Fiona Kidy, Chief Financial Officer at the Financial Services Compensation Scheme, talks to workingwise.co.uk about her career in finance.
Fiona Kidy qualified as a biologist before going into the civil service and eventually finding her way to financial services. Now CFO of the Financial Services Compensation Scheme, she looks back on a career characterised by her own adaptability to change and curiosity to learn new things.
Fiona is half Indian and half Greek Cypriot and has a rich, international outlook on life. Her parents met at Paddington doing A Levels and she was born in Wales where her father was at medical school. She lived in Wales for two years before the family moved to Malawi. When she was 14 the family moved again, to Canada, due to the rising political tensions for Asians in East Africa at the time. Her paternal grandparents remained in Malawi while her maternal grandparents lived in London.
After doing a Biology degree, Fiona decided that she didn’t want to stay in Canada. Fiona had wanted to be a doctor like her father, but she didn’t get the grades she needed. She and her brother had spent every summer in London and Malawi, visiting their grandparents, and Fiona had always loved big cities. She decided therefore to move to London and stay with her grandparents for a few years.
It was 1986 and Fiona’s first job was in Peter Jones selling school uniforms. Then she did the civil service entrance exams and ended up sitting round a large table in Whitehall with three old men. “At 21 it was very intimidating,” she says, but she got the job and started working at the then Department for Health and Social Security as a National Insurance inspector. The job involved visiting businesses and homes across London to check that people were paying the right National Insurance contributions. Fiona recalls that inspectors were not allowed to go out in pairs despite safety concerns after one man in her team got attacked on a visit.
After a while, she decided the job was not for her. She went to a jobs fair and picked up lots of application forms. Almost all of them asked applicants to write an essay describing the qualities they could bring to the job. “I’m a scientist not a writer,” says Fiona. So she applied to the one firm that didn’t ask for an essay – KPMG. A week later she was called in for a full day’s interview. She knew many of her friends had tried to get into KPMG without success.
However, Fiona had an ace up her sleeve. Her degree in Canada had been very broad-based which meant that, at interview, she was able to refer to the business administration course she had taken as part of her degree. It helped to break the ice and she recalls laughing over her struggles with the marketing module with her interviewer.
Fiona got into KPMG and trained to be an accountant there. It was the early 90s and the country was in recession. Accountancy firms were laying off trainees. Fiona describes it as a “defining moment” in her life. Having been made redundant, she had to get herself through the exams with no sponsorship or support from KPMG. She passed after a few attempts, but there were no jobs available as so many in financial services had lost theirs. She temped and was eventually offered a job as a junior accountant at a private company before moving to a series of small banks.
She then landed a junior role at JP Morgan where she stayed for 16 years. JP Morgan makes its recruits move jobs every 18 months or so in order that they can learn how the company works. In 16 years Fiona had about eight different roles. It was a high pressure environment. She was in her late 30s and wanted children, but it never seemed to be the right time. When she turned 40 Fiona realised it was now or never. By 41 she had her first son and returned to work full time after eight months. There were not many other working mum role models in senior positions.
Fiona now acts as a role model for other women and tells young women that they need to face up to the fact that their career will likely be affected by maternity leave in terms of delayed promotion and temporary financial impact. For her the benefits of becoming a mum far outweigh this.
She had her second son at 43 and again took eight months off. She found it physically hard to be an older mum with a high-pressure job and ended up burning the candle at both ends, functioning on adrenalin. She was lucky, however, because JP Morgan is New York-based which meant that she could get into work at 9.30, come home at 5 and then log in later for a couple of hours to catch up with the New York office. It worked well for both her and the business. “I could not have asked for a better employer with regard to flexible working and working from home,” she says, adding that both her sons suffered from regular ear infections when they were little and being put on a pilot for a remote login from her first pregnancy made life much easier.
Fiona was promoted within JP Morgan, but realised that, since it was a US firm, she couldn’t get any higher without going to the US where the bigger roles were. So the family moved to the US when the boys were two and a half and five. Career wise Fiona thrived and describes her role as ‘the best job ever’, but it was lonely. She didn’t meet many other mums and her life mainly consisted of working and commuting. After two and a half years the family decided to move back to the UK.
Because Fiona knew there would not be the senior roles she wanted at JP Morgan’s London office, she took a job at HSBC where there was more opportunity to progress. She never really settled, however, and eventually took redundancy at the age of 50, just after the Brexit referendum. It was a scary, uncertain time and Fiona found herself out of work for 10 months until she got a call from a recruiter. She had found a job which she thought Fiona would suit well – at the Financial Services Compensation Scheme. “It was one of those sliding doors moments,” says Fiona. “Had the recruiter not known me and the Financial Services Compensation Scheme it wouldn’t have happened.”
It was a slightly backward step for Fiona, but she met the people and liked the organisation. She felt she could learn a lot there about regulation and that her background in financial services would be really helpful. Because it is a smaller organisation than she was used to, she has enjoyed understanding how all the parts, from marketing to procurement, work together. She loves the culture too and the way diversity is celebrated, including age diversity.
Fiona came in as Head of Financial Management and Funding and within two and a half years was asked to be the interim Chief Financial Officer when the previous CFO moved on and was later appointed to the role permanently. She says: “If you would have told me six years ago that I would be CFO at FSCS I would have laughed. My expertise is more in business strategy rather than the more technical accounting side. But I am really enjoying all aspects of the job, things like risk and resilience which I have never done before. I am naturally curious so it is brilliant for me to be given so many opportunities to learn and to talk to people.”
Looking back on her working life, Fiona says she feels she has been a good role model to her children and hopes her experience shows that there are many pathways to senior roles. “Who would have thought that a biologist would become an accountant who would become a CFO?” she says. “I didn’t plan it and I suffered several setbacks along the way, but that has given me perspective and resilience which I think is an important message for the younger