Meet Jennifer Read, Operational Risk Manager at Allica Bank

Tell us about what you do here at Allica

I run the operational risk department. We support the bank, its customers and investors by implementing and embedding our risk management strategy. This means we support employees across the bank by giving them the tools they need to identify, control and manage any potential threats or incidents that may occur, while providing oversight and assurance, too.

Risks we manage can range from human error – for example, inputting the wrong amount on a spreadsheet – through to much more wide-reaching system failures.
We also collect data on the risks we manage, which we report to the Board and the bank’s regulators.

What led you to a career in risk?

My first job in finance was as a cashier/customer adviser with NatWest. I then progressed to a role at Barclaycard in compliance and risk. I found I had a bit of an affinity and (geekily) a passion for risk management, and my boss encouraged me to enrol in a three-year post graduate diploma. That was the start of my career in risk!

I then moved to London to work for RBS in equity markets during the financial crash of 2008. That was an eye opener – I learned a lot, as you can imagine.

Working in risk is exciting because we look at all the potential outcomes of situations where something could happen and we start the conversations.

Encouraging people to step back and think about what they do on a daily basis is the first step. I like understanding how and why people do things. Once we know this, we can look at ‘the how’ and see if there are ways to work smarter or more efficiently. It is also about connecting how people work in different areas to make sure there are no gaps.

Not to mention, dealing with incidents or events when they happen can be exciting, too!

What made you decide to join Allica Bank?

I’d taken time out of my career to care for my youngest daughter and I had set up a business making artisan alcoholic fudges (yes, really). I realised I was ready to go back to work but no longer wanted to be a small cog in a massive machine.

Allica gave me the opportunity to have real influence and make an impact on the bank’s development. Since I’ve been here, we’ve embedded the risk framework from when the bank first got its license. Now it’s a matter of enabling Allica Bank’s staff to incorporate risk awareness and understanding into their everyday activities. It needs to be as natural as checking for traffic when you cross the road.

I’m also a big fan of the culture at Allica. I remember asking about flexible working in my first interview. The answer was exactly what I was hoping to hear, which was “it’s not even a question”.

What is it you enjoy about working in financial services?

I’m naturally gregarious (read “confident and chatty”) and I enjoy telling people I work in finance because I know I’m not who they picture when they think of a typical “banker”. I want to prove to people that you don’t have to fit a particular mould to have a career within financial services.

Tell us more about your team

Right now, there’s me and Emma Wilkins, our Risk Analyst. She’s been with Allica over two years now and is a genius with a spreadsheet.

Both of us are full-time working parents. I say that as though it’s an unusual thing – but it’s not. Being a working parent shouldn’t even be a discussion point in my opinion. However, I realise how lucky we are to have a flexible working support structure and that not all banks are equal in that regard.

We work in a wider risk team, reporting to the bank’s Chief Risk Officer, alongside our colleagues in credit and underwriting risk.

How have you found the shift to working from home during the pandemic?

In one respect it’s been blissful, with no commute and being able to see my kids when I want. At the same time, it’s been hard with the monotony of these same four walls.

Having the flexibility to return to the office one or two days a week will be a welcome relief and change of scenery. I’m also keen to see colleagues face-to-face. A large part of my job is to have eyes and ears on the ground.I feel slightly cut off when working remotely.

Any exciting projects coming up?

We’re in the process of rolling out a risk system to the bank. This will be a self-service system with some great reporting facilities, and it allows for a lot of automation. It creates dashboards that provide a holistic view of risk across the bank. This is important because risk doesn’t exist in silos – we can now join the dots between different teams.

We are also creating some five-minute ‘how to’ videos so that anyone can access the visual tools at any time. I believe training should be instant access and simple.

What’s something you’re most proud of?

I’m proud of the risk system we’ve implemented. Emma and I were able to customise it in-house, which has kept costs down for the bank. It has also meant we have been able to develop it entirely with the needs of our team and future users in mind.

On a personal front, I’m so proud of my two young daughters. They both had real health challenges early on in life and they’ve pushed through to become wonderful little people.

I’m also especially proud of the training I’ve been undertaking for my 70-mile ultra marathon challenge in June. So far, the longest distance I’ve run is 30 miles (last week).

It is hellish at the time but afterwards the sense of achievement is phenomenal.

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

My parents took us to Disneyland when I was young. When I saw you could get a job dressing up as Belle to sing on the parades that was that – I wanted to be a Disney Princess.

I was destined for a career in the West End and was touring with National Youth Music Theatre until I was 18. After my A Levels, I was offered a place at the Welsh College of Music. Unfortunately, I became ill and couldn’t take up that career path, but I think everything (good and bad) happens for a reason and now I sing for weddings, events for friends and family, and for fun!

The pandemic restrictions have been lifted. You’re given a week off and can do whatever you want. What are you doing?

I would hire the whole of Disneyland for a week so my family and some close friends could have the run of the place. We’d have to bring a couple of babysitters though, so the grown-ups could go on some nights out...

What would you say to someone considering a role at Allica Bank?

We’re a fast growing bank and that’s an opportunity that doesn’t come around very often.

You would have a voice in shaping the future. You’d have access to everyone across the business. That’s an incredibly valuable career attribute to have on your CV.

Fancy joining the Allica Bank team? We'd love to hear from you! Check out our careers page to find out how.

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