Tired of hearing the career advice to pursue your passion? There is a certain satisfaction in choosing a profession that allows you the lifestyle you want. She Loves Data member Vanessa chats with Jennifer Pattwell, a partner specialising in financial services risk management at PwC Singapore, about her career journey that spanned multiple cities and finding alignment with personal goals. (Note: The article below is a paraphrased version of the overall conversation.)
Share a little about yourself: How did you come to be a financial services risk manager of PwC Singapore?
I’m originally from the UK and I have always been very globally aware. Being half Scottish and half Thai I was exposed to a few different cultures from a young age, and I guess that shaped me a bit. So, at the end of university, when I was thinking of my career and what I wanted to do, I ended up going into banking. It wasn’t necessarily because I wanted to be a banker, it was because it was an opportunity to travel within the first few months of my career and be posted overseas. And it happened straight away within the first three to six months.
How was that experience of being posted overseas so quickly?
It was phenomenal. I mean, I made a conscious decision because I had some different options: I could either have joined PwC back then and gone through the normal route, and then after three years, get my qualification and then be posted overseas. However, at the bank that I joined, which was Lloyds TSB at the time, they had an international banking graduate program, which allowed you to go somewhere after three months. And you had very little say as to where you were posted, because they would determine the needs.
So, I was asked to go to Dubai for 18 months to two years. And that was at a time when people didn’t know where Dubai was, they didn’t know the UAE, they just knew it’s the Middle East. This was around the time of the war in Iraq, just after 911. And people asked me ‘Why are you going there?’ But I went there and had a really great experience over those two years. I was enthusiastic and passionate about my work but also, from a personal perspective, being a single young woman in her early 20s in middle eastern society, in a culture I’m not as familiar with, it was an eye-opening experience. It was not a huge shock but there were lots of cultural differences.
That’s where I say that my upbringing helped in that regard. Because I was always very much aware of different cultures. There was never one culture or one stereotype. After that I asked to be moved to New York. So, I got posted to New York, and I got exposed to the different parts of banking, wholesale, corporate banking, and had a phenomenal five years. There I tried a few different areas and ended up in the space of risk management. I really enjoyed it.
And what brought you to Singapore?
It was the personal drivers. I had family here in Asia, in Thailand and Singapore, and having been in the States for a while, I was ready to try Asia. That’s when I got an opportunity with PwC in Singapore. One thing led to another, I joined as a manager, progressed to senior manager and then made it to partner within four years of being here. Since then, my work has changed significantly.
You are also a partner, what did that change mean to you and your career?
Well, obviously, it’s great to be recognized and know you’re deemed as someone who can be a partner. But there’s this additional separate responsibility. You are the decision maker and you are not necessarily shielded from all the things for being a partner. There’s that increased exposure, you’re involved in and aware of more things that you might be sheltered from before. The good, the bad, and the ugly. You’re also getting experience and maturity. You apply that to the way that you structure and develop your team to build relationships with clients, and you develop yourself.
On a personal level, things have changed significantly. I married and had three kids, in addition to my career progression. My personal goals were no longer to travel. Traveling with three kids is different than traveling by yourself. My personal goals shifted, and I wanted to do something where I could develop but also be there for my family.
When did your career choice click for you?
I’ve always been business minded. It was not like I was an artist and just wanted to travel. Banking fits with me as a person. I knew that. I was choosing a career path that aligned with my own personal goals.
What’s a workday for you like?
Every day is different. And that’s one of the things that I was looking for when I moved from banking to consulting 11 years ago. I needed to get out of the routine of knowing what every month, every quarter, what everything would look like. That’s what I loved about consulting; you just never know what any day is going to be. Your diary is all set up, you know what meetings you’re attending, what work you’re meant to be doing. But then you get a phone call. And suddenly there is this urgent opportunity, wherever globally, or in Singapore, and everything must focus on that. Or there could be a major issue that’s pulling up on one of the projects, or the client wants some urgent support. It keeps you on your toes and you’re constantly challenged.
What’s a common misconception about being a financial services risk manager that you would like to correct?
The misconception is that it’s not essential. It is increasingly seen as something that needs to be brought forward in the key decision making. But it’s not there yet. Risk management in the financial services sector has evolved significantly since I started working 18 years ago. When I first started, it was almost treated as a niche job, in a way. It’s like, we want to do business, we got to bring in opportunities, and we have to tick a few boxes and some of the risk factors. With the way things evolved, especially with the big financial crisis, risk has certainly come to the forefront.
What’s the role of data and analytics in financial services risk management?
Financial institutions are old, like they have nothing other than their own products. That’s what they are based on. Yes, you have products, but the products are intangible. But they have always been about data to me.
How effectively the user data is used, is another area that begs questions. But what we are increasingly seeing is this link between risk and data. When I’m using the word data, it’s holistically for data and analytics. We’ve come up with something called data trust, which is about building trust in data. Do you trust your own data? Can you depend on the quality of your data? Can you also do something to make sure that there is trust in the overall way that people use their data? We’re seeing that as a link between risk and data.
What would you say are the most understated skill-sets for people looking to get into data and tech?
This is perhaps another misconception when someone says ‘I’m in data analytics.’ People think that means you’re a data scientist or a data architect. And don’t get me wrong, you do need that. I’m not under-estimating it. We need people in the team with those skill sets. But increasingly so, you need people who have that plus business and domain knowledge. And that’s a rare commodity to have. At least the understanding, if not some technical data capability, as well as the business capability.
What advice would you give to someone who’s thinking of switching careers but is unsure?
There are some people who are so passionate about what they’re doing and what they want to do. They know what their path is and they’re doing everything to follow that. But I’d say many of us are people who follow our drivers at a certain point in life, and those drivers may stay the same or they may change.
You need to look for opportunities that match how you are changing as a person. These opportunities may align at the same time, or they may not. I think a lot of it is taking yourself out of your comfort zone. Sometimes there’s an opportunity and it’s not what you were thinking, but maybe it is worth trying. See if it fits or not, because I think that, as individuals, many times we dismiss things if we’re not comfortable with them. And if we give it a shot, what’s the worst that can happen in six months or a year of my life? Maybe it’s something I realise I don’t want to do. That’s fine, but at least that’s a bit more experience to add to my credentials. It’s flexibility and openness to opportunities.
Any specific advice for working mums or anyone else who must juggle multiple responsibilities outside of work?
Don’t be too hard on yourself. That’s all I can say. I think women are more tough on ourselves and we take on too much. And we beat ourselves up too much. And I’m guilty of that as much as the next person.
But you know what? Your child will become maybe a bit more used to other people being there to support or to be a bit more independent. And your team will have a bit more autonomy, to get empowerment to do something themselves. I think as parents, we do things because we want to set the right example.
What I want to be able to set as an example for all my children (I have two girls and one boy) is, regardless of gender, upbringing, or education, I want them to be driven by what excites them, but also by pragmatism. There are some sacrifices that each of us may need to make along the way to achieve whatever those drivers are.
What’s a passion project that you want to share?
I have to say with my youngest having just turned 13 months, I’ve had to sacrifice my own direct personal projects. I only have so much time. But one, what I try to include my interests in my day to day. It might be something as straightforward as cooking. I love cooking so I will cook most meals every single day, because I enjoy that. And that’s a bit of my escape. In due course I would like to do some volunteering again, but for right now, my priority is my kids and spending time with them.