COVID has made networking easier!
By Alexander Malitsky, TD Securities
Some might scratch their heads about this headline and wonder ‘how exactly is that possible?! Networking without seeing each other is just a waste of time!’. Bear with me! I’d like to take you on a quick journey on how I’ve been networking since the COVID breakout and why I believe this ‘new world’ might actually be just right for some young professionals, who want to build a genuine connection to people in the industry.
Let’s go back to February 2020. Most young professionals in the financial industry have just been through a period that some might call the busiest of the year. Any networking event that is being organised these days just seems like another to-do in our calendar. On the one hand you know this event may somehow benefit your career, on the other hand you might fear the exhausting nature of networking – especially during these days.
I know this cannot be generalised – some might love going to network at events and socialise - but if you are like me and ‘networking’ is not just not your cup of tea, the fact that COVID has resulted in a cancellation of basically all face-to-face events may actually be beneficial for you!
Let’s face some of the most common fears of networking events. First, you go into a room full of (potential) strangers, which may already make you anxious. Second, you might have prepared a few words to say about yourself, but you never seem to get across who you are in a genuine way? Third, you already imagine an uncomfortable situation of loud background noises where your counterpart didn’t understand you and asked ‘what?’ for the third time in a row…?
Why don’t we look at the world as it is now, in November 2020. First, online events and online roundtables give you the opportunity to join networking events without exposing yourself to an (overwhelming) crowd of people. You can see who is participating, you can listen to the discussions and you can ask questions (often in chat format), without any need for anxiety – take all the time you need to get comfortable!
Second, if you want people to know who you are at a glance, LinkedIn has all the tools you need. Don’t view it as an online CV! Especially now, use the platform to present the first impression YOU would like people to have of you. Get the full message of who you are across and add a few personal sentences in the ‘About’ section.
Third, reach out to people from panel discussions or other online events via 1on1 messages on LinkedIn or via Email. Say what you enjoyed about the event and exchange thoughts without any disruptions. Expand the conversation to discuss trends in your company or what is currently happening in markets – you can now easily focus on one person at a time!
Most importantly, do not view online networking as a form of ‘asking for favours’, but instead use the opportunity that we are all in the same situation: We are all looking for some kind of conversation and nobody will blame you for ‘hiding behind your screen’. That’s all it is! And who knows, if you take advantage of the current environment, you might run into many ‘Ah nice to finally see you in person’-situations at your next post-COVID (ICMA) networking event!
Until then, looking forward to seeing you at the next ICMA Future Leaders online event!
How to create visibility while working from home
By Mads Leonhardt Thomsen, Leonhardt Coaching & Mentoring
There is no doubt that being visible in an organisation and being appreciated for what you bring can act as a powerful career enabler. Having senior sponsors and ambassadors can create opportunities and open doors you had not even thought of. In times before COVID the office space created many different opportunities to meet and engage with various stakeholders both formally and informally, from the chat by the coffee machine to presenting at meetings.
Many of us now find ourselves working from home and with less face time and informal opportunities to engage and interact with key stakeholders. There are though still many things you can do to stay present and visible.
First of all, companies will still have ongoing projects and project presentations. If you have the time, identify an interesting project where you know you will be working with important stakeholders. They might be directly involved, or they might be steering the project. It is a perfect chance to get visibility while creating value. Invest in the project, bring your best to the team and attend status presentations etc - or even do the presentation. And don’t forget to turn on your camera, when you are at Team or Zoom meetings.
Additionally, organisation still have plenty of normal meetings going on online. Even bigger meetings as townhalls or department status/update meetings take place. Actually, these will typically be online for many international organisations even without COVID. Use these opportunities to ask questions or give reflections on what has been shared. Naturally be mindful what you ask or share however speakers typically get very few questions at bigger meetings and hence there is a great opportunity for you to stand out positively.
Now, beside the above opportunities you can target a more focused online engagement with key stakeholders. In my view networking has not necessarily become more difficult with COVID. However, it might require a different approach. Many young professionals hold back from reaching out to more senior stakeholders and feel they have nothing interesting to add (which is absolutely not true as they can add creativity, new ideas and will be the future leaders - just to mention a few things). One recommendation is to reach out to senior stakeholders with a purpose to learn: to learn more about them and their background, to learn more about their organisation as part of your career planning, to learn more about an interesting project going on in their team. Senior stakeholders are of course busy people, but they typically also enjoy sharing perspectives and their knowledge with younger colleagues. Simply put, write to someone and ask if they are willing to spend 45 mins with you online and share more about a topic you are interested in.
Overall my main point is that there are plenty of opportunities for you to create visibility but with more work going on online you need to be more focused on how to create it.
Diversity & inclusion in the workplace – your voice is valuable
By Cressida Wyer and Denise Kawooya, BAME Recruitment
The importance of diversity and inclusion in the workplace is almost undisputed. When we are faced with the myriad of advantages from a people and business perspective, the evidence is overwhelming. In diverse and equitable teams, we see a marked increase in creativity and problem-solving, in turn leading to an increase in revenue. With different life experiences comes more informed decision-making. Furthermore, a diverse and inclusive company makes employees feel more valued and provides a sense of belonging that will attract and retain the best talent. These points, supported frequently by statistics and case studies, make a persuasive case for companies to invest in D&I.
Whilst this impetus must be driven largely by senior management, young professionals should not feel disheartened in this journey of change. Your voice is valuable and capable of making a real difference. We explore a few ways that you can drive inclusivity in your workplace and encourage all employees to be their authentic self.
After the horrendous killing of George Floyd, the discussion around what employers are doing for their black employees and ethnic minorities generally has become prevalent. What emotional support have they provided for their staff? What efforts are being made to destroy institutional racism? Confronting employers with these questions continually will contribute to their journey of change.
This movement has brought to the forefront other ways to improve inclusivity. For instance, most organisations revolve around traditional Christian belief systems without accommodating alternative faiths. Ask yourself: what does your employer do to acknowledge other religious holidays such as Eid, Diwali, Hanukkah? Are there prayer rooms available? These small actions translate into a powerful message of acceptance to people of all backgrounds. Start the conversation - it is up to each of us to advocate for the needs of others.
Would you describe your workplace as LGBTQ+ welcoming? Do you have gender-neutral toilets? Do you celebrate Pride as an organisation? Pose these questions to management and push for answers. You can also take simple actions yourself to show acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community. Be conscious of gender-specific language, don’t assume pronouns, and try to use phrases such as ‘partner’ instead of ‘wife’ or ‘husband’ with colleagues. Language can be a powerful tool for inclusion – ask if you are unsure.
During the pandemic, flexible working has become the norm and the work-life balance has become more visible than ever before. As young professionals, we can push for this ‘new normal’ to be sustained long-term. Flexibility is a workplace asset that widens a pool of potential employees immeasurably to be inclusive of parents needing to work around childcare, people who struggle to commute and people with disabilities who cannot commit to a full working week in an office.
It is important to practice allyship to all underrepresented groups and champion their voices for everyone to feel included and embraced. More people are prioritising diversity and inclusion in their careers, whether from a minority background or not. We can all be instrumental in the fight for change.
Networking, training, and “Zoom fatigue”
By Tom Capon (Chair of the Future Leaders legal working group) and Ranamit Banerjee, both structured finance and capital markets lawyers at major international firms
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a catastrophic impact on the global economy in 2020 and is looking to continue its course well into 2021. In this reality, the City and other financial centres need to adapt as we take steps towards recovering from the pandemic (or managing functionality and displaying resilience while it continues). The term “new normal” is being used universally to refer to this, but there is by no means a universal view as to what it will look like. In this piece, we want to address what this means more broadly for young professionals in the Square Mile (although of direct relevance to most other financial services hubs), focussing on both training and talent development as well as networking and business development.
While we feel that there are opportunities to develop the digital framework of our economy further, we believe the future of the City will still rely considerably on physical presence of those institutions that are based there. This is wider than the handful of jobs which, for regulatory and/or governance reasons, will require physical workspaces.
The necessity vs the “nice to have”: training, learning and nurturing talent
On-location activity is particularly important for some industry roles, as with traders who need robust, real-time communication and sales teams that are subject to specific compliance monitoring. This creates a variety of workforce challenges that have been largely untested at scale — until now. Many of the largest banks have already invoked plans that would split teams into different locations on alternating schedules to manage the infection risk. We’ve seen efforts to limit office movement and redesign office space to increase the distance between workers. Some firms are going further, restricting or even banning contractors and other visitors. But, and this is a key issue, no single method is being applied across the board (i.e., this is institution-led and instigated).
But what of those professions where working in a physical office is not a necessity from a regulatory or governance perspective? While lockdowns have clearly had an impact on the ability to do certain types of work (for instance, M&A on-site due diligence), few in our profession, would assert that there had been any reduction in the quality of service being provided by major capital markets practices among City law firms, and (with effective policies in place to maintain health and safety risks and the like) there is no regulatory necessity for us to work in an office with other team members. It has by and large been perceived to be a seamless service (not ignoring the challenges faced by many while working remotely) where the remote nature of teams has been barely noticeable beyond the occasional, and welcome, interruption of pets or children on video calls.
While there were pockets of primary market activity, the start of lockdown was dominated in the finance and capital markets space by potential and actual consents and restructurings brought about by the impact of the pandemic. This, by its very nature, was bespoke work that more junior members of teams were less involved in at the outset. Add that to the continuing remote working environment, and there is clearly a training deficit when it comes to young professionals who would have otherwise benefitted from working in a close knit team in an office environment, learning through listening, observing and spontaneously, and orally, bouncing ideas off their transaction colleagues. A virtual call is a long way from popping over for a chat. Of course, that’s not to say that firms have not adapted quickly to providing a good level of formal training and learning opportunities remotely, which is vital in particular for law firms, particularly bearing in mind the way training contracts are structured. By informal training we include activities such as the mere observation of transaction dynamics and learning from more senior colleagues who lead by example in the workplace.
From our own experiences in the capital markets legal space, and from having spoken to many of our colleagues in other roles across the City, we believe that it is vital to nurturing the next generation of talent in the City that there are a set of parameters for firms to effectively plan for a return to the office. This is not simply a “nice to have” in the long term. There has to of course be a balance between managing the evolving risks of the pandemic against certainty of parameters around return to work policy which would enable the City to define a “new normal” and empower its professionals to resettle.
Networking and personal business development: moving beyond those established relationships and interacting with clients and others
This pandemic has forced us to appreciate the value of social capital and our ability to interact with one another. The antidote to this forced social experiment is leveraging collaborative productivity technologies to enhance interpersonal connections. It was increasingly apparent that for services firms in the City, such as law firms, the ability to go into lock-down at such short notice was because of those key long-term relationships with existing clients. Innovation is key to the winning of new business, as it always was before now – with an additional layer of technology enhancing/challenging the pitching experience.
But with a reduction in physical meetings with existing clients and, in the case of those in our line of work, post-closing catch-ups, how can young professionals develop their own personal network and be visible to new clients? There were always two levels to this.
- First, networking through creating a visible presence in the market, so as to solicit those all-important reverse enquiries.
- Second, events and sessions which act as a focal point for young professionals to hone their networking skills and meet peers and clients alike.
The first has become ever more important in the current circumstances.
Our informal chats with other professionals in the city echo the FT article finding that the current strategy for professionals trying to build a virtual network is by doing a lot more of something they once did rarely: “post stuff on LinkedIn”, with the ambition of “staying relevant” and being “in people’s minds”. As reported by the same FT article, the number of conversations between LinkedIn’s members jumped 55 per cent in March from the same month last year.
There are several key legal and regulatory developments at the moment both as a direct consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic and more generally. And there is therefore a wide scope to not only re-post material from one’s employer, but also one’s own content, including podcasts and written thought pieces. For instance, members of the ICMA Future Leaders legal working group made a podcast during lockdown, which focussed on practical legal implications of COVID-19 for primary capital markets activity.
A reason for optimism?
The two aspects of development for young professionals, training and networking/business development, have clearly been impacted severely by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The most severely impacted of these would appear to be the informal training a young professional can gain from a physical office setting with colleagues. A manageable plan for a return to offices (at least on a flexible basis) seems to be the only long term fix for this. However, there is still huge opportunity, not least for those young professionals in the finance and capital markets legal space, to develop that external presence and personal brand vital to developing one’s career. In particular, building an online presence and providing insightful and thoughtful content has never been more important, and the opportunities are boundless. Individual innovation is key and young professionals should seek to capture that entrepreneurial spirit.
How is tech changing Debt Capital Markets?
By Gabriel Callsen, ICMA
How is tech changing Debt Capital Markets and how does DLT and AI/ML fit in? Are there ground-breaking innovations, or are we making incremental changes? To get a taste of what technology solutions are out there, ICMA maintains directories of what’s available across the DCM spectrum – from the primary market issuance to secondary market cash bond trading, repo trading, and all the operations-oriented processes. So, what are we seeing?
Primary markets: From our latest review a standout theme has been the increased supply of workflow and communications tools, such as the automation of final terms or direct connectivity between counterparts. We also see technology platforms expanding from the Schuldschein market into bond markets.
Secondary markets bond trading: Usable data insights are at the core of trading platforms - we see increasing use of enriched market data such as transparency data produced by MiFID II for trading insights. We’ve also seen the recent approval of BondbloX’s blockchain-based exchange by MAS in Singapore this month – blockchain, in this case, is being used to fractionalise bonds into smaller denominations.
Repo trading: Only around one-third of all European repo business is conducted via ‘ATSs’ or automatic/semi-automatic trading systems (ICMA 2020 Repo survey). But still, we see tech increasing connectivity between different trading channels and across order or position management systems using application programming interfaces (APIs) and enabling straight-through-processing (STP) .
Operations: We’ve seen substantial increases in the number of tech solutions available for repo and cash bond operations, with a strong focus again on STP and process automation tools to manage legal and operational processes.
Not all solutions require FinTech buzz-words. In fact, most value-added fintech services in DCMs manage data and look to standardise inputs and outputs across multiple systems. This is why we’re looking at extending the Common Domain Model (CDM) to repo and bonds – consistent building blocks will shape the landscape for years to come.