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Gemma Cardew

In our latest MERJE Markets instalment, we sit down with Credit Risk & Analytics specialist Gemma Cardew, who recently celebrated her first anniversary of working for MERJE during these testing times. Gemma has a background of working within Financial Services and comprehends the complexities of recruiting into highly regulated environments.This means that she is able to provide support and guidance to clients and candidates across her core discipline, with a focus specifically in the FinTech and Insurance arenas. Here, Gemma discusses the current landscape, most up-to-date hiring and industry developments and what she believes is the key to success in her niche area.

What is your current role and remit?

I am one of three consultants at MERJE who focuses on Credit Risk & Analytics across Financial Services, including Fintech and Insurance. I have built and continue to cultivate an extensive network of trusted professionals at all levels. Much of my time is spent getting to know candidates and what could prove to be a compelling move for them at any particular stage in their career. I then seek out the right opportunities and businesses to introduce them to.

A selection of projects which I have been involved with include FinTech/Challenger bank clients and I have also generated new business in the Insurance sector. I have loved learning more about these organisations and their propositions, particularly in the FinTech sector, which is where we are doing particularly well at the moment and is most definitely an area within which I will continue to develop, grow and strengthen my skill-set.

You have just celebrated your first year with MERJE during lockdown. How have you found your first year working in the Credit Risk market and what have gained the most enjoyment from?

Yes, what a strange time it has been! We have a great culture of celebrating one another at MERJE so I thoroughly missed out on my one-year anniversary drinks with everyone at the office bar!

There has been a massive amount to get to grips with in this market. It was a steep learning curve for the first few months but it was incredibly important to me that I gained enough knowledge to represent our candidates effectively, while thoroughly understanding any given clients’ needs. The key was to constantly speak to people, ask questions and learn something new every day. I also toned down my scouse accent so that people could understand me!

I have found the Credit Risk market to be quite unique in that a greater percentage of candidates are far more interested in the actual role, responsibilities and which continuous development can be accessed in their potential next opportunity. This appears to take precedence over incremental salary increases. A greater number of candidates than I have experienced before in my career will take a side step into a similar level role to gain skills within a certain area of Credit Risk. I have also come across more candidates that want to work for a specific business or with a certain leader based on their reputation across the wider industry.

I am learning new facts about Credit Risk every day, which is one of the things that I really enjoy! I also love that our candidates and clients are very loyal in their engagement. Ellie, our Managing Consultant, has spent a decade building exceptional relationships with our candidate database. They trust us to seek out and present them with opportunities that are compelling for them at any particular stage in their career and this is something which I have thoroughly enjoyed being a part of.

Why did you want to join MERJE and what is your perception of the business one year into the role?

Before I started my career in recruitment, I worked in Financial Services and already had some exposure to the founders of MERJE through that. In 2007, when the Financial Crisis hit worldwide, I was lucky not to be affected but many of my colleagues were in precarious positions for years afterwards. They always spoke highly of the support, guidance and knowledge that the consultants who founded MERJE had demonstrated when trying to secure their next position.

I started my recruitment career after relocating to Manchester in 2014 and, via the industry, gained further insights as to the kind of consultancy MERJE was and its approach. I always viewed MERJE as a prestigious consultancy based on these past experiences, so when I was positioned to speak to them I literally jumped at the chance!

A year on in my career at MERJE I feel fully embedded and supported by the most fantastic directors, who are all still very involved and hands on with the business, which I find to be inspiring. I have loved getting to know everyone across each of the teams and offices and learning from them all. I have absorbed so much from being around such high performing people every single day and I really do feel that I will continue to grow and develop during my time at MERJE.

It has also been a fantastic year to be a Liverpool FC supporter in an office full of Manchester City and United fans - haha!

What is the current landscape of your market, alongside the latest developments and pressing issues?

Credit Risk is always an important focus for Financial Services businesses but especially more so in the current climate. It is important now, more than ever, that lenders have their risk appetite finely honed and their processes fully reflect this. Most lenders will have been through some kind of risk appetite and policy reset project out of sheer necessity following the onset of COVID-19.

The way credit is managed across the customer journey, such as acquisition to collections and loss-recovery, will also be reconsidered. When speaking to candidates, this means that businesses are mobilising their Credit Risk workforce across projects and work streams that they may not ordinarily have had oversight of. There has also been an increase in the use of the contingent workforce to support projects across all areas of Credit Risk.

We have observed increases in enquiries for skilled professionals across Credit Risk Collections and Acquisitions as businesses start to manage the impact of COVID-19. Collections more so initially as this understandably started to have an immediate impact but, as time has gone on, Acquisitions has been an area of focus as lenders change and adapt projects to reflect the current economic challenges and their portfolios start to perform differently than previous projections would have anticipated.

I also expect that we will start to see a rise in demand across Data and Model Management. This comes as lenders really start to scrutinise what data they use to make credit decisions and how that data has been affected by COVID-19 and subsequently consider the impact this will have on their Credit Risk models.

The capability of a lender’s Credit Risk function is really going to be crucial moving forwards if they are to successfully navigate the challenging times ahead. Building out a team’s capabilities will make them much more effective at managing the current crisis. This could entail giving key colleagues oversight of account management and collections or providing people with ‘stretch’ opportunities.

Where there is an immediate skills gap or project to complete which is time sensitive, it is super important to be engaged with a consultancy like MERJE because they understand Credit Risk and its current challenges and have an immediately available network of skilled professionals engaged to start on with a contingent or permanent basis.

How has the Credit Risk arena affected by the pandemic and what do you think will be prominent in your market afterwards?

I do not feel like demand across Credit Risk has reduced at all, more that projects and recruitment were put on hold as leaders focussed on mobilising their teams for home working and taking a step back to fully understand what the ‘new world’’ would start to look like for them and their colleagues across the wider business.

I think Acquisitions and Originations will be a continued area of growth and the demand for effective, adaptable and agile CROs will also increase. 

What advice would you give to anyone seeking a career in the Credit Risk market?

Go for it! There is a high level of demand for skilled professionals in this space and you should enjoy a stable, long-term career with plenty of opportunities to develop and learn.

Most employers will have a preference for candidates with a strong quantitative discipline and they need to be numerical, statistical or have a scientific underpinning in terms of their degree.

Opportunities in Credit Risk require people to have working knowledge of SAS or SQL and increasingly Python or R. I would suggest that if you are looking for your first opportunity in Credit Risk and you do not have any working knowledge of these software that you gain some experience somehow. Do an online course or an independent project and ask someone to assess it. Simply put, try anything to learn how they work and what they do. As a graduate, you can set yourself apart by demonstrating a good level of understanding about these programmes and it is fundamentally one less thing for your potential employer to teach you so that you can really hit the ground running!

Once you start your career, unless you have a strong preference for working in a specific area of Credit Risk, then it is really important to keep yourself broad. Try to gain experience across the whole Credit Risk lifecycle as it is more challenging to move into different areas if you have stuck with one aspect for such a long time.

What do candidates who work in your market expect from an employer?

An increasing number of candidates are keen to understand the data and analytics strategy of a business and the value that this adds to the overall enterprise before they even consider joining. Most are keen to see that more progressive data and analytics are being used not only in Credit Risk but across other departments. They also want to understand the perception of Credit Risk across the wider business.

Once a candidate joins an employer they expect transparency, support and opportunities to continuously develop. They also want to work in an environment where their ideas are truly considered. People that work in Credit Risk are very bright and generally quite passionate about making a positive contribution towards great commercial outcomes for their business and they expect the same standards from the top down!

Can you recommend any sources for up-to-date market news and information?

The MERJE website of course!

Deloitte, 4-Most, FICO and similar consultancies are great for articles which are Credit Risk related and for insights on pressing issues across the sector.

Many of the recruitment projects which I have been involved in are with our FinTech clients, so I always recommend following strategist Marcel Van Oost on LinkedIn. I have learned so much from following his content and he is bang up-to-date with progress across the sector. From a candidate perspective, if you work in a FinTech or are looking for a move from a more traditional Financial Services background then he would be a good place to start understanding the market.  The Future of Banking on LinkedIn also has some great content for a more holistic worldwide view of the FinTech market.

Finally, what would people be surprised to learn about you?

I still hold the Lancashire girls’ 100m sprint record from when I was competing in high school apparently. I bumped into my PE teacher about 12 months ago and she thought it was hilarious as she could clearly tell that I have not done any running in quite a while!

To find out more about Gemma’s thoughts around Credit Risk or for any queries around your own recruitment requirements, please do not hesitate to contact her: gcardew@merje.com