‘Banking industry encourages diversity’

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Bank of Melbourne’s Executive Manager Fiona Gomez talks to the IEC about what it takes to be a successful migrant in Australia

Fiona Gomez, Executive Manager, Commercial Banking, South and South Eastern Region, Bank of Melbourne, says her career as a banker started out as part-time teller whilst at University. Her interest in the sector took her through a range of roles from bank branches, through retail lending and then business and commercial Banking, and it is this “breadth” within the banking industry that she believes enabled her to have a thorough understanding of the bank and has a wide range of contacts.

Currently managing two commercial banking centres based in Dandenong and Moorabbin, Ms Gomez oversees the management of clients whose business turnovers range from $3M to $200M. She talks to Vinay Sharma, president of the Indian Executive Club, on the successes and challenges she has seen through her career.

The key objective of the IEC is to support, assist and profile executives and the SMEs from the growing Indian Diaspora in Australia.  You are today one of the successful executives from the Indian Diaspora in the banking and finance industry.  We would like to hear more about your journey, including the obstacles you overcame to be where you are today.

My paternal grandfather is from Kerala, India and my maternal grandfather from Sri Lanka. Both sets of grandparents migrated to Malaysia where my parents were born. My family and I migrated to Australia in 1990 so I have completed my education here and my entire working life has been in this country.

I would say that I have been very fortunate as I had a father who is very supportive of my career. I was taught from a young age to challenge and question thoughts and ideas and to feel comfortable about setting a standard. This has meant that I often ask why things are the way they are and challenge the norm. These characteristics have held me in good stead throughout my career to date. Resilience and tenacity are other traits my father taught me and they have been instrumental in helping me achieve my goals.

Like many Indians, I am a migrant to this country and so had to learn the culture, customs and make networks from scratch. As a younger adult, the values and way that I was brought up was quite different to my Australian peers. I remember having to ask permission from my parents to go out and my Australian friends found that notion very strange. Trying to blend the two cultures was difficult initially. However over time, I worked out the best way to integrate my two “lives” in a way that still maintains my identity and core values.

The banking industry has been very welcoming. It encourages diversity and rewards hard work. The biggest challenge has been building a base of contacts. I didn’t have the traditional school, university and parental connection networks that non migrants have. Accordingly, I needed to undertake a variety of networking activities to build these contacts and it has taken a lot of time and effort. This is one area I am constantly working on and I believe I will need to continue well into the future.

What about the gender challenges that you have faced?

Working in commercial banking is a very male oriented environment. However I have found my male counterparts to be very supportive. I try and utilise my strengths but also ask for help when I need it. I have found that people will always help if they can, as long as you are humble and don’t try and bluff your way through. I live by the philosophy that if you do a good job, no one cares what gender you are.

I don’t think being a female has impeded by career growth in any way, however I do try to be a role model for other females. It is difficult to have a family, maintain a home and have a career. I try and lead by example and show that it is okay to enjoy and thrive in your career as well as have home responsibilities and have a work/life balance.

 You current responsibilities include looking after a team of business bankers that service the SME clients in Melbourne South East for Bank of Melbourne. You would have had the opportunity to also understand the key success factors of SME businesses in Australia. What are some of the key success factors you are able to share with the Indian Diaspora who are thinking to start business or are already operating SMEs in Australia.

The key success factors include having a clear goal and business plan. The businesses that are successful are very clear on their strategy and don’t get side-tracked into other ventures. Business leaders also need a defined and knowledgeable support system that is well supported by their accountant, banker, lawyer and financial planner. These support professionals typically know each other and can work well together to assist with the strategy.

Growth is deliberate and structured. Growing too quickly can put pressure on a business and understanding the drivers and keeping this contained is important.

What are the key points of difference for Bank of Melbourne in assisting any businesses and clients who have personal banking requirements such as home and personal loans?

The key point of difference is that our relationship managers have much smaller portfolios of clients than traditional banks, which allows them to be more proactive in their approach. They build a true partnership model where they work closely with the clients and their support networks to add value rather than always just “take an order”.

Access to senior management is important at Bank of Melbourne. There is a flat management structure and clients will meet the head of the region, the head of Corporate and Commercial banking and in many cases our Chief Executive, Mr Scott Tanner. This demonstrates Bank of Melbourne’s willingness to ensure that our customers are well looked after.

Bank of Melbourne is also very active in the local community, regions and segments. There is clear focus to work within communities to add value and build reciprocal beneficial interaction.

Tell us a little more about your team of business banking and personal banking managers and how they are able to assist the Indian Diaspora in Australia.

I have a team of experienced business banking managers. They will work closely with clients to understand their situation past, present and future with a view to build a banking solution that meets their needs both now and into the future. They place a great deal of importance on understanding the business and the flexibility required as well as future aspirations so that they can work together to proactively manage and tweak the banking as required.

 Can you also tell us about any other programmes Bank of Melbourne has in assisting the migrant community and International Banking.

Bank of Melbourne is heavily involved in the migrant community and international banking. We have Ms Alice Wong, Head of International Customer Services, who works closes with migrants coming on the 188 Significant Investor Visa as well as with Asia Link and the Australian India Institute. Alice was also instrumental in working with facilitating a Student Internship, which allowed a student of Indian origin to undertake a 13-week paid internship with Bank of Melbourne.

The IEC is very appreciative of Bank of Melbourne’s assistance in being the key sponsor of the Australia India Update networking function to be held on 9 May at the Melbourne Cricket Grounds. Your senior economist Hans Kunnen will be the keynote speaker.  What are some the key items that Hans will speak about and why would you recommend people to attend this event.

Hans is a very highly regarded and enthusiastic presenter. He makes complex topics understandable and entertaining. Hans will talk about the Australian economy and some of the key drivers underpinning our economic position. This is a great opportunity to ask questions and obtain insight on our current business environment.

 What are some of the key messages you would like to share with the Indian Diaspora aspiring for a successful executive career in Australia.

Be yourself

Be humble and ask for help

Don’t be afraid to shoot for the stars

There is no substitute for hard work.

Published in The Indian Sun (Indians in Melbourne)

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