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Voice of Experience: Alison Rose, Head of Corporate Coverage and Client Management, EMEA, Global Banking & Markets, Royal Bank of Scotland

AlisonRoseBy Melissa J. Anderson (New York City)

Alison Rose’s advice for women in banking is to seek out and learn from the women who have gone before. She said, “Seek out role models and invest time your network. Role models are very helpful, particularly in an industry that is male dominated.”

Particularly sage advice, and after all, she should know. Having risen to the role of Head of Corporate Coverage and Client Management for the EMEA region in the Global Banking & Markets division of RBS, Rose is quite a role model herself. Now also leading the firm’s diversity initiative, she is a passionate supporter of attracting and retaining women in the industry.

“Helping women be successful is incredibly exciting and rewarding personally, but it’s also a critical business issue,” she said.

A Career in Investment Banking

Rose has been in investment banking for almost 20 years. After reading history at university, she spent a year or so doing management consulting, and then entered the investment banking industry in a Client Coverage role. After three or four years, she moved into acquisition finance, working in a very technical deal-based environment.

She recalled, “It was almost entirely male-based – quite a macho environment. I remember my interview was over a beer at a pub.”

Rose continued, “I spent fifteen years in that sector, starting at a junior level running models and negotiating legal documents. Then I began running the business, then the UK, and then Europe; – a market-leading franchise.” Rose went on to work in Debt Capital Markets and Non Investment Grade Origination and then moved to a global role running the Global Portfolio business and banking balance sheet for GBM. “I’m now head of the Corporate and Sponsor client coverage business for EMEA,” she said.

Rose says her proudest professional achievement remains building and driving successful businesses. Building successful teams and delivering best in class, innovative ideas and becoming partner of choice to our clients is hugely rewarding. Personally continuing to learn, develop and challenge myself is important.

She continued, “Running the client coverage business for RBS is an incredibly exciting business. We have built fantastic relationships with our clients in EMEA – and have great professionals in the team. What brought me to investment banking was the ability to work with the brightest, smartest people and that remains true today.”

Diversity in Investment Banking

Rose is passionate about the value of diversity in the industry – in fact, she is the leader of RBS’s diversity initiative. She said, “The whole challenge around encouraging women to come into investment banking and retaining and developing women within the business is an active debate here in Europe. There is a greater awareness of the intelligence and power women can bring to the industry, and it surrounds a greater debate around talent and talent development.”

She continued, “As a senior woman in the organization, this is something I’m interested in and excited about.”

Breaking down stereotypes about investment banking will help draw women in, she said. “It’s seen as a testosterone-driven culture and we need to give young women more information. It’s a very exciting industry, with many opportunities for your career and constant challenges – you constantly learn and its chance to be part of a great team. From a career perspective and personal development there are a wide range of career options within the industry as well as a great opportunity to invest in individuals as well.”

But the industry’s reputation needs work, she said. “The industry has clearly taken a battering over the last three or four years. Persuading people to pursue a career in investment banking means rebuilding the reputation as an industry. It’s a challenge we’re all focused on, in addition to the lack of female representation on boards.”

Advice for Women in Investment Banking

Looking back at her career, Rose said, “I wish I could tell myself when I was first starting out not to sweat the small stuff.”

She explained, “In parts of your career, you can agonize over the small things. Most things work out. If you take a longer term view, any experience is a good experience as you learn from it – both the good and the bad.”

Women entering the investment banking industry should remember that the field is driven by people, she said. “Banking is fundamentally a people business,” she explained. “Investing time in your network is something women neglect sometimes.”

Second, she advised, “Get a mentor and sponsor. Seek advice.” Additionally, she said, “In the early part of your career, be flexible. Take risks. Careers rarely go in a straight line. Be open minded and open to opportunities and what you can learn from them.”

For women who are advancing in their careers, she said, “My advice is quite similar. As you make your next step, having mentors and sponsors is important. A personal development plan, and a mentor who can guide you, is important.”

She continued, “Senior positions are based on pull as much as push – having those connections will help you.”

“At the senior level, women have a tool kit of skills – as a junior woman you invested in that tool kit and as a senior woman, exercise it and continue to invest in it.”

Finally, Rose had a few words of advice on work/life balance. “Work life balance is a very personal and bespoke issue,” she said. “The way you manage work and home life is very individual to you.”

She continued, “One of the best pieces of advice given to me by my role model is not to feel guilty. There is great pressure for women to be perfect in all things. Life is about compromise and making priorities. These things are not static – being flexible and open is the right way to do it.”

Business-Led Diversity at RBS

Rose is the executive sponsor of the diversity program within Global Banking & Markets at RBS focused on gender issues. “Working within the business we designed and developed the program in GBM, looking to make significant changes in talent and development. The program focuses on career planning, talent management, and awareness and engagement,” she explained.

GBM’s woman’s network is called ‘Compass’ and serves as the voice for women in the firm. The firm also has a career management program for women, providing guidance and training for women at different stages of their careers, as well as a mentoring program for senior executives. “We have a number of detailed interventions,” she explained.

“At the end of the day the program is business led, as diversity is a business issue as at its heart it is about attracting, developing and retaining the best talent possible in the business to help drive the best business results.” she said. “Diversity is a business issue and approaching it as such is the most important way we can be successful.”

She added, “I’m incredibly proud to be involved in it.”

In Her Personal Time

In her personal time, Rose, who has two small children, spends as much time as she can with her family. “I also love to go to the theatre and I enjoy scuba diving, horse riding and skiing.”

She added, “I try to have as much of a balance as possible.”