An ethical expedition

Philippa Foster-Back CBE OBE FCSI(Hon) was awarded a CISI honorary fellowship in September 2021 for her outstanding positive contribution to the financial services sector
by Lora Benson MCIPR, CISI head of media


Philippa has received several notable commendations over the course of her career, including an OBE in 2006 for services to the Ministry of Defence (MoD), a CBE in 2014 for services to the UK Antarctic Heritage, and multiple honorary fellowships.

As chair of the UK-Antarctic Place-Names Committee from 2009 to date, Philippa oversees the process of recommending to the government names for features in the British Overseas Territory in Antarctica. “There are rules as to the actual name assigned,” she says. “A feature’s shape or size will determine whether it is a peak or a mount, a ridge or a range. It is the equivalent of giving an honorific in the UK Honours system.” 

Philippa’s connection to the Antarctic runs deep: her grandfather, Frank Debenham, was the first Professor of Geography at Cambridge and was a geologist on Captain Scott’s last expedition to the South Pole in 1910–13. He introduced Philippa to geography, which she studied at University College London. She has always found it fascinating “as it is the study of interconnectedness of life on the planet, covering physical, human, and economic aspects of life through time”. 

From treasury to defence

Between the early 1980s and 2000, Philippa was group treasurer with UK firm Bowater and then the EMI Group. She joined Bowater to set up a US Commercial Paper programme for the company to finance its US subsidiaries. “It was interesting working in treasury, where one had access to visit the businesses in the group to understand how their business models, and hence their cashflows, worked.”

Philippa’s boss at Bowater was Geoffrey Jones, a founder of the Association of Corporate Treasurers (ACT). He encouraged her to join the education committee, which she subsequently chaired, leading the project to devise the ACT’s part 1 examination syllabus.

Philippa was on the CISI Integrity & Ethics Committee for 18 years She recalls that it wasn’t very common to meet other women working at a senior level in corporate treasury. “This was a reflection of the City at the time. Of course this has all changed and as treasury is more established as a profession, bankers and accountants see the attraction of a more business-orientated finance career. It is open to all, and the ACT is doing much to promote diversity too.”

Philippa was invited to join the MoD in 1994 because of her treasury and finance experience. Her time as a non-executive director on the Defence Board and chair of the Defence Audit Committee until 2007 was “fascinating – meeting inspirational, brave people and learning how defence and security operates”.

Ethical evolution

Philippa's CV

2021–present: Director, Washingford Research 

2020–present: Director, Financial Markets Standards Board

2017–present: Quilter Foundation (charity)

1996–present: Barrier Biotech

2001–2020: Director, Institute of Business Ethics

1993–2000: Group treasurer, EMI Group (formerly Thorn EMI)


1998–1990: Group finance director, DC Gardner Group

1979–1988: Group treasurer, Bowater Industries

1977–1979: Citibank

In early 2000, she joined the Institute of Business Ethics as director, stepping down in 2020, coinciding with her time on the CISI Integrity & Ethics Committee: “Over the past 20 years, ethics and integrity have been recognised as a fundamental of doing business in the right way. Good training, particularly that done in a more subtle way, such as learning through the discussion of case studies, as in the CISI Grey Matters stories, is excellent. “There were many who inspired me during this time, particularly my colleague at the IBE Simon Webley. Receiving the CISI Honorary Fellowship in 2021 was a great honour which came out of the blue. I have greatly enjoyed working with CISI and made some good friendships too.”

Some business sectors have made good progress in the past 20 years in the area of ethics, including, says Philippa, some high-profile firms considered ‘difficult’, such as oil and gas, defence and tobacco. These firms “made the earliest progress in embedding business ethics into their operations,” she says, whereas “financial services has been slower in part with its ethics journey because it didn’t necessarily look beyond the first tier of a company it was financing, but now the sector looks at the work the company does and what the finance is being used for.”
Tips for new entrants to the sector

Philippa has held several senior leadership positions in her business career: “As the workplace changes, becoming more diverse, leadership is changing too and becoming more ‘softer’ edged than 30 or 40 years ago when it was a more patriarchal society.”

Her guidance for young people thinking of getting into a financial services career is to “join a professional body, get qualified and enjoy the camaraderie of like-minded professionals. Getting involved will help build a career. Financial services is a large and varied sector so there are lots of opportunities to find one’s niche and succeed.”


Published: 27 Jan 2023
  • Integrity & Ethics
  • Training, Competence and Culture
  • Institute of Business Ethics
  • Honorary Fellow
  • CISI Integrity & Ethics Committee
  • Captain Scott

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