In this series, City A.M. zooms in on a range of successful women in the Square Mile, some being movers and shakers in their respective fields – rule makers, not rule takers – while others are rising stars worth keeping an eye on.
Today: Ayesa Latif, managing director, head of EMEA electronic FX Sales at Citi.
Latif more than doubled FX revenues in the four years since joining Citi, coming from Goldman Sachs in 2016. As a keen advocate and champion for diversity, Latif told City A.M. she has invested much of her time in hiring and developing the best talent to build one of the most diverse teams within FX.
Outside of work, Latif spends time speaking and coaching young women and minority students in the hope to inspire them to pursue careers in underrepresented fields such as banking and STEM. Most recently, she won the Future Leaders Award, awarded by industry group Women in Banking & Finance.
You mentioned that diversity is an important issue for you?
Yes, diversity has been a key focus for me. I made it a personal goal as a hiring manager to source and hire talented and diverse people. Half of my team today are women and half of my team are underrepresented minority ethnicities. This is atypical of most teams within banking and finance, especially in sales and trading roles within markets. My job is to continue to invest in, retain, and promote our talent.
I believe that diverse managers attract and hire more diverse talent.
FX has always been a traditionally male dominated sector of the industry, is this changing, and what more needs to happen to close gender parity?
I see more women coming through the graduate program and at junior levels, but we need to do a better job of retaining, investing, and promoting them. A key driver of the gender pay gap that exists within banking and finance comes from the greater number of men relative to women in more senior and higher paying roles.
In order to close this gap, we need to build a pipeline of female talent and proactively give them platforms and opportunities to showcase their abilities. We don’t need diversity just because it is the right thing to do; we also need diversity because it translates into a better business.
How do you manage your work, kids and family responsibilities?
It’s tough! My husband also works in banking and we both have high intensity jobs while juggling two young children. I’m lucky that we work really well as a team and share a similar outlook on life. Our children are our number one priority but neither of us feels like we have to compromise on our careers to be present and involved with our children.
How do you do that?
We made a commitment that at least one parent would always be at home in the evenings and weekends, so we plan our client meetings, events, and trips ahead of time, and around each other’s schedules. It is a lot of juggling, but we manage to make it work most days. I am fortunate to have a partner that understands and supports my career choice, respects me as an equal, and is my biggest cheerleader both personally and professionally. If I didn’t have the support at home, it would be challenging for me to perform to the best of my ability at work. This is an issue that many working mothers face every day.
There are still too few women sitting in senior roles in FX across the market and we lose many women after the VP level.
Looking back on the last few years, what has been the highlight of your career?
In the last two years, we reconstructed our structured forwards offering and re-wrote our pricing models to deliver quicker and more competitive pricing for clients. We deployed a low latency infrastructure for our API business and developed the FX overview page which brings together our research, sales and trading ideas, strategy and quant publications all in one place.
I also have the honour of leading the EMEA efforts for Citi’s annual E for Education campaign, which has grown significantly over the past few years. During the campaign, CitiFX donates a percentage of proceeds from our electronic trading business to raise funds for education-focused non-profit organizations that tackle childhood illiteracy and improves access to quality education.
We work with 10 non-profit partners globally that support the right to education for all children, including the Malala Fund in 2018 and Teach For All for the first time in 2020. Since the launch of the campaign, we have raised over $37m to support over 600,000 youth, and 530 schools across 32 countries.
Finally, how did you keep up your spirits during lockdown?
The beginning of lockdown was challenging. I had to figure out a new way to work. My first priority was to make sure each member of my team felt supported during lockdown and was keeping well from a physical and mental health perspective. At the same time, I had to find ways to keep my team engaged and focused on our business objectives and goals. We had to step up our client intensity and engagement virtually to ensure our clients felt well connected and had access to our traders, liquidity, pricing, and market insights.
In all of this, we were home-schooling a 5 year old and I had our 10 month old son on my lap and on many video calls. It was definitely a stressful time, but I try to focus on the positives in life, which were, my family and friends were healthy and safe and I got to spend my commute time in the mornings and evenings playing with my children instead. There were also many mid-day cuddles from the kids that kept me going through the tougher days!