Profile: Are we ready to step up?

CISI chief executive officer Tracy Vegro OBE speaks to Len Williams about her career to date and her ambitions for the organisation


Tracy Vegro doesn’t mince her words. Speaking about the challenges that the global economy and the financial services sector are facing, she lists some critical issues, including the climate crisis, the war in Ukraine, rising inflation, energy shortages, and floods. Tracy says that “it’s going to be a very difficult ecosystem” for the sector to navigate. Nevertheless, she also spies an opportunity for the sector: “Good investment advice and boosting financial literacy are at an absolute premium now. So, are we ready to step up?”

From politics to regulation

Tracy has worked on the “same core issues, which are generally public policy programmes and legislation to stimulate economic growth”, throughout her career. She grew up in the north of England in Yorkshire and after university joined the UK Civil Service as a graduate in the then Department for Trade and Industry (see CV boxout).

Her time in Whitehall saw her do a range of jobs, covering company law, financial services, regional policy, skills and enterprise, and after progressing to the Senior Civil Service in the Department for Business, included stints in the Government Equality Unit and later in the then Department of Energy and Climate Change. She was also seconded to spend time working at the Co-operative Bank, after headline-grabbing lapses heralded a recapitalisation programme and review of governance under the late Lord Myners, which exposed her to a commercial environment.

Tracy Vegro OBE

Feb 2023–present: Chair, Regulatory Response Unit, LawtechUK

Sep 2022–present: Chief executive officer, CISI

Aug 2022–present: Non-executive director, Salix Finance

Jan 2021: Awarded an OBE for services to business and diversity

Mar 2020–Sep 2022: Executive director, strategy and innovation, Solicitors Regulation Authority

Mar 2016–Mar 2020: Executive director, strategy and resources, Financial Reporting Council

Oct 2013–Mar 2016: Director of policy, Co-operative Group (seconded from Whitehall) 

Apr 2009–Mar 2016: Director, energy efficiency and consumers, Department of Energy and Climate Change

Apr 2007–Apr 2009: Director of enterprise strategy, Department of Business

Tracy worked under numerous ministers and different complexions of government: including Conservative-led, Labour-led, and also the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government of the early 2010s. “As a civil servant, you have to be neutral; you’re not allowed to be in any way partisan,” she says. The variety these roles offer “keeps you motivated and teaches you to focus on analysing data and making changes because you have to keep looking at issues afresh and from the perspective of value for money for the taxpayer. One day it is one minister in charge, then post an election, there may be another with completely different opinions coming in.”

This experience also taught her the importance of basing decisions on evidence when devising and implementing government policy, and she has taken this approach with her everywhere she has worked. “Because if you’re spending a huge amount of taxpayers’ money, members’ money, shareholders’ money, potentially an investor’s money, you have to know that you’ve analysed the pros and the cons of something.”

In 2016, Tracy moved from the Civil Service to work at regulatory authorities. She spent four years at the Financial Reporting Council (FRC), which oversees auditors, accountants, and actuaries, then in 2020 was appointed executive director for strategy and innovation at the Solicitors Regulation Authority. Both bodies are governed largely by public policy and legislation made in Whitehall, meaning that Tracy was on the receiving end of policy that, as a civil servant, she had helped design.

Connecting with members and wider society

Tracy’s first task as CEO, she says, will be to listen to members and people in the organisation, represent their interests, ensuring that the Institute learns from the diversity of membership – 45,000 members in over 100 countries, “all of whom will be going through slightly different experiences”.

Naturally enough, she also plans to “develop and grow” the CISI and is excited about some of the organisation’s charitable initiatives, such as the Future Foundation (an independent grant-giving charity that the CISI has funded to improve people’s financial literacy). That said, developing the CISI may involve doing things differently. “We can all predict the next ten years will be different. You have to make any organisation you lead fit for the future.”

“It’s better to have everything on the table”

One area in which she sees real opportunities for the CISI is in expanding wider society’s understanding of financial services and what they can do for people. This improved financial awareness might be provided through offering education about things like pensions, student loans, energy bills, or pro bono advice for people at different life stages (Tracy points to the CISI Financial Planning Week, held annually in October, during which financial planners offer free sessions to the public, as an example). She asks, “what do we, as financial services professionals, need to prepare people for?”

Under her leadership, the CISI will also seek to understand and offer informed comment and insights on various policies and legislation coming through, such as the UK’s Financial Services and Markets Bill and Consumer Duty principles, as well as issues around international opportunities now that the country has left the EU. She notes that the CISI is already part of the Chartered Body Alliance (Chartered Banker Institute, Chartered Insurance Institute, CISI), and she’d like to expand the influence of this alliance “to become more than the sum of its parts” through greater collaboration, and using the alliance’s combined influence.

Leadership style

“I’d want to say I’m visible and approachable and fair. I can make a tough decision, but I certainly want to hear different people’s opinions,” says Tracy. She strongly encourages everyone to speak up and make their voices heard, even if their view is discounted, because “it’s better to have everything on the table, and then let’s mutually decide what’s right”.

She believes that it’s almost impossible to impose a culture on an organisation. However, it is vital that leaders “be seen to do what they say they’ll do”. Ultimately, this is about integrity and being authentic. She also believes that in any job, “You’ve got to care. There’s absolutely no point doing it if you don’t care about the outcomes.”

Being a good leader is also about expressing a genuine interest in people – a quality that Tracy, an only child, developed early in her life. “Sometimes people tell me I’m the classic only child because I notice loads of things about everybody.” Tracy learned to make friends quickly or she would have been “stuck at home” alone. As if to illustrate this point, Tracy strikes up a conversation with a waiter – we’re chatting in the lobby of a hotel in central London – who comes by to ask if we would like another coffee.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion

In 2021, Tracy was awarded an OBE (Order of the British Empire) for ‘services to business and to diversity’.

In 2004, she was the senior civil servant appointed to a business-led review for the UK government, the Women and Work Commission, which looked at things like how “the choices girls made about their exams, whether they went into STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics] subjects, whether they studied finance, really then influenced where they got to” in their careers. The commission produced some 40 recommendations that could help contribute to overcoming the gender pay gap and other kinds of inequality.

“Diversity is the answer to avoiding groupthink” She also continued this work during her time at the FRC, where she worked on boosting diversity and gender representation on boards. The work involved research and testing to find out what techniques might help encourage more equal gender representation in the higher echelons of business – to see whether things like quotas, mentoring, and similar initiatives would lead to more women progressing to senior roles.

As a mother of twin daughters, Tracy says it is important to set an example. “The more women that stay in the workplace and take advantage of different flexibilities, and indeed are vocal about demanding them, the more we will see change embedded in organisations.”

She adds that diversity shouldn’t just be something organisations do for the sake of it. “Just look at the classic thing that every management theory tells you – that you must avoid groupthink. Well, isn’t diversity the answer to avoiding groupthink? So, I’m always a little bit surprised when people say to me, ‘oh, it’s very difficult,’ or ‘we’d like to do more, but it’s hard,’ because I think, ‘what’s stopping you?’”

She also volunteers time where she can and tries to support small charities, including The Listening Place, a charity where people can get face-to-face help and talk openly about their mental health, and Speakers for Schools, which sees professionals help bright kids who might not get parental assistance to do things like file university applications or seek out work experience. She chooses to support these charities because “they’re issues that matter to me, the mental wellbeing of people, especially youngsters, giving everybody a stake and a chance is quite a big motivator”.

That desire to give everyone a stake in society feeds into much of Tracy’s work. Speaking again about the global economic, social, and environmental outlook, she knows full well how challenging the coming months and years will be. Nevertheless, she appears confident about the impact organisations like the CISI can have in challenging times, particularly by making financial services more accessible to wider society. “I think my motivation to make a difference might be quite well utilised.”

This profile appears in the March edition of The Review. Coming soon. 
Published: 15 Mar 2023
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