professional growth and, I’m very thankful to say, she was right and I got the job.
Which women in the finance sector inspire you most?
There are a number of women across the industry that I admire and respect but it’s the women that I’ve been lucky enough to work alongside and collaborate with that have had the biggest impact on me.
Building the intermediary sales team at Principality from a small team of five to what it is today with Frances Taylor and Helen Lewis was an absolute joy. We achieved a lot in a short space of time which is something I will always be really proud of.
Which women in general inspire you the most?
I’m lucky enough to have a number of very close friends and colleagues who inspire me every single day. She’ll hate that I’ve mentioned her but our head of mortgage origination at Hodge, Emma Williamson, is nothing short of exceptional.
She has a six-month old and a toddler by her side while she’s building our underwriting and completions division. She’s also incredibly generous with her time and goes out of her way to support and mentor a team, what a woman.
What is a life lesson or piece of advice that helped to shape who you are today?
Before making the move out to work in Abu Dhabi back in 2008 the BDM team at the Principality gave me the book ‘Feel the fear and do it anyway’.
I didn’t realise how much I needed to read it until I started to read it as self-doubt and imposter syndrome was well and truly kicking in. If you haven’t read it yet I highly recommend it, it was a game changer for me.
How do you apply that to your working life?
It’s a challenge but I do try.
Managing negative thoughts and self-doubt is a struggle for a lot of us on a daily basis across all aspects of our lives but reminding ourselves that fear only surfaces when we leave our comfort zone, take a risk or try something new. That helps change the way we manage that fear.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Still working in this sector and continuing to collaborate with exceptional people to ensure that tailored products meet real customer needs as efficiently as possible.