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Francesca McDonagh is the woman of the moment.

The ex-Croydon comprehensive pupil restructuring Credit Suisse

When Credit Suisse announces a new strategy for its investment banking arm on October 27th, one woman will be at the forefront of its implementation: Francesca McDonagh.

McDonagh joined Credit Suisse earlier this year. She was initially hired as CEO of EMEA, but was named Group Chief Operating Officer before even starting. As Credit Suisse labours against what KBW analysts have described as a "negative feedback loop" surrounding concerns about its capital position and liquidity, it's McDonagh who will be tasked with administering the operational cure. 

In an industry with a reputation for hiring public-school educated members of the elite (The Sutton Trust say that, although only seven per cent of the general public have been privately educated, 60% of leaders in London’s financial services went to a private school), McDonagh stands out as being a bit different. 

The daughter of an Egyptian refugee and Irish police officer, McDonagh was schooled at a Catholic school in Croydon and Greyfriars College Oxford (which she joined after being turned down by three others), where she studied PPE.

When she graduated, she joined HSBC's retail banking and wealth management business and took a string of roles in Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa. She ended up the head of HSBC’s entire RBWM division before leaving for Ireland, where she took on the CEO role at the Bank of Ireland, the country’s oldest financial institution. In Ireland, she lived in the seaside village of Dalkey. Her French husband ran a pâtisserie business. 

McDonagh has spoken at length about her unusual background. The lessons, she said in an interview with EY, have been to understand “the importance of hard work, because nothing is given to you on a plate,” and to become accustomed to “a feeling of getting comfortable with being different.”

She says her background, and her frequent status as the only person of a certain background in a room, have “given [her] an edge,” and that she wants to “[level] the playing field for other people who want to get into careers, whether it’s banking, or other professions that are historically seen as not being for people like them.”

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, McDonagh also said she felt very different from those around her throughout her time at Oxford and during her financial career. "It's good to go outside your comfort zone and I've had that all throughout my career, trying things where you feel a bit like the odd one out makes you grow."

It helps not to plan your career to closely, she added. "I always encourage people to have a development plan... I wanted international experience and I wanted investment but I also did a lot of retail banking as well. I had a plan to develop and I would encourage all my colleagues to but I never had a plan to be x level at x age or x year.”


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AUTHORZeno Toulon

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