Banking on growth
Sasha Wiggins MCSI has risen through the ranks at Barclays to become CEO of its Ireland subsidiary. She tells the Review why the country’s impressive economic growth is driving the bank forward
Sasha Wiggins MCSI has had a busy year since becoming CEO of Barclays Ireland in March 2015. Formerly Managing Director of the Barclays Wealth & Investment Management division in London, Wiggins has had to expand her expertise as the head of a Dublin-based subsidiary that covers corporate and investment banking, as well as a wealth management business.
“When I was asked to become the CEO of Barclays Ireland, I knew it was an opportunity to broaden my skills to all parts of banking,” says Wiggins.
The experience has been overwhelmingly positive. “I’ve loved moving to Ireland and getting exposure to a broader banking knowledge beyond just UK private banking or private banking generally.”
Stepping stones“From a young age, my dad always said I should either be a lawyer, a doctor or work in finance,” says Wiggins. She has since forged a 20-year career in the finance industry.
Beginning her career at brokerage firm Teather and Greenwood in 1995, Wiggins then joined a private client brokerage called Gerrard, working as a private client investment manager.
Barclays bought Gerrard in the early 2000s. Wiggins says: “I was given the opportunity to work with Barclays and have remained there ever since. The variety of opportunities on offer throughout the wider business and the quality of all our employees has made it such an exciting journey for me.”
Wiggins gradually began to take on wider leadership positions. Between 2006 and 2009, she ran the London UK private business and in 2011 became the National Head of Propositions (responsible for Charity, Professional and Court of Protection clients), Barclays’ UK private bank.
While wealth management is a very significant part of Barclays’ operations in Ireland, it is the corporate bank that contributes most to its overall financial performance.
“I’ve enjoyed learning about corporate banking and the investment bank,” says Wiggins. “We do risk solutions from Ireland and have a Barclaycard payment acceptance business too. I didn’t have exposure to any of those areas previously. So, it has been challenging and has involved a huge learning curve, but it has been extremely enjoyable too.”
A typical day for Wiggins might see her meeting with a private client and then with a corporate client to gain an understanding of their five-year business strategy, before chairing a board meeting.
“The key for me as a CEO of a subsidiary, not a branch, is the importance of strong corporate governance and conduct” And her duties extend further still. When she worked in private banking in the UK, Wiggins was mainly involved with the public-facing side of the business. In Ireland, she is accountable for end-to-end business. “While I am relied upon to drive our opportunities in Ireland from a strategic and a business perspective, I’m also fully accountable and responsible for all of the risk governance compliance requirements that doing regulated business in Ireland demands. It gives me ownership from end to end, as opposed to just front-end responsibility.”
Back from the brinkWiggins arrived in Ireland just as the economy was starting to show signs of its former vigour. The financial crisis hit Ireland hard, after a real estate bubble resulted in the collapse in 2008 of a system highly exposed to the property market. But the country’s recent economic performance has been robust. In 2015, Ireland achieved growth of 7.8%, cementing it as the EU’s fastest-growing economy.
Economic growth in Ireland in 2015The strength of the country's GDP is due to many factors, says Wiggins, but perhaps the major cause is the amount of foreign direct investment it enjoys. “The number of multinationals that are choosing Ireland either as headquarters or as a European base has experienced significant growth, and that’s down in part to the phenomenal talent pool in Ireland. There’s a great education system here and access to all the European markets. And you can’t ignore the strong tax offering as well.”
The Irish economy continues to outperform its peers and that, Wiggins believes, will have a direct correlation to Barclays’ business in Ireland. “Inevitably as the economy grows, so will banking opportunities. People want to transmit money around the world, they need debt and asset financing, they need treasury solutions, and Barclays in Ireland can provide all of those,” she says.
Wiggins has devised Barclays Ireland’s 2020 strategy, which is focused on growing its corporate, wealth and investment management businesses. “We are very committed to the existing model, which is to support large indigenous and multinational corporates from a corporate banking perspective. From a wealth and investment management perspective, we’re focused on ultra-high-net-worth clients and family offices. We still see a lot of growth potential in those areas.”
Lending supportAs the Irish economy continues to flourish, companies will be seeking new growth opportunities and expansion into new markets. To achieve this, those companies will require support in terms of lending facilities, and access to debt capital markets and equity capital markets.
Wiggins points out that her corporate banking team in Ireland lent €1bn worth of new facilities to companies in Ireland last year. “We’ve been very active in bond markets supporting many of our largest clients who were raising funds for future growth.”
Barclays has also recently been very active in the Irish real estate investment trust markets. "It’s been a very busy couple of years supporting Irish companies and large property firms as the economy has grown.”
2015 to date: CEO of Barclays Bank Ireland
2011: National Head of Propositions (responsible for Charity, Professional and Court of Protection clients), Barclays UK Private Bank
2010: National Head of Court of Protection, Barclays UK Private Bank
2007: Co-Head of London, Barclays UK Private Bank
2002: Private Banker, Barclays UK Private Bank
1995: Stockbroker, Teather & GreenwoodThat leaves Wiggins optimistic about the future, although she acknowledges there are risks clouding the outlook. From a political point of view, the uncertain outcome to February’s Irish election, which has left the main parties short of a majority in the Dáil, and the looming Brexit referendum in the UK, figure prominently.
That said, Dublin has long established itself as a strong base for financial services firms. “We don't see Brexit changing that,” says Wiggins. Regardless of the outcome of the referendum, she believes the Irish capital will continue to be a location of choice for a number of banks and investment managers.
No trade-offRegulation inevitably features high up the list of challenges for Barclays Ireland, as it does for any major bank. Wiggins sees this as not just affecting her as CEO, but reverberating across the entire organisation.
Wiggins says there shouldn’t be a trade-off between regulation and doing good business. “I’ve structured things in such a way that our head of compliance is a member of the executive committee along with our head of business development and head of coverage. What this ensures is that at every step of the way, compliance and regulatory matters are considered and taken into account fully.
“The key for me as a CEO of a subsidiary, not a branch, is the importance of strong corporate governance and conduct. One of the lessons learned from the financial crisis is the need for more disciplined corporate governance – as a consequence of that I spend a lot of my time on board matters.”
Vibrant communityWiggins remains an active CISI member and is now a Fellow. She says she was pleasantly surprised to see such a flourishing CISI membership in Ireland.
“It’s a strong and vibrant community and the networking opportunities allow me to meet people with similar business interests,” she says.
A keen supporter of the diversity agenda at Barclays and in the broader financial industry, Wiggins is a member of the 30% Club and is on the board of Race for Opportunity, a campaign to promote diverse leadership and representation within workplaces and to tackle racial bias in the recruitment process. “I’m particularly passionate about the work I do to help combat unemployment among black, Asian and minority ethnic young people.”
In her downtime, Wiggins keeps equally busy. “My children are my number one priority so the vast majority of my spare time goes to them,” she says.
“That said, I do still squeeze in time to go to the gym three times a week and to walk our dog on the beach every day. Dublin has some wonderful coastal walks, which my family and I absolutely love. Where possible, I also try to find time for two of my oldest hobbies, horse riding and playing the piano,” says Wiggins.