• Role: International Management
  • University: Edinburgh
  • Degree: MA (Hons) International Business and Italian
  • Organisation: HSBC

Sophie Biagoli

My interest in an international banking career started when I was still at university, while I was completing a year abroad on the ERASMUS programme in Milan. I am now one of approximately 400 globally mobile International Managers (IM) in the HSBC Group, which is key to our talent management and mobility strategy.

When I first joined HSBC, I attended the four-week Group Graduate Development Programme, which is an intensive and structured development course covering finance, strategy, marketing, leadership and development that is taught at our Group Management College.

I attended this with colleagues from 27 countries worldwide and they still form part of my network with whom I exchange information and ideas.

HSBC also helped me obtain a second degree in Finance from Manchester University (ACIB), which I completed by studying via a distance learning programme.

International Management Programme

As an IM I am permanently globally mobile, and will work for HSBC in whichever business line required, in any of our 88 countries and territories. I was given three weeks to move from New York State, where I was working as a Credit Analyst in Commercial Banking, to London, out of our Group HQ offices in Canary Wharf. Although this provides an interesting environment and base to work in with colleagues from all around the group, I don’t find myself based here for a lot of my working life!

My current role within our Financial and Institutions Group sits in our Global Banking and Markets operations. I am part of a global team with three hubs, which respectively cover Latin America from NYC, Asia from Hong Kong and Europe, the Middle East and Africa from London.

My role is quite unique, in that I evaluate existing client relationships which HSBC has in place with counterparty banks, in locations where HSBC has no or very little presence on the ground.

This means I am expected to take on a fair amount of travel across the 40 countries that we cover. The purpose of this is to assess any risks, which our bank may be taking on via our third party relationships. To give you a better feel for what I get up to, I’ve tried to give a realistic picture of my role by recounting a recent trip to Ethiopia:

A week in Ethiopia

Yes, it’s a Sunday morning and my working week has already started. I’m at Heathrow, ready to take an early morning flight to Addis Ababa. I have to be flexible to fit in with the working week of the client. For example, in some of the Middle Eastern countries that we work in, the working week will be Sunday to Thursday.

This week we’ll be reviewing 12 commercial banks in Ethiopia, to assess our inherent risks via our counterparties.

It’s my responsibility to gather as much information as possible on each bank so that my team is informed before the client meetings. I use existing internal data, information from client websites, investor reports such as Moodys, Fitch and S&P. I scrutinise annual reports and tap into various media sources that we have available.

I brief my boss on the country’s economic, political and banking sector and leave him with a big stack of documents to read on the flight!

Our client meetings are back to back, so I don’t have much time to explore my surroundings, but Addis is surprisingly green and lush from what I can see.

By meeting three, I’m starting to get a sense of the key market issues and drivers from the people we encounter, and some of the regulatory issues that the Central Bank is working on.

Today, I met with the High Commissioner of the British Embassy and the American Economic Advisers from the US Embassy. Our team likes to talk to local external parties such as these to gain an alternative view of the market. It’s an excellent forum for thrashing out ideas and issues that we might have picked up on in our meetings to date, and excellent from a networking perspective.

In the evening we host a dinner for all the Ethiopian Bank Presidents, which allows us a bit more time to ask informal questions that we didn’t have a chance to get to in our earlier meetings.

So far, everyone we have met with is very receptive to HSBC and has welcomed us warmly. I realise the power of our strong international brand, as it’s evident that local banks are keen to learn best practices from us – we agree to conduct training sessions locally and out of our Johannesburg offices to assist with Trade and Payments systems.

Our big meeting of the day is with the Governor of the Central Bank and this is very valuable to us, as it lays out what we can expect in terms of new developments for the banking sector, new entrants, regulations which we can expect our counterparties to comply with, and how the Central Bank goes about supervising local activity.

It is clear that the adoption of modern IT systems, compliance infrastructure and more open governance procedures is needed and we discuss this at length in our meetings.

I have a few hours before catching our flight back to the UK, and use this time to discuss the outcome of the meetings with my boss. We agree an action plan for each bank that we have reviewed.

I feel physically and mentally exhausted by this stage – in this type of role you’re fighting jet lag and general fatigue from a long working week, but also need to keep enthusiasm high and focus on the precious time with clients.

Nevertheless, I’ve come away knowing an awful lot more about a culture and a country and have a much better sense of the risks that the economic, political and banking sector faces here.

I’m back in London now, and I’m de-briefing other members of the team on our trip. I’ve got to get reports out to senior management as quickly as possible, to best communicate any issues we want to raise, so I start to prepare my notes and recommendations while the information is fresh in my head. I certainly don’t look glamorous – red eye flights are never easy!

Just as I think of unwinding, we hear that one of the senior managers would like more information on a suspected bank fraud case of a bank based in Eastern Europe, so we call a quick meeting to decide how to best tackle this unexpected workflow!

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