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From Graduate Programme to Leading a Business-Critical Function

Women in Financial Services

Off the back of recent Deloitte Insights research into female representation in the financial services industry across the world, this article is the first in a series about women in leadership in the New Zealand banking and insurance industries. While Oceania is leading in regards to female representation in senior positions, there is still a way to go yet. This series will explore the perspectives of women in executive roles in the New Zealand banking and insurance industries about developing and supporting the workforce experience and strategies that can be employed to foster upwards mobility for upcoming talent. We’ll delve into diversity, equity and inclusion and consider how to facilitate a positive and rewarding working experience for all. 

Fresh out of university with a degree in marketing, Astrud Burgess joined the banking industry as part of the ANZ graduate programme over 25 years ago. What followed is a long and varied career spanning senior positions in banks and advertising agencies, both in New Zealand and the UK. Joining ANZ once again on her return to New Zealand, Astrud became the Head of Marketing and continued to evolve the role to her current position, growing and leading the all-important data and marketing function as General Manager, Data and Marketing.

Astrud’s enthusiasm for the banking industry is simple: the desire to do work that’s interesting. “It’s fascinating. People have very interesting ideas towards money,” she says, recalling a customer who froze their credit card in ice to act as a barrier to unnecessary spending. The logic was that once thawed, the impulse to spend would have passed. For an industry facing widespread change, and at pace, such anecdotes are familiar and foreign at the same time. The move to digital is changing the ways that customers can spend. Bank cards now exist digitally as “mobile wallets” in technology like smartphones, which can’t as easily be frozen.

And data, a concept off-putting and scary to many in a world centred around algorithms and profile-building, Astrud says is the most fascinating part of her job. “All of your life is in the data,” she says, explaining that banks and many other businesses hold a lot of information about us. While this information opens endless possibilities to deliver better experiences for customers, it needs to be balanced by the importance of privacy, data security and maintaining trust. This balance is something ANZ and Astrud take extremely seriously noting trust is built up over a lifetime of interactions and can be eroded by a single misstep.

Making space for what inspires you

Recent Deloitte Insights research shows that Oceania is a world-leader in terms of female representation in financial services leadership at around a 24% share of women in senior leadership roles. “Corporate New Zealand has worked hard on diversity for a really long time,” says Astrud, while also acknowledging that it isn’t always done right. 

“It’s about how you turn up for your colleagues. If you’re expected to show up in a way where you’re inclusive, it’s got to tip over and it creates an environment where women want to be.”

That tipping point is identified as a 30% share of women in C-suite roles as the threshold for enacting change across an organisation. “You can’t aspire to be what you don’t see,” says Astrud. In essence, representation is important. And conversations and visibility are important. Astrud is no doubt inspiring to the people around her and says casual conversations, encouragement and reassurance are not only what people are looking to her for but the key to giving that push for someone to put their hand up, to apply for a role, to back themselves.

“You’ve got to break down the fear factors. There’s this assumption that the more senior you are, the more hours you work. These are the things that make pursuing a career feel hard for women.”

Flexibility has value, but Astrud clarifies that face time will always have its place when building a career and aspiring to move up the ranks. It’s not enough to be in meetings with people, it’s about building bonds and really knowing people that will help someone get where they want to go.

“You should deploy flexibility to provide balance in your life but ask yourself what you’re doing with your flexible time. It’s not about work-life balance, it’s about balancing the things you like versus the things you don’t like. Are you making the most of your flex time with things that inspire you?”

And how does Astrud believe that she has inspired others? “I hope I demonstrate that I get a lot of joy out of my work. I want to do great things because they’re intellectually interesting,” says Astrud, staying true to her ‘do what inspires you’ philosophy towards work and life.

For more from our Women in Financial Services series, read our conversation with BNZ's Kate Skinner here, Fidelity Life's Melissa Cantell here, Naomi Ballantyne of Partners Life here and AIA's Linda Page here.

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