Michael Barrington-Hibbert, CEO of Barrington Hibbert Associates (BHA), speaks about his career in financial services, the challenges he has overcome and his work in supporting underrepresented groups in the industry.
What made you choose a career in financial services?
Growing up in a deprived part of North London, I didn’t know anyone from the City or wider financial services industry.
My interest in the market initially came from films like Wall Street and Trading Places. Although I didn’t entirely understand it, I developed a real fascination with finance. When asked what I wanted to be when I was younger, other than the standard answer of footballer, I’d say a stockbroker. But I didn’t really know what a stockbroker was!
This interest developed when I moved to America for university. I learned how big a role financial services plays in the economy, shaping our lives and geopolitics more broadly. Also, how critical it is for the sustainability of trade and commerce.
My university had a trading room simulation in their management school, so I’d see my classmates taking trading positions. Then, financial institutions started to recruit from my university, leading to my first internship at Morgan Stanley, which helped pave the way for the rest of my career.
What challenges have you faced in your career?
When I was starting out in my career, I was often surrounded by academically gifted, privately educated, co-workers who had attended the top universities. Whereas, I hadn’t had these opportunities and came from a lower socio-economic background. Although my colleagues didn’t treat me differently, I was very self-conscious and struggled with self-doubt.
When I first founded BHA, a Black owned executive search firm, pushing for more diversity in the City, there wasn’t much, if any, openness to have these difficult conversations. People weren’t ready for what we had to say, and this made it very difficult to scale. It was sometimes hard not to lose belief in everything that BHA stood for.
How did you overcome those challenges?
I worked through my imposter syndrome through coaching. My coach was instrumental in reminding me to own my challenges and self-doubts. Learning to be comfortable being and sharing my authentic self, helped me work through my doubt.
Setting up BHA, I consistently reminded myself of my core beliefs, how my journey had shaped me, and what I wanted BHA to be. This allowed me to prevail even when things got difficult, see it through, and finish what I started.
What is 10,000 Black Interns?
At its heart, 10,000 Black Interns is about levelling the playing field.
The financial services industry has a pipeline issue. My 10,000 Black Intern co-founders Wol Kolade, Jonathan Sorrell, Dawid Konotey-Ahulu, and I wanted to host an event with Black portfolio managers in the UK addressing this. But out of thousands of portfolio managers, we found just 12 who were Black.
10,000 Black interns is trying to be part of the solution. Interns can secure placements across several sectors including financial services, technology, advertising and more.
They’re hired on a 10-week programme and paid the London Living Wage. Initially, we aimed for 10 to 20 firms. However, over 200 signed up in the summer of 2020. After naming the initiative 100 Black interns, we then had 550 interns sign up last summer.
This summer, we expanded to a record 2,500 interns in over 24 industry verticals. Many of them have been invited back for another internship and been offered full-time roles, in accountancy firms, brokerages and more.
Our core goal at 10,000 Black Interns is to develop their skillsets, create opportunities, and build ambassadors for the next generation to look up to.
What would you say to young Black people wanting to work in banking and finance?
If you perform well, people will be willing to take a chance on you, but you must put yourself out there first. Just keeping your head down and doing your work won’t make you stand out.
Also, resilience is key. Be open to making mistakes, embracing failure, and learning quickly.
Finally, mentors and sponsors are important for a successful career. You need people who can help guide your career, and senior people who will speak up for you when you’re not in the room.
How can banks and financial services firms be more inclusive?
Inclusion works well when everyone, regardless of their backgrounds, feels valued and welcomed within an organisation. Creating inclusive recruitment practices and avenues where feedback is welcomed and taken on board also matters.
This means that inclusion and belonging needs to form part of an organisation’s culture and core values, and should be steered by senior leaders.
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