New Member Spotlight: SWIFT

Monday 29th November 2021

SWIFT is a member-owned cooperative and the world’s leading provider of secure financial messaging services—powering the secure movement of funds behind the scenes, around the globe. We spoke with Stella Lim, Managing Director, Asia Pacific to discuss how the company is leveraging its massive global footprint to champion women’s financial inclusion.

Alliance: SWIFT is a global, member-owned cooperative and works with 11,000+ banks and other financial institutions to move value around the world reliably and securely. Everyone is familiar with a SWIFT Code! For the benefit of our global readership, what does applying a gender lens to an organization like SWIFT look like?

Lim: At SWIFT, our D&I strategy is led from the top and comprises five pillars of focus: gender, disability, ethnicity, age and sexual orientation. Through a range of strategies and initiatives, we work hard to ensure that SWIFT is inclusive for everyone across our global footprint. I am a senior sponsor of our gender diversity program, and we focus on attracting, developing and retaining women at all levels within the organization. Half of our Executive Committee is made up of women, and our efforts are focused on continuing to see strong numbers of women in leadership and non-executive positions within the company.

More broadly, SWIFT is also committed to improving gender diversity in the financial services sector. An example of this is our STAR Scholarship program at Sibos, the world’s premier financial service event, organized by SWIFT. The program supports the development of women from leading financial institutions around the world into senior leadership positions.

Alliance: Sibos is one of the biggest financial services conferences, this year gathering more than 19,000 people. The Alliance ran two deep dive sessions during it: one on the strategic and business cases for women-centered strategies, targeting banks, and the second on gender-intelligent fintech design, targeting fintechs. What else took place at SIBOS 2021 in terms of bringing women-centered strategies and gender D&I to the fore?

Lim: We believe in leading by example, and so diversity, equity and inclusion featured high on the agenda at Sibos 2021. In addition to deep-dive sessions with the Alliance, one of our four headline debates at the conference discussed how organizations can improve gender balance.

Sibos attendees were also urged to think about what the move to hybrid work means for their businesses, their operations and for diversity, inclusion and equity in the longer term. The pandemic has not only highlighted new ways of working, but also opportunities and threats that come along with hybrid working and increased use of technology. The debate encouraged our community to look at how they balance innovation with the cultural gains of office presence versus employees’ desire for flexibility.

SWIFT also ran two industry panel discussions on how organizations can become credible advocates for D&I and a session on financial inclusion with diversity at the core. In addition, our popular Women of Sibos profiled role models from our industry and provided a networking space for women and men. Finally, we ensured that panels were balanced both in terms of gender and other aspects of diversity across all Sibos sessions.

Alliance: You also run the STAR Scholarship program at SIBOS. Tell us about that and what your vision for this program is.

Lim: The Sibos Talent Accelerator Route (STAR) scholarship launched at Sibos in London in 2019. Its goal is to empower female leaders of tomorrow with a special program uniting women in finance from around the world. Sibos invites banks around the world to nominate their high-potential and ambitious female employees to participate. Now in its third year, the 2021 program had 25 women nominees from countries including Bangladesh, Canada, China, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Singapore, South Africa, Switzerland, Turkey, the UK and the US.

The STAR nominees enjoy special access to the Sibos program with facilitated networking and mentoring activities alongside senior industry figures. The group meets with speakers, leaders and senior mentors, accesses private networking events and participates in conference sessions. The scholarship provides women with growth opportunities while developing their knowledge and professional connections.

Alliance: SWIFT has a research unit and runs research projects each year in collaboration with the Academy. What subjects have you looked into, and what has been the impact of this work?

Lim: The SWIFT Institute is overseen by an independent advisory council that includes thought leaders from academia and finance. Gender diversity is a key pillar of the institute’s research.

For example, a 2020 report looked at how more women can be attracted to the industry and promoted to leadership positions within it. The key findings of this research were that culture drives diversity, rather than any single or combined set of gender equality initiatives.

The success of initiatives for diversity within financial companies has implications for the competitiveness of financial centres and the diversity of people that make-up the financial elite.

Alliance: SWIFT has a strong gender diversity and inclusion strategy internally. Please share what you are most proud of about this work, as well as any achievements or lessons learned.

Lim: Our D&I work is led through sponsorship at the Executive Committee level, which offers strategic direction to the work we do at SWIFT. We combine this with senior sponsors for each of our pillars of focus who work directly with our employee resource groups. This means that at every level of SWIFT, we offer advocacy and support to integrate diversity and inclusion into our business.

This has been very important for achieving concrete outcomes such as securing resources to run an internal mentoring scheme supporting diverse talent, rolling out an inclusive leadership training program, and securing internal support for communications around gender diversity education.

Alliance: How can the Alliance and SWIFT best support one another in achieving our goals?

Lim: At SWIFT, we are committed to supporting the Alliance through our unique position as a trusted partner to the industry. We are keen to work with the Alliance through our SWIFT community events to reiterate the role of diversity and inclusion within the financial services industry while encouraging our community members to support women’s entrepreneurship and respond to the women’s market in financial products. I am looking forward to everything that we will achieve together!