‘You’re only as good as your team and the people in it’

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Alison Houghton-Corfield Master Private Finance

In our latest Women in Finance Interview, Tony Sanchez speaks to Alison Houghton-Corfield, National Relationship Director at Master Private Finance.

Master Private Finance are a master broker and packager in the specialist lending arena. “We are a B2B business and work with mortgage networks, mortgage firms and introducers, we are a solutions based business”, Houghton-Corfield adds.

Alison has been in financial services for almost 25 years the majority of it spent at BOS, Halifax and Lloyds, this is where she cut her teeth and really developed as an a individual, which gave her the transferable skills and experience to venture out into specialist lending.

Alison is passionate about specialist lending and how it can help so many people achieve their goals, “it’s a fantastic multi-faceted proposition which can often go unrecognised but can add enormous value to a business and its clients” she says.

On a personal note, Alison also admits to being “a bit of a shoe addict (actually quite a lot if I’m being honest), I absolutely love music, dancing and comedy and have been known to shout at the TV when watching the football.”

What brought you into financial services?

I fell into Financial Services purely by chance almost 25 years ago, it was never a career path I had ever thought about.

The company I worked for lost their Business/Finance Manager and I approached the owner to say that I could do that job and had to teach myself very quickly, which I did.

I have worked in motor finance, GI, retail banking, mortgages and specialist lending and love what I do.

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

A successful leader has to spin numerous plates at any given time. They should have a strong vision, which is delivered with passion and conviction, they need to be courageous, have a strength of character and integrity, display humility and be excellent at harnessing and sustaining relationships whilst trusting their team to do what’s expected of them.

Leaders must be a leader and not a boss, We must also remember that it’s less than 100 years since women got the right to vote and the changes will take time for a lot of businesses.

They must lead by example and need to identify the various personalities which make up their team and empower those people.

Women leaders need to remain true to themselves, being authentic can prove somewhat difficult when operating in a predominantly man’s world, as women often change the dynamic.

Women leaders should play to their strengths which are often empathy, nurturing, compassion, listening, patience, and resilience.

Also women can sometimes be better at recognising and addressing when someone might need help and this all adds to having a more approachable leader.

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

The leadership teams I had worked under consisted mainly of men who had their own priorities and personal expectations set out.

Their social and work groups were a long and well established group of men and their focus for progressing and developing staff was from within these groups which often left women, who wanted to progress, out in the cold.

Bringing women into the mix meant significant change and the language and behaviours displayed by these leaders often highlighted prejudice but I believe this was unconscious bias.

Over time people who experience unconscious bias can change quite quickly and this often comes through exposure.

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

It’s ok to make mistakes and get things wrong as long as you learn from them

What’s your own personal mantra?

You’re only as good as your team and the people in it

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

This has to come from the top down and it has to be really embedded into the culture of the company. Also robust processes form a part of this too, as they drive efficiency.

I’m not a huge fan of staff always staying late and being desk warriors. I don’t feel that it’s healthy or productive, most people have had a really tough year and now things are easing a little people should be able to enjoy their downtime which will energise and refresh them and this renewed energy will filter down into the workplace

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

Most businesses are about people, treat them like people and equals, not numbers

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

The world is changing and more women than ever now have a voice that can be heard.

If your current company doesn’t value women and the fantastic things they can bring to a business, speak to your superiors to help bring about positive change.

What do you think is holding women back?

I feel unconscious bias plays a huge role in holding women back and this can put a lot of women off applying for leadership roles.

Women need to be more pro-active, go after the jobs they know they are capable of doing, they might not be the finished article and fit the job description 100% but neither do most men.

They also need to have a clear vision of how they want to develop and progress and document this vision with their managers.

Women shouldn’t be on the periphery of progression, they should be an essential element of what makes up a balanced, modern progressive company

Do you think there is still a glass ceiling?

Absolutely and the ceiling has been raised over the last 15 years or so, however we are seeing cracks in that glass ceiling but there is so much more to be done.

Diversity needs to be embraced as a positive and not as a threat to power.

Every person has value and must be treated accordingly rather than having your value predetermined in advance due to your gender.

What are your thoughts on the Women in Finance Charter?

I’ve recently discussed this with my company and they are fully supportive of the Women in Finance Charter initiative.

This is another positive step in removing unconscious bias from within Financial Services.

It will be very interesting to see whether the businesses who are part of this initiative achieve their goals.

How do we encourage more women into financial services?

Education, communication and collaboration are the main things. They also need to see more female leaders within FS

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

This is an extremely large question which requires collaboration from the industry.

Every business is unique and some businesses require different skill sets, hours of work etc. which will dictate a different pay scale.

Whilst I’d love to answer this question and I have ideas around this, there is lots of work to be done to close this gap and from a business perspective it’s not one size fits all, however at Master Private Finance this forms part of our culture and standards.

What is your biggest achievement to date?

My greatest achievement to date is being a proud mum of two grown up babies (age 28 and 19), they’ve totally enriched my life and made me take multi-tasking to a whole new level.