Industry Insights

Beyond the Balance Sheet: A Dialogue with Evonne Tan

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Evonne Tan is the Managing Director, Head of the Private Bank for Barclays Singapore and a member of the Barclays Singapore Management Team. She is a banking veteran with almost three decades of experience in the financial services industry, with broad exposure to various businesses including foreign exchange sales and trading, corporate solutions structuring, asset management, and private wealth management.

Barclays is a British universal bank. It is one of the largest banks in the United Kingdom and a global leader in investment banking and wealth management. Barclays is diversified by business, by different types of customers and clients, and by geography. The businesses include consumer banking and payments operations around the world, as well as a top-tier, full service, global corporate and investment bank, all of which are supported by the service company which provides technology, operations and functional services across the Group

In this interview, Evonne shares her insights on her career journey, her leadership approach, and her commitment to diversity and inclusion in the finance industry. She also discusses the importance of ESG principles in sustainable finance and impact investing.

Could you share with us how you started your journey in the finance industry and are now trailblazing across Asia's financial landscape?

You could say that I took the road less travelled and some have even called me an accidental banker. I studied Humanities in school and graduated from NUS in 1993 with a double major in Geography and Sociology. Finance was never on my radar. As a young student at school, I did not know what I wanted to pursue as my life career, but I did know that I wanted my work to be interesting, dynamic and meaningful. In my final year at NUS, whilst considering my career options, it happened that I stumbled upon an advertisement in the newspapers about an exciting role as a Trainee Dealer in UBS Global Markets where the job was described as being “fast-paced”, “dynamic” and “where every day would be different”. That advertisement called out to the adventurous side of me and I applied for the role even though I had no idea what a dealing room was! After 11 rounds of grueling interviews, I landed myself a role in the foreign exchange department. I was the only female and non-finance graduate of that cohort consisting of 11 trainee dealers. And that is how my journey in finance began some 30 years ago. In 2005, I then decided to pivot into private wealth management and today I am Head of the Private Bank at Barclays Singapore. Throughout my career, I have been privileged to work with senior industry leaders who gave me opportunities to take career pivots as well as to take on leadership responsibilities. During this journey, I have learnt it is important to understand your value proposition and what you can bring to the table, even if it is a role or job that you may not initially be familiar with.

Given your experience in international markets, how do you navigate cultural differences within your team and foster a global perspective in your leadership approach?

I think it all begins with an understanding that everyone is different and that perspectives matter. Having that mindset is an important first step in ensuring that diversity in perspectives is incorporated into discussions and decision making. I believe in transparent leadership, not just through ensuring effective two-way communication and feedback, but also explaining why and how certain decisions are made so members of the team understand the big picture and also the importance of stakeholder management and perspectives.

As a female leader in finance, what initiatives do you champion to promote diversity and inclusion within your team and the broader industry? 

At Barclays we are committed to building a diverse, equitable and inclusive culture that enables our colleagues, customers, clients and communities to grow. Diverse teams are proven to be higher-performing and more resilient. Barclays' Diversity, Equity and Inclusion strategy focuses on five priority areas – Workforce Diversity, Inclusive and Equitable Culture, Leadership Accountability, Data Transparency and Accountability, and Optimisation of External Relationships. 

From a personal perspective, I enjoy giving my time as a mentor to develop young talent, both male and female, where I am able to share my experiences to hopefully provide inspiration and confidence to younger people, especially those who are just starting out in the finance industry. Mentoring is my way of giving back to the industry which has provided me so much opportunity for career and personal growth.

You've been involved in sustainable finance and impact investing. How do you integrate environmental, social, and governance (ESG) principles into your leadership strategy, and what impact has it had on your team and projects?

In order to run a successful business, it is important for us to ensure there is a good set of values to foster longevity and long term sustainability. On that basis ESG principles are very important, the social and governance aspects not only effectively manage any downside risks of the business through good governance structures but also drive growth through sustainable practices, better employee engagement and diversity in thoughts and ideas.

What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced in the past?

Life has many ups and downs, and each of us have likely faced at least one major challenge in our lives, whether that be in your career or your personal life or both at the same time. I have had my fair share of challenges through my life journey, in many different shapes and forms. But with each challenge that I experienced, I have always learnt something that has helped me to grow and mature as a person, as a banker, as a colleague and as a leader. This self-discovery is an important aspect of what we call “experience”, something that cannot be taught and which can only happen if you have the courage to take action and not be afraid to fail.

What advice would you give to aspiring leaders in finance who are looking to make a positive impact on their teams and the industry as a whole?

“Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards” – Soren Kierkegaard.

I think it is important in life to keep looking forward. Sometimes it is hard to see the wood from the trees, but if you always give your best, have the courage to take action, believe in your ideas and what value you can deliver, I believe that trusting in the process will help you find your own unique path and uncover your potential. The world is constantly and rapidly changing. As leaders, it is important that we are in touch with how the world is changing and how that impacts the work that we do so we can continue to stay relevant to society and the industry.

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