Margaret Harwood-Jones describes her career in securities services in threes – spending three decades in financial services, with three different institutions – HSBC, BNP Paribas, and now, Standard Chartered.
However, she also describes the career move that set her on the path to become Global Custodian’s latest Lifetime Achievement Award winner as “unintentional”.
“At that juncture, I did not appreciate the significance of the industry, nor understand the business,” Harwood-Jones explains regarding her move into securities services at HSBC.
The prospects of promotion and the opportunity to move onto the next level of management within the UK bank was what convinced Harwood-Jones to go for the job, yet the process was anything but straight forward.
“I was the only woman that was shortlisted and was at least 10 years younger than the rest of the candidates. What happened next wasn’t as I might have expected. The interview was a disaster – I couldn’t get a word in edgeways; no opportunity to present myself or my suitability for the role.”
No going back
To her surprise that she was offered the job just 24 hours later. But to make that transition was not all that simple, especially with her colleagues trying to convince her at the time not to take it.
“Everyone tried to talk me out of it – the most worrying was the consistent message about being careful – i.e. following a career that would go nowhere. Looking back, some of their counsel wasn’t wholly misplaced. This was back in the 1990s; UK custody banks hadn’t been invested in and almost all then sold their franchises to another, most often a US bank. None of that ‘advice’ put me off however and here I am still, 25 years later.”
It has been a career which has seen Harwood-Jones oversee several important businesses, including roles as deputy head of global investor services at HSBC, running the asset manager and alternative investment segment at BNP Paribas Securities Services, and eventually, global head of securities services at Standard Chartered Bank in Singapore.
And during her time with each of the three banks, she has gained a range of different perspectives on the global securities services industry.
“My perspective on the business has evolved, and it is the experience from the roles I have had which has impacted this,” she explains. “At HSBC, I was focused exclusively on the UK marketplace; with BNP Paribas I was working for a franchise with European heritage which then became global. Now with Standard Chartered in a global role, my perspective is shaped by the portfolio of emerging and frontier markets across Asia, Africa and the Middle East that I oversee.”
Harwood-Jones also explains that the business produces daily problem-solving challenges, something she is well adept to facing. Focusing on one of her most notable achievements, she recalls the time she was able to reverse the major decision of a significant client to exit its relationship with the bank she represented at the time.
“Senior colleagues and my boss were telling me that it would be impossible – they had made their decision but I didn’t quit. After five weeks of co-ordinated effort, mission accomplished. It’s a few years ago now, but today that client still has a good and growing relationship at that bank,” says Harwood-Jones.
Her time now at Standard Chartered focuses around leveraging the bank’s footprint in emerging and frontier markets, and improving the investment process for its institutional investor clients.
These include speed of entry into new markets, helping set up infrastructure, and obtaining securities services licenses in these markets. Most recently, the custodian obtained a license to operate in Jordan.
Arguably her crowning achievement has been her role in the China story, in which Standard Chartered has played a massive part in the liberalisation and internationalisation of the Chinese market. It was among the first banks providing access to Stock Connect and Bond Connect, and has hosted a number of educational seminars on the inclusion of China A-Shares to the MSCI Emerging Markets Index.
Investing in people
Harwood-Jones feels a responsibility to drive market change in these developing countries, given the strong relationships the bank has with the stakeholders in those markets.
“It is a significant job – there is still a lot of manual and inefficient processes associated with the safekeeping and servicing of assets,” she adds. “We seek to bring international best practices to those countries to mitigate or remove risk and to make investment processes better.
“We expect to see a continued shift in capital flows towards emerging markets, with the role Standard Chartered can play to help facilitate a smooth investment flow being meaningful.”
Looking towards the future, Harwood-Jones sees many of the themes impacting the industry today carrying on over the next 10-20 years, namely people, technology and processes. She is positive about the comradery in the industry, which will make it a compelling place to work, and believes the make-up of the business will evolve to become more representative.
“The people dimension remains critical – we will have a more diverse workforce, including more Asians, Africans and more women. I do expect the people will be doing more valuable and more varied tasks,” Harwood-Jones adds.
“In terms of technology and operating models, I think there is certainty that it will be markedly different. The speed of change is ever increasing; the removal of redundant and duplicated processes across the service chain is happening. The end destination is less certain, but with the adoption of DLT, API, digital assets etc, managing a securities services firm over the next 25 years will be a very different experience.”