The SWIFT International Banking Operations Seminar (SIBOS) is a banking & finance conference, hosted by the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication. First hosted in 1978, it has been running annually ever since and has been hosted in a variety of global locations. This year’s event was due to be held in Boston, until it became yet another victim of the global COVID-19 pandemic, and was forced to move online.
Thursday 8th October saw the fourth and final day of the conference and once again held a varied programme, featuring View from the Top with Jean Lemierre, chairman of the board of directors, BNP Paribas, a discussion on the benefits of diversity in financial institutions and a closing keynote from Michael Corbat, CEO of Citi.
Diversity in Investment
This session explored the potential economic and social benefits of having diversity within clients of top tier financial institutions, and also looked at how and why diversity needs to be thought of more in the financial world. It was emphasised during the opening remarks that in this discussion they would be addressing the full spectrum of diversity and inclusion; thinking about gender, race, LGBTQ+ and disability, to name just a few areas mentioned.
Moderated by Julia Streets, Founder and CEO/ Host of Divercity Podcast, this session involved four speakers, Iris Bohnet, Professor and Academic Dean at Harvard University, Glenda So, Head of Post Trade at HKEX, Corentine Poilvet-Cledier, Head of RepoClear and Collateral and Liquidity Management at LCH, and Peter Akwaboah, Global Head of Shared Services Operations at Morgan Stanley.
The debate began with the question of why it is still necessary to have discussions about diversity and inclusion. Answered by Poilvet-Cledier, she explained how they still wanted to make collective concrete progress for the industry, and how people belonging to minority groups are always expected to think, act or react in a certain way. “These are the ideas we have to reject straight away because one of the goals of diversity and inclusion of work is to recognise the individuals in their own diversity within those groups.”
In terms of how diversity can be achieved, Bohnet went on to say that collectively we have to move beyond trying to fix minds and instead try and fix the systems that are in place. “We really have to unpack our systems, our practices and our procedures, and de-bias them. The good news is that systems are more easily changeable than people.” So added to this, suggesting that looking towards a more data-based approach could be beneficial. “Before you fix any problem you have to identify the problem first,” she said. “There is no perfect answer to diversity, and diversity is not something that you expect to see overnight. I think we need to develop some sort of measurement to help people identify problems and to let people be encouraged or motivated by the progress.”
A frequent motif and discussion point in this session was the importance of role models and the power of networking when tackling diversity. Paving the way for others was particularly key in the panels view, and Poilvet-Cledier highlighted the importance of sharing talents. “It’s important to have people you can talk to in a safe way, and if someone calls you up because they need advice through that lens, you have to take that call.” Creating trusted environments for those in the minority was hammered home in this session, and it’s clear that the speakers think the best way to increase diversity is to do it together. Being role models themselves, there was also a point made about staying visible as a champion and example of good diversity. “You have to show people that you really want to make a difference,” said So, explaining that she accepted her invitation to this discussion right away as it was important not only to her but to the finance community. “When I’m asked to become a mentor I say yes right away because I want to support them and make sure that they have someone that they can look upon to be their role model.”
Finally, several ideas of how we can move diversity further along were discussed, with Bohnet once again bringing up a data-based approach and how we could use it to help the cause. “We have KPIs to increase sales and KPI’s to cut costs, why don’t we introduce KPI’s for diversity as well?” While this may be a good idea, and certainly would give the journey towards diversity some visibility, there is a potentially dangerous possibility here that having a box to tick could lead to diversity for the sake of it. Everyone should be on an equal footing when it comes to jobs and hiring in business, and in this case, the financial industry and other companies may not take inclusion seriously if it’s as easy as filling a quota. However, the concept of leading by example was frequently discussed by the panel with, So advising “You need to be very humble to learn about audience culture and develop curiosity, and be sensitive to the things you don’t know.”