3 women in finance who are smashing their career goals

women in a company clapping

This year for International Women’s Day, people from around the world are raising their hands to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women, and to reignite a call to action for greater equality. At a time when Australia’s gender pay gap still sits at 13.4% and women hold just 18.3% of CEO positions - according to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) - the 2021 theme ‘ChooseToChallenge’ is particularly timely. It focuses on how we can challenge the status quo and move towards a more inclusive world. 

When we look at finance and banking, it’s no secret the industry continues to be more of a man’s game at the senior management level. In fact, according to research from non-profit organisation Catalyst, globally women made up only 20% of executives in major financial services firms in 2019, although that number has risen from 16% since 2016. Interestingly Australia sits above the global average, at 34%. 

Australian-based neobank 86 400’s chief financial officer, Belinda Hogan says diversity among decision makers is crucial, as otherwise there wouldn’t be a diversity of perspectives, answers and solutions to help address customer needs. 

“When you look statistically at households, a lot of purchase decisions day-to-day are made by women as well. Unfortunately if you’ve only got one half of the equation in the room, it’s really hard to understand how the other half might see that particular problem,” she says. 

So, in celebration of all the brilliant women breaking glass ceilings in 2021, we spoke to a few female leaders in finance including Hogan who are smashing their career goals and inspiring other women to do the same. 

Belinda Hogan: Chief Financial Officer, 86 400

86 400 CFO Belinda Hogan

Belinda Hogan may be young, but her age hasn’t stopped her from making it to the C-suite twice. At just 28, she was appointed Chief Financial Officer at Illawarra Credit Union, nearly a decade after curiosity spurred her to apply for a cadet accountant role there. Then in the last couple of years she made the jump to 86 400’s CFO role, saying the neobank’s mission prompted the “big leap of faith”. 

“As an accountant, when a bank has numbers as its name, it’s obviously always going to be a good fit,” Hogan says. “But it was really the purpose that drew me to 86 400 - the idea of helping every Australian take control of their money, and really looking at how to design banking that’s to help you out, not catch you out.” 

While her position as a young female CFO is statistically a little unusual, Belinda says “banking can be the right supportive environment if you’ve got the right people around you.” Having the technical competencies as well as experience working across multiple departments were also important stepping stones to helping her break into the C-suite early. 

“Once you get to the C-suite and you’re having to look across the whole of the organisation as well as your technical expertise, having some hands-on experience outside your function is invaluable,” Hogan says. “At the Credit Union, I had the opportunity to work not only across every aspect of finance and treasury, but also across credit origination, collections and operations.” 

Her biggest career challenge though has been more internal than external: building up self-confidence and kicking imposter syndrome to the curb. 

“Quite often you’re your own toughest critic, so it’s about really getting in control of that internal dialogue,” she says. “Think really positively about every opportunity and every challenge, and when things are tough, think about how that tough experience is helping you grow.”

Bernadette Inglis: Chief Executive Officer, Newcastle Permanent

Newcastle Permanent CEO Bernadette Inglis

In 2019, Bernadette Inglis became the first-ever female CEO at customer-owned bank Newcastle Permanent. Inglis came to the role with more than two decades of management and leadership experience in financial services behind her, and she said that undoubtedly it’s her greatest accomplishment to date. 

“In this role I’ve been able to build on the stability and consistency built over the previous 118 years [of Newcastle Permanent] and bring new, outside-in thinking and innovation to the organisation,” she says. 

Inglis said her career success has in part been driven by a philosophy “to remain agile, to be excited and inspired by change … and to not lose sight of what’s needed by our customers and our people.” For instance when the pandemic hit, she led Newcastle Permanent to become one of the first banks to offer support to customers facing financial stress. 

“The positive feedback from our customers to how we responded is an incredible achievement, with over 93% saying that they were very satisfied with their experience,” Inglis says. 

“That customer response was achieved because we learned quickly, we listened, we trusted our people and we really considered what success really looked like - something that’s been a cornerstone of my approach throughout my career.”

Renee Cosgrave: General Manager, Stella Insurance

Stella Insurance General Manager, Renee Cosgrave

Talk about a ‘woman of action’! Since her first job in insurance, Renee Cosgrave has gone on to accumulate over 20 years of experience in finance at various global and ASX listed companies. And all while working full time to build her career, Cosgrave has had two daughters within a year of each other - a feat she calls her “biggest accomplishment” to date. 

Today Cosgrave is general manager at Stella, a female-focused insurance company which launched just seven months ago with a vision to “change the game for women, starting with insurance”. 

“Despite the insurance industry seeing more women move into leadership roles in the past five years, the statistics aren’t great. Only 12% of top management roles are held by women and 1% of insurance companies have a female CEO. As an organisation, Stella is helping shift these statistics,” she says. 

“We build from a uniquely female standpoint and put women at the centre of every decision we make, be it product design, purchasing a policy or simply communicating with them.

“Whether we like it or not, men are default humans when it comes to research, product design and testing and the data collected on men, does not, and should not, apply to women.” 

Cosgrave said that in her current role leading the startup with chief executive Sam White, she’s had to “wear many hats”, as every day brings about new challenges and opportunities. 

“However, with a small, agile team we’ve achieved a lot and have so much more to come,” she says. “It is certainly challenging, but equally rewarding.” 

Tips to reach financial independence

The reality is women tend to face more barriers on the journey to achieving financial independence and security. As Inglis points out, “on average, women live longer than men, retire with less superannuation, do more unpaid work and in some instances a gender pay gap continues to exist.”

But as you can see, there are tonnes of inspiring women out there kicking their career and money goals, and you can do the same! 

Without further ado, here are some tips from these terrific leaders to help you take back control of your finances.

  • Keep track of expenses: From takeaway dinners to credit card bills, tracking all of your monthly costs is a great way to stay on top of your repayments and avoid spending beyond your means. Once you have a handle on your outgoings, it’ll also be much easier to see how you can reduce expenses, whether it’s cooking at home more often or cancelling any subscriptions you don’t use anymore. 
  • Always pay yourself first: Picture this: it’s the end of the month and you’ve been so focused on meeting your expenses that you have no money left to stash as savings. That’s when the “pay-yourself-first” strategy comes into use - it helps you reprioritise and put your savings goals first. The moment your salary hits your transaction account, transfer a portion into your savings account. Some banking apps make it even simpler by allowing you to opt for automatic transfers.
  • Buff up your emergency fund: If 2020 has shown us anything, it’s the importance of having a financial safety net. An emergency savings fund, as Inglis says, will “give you peace of mind if any unexpected incidentals pop up”. This is a bundle of money reserved for emergencies only, and should cover at least three months worth of essential costs (e.g. utility costs, groceries, transport fares, loan repayments). 
  • Budget for ‘guilt free’ fun: It can be unrealistic to have a budget that only factors in saving and essential costs, which is why Hogan recommends dedicating a part of your monthly income to guilt free fun too. This is the amount of money you’re allowed to spend on treating yourself, whether it’s getting a manicure or going out for a nice meal with friends.  
  • Take care of your future self: Even if retirement seems far away, it’s never too early to start thinking about your nest egg. Check your superannuation to make sure it’s working for you and your long-term goals, and if you’ve got extra funds, you could even consider making voluntary super contributions. The other option is to invest. According to Cosgrave, “you only need a little to get started and there are some great apps out there such as Raiz that allows you to invest your spare change from everyday purchases into a portfolio.” 

For more money tips, head on over to our family finances hub.