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Hena Naranbhai: from studying Business Studies & Finance to Director Strategic Development

Social media handle(s): LinkedIn

A few words about me:

I’m a Director Strategic Development, working in Financial Services, having recently led a multi year big data programme for Finance.

I am also a qualified accountant who stubbled on a career in technology as a means of making my day job more efficient and effective.

Of South Asian heritage, I’ve often found myself being the first; the first girl in my family to go to university, to have an incredible career in Canary Wharf, London to push boundaries where role models didn’t exist for me. This is important to me as I'm also a mum of two and want to empower my children to strive for more.

Are there any professional experiences you've had that are quite unexpected compared to what you do nowadays?

I think in the early part of my career, I was pushing boundaries and it felt like I was the first. Sometimes I was told I was too ambitious and too young which maybe then I accepted, but 20 years on I wouldn’t. I had opportunities to trade in structured products and derivatives in a bank, but because it was a nationalised bank in Yorkshire there was no sponsorship or career support to continue when moving to London.

To be fair, I’ve been fortunate to explore many aspects of Financial Services but it wasn't until more recently that I’ve understood and had the confidence to capitalise on these experiences. In addition to this I’ve never asked for more. I now perhaps stand at a crossroads and ponder what's next and ask how could I be a future Managing Director or CIO. Or just someone who will make a difference to other children’s lives as a role model in the future.

Is your background more STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) or non-STEM related?

Non-STEM as I didn’t set out to follow a STEM career path. I’d worked out I enjoyed Maths until I completely failed A Level Maths. I went onto University to do a generic Business Studies degree. I found I was both good at and enjoyed the accounting modules so I majored in Finance. This also meant I had more professional accreditations.

Where did your professional journey start?

I left University with a BA in Finance with Business. At this point in time, I decided that I wanted to be an Accountant. But I couldn’t find a job so I took on various temporary roles. The first one was in a logistics company as a Finance Assistant. It was a new operation and their recently appointed Finance Manager left. The company allowed me to fill this role on a temporary basis but wouldn’t let me apply for it on a permanent basis because I was straight out of university.

I felt I deserved more and so I found a role in a FTSE100 company as a Payroll Clerk. Within 12 months I was promoted to a Finance Assistant and they were paying for my accountancy qualification. I completed my professional qualification with this company and was promoted once more.

It wasn’t until I got married that I moved to Yorkshire and started a career in Financial Services - initially cost accounting for marketing function and then moving into treasury. I learnt so much in such a small organisation. Particularly because there was a lot of manual work around for technology.

If I fast forward another 5 years, I then find myself in the big smoke, London working for one of the biggest banks in the UK with over 48 million customers globally. I realised my day job was inefficient and I wanted to make a difference. So when I returned after a maturity break, I joined a Transformation Programme. This is where my career into technology first starts to take shape. I got exposed to organisational design and activities a traditional Business Analyst would do - such as eliciting requirements, running workshops and so on. From here, I moved from one programme to another as a BA, Project Manager, Test Manager to a Programme Manager, and finally a Programme Director.

How did you get into tech and what motivated you?

My key motivation was to make my day job better. It was to fix the use of posting journals and preparing reports efficiently and effectively. I also wanted a greater sense of achievement. Working on projects and then a programme gave me that sense of accomplishment. I've never done a technical role. The closest to a technical role was being a Test Manager for Group Finance as part of the Structural Reform Programme. This was where UK banks had to separate their UK business from their investment arm.

My remit included the submission of all Financial Reporting to the European Banking Authority (EBA) and all Prudential Risk Reports, covering the Group and all legal entities. Strategising, planning and executing all required careful consideration. But the buzz I got is what has kept me in tech. And knowing this is where I want to be!

Have you experienced any 'career in tech' challenges / stereotypes?

I’m from a generation where I may have been the only woman in the room, the only woman of colour and often outnumbered. But I’m so glad times are changing.

"Be comfortable with being the first. Someone has to be. And in this instance you’re the chosen trend setter."

What you wish you knew before getting started in tech...

I wish there had been positive roles models out there to share the possibilities in technology with me. I think I discovered technology by chance and therefore encourage more people to share their experiences.

What has been your biggest 'wow!' moment related to working in tech so far?

When I became a Director in a FSTE 100 company - I hope this isn’t the end of it. And I was also recognised as a We Are The City’s Rising Stars of 2023.

What do you like / not like about working in tech?

I love the people and diversity that tech provides us with. The possibilities are endless you just need an imagination.

What I like less is that we still have a long way to go to achieve equity. But I hope one day soon this is accomplished with everyone’s support.

"I wish there had been positive roles models out there to share the possibilities in technology with me. I think I discovered technology by chance and therefore encourage more people to share their experiences."

What's been your favourite / most memorable / funniest 'career in tech' moment so far?

My most memorable career moment was watching one of my interns within the organisation grow from stepping outside her comfort zone to where she is today. I’m very proud of her.

And to wrap up, is there any advice you'd like to give to others interested in a career in tech?

Don’t judge a job spec … consider your unique skills and growth opportunities when benchmarking a role.

Be comfortable with being the first. Someone has to be. And in this instance you’re the chosen trend setter.

And finally you need mentors and sponsors to accelerate your career journey.


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