Meet Emily Johnson, Head of Operations at Allica Bank

Hi Emily, tell us about how you got into financial services. 

Absolutely! After school, I did a degree in history at the University of Manchester. I knew vaguely at the time that I wanted to work in banking, I just didn’t know which area. A friend suggested I consider working in credit, because it was basically all about writing and arguing, just like my degree! 

I went from university to work at the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) and stayed for 14 years. I did lots of different things there – starting off in lending, then going client-facing looking after big corporates… I really enjoyed visiting my clients, touring their factories and learning about their businesses. 

It was my interest in how businesses worked that inspired me to move into corporate strategy and change management. I wanted to affect how RBS worked from the inside. I ended up managing a team of about 350 people in operations, as it was a natural home for my interests in both fixing things and running teams. 

So how did you end up at Allica? 

I love managing people and watching them grow. But I found the size of RBS itself frustrating and was craving somewhere smaller and more agile. 

So, I decided to move to Shawbrook Bank in roles managing a mix of change and operations. I oversaw a lot of professionalisation and improved efficiencies the company grew. 

Then, earlier this year, an opportunity came up at Allica Bank. Allica was at an exciting stage of its growth journey, and I jumped at the chance to put into practice what I’d learned at Shawbrook at another high-growth company. 

What’s your team like? 

The operations team at Allica has grown massively in the past year – it’s now up to 70 people! – and we have such a wide scope. 

As such, I’ve put in place four ‘Centres of Excellence’. These are operations teams that work autonomously, are able to make decisions on their own, and be agile in how they work. 

These are: 

  • Lending – this team manage the operations of our commercial mortgage and asset finance loans. A powerhouse of the business! 
  • Customer experience – made up of customer services, the ‘Know Your Business / Know Your Customer’ teams, and a new complaints team. 
  • Payments – this is where payment ops, treasury ops and the team supporting our new business current account sit. 
  • Implementation – everything to do with change and process improvement, quality assurance and quality control, and business risk controls.  

What does your typical day look like? 

There really isn’t anything I’d called a ‘typical’ day!  

I go to our Milton Keynes office a couple of days a week to catch up with the team face-to-face and run all my one-to-ones. The rest of the week I’m then working from home, spending plenty of time on video calls. These are predominantly governance meetings, stakeholder meetings, checking on the progress of various projects and discussing any opportunities the squads have spotted.  

What excites you about your role and working at Allica? 

I’m a real delivery junkie. I love getting things done, and being able to play that all back to others. Allica is brilliant for this as there’s such a strong delivery mindset.  

We have been through a bit of a shift recently as we’ve gone from start-up to scale-up. That’s meant empowering others to deliver and being less in the “day to day” myself. But with that comes such reward as I get to see other people learning and growing, and that’s just so satisfying. 

Having joined Allica earlier this year, what’s your vision for the operations team? 

There are three main areas of focus for me: 

  1. Technology – I mentioned before about the team growing in number. But my real focus is on how we can use technology to scale the business. 
  2. Customer experience – operations can add such huge value to the customer experience. Acting as a business control function, clustering activities in a safe and reliable way, and taking a holistic view of the business, we can make sure every customer has a fantastic experience, whether they’re borrowing from Allica, opening a savings account, or using their business current account. 
  3. People – I want our people to be able to grow and develop at Allica and have a rewarding career journey. With these Centres of Excellence, we want to make sure that team members are broadening their experience and getting exposure to other parts of the bank.

What makes Allica so distinctive for you? 

A number of things stand out for me. For one, Allica has a very flat management structure, which is one of the great things about organisations of this size. It’s a main reason I chose Allica in the first place. If you need to get something done, you can just phone someone who will help you. 

And then the pace of growth is exciting – there’s always a new milestone being hit, and it’s amazing being part of that. ‘Team Allica’ really drives you every day, too – that shared mission and the intellectual stimulation of working with really smart people. 

Allica also really ‘walks the walk’ when it comes to diversity, particularly having women and different ethnicities in senior roles. It’s something that noticeably comes across in meetings when you see people from all different backgrounds coming at problems from different angles. It makes such a difference to how we get things done. 

What three words would you use to describe the culture at Allica? 

  1. Driven 
  2. Collaborative 
  3. Tech-led 

What job did you want to do when you were growing up? 

Strangely enough, I wanted to be a teacher. I say strange because both of my parents trained to be teachers but then stopped after about 5 years! 

I also wanted to run a bank – but now I realise just how hard that is, so I’m quite happy just doing the Ops part for now. 

What keeps you busy outside of work? 

Walks – lots of walks! I have two dogs – yellow and black Labradors, who you can see at the top of my LinkedIn profile. For me, the perfect day is a long walk in the Peaks, some pub grub, and getting the train home. Manchester is great for this as we have so much beautiful countryside on our doorstep.  

What advice would you give to someone looking at a career in fintech/operations? 

First of all, do your homework. Try and understand where the organisation is in its growth journey and if that fits with what you want.  

Secondly, look to join a team or company that has strong, diverse role models. Whether that’s ethnically diverse leaders or women in senior roles – find a place that embodies diversity and has strong, talented people to look up to. 

Of course, every company says diversity matters. But have a look on LinkedIn or the company website at their senior team and find out for yourself. 

Interested in joining the Allica team?Check out our careers page


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