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NEWS13 March 2018

Virgin Money boss on research: ‘instinct first, then analysis’

Finance Impact 2018 News People UK

UK - Jayne-Anne Gadhia, the chief executive of Virgin Money and the lead on the government’s Women in Finance Charter, believes innovation is born of “instinct first” followed by analysis.

Gadhia was speaking during the opening keynote at the MRS’s annual conference, Impact 2018, which is taking place in London today ( 13 March) and tomorrow.

An energetic advocate for diversity in financial services, Gadhia has extensive experience working in senior positions in banking. She worked for several years at RBS before heading Virgin Money in 2007. While at RBS she worked with someone who became a symbol of the greed that led to the 2008 financial crash.

"I worked with Fred Goodwin for several years at RBS," she said. "Things have changed hugely since then, although it certainly wasn't a wicked place to be, people were trying to do the right thing."

RBS’s insatiable appetite for growth, "hid the way that growth was being achieved," Gadhia added. "But nothing was being done in a way that could be conceived as evil."

Cultural shift

Banking culture has changed a lot since 2008 and the sector is learning, she insisted.

"There’s one big different thing about Virgin Money — we have a culture and a purpose. We've set ourselves out from the very beginning to make everyone better off, making a bit of money for our shareholders, providing customers with good products and service and doing good in the community.

"If we are thinking about all these stakeholders, we tend to make better decisions."

Gadhia demonstrated a disarming openness seldom found in talks with CEOs. Asked by an audience member about research that found most financial services products are targeted at men and off-putting to women, she said she was "ashamed to say that we're not doing anything specifically about it".

"I'll go back to the team and say that we should be doing something about it."

Instinct first, research second

"Virgin Money works in a way that is probably instinct first followed by analysis. We've found it’s worked quite well for us. Years ago, when First Direct, pre-internet, set out to become the first telephone bank, they were told by their research that the worst thing a bank could do would be to launch a telephone bank, that customers wanted to visit branches.

"To be innovative, you have to go with your gut feel first and then understand what’s happening, it’s about finding a balance between the two."

Back in 2015, Gadhia was appointed by the then chancellor George Osborne to lead a review into the representation of women in senior managerial roles in financial services. She she says it’s not about promoting women over men but about promoting everyone.

Accordingly, equality applies as equally to ethnicity and sexual orientation as it does to gender. "I completely and utterly believe that a diverse organisation is a successful organisation and that there is a long way to go before we get there."

Virgin Money itself faces something of a journey as regards its gender pay gap.

"We're not proud of our gender pay gap, and every day someone in the media mentions it. But it’s 32%, down from 38%."

But, she said, at least it is being discussed, while other companies are not obliged to divulge their pay data, including professional services firms that have omitted their partners’ salaries.

"There is no doubt in my mind, if I leave any message today, it’s one of equality and not feminism."

Research’s failings

Commenting on research, Gadhia cited two areas that concerned her. "I suppose what I feel uncomfortable about as I get older is that ageism creeps into society. I feel that technology is a great leveller in terms of age. [Research saying] that people over 50 think like this and that people aged under 30 think like that, is unhelpful."

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