industry establiSHEd: Sarah Cox, Bank of England

For the final installment in our  industry establiSHEd series, we’re joined by Sarah Cox, RTGS Renewal Programme Director at the Bank of England. Sarah started her career at Commercial Union before taking on the role of Director of Strategy, Planning and Performance in the Cabinet Office. Subsequent positions included Head of Business Planning & Programme Management for the London 2012 Summer Olympics and Chief Operating Officer at Ofgem. She discusses the people who have inspired her, why mentoring is so rewarding and the importance of data.

How has the financial industry changed since you began your career?

“I worked in financial services until 2004 and re-entered in 2021. There have been huge changes in that time with the digital era; think of cryptocurrency; instant payment; global 24/7 expectations etc. Digital and data must and should be at the heart of everything. We should be responding to the customer rather than dictating to them and using analytics to see what drives them. Many fintechs have and will accelerate growth and the big challenge for the industry is to keep up with that.”

What have been the biggest challenges you’ve had to face?

“Some of the biggest challenges are changing mindsets: to not forget the digital era and our own expectations as customers when we come into our virtual or physical workspaces. We have to represent the people we serve, therefore diversity and inclusion in a genuine sense is critical.

“Getting investment has always been difficult, especially in organisations where digital, data and tech were seen as back-office functions.

“Also, moving away from hierarchical to empowered structures – especially when pay and reward does not follow that.”

What inspired you to become a mentor?

“I feel I have had some great roles and experiences in financial services and in central government working with world leaders. I have learnt a lot and I want people to think about the art of the possible: to not be afraid to see first-hand what an exec ‘looks like’, as well as giving people confidence at any stage in their career. It is so rewarding. I also like to get my mentees together because they can learn so much more from each other than listening to an old lady like me!”

Who were mentors that encouraged you?

“Interestingly my mother was probably my best mentor. She broke through a lot of barriers including her school and family saying she couldn’t be a doctor because they didn’t do science A-Levels for girls. She took herself off to the boys’ school to persuade them to teach her and found a sponsor in her own school. She then went on to become a doctor.

What would you tell your 18-year-old self?

“Probably not to undersell myself. I do find I will look at jobs and think I can’t do everything in the spec and don’t go for it, but then see that others with perhaps less experience and relevant skills have applied and got the role.”

What fact would people be surprised to know about you?

“I had four days in Basra in the Iraq war when I was director in charge of a capability review into the Ministry of Defence. It made me realise what ‘being on the front line’ really means. We use that phrase a lot in business but has had a very different meaning [for me] since.”

If you could have dinner with three inspirational women, dead or alive, who would they be and why?

“My mother for her beliefs and attitude [which helped her] to knock barriers down. Margaret Thatcher, probably for the same reasons and how she got to where she was in a such a male-dominated environment. Lastly, Michelle Obama. She’s empathetic, driven, supportive, smart and cares about future generations.”

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