Financial Firms ‘Cloudify’

Banking and insurance firms’ business continuity plans had historically involved relocating to a back up facility but the  restrictions on movement due to the Covid-19 pandemic have forced them to “cloudify” their offerings.”

Alex Foster, BT

Alex Foster, director of global insurance, wealth management and  financial services at BT, told Markets Media that the current pandemic has led to a widespread distribution of people and is a whole new ballgame as firms have needed to set up on-line versions of their traditional business while maintaining controls over staff working from home.

“Organisations have had to “cloudify” their offerings,” Foster added.

For example, BT has been able to offer customers a virtual trading turret in the cloud which meets their regulatory and compliance needs.

Consultancy McKinsey said in a blog this month that the Covid-19 crisis is likely to significantly accelerate the shift to digital.

BT is also supporting fintechs who are helping digitise financial services.

“We are accelerating the use of fintech and supporting people and organisations that seek to create new products or services enabling them to use our cloud environment for distribution to thousands of customers,” Foster added.

She continued that the “genie is out of the bottle” on working from home.

“Employees want more flexibility and research has shown that productivity increases when working from home,” she said. “We could see an innovation boom, as people collaborate in different ways, creating a productivity spike.”

Some academic research has shown that working from home can increase performance by 13%.

“The pandemic is an opportunity to show that technology has a positive purpose as digital connectivity is very important to many generations,” she added.

Career history

Foster has a degree in mathematics, statistics and computer science and a qualification in actuarial science but began her career on the trading floor as a salestrader in 1994, voice trading in equities and equity derivatives.

She subsequently had roles as head of execution sales (UK) and market structure at BNP Paribas, where she set up an electronic trading desk, and as head of sales at broker Instinet. Foster has been in her current position since 2018 after joining BT in 2011.

“BT provides tools that allow technology to help markets evolve and when they asked me to join I made a conscious decision on where to spend the next 20 to 30 years, “ Foster said.

She continued that her careers in both investment banking and technology have enabled her undertake multiple types of roles, acquire a variety of skills and helped her grow.

“My advice is, if the opportunities are there, you should not be frightened of grabbing them,” added Foster. “It can be frightening to be a change agent.”

She compared the process to her son’s wakeboarding.

“As the waves go by you always have to be on the leading edge by acquiring new skills and capitalising on the opportunity to grow,” she said. “To have the edge in life you have to learn and earn for yourself, for your business and you also have to have fun.”

Diversity

Foster acknowledged that both finance and technology could use more women.

“There were very few women when I worked on the trading floor and there have been improvements, but other industries have done better,” she added.

She continued that BT is working very hard top increase diversity through its TechWomen program and teaching digital skills in schools.

“Half of our graduate intake is female and we work very hard in equipping women with the skills to succeed,” she said.

As a result, BT has a very high rate of returners to work after maternity leave at more than over 85% according to Foster. She added: “The firm makes working from home and managing staff fairly easy and this flexibility helps parents.”

However, digital skills begin at home so BT has been advancing programmes in the UK, as well as internationally, which Foster said are to encourage lateral thinking and key skills development that will be needed in the future.

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