Partner insight: HSBC Insurance UK's COO imparts three decade's worth of financial services wisdom
Jo Cooper has been with HSBC Life (previously Midland Personal Financial Services) for around 30 years
Having joined as an admin temp with no prior experience at a bank or financial services institution, Jo Cooper did not expect to end up working for a company like HSBC, however - all these years on - COVER senses that it was possibly always meant to be.
Serving as a trainee underwriter, she's worked also in supervisory and management roles, and led teams in the firm's fast-growing life and pensions business before ending up in project management. It was here that she was able to juggle work with two small children, while moving through the ranks to reach the role of chief operating officer of HSBC's insurance division.
Someone who has used her people skills and experience managing diverse teams to help drive an inclusive workplace agenda, we caught up with Jo to find out how she achieved all she has, what she's learnt along the way and why her role is so fulfilling.
What challenges have you faced during your time at HSBC and what helped you overcome them?
Being a working mum is often a challenge. Trying to maintain the right balance between work and home is tough at times, especially in the early years, before flexible working was an option and technology enabled us to work remotely. For a time, I worked a four-day week but more often than not, I still had the responsibility of a full-time role. I learnt early on in my career that building a strong team around you is essential. Never make yourself indispensable and always allow others to experience what it's like to ‘walk in your shoes'. I have spent a lot of time over the years mentoring, particularly return to work mothers. Sharing my experiences and providing them with coping strategies for dealing with the guilt they very often feel when the kids need to come before work and vice versa. It's a constant balancing act. There is no greater sense of personal satisfaction than seeing one of your mentees develop and grow.
There are some aspects in the design and pricing of protection products that can be technically challenging, as I experienced over the last 10 years working with a team of highly qualified accountants and actuaries. All I ever wanted to really understand was whether the customer recognises what they are buying and whether are getting a good deal. Nobody really wants to spend their hard earned cash on buying protection policies so it is important that we are there for our customers during their time of need, by delivering an exceptional level of customer service and always safeguarding the HSBC brand and its values.
How have you witnessed HSBC Insurance UK and the wider industry change over the years?
The evolution in technology, as in most businesses, has been massive and the way in which our customers want to interact has changed significantly. We have to offer our customers their channel of choice and develop our products to be simple to both understand and access. In my early years, it was mainly banks and brokers that sold the products, now there are many other competitors in the market. What differentiates HSBC is that we have been around since 1865. The experiences of the past century and a half have formed the character of HSBC. A glance at our history explains why we believe in building long-term relationships with customers. The bank has weathered change in all forms and adapted to survive.
Why is inclusion and diversity such an important aspect for a business to get right?
Research tells us over 1,000 companies across 12 countries found that firms in the top quartile for gender diversity (21%) and ethnic diversity (33%) are more likely to enjoy greater financial results.
Almost no company operates in just one country these days. HSBC has a network that operates in 66 countries and territories. Together with a global enterprise comes a global audience. In other words, the customer we serve is a representation of a global society. Our organisation must reflect that. There are so many benefits to diversity in the workforce. Front and centre are that it improves delivery to customers.
It also supports personal development, staff satisfaction, talent attraction and employee retention. Therefore it is essential we promote diversity and inclusion in a balanced way wherever we can.
Diversity encourages a more creative and innovative workforce, which in turn drives improved employee engagement, demonstrates a great organisation culture and very importantly attracts talent from all areas. Regardless of our identity or background we all deserve the opportunity to thrive. It is essential to have teams and leaders within HSBC that represent the people we serve.
What advice would you give to women embarking on a career in financial services?
There are a wide range of roles available within the financial services sector. Explore these opportunities, be yourself and make a real difference. Don't focus on the things you can't do or don't have experience in. Talk about and promote the great things you have done and want to learn. Build lasting relationships and wide networks, they will prove invaluable along the way. We need women to help businesses thrive, it is vital for the sustainability of any business or economy, everybody benefits. I would say I have been really lucky, others would say I have worked extremely hard. Whichever the case may be, HSBC has believed in and nurtured me, provided the flexibility to balance work with home life and enabled me to thrive and prosper.
Jo Cooper is chief operating officer of HSBC Insurance UK
Across 190 countries
Nearly five million in UK
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