• Role: Head of Rates Structuring, Global Coordinator
  • Organisation: BNP Paribas

Fatos Akbay

Fatos has always had a love of maths. Her two first degrees were numerate, and she initially thought she was destined for a career in academia. A spell working at an executive search firm, however, sparked an interest in Investment Banking. She joined BNP Paribas in 2008, where she currently heads up their Rates Structuring EMEA team and is now the Global Coordinator.

I’m from Turkey and studied my first degree there. I loved maths but didn’t want to rule out a more business-orientated career, so I did a double major in Maths and Business Administration.

I then moved to London to study at the London School of Economics. I was doing an MSc in Operational Research, which is essentially applied maths. At this point I thought I was destined for a PhD and a career in academia. I really hadn’t considered a career in Investment Banking at all

It was a chance sighting of a job advert for a headhunting firm that set me on this path. This firm specialised in placing senior hires at hedge funds and was looking for a Business Analyst to help them research the marketplace. The role appealed to me because it was very dynamic and involved meeting very senior and successful people at different financial institutions, allowing me to learn about the market and the whole financial ecosystem.

It was there that I first became seriously interested in finance. It was 2007; the market was still booming and lots of hedge funds were starting up. It was an exciting time. As part of my job, I got to meet lots of clients and gained exposure to their world. I became more interested in the jobs themselves than the people we could place into them.

So that’s when I took the plunge. During a meeting with the Head of Structuring at BNP Paribas, I revealed that I’d like to move client side. I basically took a risk and said “I want a job with you”! They must have been impressed, as I was then invited for an interview.

What was your first experience of banking like?

Moving from a headhunting firm to an investment bank was not the norm. However, with the support of some great colleagues, I was able to make it work. I spent four years on the Inflation Derivatives desk, learning how things work, before I got my first big promotion. Since then, I’ve risen up the ranks quite swiftly.

BNP Paribas has a very meritocratic culture. Here, it’s not about the years you put in; it’s about how good you are. If you have the ability, you can progress rapidly. That’s why I was able to head up a team after only four years. I don’t think there are many other industries where that would happen. It is even rare within banking.

What is a typical day like for you?

In truth, there’s no such thing as a typical day in structuring. It’s a very dynamic environment because we sit between trading, sales and the client. This means I might have a day out meeting clients, being a salesperson, understanding their problems and designing solutions but then another day, I might be immersed in spreadsheets.

Likewise, one day I might be helping traders work out the right hedge to put in place. The next, I might find myself analysing regulations and accountancy rules because these can often have an impact on our solutions.

What challenges does the industry face?
Challenges are part and parcel of the industry. You have to be able to anticipate them and adapt. For example, when I first joined the inflation desk, the market went from being high inflation to low and in some cases even deflation. That meant we needed to change our focus from institutional clients (who typically are active traders of inflation products in high inflation scenarios) towards corporate clients who react better to different products.

What are the myths about Investment Banking?

A lot of people have this perception that it’s a cut-throat, male-dominated industry. But that hasn’t been borne out by my experience. For example, in the beginning of 2016 I took time out to start a family. Most people would think that would limit my career, but that hasn’t been the case at all. Only six months after returning, I got promoted to my global role.

Do you have any advice for anyone wanting to get into the industry?

Be open and flexible. Don’t get too stressed about choosing your first job – it is “only” your first job. You might realise it is not your dream job, but that’s OK. So long as you find a job that offers opportunities to learn and grow, you have made the right choice. Do what you are supposed to do really well, and take your chances when they appear. Don’t be afraid of taking risks! Otherwise you will never grow or achieve your true potential.

At BNP Paribas you get that flexibility and training. For example, graduates who join my desk end up doing lots of different things from day one. Initially, we’ll get them involved with pricing on established products. That way, they get to know the market, the clients and the products. However, we’ll soon get them working on other things. For example, if we come up with a new product, we’ll get them to carry out the analysis and help us put together the marketing materials.

Graduates here have real responsibilities. You’re expected to deliver very quickly. But by the same token, we’ll take your development seriously. As a manager, it’s in my interest to train and look after my graduates. I get judged by their progress.

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