The higher you climb as a woman in finance, the more women around you are the secretaries and admins. Yes, there are some senior women in banking but unfortunately they’re a small minority.
Buzz talks to Irena Georgiadou, Chairwoman of the Integration Committee of the Bank’s Board of Directors at Hellenic Bank about how to ‘ignore the noise’ and make it to the top in banking.
What challenges have you faced as a woman rising to the top in banking?
In a bank that was predominantly male and used to be owned by the church, there was even less female presence compared to other financial institutions. The greatest challenge for me, being young and female, was the loneliness at the top. With determination, however, I was able to move forward.
How easy is it to be a female leader in Cyprus and globally?
Nowadays we would assume it is easier for women to rise into positions of power, but there is still a lot of noise around this. The only response is to ignore it and prove yourself. It is easy to fall into the vicious circle of stereotypes that dictate roles, rather than striving for the positions you can reach and the respect you deserve. In order to break that circle, it is up to women to demand their share of leadership and their position on the ladder.
How do you think women can improve the banking culture?
Being in a bank that was solely male in terms of the board of directors, I have seen that it is very important for an organization to have diversity in terms of age, gender, and local and international employees. So, having a woman in the leadership team of any organization increases the collective skillset and informs strategic decisions in a way that adds value.
What has CCB added to Hellenic Bank’s business, and how is the integration going?
I am chairing the integration committee, and it is going well. The staff cultures have blended well, and Hellenic Bank has become the biggest retail bank in Cyprus. We are now in every household and own a quarter of Cyprus’ government debt, therefore, represent a huge share of the economy. This development has been an evolution of a mind-set—from a small bank to the largest retail bank in the market and everything it entails. I like to be challenged, and I’m routine averse. Thankfully, there is never a dull moment at Hellenic Bank.
What impact did the CCB deal have on your shareholder structure and how will you create value for your shareholders?
The transaction itself created value, evident in our quarterly results after the acquisition where we showed half a billion euros in profit. Regarding the shareholder base, we funded the acquisition through a combination of our own funds and by increasing share capital. We are increasing share capital by 150 million euros and out of this, 50 million is a private placement to Pimco—a big player with a significant shareholding of nearly 20%. We are really excited about that as Pimco is expected to bring significant know-how and expertise to help the bank open the market. The other 100 million will be via a rights issue for existing shareholders, and we expect one of the holders to significantly increase its share which is yet to be finalized.
What contribution do you think Hellenic is making to the economic recovery of Cyprus?
Our responsibility is to provide responsible lending to viable businesses and households in Cyprus. The way that lending has evolved over the last years has been a focus on the quality of lending. We also assist our SME clients and advise them on how to avoid bad investments and provide financing to investments that are viable.
How important is innovation to the bank?
When we stop talking about digitalization, innovation, and technology, people should get worried. It is a priority for us, and we are investing heavily in tech solutions. We are running a project that imagines the future of the bank’s customer experience, we are designing unmanned branches, and we will start implementing these projects when the integration period finishes.
What would your message be to women who are considering a career in finance?
It is a very difficult environment with heavy regulation; it is challenging and requires innovative approaches. However, as a woman, if you believe in yourself you have room to be creative. Ignore the noise: that has been my motto, and it has worked.
Irena is an Elected Member of the Board of Directors of Hellenic Bank on 28 May 2014 and served as Chairwoman of the Board of Directors of Hellenic Bank for the period from 8 July 2014 until 24 May 2017. Re-elected as Member of the Board of Hellenic Bank on 24 May 2017. She is the Chairwoman of the Integration Committee of the Bank’s Board of Directors and a Member of the Audit and Remuneration Committees of the Bank’s Board of Directors