‘Pass on your knowledge to those you lead freely. Help them grow’
By Tony Sanchez
In our latest Women in Finance Interview, Tony Sanchez speaks to Anna Bennett, Catalyst Property Finance’s Marketing Director who has over 22 years marketing experience in finance and property.
Her career in finance began in 2000 when she joined GMAC-RFC’s London marketing team. In 2006, Anna was headhunted by Bayview to develop the InterBay brand and launch the lender into the UK market.
In 2009, Anna had her first child, Ollie, followed by her second, Emily, in 2010. With the aim of balancing work and home life, for the next 12 years Anna ran a Marketing Director Consultancy.
Her clients were funders, lenders, brokers, and distributors; excellent companies including BLG Development Finance, Positive Lending, Capital B, Conduit Finance, and Catalyst Property Finance.
In 2021, Anna jumped back into employment, joining the board of one of her clients, specialist lender Catalyst Property Finance, where she works today.
What brought you into financial services?
Serendipity!? My then boyfriend (now husband) Paul and I moved from Brighton to Surrey, for his new job.
My plan was to secure another interior design role, so I booked six weeks of temporary work to ‘pay the bills’ while I visited local designers with my portfolio over the weekends.
One of these temporary roles was at GMAC-RFC, the UK’s eighth largest mortgage lender. I was only supposed to spend a week supporting GMAC’s “Broker Teleunit,” but as my contract ended, the management team offered me an interview for a marketing job they thought would appeal. It did!
At that time, I knew very little about finance and even less about marketing! But I loved the people I had met and the energy they brought to the office.
Five weeks later, I became GMAC’s new Marketing Assistant. I was based in Covent Garden, organising their events and print management.
I had also secured an Interior Design role, but I have never regretted turning this down and making the switch to finance.
The breadth of marketing practice means my day is filled with so much variety and there is never a dull moment.
What do you think makes a successful leader? And in particular women leaders?
To me, a successful leader is someone who sets clear direction but can pivot quickly and be flexible to achieve the right outcome.
They surround themselves with brilliant people, build a solid team, and do not tolerate poor behaviour; a positive culture is vital to retain the best talent and provide an environment in which to flourish.
A leader needs to nurture and enable their team, offering autonomy and trust. But they also need to step in to reset priorities, noticing when guidance is required. This takes strong observation and communication skills.
For a female leader in finance? We need to speak up and stand our ground. It is rare that I come across the “Old Boys’ Club” nowadays but when I do, I challenge it directly but with a smile.
I have never shied away from sharing what are traditionally thought of as more ‘feminine qualities’ at work, I am a nurturer and empathetic.
I think they are my superpowers. And having a diverse Board that combines different leadership styles and characteristics is a benefit to the business.
What are the biggest barriers you have faced in your career in financial services?
I have been super lucky in that I have managed access career advancement and raise our little family at the same time.
I work incredibly hard, and with no local family to support me with childcare, I could not balance my family and career without the flexibility offered by the forward-thinking people I have worked for and with.
But I appreciate I am a lucky exception and not the rule. I would like to raise the issue of childcare for working women in finance.
In general, this sector, like many others, does not offer a consistent framework to support young families.
And with childcare typically falling to women, we lose so much talent and inhibit the rise of brilliant women to senior positions.
This needs to change. At Catalyst, it’s our aim to support our team with both their careers and their lives.
If you could tell your younger self one thing you know about business now, what would it be?
Business, or work, is what you make of it. I would tell my younger self to “Go for it!” Say ‘yes’ to every work opportunity (although possibly not that fourth or fifth tequila at that Christmas Party at Ascot, your head really hurt the next morning!)
Have confidence that your opinion and ideas are as valuable as everyone else’s around the table. Do not be scared to make mistakes, own them, and learn from them.
Stop trying to be ‘perfect’ in your twenties, have fun with your career… remarkable things will happen when you colour outside the lines.
What’s your own personal mantra?
I try to make every day count. To be extremely grateful for all I have. And I won’t work with horrid people… there’s another word for them, it begins with a ‘d’ but it’s less polite!
What do you think is key for finding a successful work-life balance?
I do not have this sussed! I helps to have support and a sense of humour during what is undoubtedly a very busy time of our lives.
It helps enormously to marry the right person (thank you hubby and head chef) and work with the right team (thank you Team Catalyst and previous lovely companies).
Now I am in my late forties, I prioritise keeping my energy up to meet the demands of work and home.
I am much more consistent with my morning routine. I wake up before everyone else. Take some green powder in a pint of water. Stretch and do a short HIIT.
I enjoy a bloody good coffee and jot down some thoughts and intentions in a gratefulness journal. Then I wake up the family.
If I do this, I am best placed to feel positive and have a productive day. It really makes a difference.
I tried adding cold showers to my routine but thought they were ghastly. I might attempt them again as friends rave about them.
What’s one key leadership lesson you’ve learned along the way?
Always be interested in new tech, new ideas and new markets. Learn from everyone, ideas and fresh thinking comes from talking to people, all sorts of people.
Balance ‘fresh thinking’ with experienced wisdom; I’ve had amazing support from mentors throughout my career; people are so generous with their insights. I could list 20 people straight off.
And pass on your knowledge to those you lead freely. Help them grow.
What advice do you have for women aiming for leadership positions?
Don’t become a leader for the financial rewards alone; to enjoy it and shine, you’ll need a passion for leading teams and creating something great. If you have the passion, go for it!
Attitude and effort will take you further than any other attributes. Then surround yourself with amazing people, work hard, and have fun building something together.
What do you think is holding women back?
Childcare, undoubtedly. Companies need to create roles offering more support and flexibility to young families and carers. Ultimately, this will enrich their workplace cultures and retain some incredible talent. It’s not easy for companies but it is possible and desirable.
We also need to create work spaces and cultures which enable and encourage women to express their ideas more openly and want to take the reins.
I call it “creating space for women”. Being mindful that not everyone wants to shout loud, take up the airspace and be pushy. Some women and men shine in a gentler, quieter space. Try to allow for both.
Do you think there is still a glass ceiling?
Certainly, there still aren’t enough female leaders in finance. That said, it is much improved since I started my career and there are more incredible female role models today.
If a glass ceiling remains, it’s less toughened! And I hope my daughter and son think I’ve done a little bit towards putting some cracks in it!
How do we encourage more women into financial services?
Showcase the variety of roles within this sector. The creativity, the advancements in tech, the wider reaching impacts this sector can have on social mobility, the environment, on keeping women safe, etc. Engage with both hearts and minds.
Also detail what needs to be improved and how women can help. They say money makes the world go round, if that’s the case, we need a fairer distribution of women to steer the world in a balanced direction.
The gender pay gap is only second worst to the construction industry. What can organisations do to address this?
If you are a financial leader, make the change, make it fair, and make it now. It’s really not difficult to look at the data and spot unfairness – you should be good at the numbers!
Being a senior manager at Catalyst allows me the insight to check that our team is paid equally, and for their merit alone. They are. But I wouldn’t work anywhere that didn’t take such a stance.