Sally's Blog

Five essential accessories for women who want to get to the top in finance

Tina Brown, the former editor of Vanity Fair and The New Yorker, has been quoted as saying: “I could never have got to where I am in my career without my husband. The choices I made, he worked around.”

Her words will resound with many professional women and they certainly echoed the words of the female panellists I heard at a Women in Treasury forum hosted by Treasury Today.

That event – along with other events for women in finance that I have attended over the years – inspired me to put together this article on the five essential accessories required by women who want to reach the top of the finance profession.

Accessory #1 – A house husband

Some truly incredible women manage to get by without one, but the truth is that behind every successful woman, there is usually a supportive man who is prepared to stay in the shadows while his partner searches out the limelight. Not only that, but he is brave enough to face the crowd of mothers waiting outside the school gates day after day and explain that being the primary carer really is his full-time job. Not every man can do it.

Accessory #2 – A supportive boss

These are possibly even harder to find than a supportive husband so if you already have one, you are one of the lucky few. If you don’t have one, you need to seriously think about trying to find one. Apparently men who have daughters tend to be strong supporters of women in the workplace. What you need is a boss who appreciates that you are not a threat. Instead, when you do well, you are making him/her look good.

Accessory #3 – A mentor

Sometimes nothing quite beats being able to seek out the wisdom of someone who has “been there, done that”! That’s why a mentor is an invaluable accessory for any ambitious woman in finance who is aiming for the top. If you have a mentor, you have the opportunity to discuss your own career, along with important business issues, with someone who has a wealth of experience and a fresh perspective.

Accessory #4 – Black high heels

When I was editor of Accountancy magazine, I was once criticised for putting a pair of black high-heeled court shoes on the front cover to represent women in finance. Now, I have been to a lot of industry events over the years and I can honestly say that black high-heeled court shoes are not only commonplace – they are virtually de rigeur. I have two pairs myself. I would not think about attending a finance event unless I was wearing them. I’m not sure I can give any logical reason as to why, except that they mean I’m closer in height to the men whom I’m talking to!

Accessory #5 – Self-confidence

This is the accessory that many women in a wide range of fields notoriously lack. But it is the essential accessory to getting ahead in your career. If you’re not naturally self-confident, you need to invest in your own personal development so that you become more self-confident – perhaps by doing life coaching or training in personal speaking. Either that, or you need to learn to be a very good bluffer!



Three reasons why businesses should settle their bills within 15 days

Small and medium-sized businesses in the UK are owed £67.4bn in unpaid invoices, according to the Asset Based Finance Association (ABFA).

That’s up 8% from £62.5bn last year and 36% from £49.5bn in 2011.

Previous research from the ABFA revealed that SMEs are waiting an average of 72 days for invoice payment, up from 61 days in 2009.

It seems that despite the economic upturn, businesses are actually getting worse – not better – about paying other businesses. Is that right? No. Is that fair? No. So why is this allowed to happen?

Partly I blame the recession for encouraging businesses to string out making payments for as long as possible in order to boost their own cash flow. I can see the logic to that, but the problem is that if we all adopt this strategy, what happens? Ultimately, we all end up waiting longer to get paid.

As the owner of a small business myself, late payments are something that I care passionately about. And I think I’ve come up with a very simple solution to the problem:

All businesses – large and small – should settle their bills with one another within 15 days (unless there is a genuine cause for dispute) or face a (very big) financial penalty.

There are three big benefits to this as far as I can see:

  1. The cash flow of the entire UK business community would improve dramatically, sparking economic growth. If businesses could feel confident that they would be paid within 15 days, they could plan better and react more quickly to opportunities. They are also less likely to need to borrow money.
  2. It would save a lot of time and money. Chasing unpaid invoices is costly in terms of both time and money. Just think what business owners could do with that time and money if they could channel it into other areas of their business.
  3. It would cement relationships. Unsurprisingly, businesses tend to like working with businesses that pay them on time – funny that! When a business pays on time, its supplier is more likely to see it as a valued customer, which means that it should enjoy a higher standard of service than its competitors.

As far as I can see, the business case for paying within 15 days is overwhelming. So it would be great to see some large, well-known companies that claim to embrace sustainability adopt this approach. In doing this, they would be enhancing the sustainability of their supply chain and setting a good example to the business community as a whole.

Why digital media will transform financial services

Digital media has had a major impact on the way businesses interact with each other and their clients. Some industries have been able to harness the power of digital more effectively than others, however.

The financial services sector is one that has often been labelled as slow to take advantage of the benefits of digital marketing. While this is perhaps true, it’s worth bearing in mind that ours is an industry that is more heavily regulated than others.

And when you take into account some of the scandals that have rocked certain segments of the industry, from the sub-prime crisis, to Libor rigging, to the mis-selling of payment protection insurance, it’s no surprise that many players have decided to err on the side of caution when it comes to the endless potential of digital marketing.

That may change substantially in the coming year.

A recent study conducted by Econsultancy, which provides research, data, analysis and training to the digital marketing industry, reveals that the financial services sector is heading towards a period of digital transformation.

Compiled from a global survey of more than 200 financial services and insurance executives based mainly in North America and Europe, these are three of the key insights from Econsultancy’s ‘Digital Trends in the Financial Services and Insurance Sector’ report.

63% of responding companies will be increasing their digital marketing budgets this year

Econsultancy’s research suggests that marketers will continue to invest heavily in digital marketing over the next 12 months and beyond. Almost two-thirds of responding companies said that they would be increasing their digital marketing budgets this year, compared with just 6% who said that they would be decreasing their budgets.

According to Econsultancy, those financial services companies that intend to increase their digital marketing budgets will do so by an average of 21% in 2015.

On average, Econsultancy found that financial services companies invest just over a third (35%) of their total marketing budgets on digital-related activities but this increases to 43% for European companies. The average for US respondents is 33%.

33% of respondents say that customer experience is their major focus

A third of Econsultancy’s respondents said that customer experience (known as CX and described by Forbes as “the cumulative impact of multiple touch points over the course of a customer’s interaction with an organisation”) represents the single best opportunity for their company to deliver on their priorities for 2015.

This compares to an average of 22% across all other sectors. With customers more willing to shop around for the best deal and change providers (particularly with bank accounts and credit cards) than they did even five years ago, it’s no surprise that this is a priority for financial services companies. What perhaps does come as a surprise, though, is that while customer experience was stated as a priority for financial services companies, customer retention wasn’t.

Only 40% identify and track mobile-specific key performance indicators

Mobile banking has been an innovation that has caught on extremely quickly, particularly when compared with the slow burn of internet banking. When it comes to tracking customers’ mobile interaction with an organisation, however, financial services are lagging.

According to Econsultancy, financial services companies are more than twice as likely as their counterparts across all sectors to say that they don’t know what proportion of their traffic comes from mobile (12% compared with 5% across all sectors).

Less than half (45%) claim that they understand the nuances of how customers use smartphones and tablets differently.

So while the industry is heading towards a period of digital transformation, it appears that, as a sector, there is still a lot to learn.



Five things that businesswomen can learn from Hillary Clinton

In mid April, I was privileged enough to attend a working group session in Brussels for EY’s Women3. The Power of Three forum. The forum’s objective is to help knock down the barriers that are preventing women across the world from reaching their full potential.

Fittingly, the working group came just days after Hillary Clinton had announced her intention to run for president of the United States.

Whatever you think of her politics, Hillary Clinton is undoubtedly an example of a woman who is determined to fulfil her own potential.

So what are the lessons that we can learn from her?

Lesson 1 – She’s not afraid to fail

A fear of failure has been identified as one of the major factors that hold women back in their careers. Yet Clinton isn’t letting it stop her. She failed spectacularly when she lost out to Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination in 2008. But, seven years later, she has jumped back into the saddle and she’s holding her head up high. Failure – what failure?

Lesson 2 – She’s not afraid to be visible

I know from editing a magazine that women tend to be less confident about being visible than men do. They are afraid that they might look pushy or make a fool of themselves. So they pass up opportunities to raise their profile within their profession and settle for the quiet life instead. But if you want to get ahead in life, you need to get noticed – as Hillary would no doubt be the first to say.

Lesson 3 – She’s a formidable networker

Does your contact book boast the likes of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein and Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff? No, mine doesn’t either. But Hillary’s impressive networking ability is a major part of the reason why she’s far more likely than us to become the world’s most powerful person. Remember the saying: ‘It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.’

Lesson 4 – She doesn’t see age as an obstacle

Hillary Clinton is 67. That’s no big deal in an age when many of us can expect to live until our 90s. But it is a big deal in a world that likes to airbrush women out of the picture once we hit our mid-40s. It’s as if the fact we’re beyond child-bearing age means that we have no right to exist. Women have plenty to offer in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s and beyond. Hillary proves it.

Lesson 5 – She takes care of herself

Have you seen Hillary Clinton lately? She might be 67 years old, but she looks great. And she knows that what she looks like is a big deal. Back in 2001, she addressed Yale students, saying: “The most important thing I have to say to you today is that hair matters. Pay attention to your hair because everyone else will.”


Five reasons why it pays to outsource your financial copywriting

We all know that daunting feeling of staring at a blank page. There is so much to say and yet it seems impossible to know where to start. But if writers find this difficult, then it can be truly terrifying for finance professionals. Words have a way of baffling even the brightest financial minds.

Fortunately, a good financial copywriter could be the answer to all your writing woes. Here are five reasons why:

1. Finance is your forte

If you’re a finance professional, finance is what you live and breathe. You earn money because you are good with money. So why waste valuable fee-earning time labouring over words when you can get someone else to do that for you instead? A copywriter will do it quicker and better than you can, freeing you up to get back to your figures.

2. You can’t write

The statistics speak for themselves. According to research by automated proofreader Grammarly, finance and management professionals make around 19.2 errors for every 100 words that they write. Writing is a job for the experts, so leave it to them.

3. You’re too busy

It takes time to master the art of writing. Professional writers have honed their craft by churning out thousands of words of copy over years, if not decades. Do you have that amount of time to invest in becoming a writer? Probably not, so why bother trying?

4. You’re susceptible to jargon

The financial sector loves jargon. Unfortunately readers don’t. But when you live and breathe a subject, it’s easy to assume that your readers share your knowledge and passion. They don’t and you will lose their attention if you believe that they do. A professional writer can help you to avoid falling into the jargon trap.

5. You need some new ideas

A fresh perspective is a powerful force. You might be surprised by how a financial copywriter can unlock the gems of knowledge that are lurking in the depths of your mind. They can help to bring out the insight that will impress your clients and may result in new business leads.


Why finance professionals need the services of a good writer

The thing about writing is that pretty much anyone can do it. Or, at least, anyone in the developed world can. But can they do it well? That, surely, is the question.

While most of us can write, comparatively few of us can write well. But the good news is that those of us who do write for a living tend to make fewer mistakes when we write than those who work in other professions.

According to research by automated proofreader Grammarly (, writers make around 10.1 errors for every 100 words that they write. In contrast, finance and management professionals make 19.2 errors per 100 words on average.

The research was based on a review of 448 freelance professionals’ profiles in eight categories on online staffing platform Elance.

Unsurprisingly, the very best writers (those who make the fewest errors, according to Grammarly) tend to earn the most, particularly in the fields of engineering and manufacturing, finance and management, legal, and sales and marketing.

Well, who would have guessed?

Click on the infographic (below right) for more…



To contact Sally or to request further examples of her work:

Tel: +44 (0) 7917 063752


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