What has been your favourite moment in business this year?
There have been lots of highlights for Virgin Money in 2016 - including being independently recognised by the Reputation Institute as one of Britain’s most trusted banks.
If I had to pick one highlight overall though, it would have to be launching the HM Treasury Report: ‘Empowering Productivity, Harnessing the Talents of Women in Financial Services’.
The report's recommendations focus on fairness, equality and inclusion for men and women and they are supported by the Women in Finance Charter - a commitment by HM Treasury and signatory firms to work together to build a more balanced and fair industry.
I am delighted that almost 100 firms have now signed up to the Charter. Such widespread support will make a genuine difference and ultimately lead to a financial services sector that properly reflects the diversity of our society.
What have you been proud of your company for achieving?
2016 has certainly been another busy year for Virgin Money and I am delighted with the continued strong performance of the business. We have continued to grow safely, profitably and in line with all of the promises we made when we listed the business in 2014.
Our ambition is to build a bank that makes ‘everyone better off’. As such, being independently recognised by the Reputation Institute as one of Britain’s most trusted banks was certainly a very proud moment for everyone at Virgin Money.
In 2015, and as part of our ambition to make ‘everyone better off’ we launched The Virgin Essential Current Account (ECA) to support financial inclusion and set a new standard for Basic Bank Accounts in the UK. It is a free basic bank account designed to help our customers stay in control of their money. Given the importance of these type of current accounts I have been delighted with the performance of our ECA - we have more than doubled the number of ECA accounts opened this year compared to 2015.
With Virgin Money Lounges winning awards in other cities for the quality of customer experience they offer, we decided to take this winning formula to Sheffield. We opened the doors on our most exciting Virgin Money Lounge to-date in July 2016 and the reception has been fantastic. Our Sheffield Lounge takes the customer experience to a new level, offering a games area with two full-size ten-pin bowling lanes and a children’s play area. There is also a quieter floor featuring a library. Our Sheffield Lounge is much more than just a bank!
Virgin Money Giving, our not-for-profit online donation service, raised a record £26 million of the total amount raised at this year’s Virgin Money London Marathon, smashing all previous fundraising totals. I am delighted that more and more people are signing up to Virgin Money Giving as they recognise that more money goes to their charity because of our not-for-profit approach.
Speaking of which, this year’s London Marathon was yet another fantastic spectacle. We celebrated the one millionth runner crossing the finish line since the race began in 1981, and the event set a new world record for an annual single day charity fundraising event for the tenth successive year. Over 39,000 runners took part and 31 new Guinness World Records were set, including one for Commander Tim Peake who set a new record for the fastest marathon in space!
What is the most important thing you’ve learnt in business this year?
Never mind the bollocks! Sometimes things don't work out the way you would like them to. You need to be prepared to brush yourself down and move forward positively and with purpose.
What do you hope to achieve in business next year?
In November 2016 I was privileged to be appointed the government’s Women in Finance Champion to promote the Treasury’s Women in Finance Charter and the benefits of a diverse workforce across the UK financial services sector.
In 2017 I will be focused on keeping the momentum going on promoting gender equality, not only because it's proven to deliver improved productivity and business performance – it’s estimated that equalising the role of men and women in the labour market could increase GDP by 10 per cent by 2030 - but because it's the right thing to do for society.
I urge more businesses to commit to the Women in Finance Charter and commit to building an economy that works for everyone.
How will you give something back or pay something forward next year?
The Virgin Money Foundation will continue to work in partnership with people and organisations that give deprived areas a ‘point of focus’ and act as a strong catalyst towards self-started regeneration. We will invest in community enterprise initiatives which support the development of long-term sustainable programmes and allow us to make a meaningful and measurable impact in communities.
Our charity partner in 2017 is Heads Together, the campaign set up by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry to support mental health charities including Mind, the Campaign Against Living Miserably and Place2Be. The Heads Together campaign aims to change the national conversation for everyone on mental health. We will be working incredibly hard to raise awareness of this important work and aim to support them raise as much money as possible to help develop innovative projects and enable more people to receive the mental health support they need, when they need it.
Supporting financial inclusion is incredibly important and we were delighted to help launch LifeSavers in November. LifeSavers is a network of savings clubs and financial education in primary schools. The aim is to give children practical experience of money management through saving small, regular amounts of money in savings clubs. It’s really important to encourage children to develop positive attitudes towards money and we’re very much looking forward to working with our partners in 2017 to make a positive and sustainable difference to as many young people as possible.