Investment banking: open for business

A senior and a junior employee at RBC Capital Markets tell Hannah Langworth how investment banking is now more inclusive than ever and what it feels like to be a new joiner in the sector

A s CEO of RBC Capital Markets' European operations, Harry Samuel is one of the most senior members of the bank's executive team. He's also a member of RBC's Diversity Leadership Council and is closely involved in promoting equal opportunities and fostering an open culture across the bank. Here he describes how RBC is becoming more diverse, and why the investment banking industry is a welcoming place for anyone with the right abilities and ambitions.

How has investment banking changed in terms of diversity since you joined the industry?

When I started in the business 23 years ago it was very male and very white. There were some women working in investment banks, but definitely not as many as there are now. Today, there is also a much greater ethnic mix and people of many different nationalities. As a result, there's a cultural and linguistic diversity that we didn't have in previous decades.

There used to be a real tendency for people to try to fit in. Everyone wanted to play golf and generally be seen doing what everyone else in the industry did. But now opportunities to have your own identity have really opened up.

Why is RBC keen to support and promote increased diversity at the bank?

First and foremost, diversity has helped our business grow because we're able to work more closely with clients whose organisations are also becoming more diverse. Nothing is more off-putting for clients with a diverse senior management team than sitting across the table from a group of bankers who are all white middle-aged men - it's a pretty stark contrast and it doesn't go unnoticed.

A diverse organisation also means a range of viewpoints and a balanced assessment of issues because a mix of people, whether in terms of gender or race or culture, bring a mix of perspectives. I think this mix is important for decision making because every organisation needs to guard be wary of group think.

Having a diverse workforce also has a positive effect on our working culture. We recently launched an initiative to support our LGBT employees called the Globe Network, and its impact has been tremendous. We invited Gareth Thomas, the former international rugby player who captained Wales and who is arguably the most high-profile British athlete to come out, to take part in one of the network's first events. Having him promote this initiative with our senior management, including me, sent out a clear signal about our attitudes towards inclusion and our willingness to embrace diversity. As a result, more employees felt comfortable about coming out at work. The initiative also sent positive signals to other minority groups, which is good in itself and is also good for the bank's business. If people feel able to be honest about their identity then we're likely to have more productive employees, as people work best when they feel comfortable and able to express themselves. We can therefore create better value for clients, which is what this industry is all about.

In what ways could the industry still improve in terms of diversity?

There's no question that the industry has further to go. But what I would say is that it's encouraging that it's come so far so quickly. For example, a decade ago it would have been relatively unusual for a bank to have a LGBT network, whereas now we'd question why any large bank without one hasn't set one up.

Where I think the industry still struggles the most is in getting women into senior positions. At RBC we have a number of very senior women - for example, our Chief Administrative Officer and Chief Financial Officer, Janice Fukakusa, and our Chief Human Resources Officer, Zabeen Hirji - but we're focused on doing more to attract, retain and promote women.

What thoughts do you have for students considering going into investment banking?

The advice I would give to anyone looking at any career is that you've got to choose something that you really want to do. You're going to do best at something you feel passionate about or have a natural skill for. And if you decide on these grounds that you want to work in finance - apply, whatever your identity or background. I'd be shocked if anyone who went to work in an investment bank these days wasn't made to feel welcome and accepted. Our business is broad-ranging in every sense, so any organisation without a workforce to match is going to struggle to compete.

Ema Jakasovic recently began a career in investment banking at RBC. Here she talks about how she's found her job so far, what it's like being a woman in banking, and her ambitions for the future.

What's your current role at RBC?

I've been at RBC for around a year now. I work on analysis of the natural resources sector - that is, companies involved in mining, minerals and oil and gas. I conduct financial and strategic analysis of different companies and subsectors within natural resources and my work forms part of the material presented to clients considering merger and acquisition deals in this sector.

Why did you decide to work in finance?

I've been interested in finance since I was at school. I studied finance at university and always considered investment banking as a possible career, but also thought about corporate law and consulting as well. I felt that the only way I'd find out whether or not I really wanted to work in investment banking was to do an internship. So I spent eight weeks at RBC two summers ago, and that's when I knew it was for me.

How have you found working at the bank as a woman?

The environment and atmosphere at RBC is fantastic, so I haven't had any problems. I find that people are generally very approachable, even senior management, and are willing to answer my questions and help me.

Are there any senior women at the bank who you see as mentors?

There's a female managing director who works on my floor who I consider the best mentor I've ever had. She's always made herself available to me and other female graduate recruits to answer our questions and give us guidance. She's a prominent senior figure at the bank, so I see her as a role model as well.

There are also quite a few men in senior positions at the bank who have encouraged me to take on challenges and push myself to reach my goals.

Do you feel you have a good community of other women around you at the bank in general?

There are many women on my floor who are in their first or second year at the bank and we all have very good working relationships. I've also found it helpful to stay in touch with university friends working elsewhere in banking, who give me useful perspectives and support because they understand what my job is all about.

Are you a member of any formal women's networks at RBC?

A female managing director on my floor encouraged us all to get involved in RBC's network for women, RWomen. We've had an initial launch party, with more events planned for the future. One will involve RBC's Chief Administrative Office and Chief Financial Officer, Janice Fukakusa, who is due to present to us at an upcoming meeting with European employees.

What are your aspirations for your future in investment banking?

My career is very much in its early stages so my focus right now is on learning as much as I can in terms of analytical skills and sector knowledge. I really enjoy what I'm doing, so I can see myself staying in the area I'm in for the long term. But with investment banking you can do so many things after two or three years - working here prepares you for many career directions because of the analytical and presentation skills and personal qualities you develop.

Do you think being female will impede your future career progression at all?

Absolutely not.