‘Don’t let anything or anyone hold you back, work hard and stay professional and you’ll succeed’


Melanie Merchant OSB Group wif

In our latest Women in Finance Interview, Tony Sanchez speaks to Melanie Merchant, Business Development Manager at OSB Group.

Melanie has worked in financial services for over 25 years and has been with OSB Group for two and a half years.

CeMAP qualified, Melanie covers part of central London which includes the West End, south-west London and also Surrey.

Melanie looks after over 750 broker firms.

What brought you into financial services?

I started out with Skipton Building Society in an admin role about 29 years ago.

This role provided a great foundation of knowledge within banking around current accounts, savings and lending.

I had great opportunity for progression with Skipton working my way up through differing roles to becoming Branch Manager in Kingston and at that time, I was one of the youngest female branch managers which is something I am still really proud of.

What do you think makes a successful leader? And in particular women leaders?

Someone who is driven but also grounded, can relate to all types of demographics and is adaptable to changing environments to deliver the best outcome regardless of any obstacles.

I think it is really important while we still have gaps in gender equality that as women we can relate, understand, and support each other to succeed, regardless of what success looks like to each individual as we all have different goals and aspirations and also backgrounds which shouldn’t be a barrier to achieve.

I also feel that continuous personal development (CPD) is vital to progression.

OSB Group is constantly looking for ways to support female colleagues and has just launched a companywide development programme for Women’s Leadership.

It’s great to work for an organisation that offers this level of support to its colleagues.

What are the biggest barriers you have faced in your career in financial services?

I experienced discrimination when I first moved to London, especially at that time in the financial services being female, younger than my peers, and having an accent working in central London.

I found I wasn’t always respected, and I often felt like I had to explain my experience and achievements before being taken seriously.

However, instead of taking this sort of experience to heart, I used it to my advantage and it helped me to push forward with my career and realise this sort of thing is a hurdle that needs to be jumped over and not a barrier to progress.

I feel our industry and society are a lot more inclusive now and I hope people feel that it’s becoming a much more level playing field for everyone.

If you could tell your younger self one thing you know about business now, what would it be? 

Don’t let anything or anyone hold you back, work hard and stay professional and you’ll succeed.

What’s your own personal mantra?

Live life to the full and always have a list of personal objectives to challenge yourself.

What do you think is key for finding a successful work-life balance?

Enjoying your job, there’s always going to be times where you have to work longer hours but I am lucky I really enjoy my role and make sure I switch off by heading to the gym or spending time with family and friends.

What’s one key leadership lesson you’ve learned along the way?

Treat everyone with respect as you never know when your paths may cross again and in what capacity.

What advice do you have for women aiming for leadership positions?

Believe in yourself and aim high. There have been a lot of positive changes to challenge discrimination and diversity within the workplace and there has never been a better time to go for leadership roles.

I would also take any opportunities that present themselves along the way.

Networking is always important, to make connections within your chosen career can prove very useful when looking for support or advice.

I would also recommend schemes such as mentoring which is another one of the valuable resources offered to all at OSB Group.

What do you think is holding women back?

Sometimes it’s confidence within ourselves, being seen as too confident has been frowned upon and not supported by our peers.

There can be a negative view of women who work hard to succeed and prioritise work where the same wouldn’t be said for male counterparts.

The BDM team at OSB Group has been great and supported me in my role.

We have a diverse team with a great mix of genders and varied backgrounds.

We all support each other and can call upon one another even if it’s just talking a case through to ensure we have considered all opportunities.

Do you think there is still a glass ceiling?

Sadly, I’m sure this is still relevant in some companies but with more businesses engaging with the Women in Finance Charter, hopefully, this will slowly be a thing of the past.

What are your thoughts on the Women in Finance Charter? 

It’s great to see progress for women in financial services which has historically been such a male dominated industry.

Hopefully, this encourages more women into the industry as we see more and more women in executive roles across the sector.

The treasury annual review 2023, shows some really encouraging results which include the link to pay improving, as are actions in recruitment and retention.

How do we encourage more women into financial services? 

My experience with career advice was quite limited during school, it was more about looking at generic roles in the work environment and figuring out what grades and courses you needed to get there.

Hopefully today, it’s more about what skills and interests young people have to help them flourish in something they are passionate about.

I also think it’s vital that schools should be offering education around personal finances as in my experience, it was something we didn’t really know or understand as we left education to embark on our working lives.

Exposure to finance education from a young age could also help showcase finance as a possible career path too.

I also feel that we need to get better as an industry in marketing career opportunities in the finance sector to other industries as many existing skills can be valuably transferred in financial services.

Then within the industry itself, it’s key that we see women in leadership roles and highlighting this in the media – just like what this feature is all about.

Companies also need to ensure there’s support for women via flexible working, parental leave, support around women’s health etc.

OSB Group regularly runs in-house sessions that highlight the impact of women in the business, support progression, and also educate about women’s health such as Menopause and how to support colleagues.

The gender pay gap is only second worst to the construction industry. What can organisations do to address this?

The Women in Finance Charter has this as one of their objectives and it is showing change which is really positive.

Organisations need to carry out reviews (if they aren’t already) to highlight any discrepancies and ensure a plan is put in place if differences have been found so that they can be addressed.

There should be no discrimination as there is no reason why gender should affect a pay grade.

What is your biggest achievement to date?

Leaving Burnley 25 years ago and heading to London, buying a property and succeeding in financial services despite many setbacks.

London can be a big, lonely place, especially coming from a small town in the north-west.

It was very daunting as 25 years ago, the finance industry was a different landscape with not many female counterparts.

It was all about navigating how to progress into what was then, male dominated roles.

It would have been easy for me to give up and move back to Burnley but I forced myself to adapt and push on.

Over time I’ve crossed paths with some amazing people such as Adrian Moloney (Group Intermediary Director, OSB Group) who really advocates and supports progress, helping me to secure some of my roles.

In terms of female role models, my mum is my biggest inspiration.

The opportunities we have today as working women were not always available when she was younger and as a young married mother of 3, there was no financial independence.

Even being jointly named on a mortgage or having her own bank account would have been a struggle.

Managing work and childcare with 3 children while my dad also worked long hours must have been challenging yet they still managed to take us all on overseas holidays each year while paying off the mortgage which amazes me!

My mum has always been a strong positive role model, consistently working and still not wanting to retire!

She is selfless and has instilled a great work ethic in me which inspires me to be the best I can be.

Mum being my inspiration and working in financial services myself, has provided me with knowledge on mortgages and housing that helped me not only buy my own home but help my family members to buy theirs too.