“Economically it was easy and emotionally it was hard” - trail-blazing, banker and entrepreneur Jayne-Anne Gadhia
- Credit: Linda Nylind
From high finance to heartfelt regrets Jayne-Anne Gadhia talks about her remarkable career, her family and a new arrival which is bringing her back to Norfolk
Dame Jayne-Anne Gadhia has run a bank, reached the top of the nation’s financial industry, and been appointed to a Bank of England committee overseeing the UK economy.
It’s a glittering career and I was expecting someone formidable. But my first – and lasting – impressions were of someone fun, friendly and endearingly open.
The rain is relentless as we speak and the first thing she wants to tell me about is a picture of a sheepdog on social media, staring out at the weather and deciding to work from home. Later, when I mention I have spoken to her it turns out that several friends have known her during the decades she lived and worked in Norfolk and are fans.
As a woman at the top of the financial industry she is already vanishingly rare. As a top banker who is spoken of with admiration and warmth, well that is unusual.
Although she is not living in Norfolk at the moment it is so much her home that she has set up her new business, Snoop, here.
It is based in a small office on Norwich’s Prince of Wales Road and for it she has given up, for now, the chance to help run the Bank of England as part of its financial policy committee overseeing the safety of the nation’s financial system and monitoring issues that might threaten the economy, and a post as UK CEO of an American software company.
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It’s not the first time she has scaled the heights of her industry, only to choose to return to something smaller but which she is passionate about.
Right now it is Snoop, a start-up app designed to help people spend and save wisely.
More than a decade ago it was Virgin Money, not that Virgin was a tiny start-up, but it was small compared to the then-mighty Royal Bank of Scotland.
“When Richard Branson asked me to go back to Virgin Money I wasn’t really enjoying the RBS culture,” said Jayne-Anne, with some understatement as she was working with Fred Goodwin (whose knighthood was famously annulled after his part in the 2008 financial crisis.)
She moved back to Norfolk to become CEO and steered it through the financial crisis, its acquisition of parts of bailed-out Northern Rock from the government, a stock market listing and eventual sale to the Clydesdale Bank. When Virgin was sold Jayne-Anne was appointed to the Bank of England committee but she said: “It was quite clear that my passion in life was Snoop. It was unfortunate that that meant the Bank of England had to fall away for now.”
Jayne-Anne has loved Norfolk since moving here with her parents as a teenager. They lived near Diss and her first job was a year, ahead of her history degree, in the Norwich unemployment benefit office. At university she met her husband, Ashok, and when she returned to Norfolk to work during the holidays, he came too.
“He should have had an arranged marriage. Our plan to avoid that was not to go back to where his parents were! He moved in with my mum and dad,” said Jayne-Anne.
Ashok worked in Norwich while Jayne-Anne finished her degree and then she returned to train as an accountant. “I had no idea what I wanted to do. I’m not aware of having any career aspirations as a child. We didn’t know what the choices were. It didn’t really matter what the job was I just needed a job in Norwich,” she said.
A few years later she joined Norwich Union and was soon part of a team working on a project which became Richard Branson’s Virgin Direct. She thrived in the collaborative atmosphere. “We all set up Virgin Direct from Disco House, which is what we called Discovery House,” said Jayne-Anne.
And if she was starting out now?
“I don’t know whether it would be Snoop but I think, given everything I now know, I would definitely want to be an entrepreneur,” she said. “Working for Richard Branson was good in many ways but even if you are the CEO you are not really your own boss. Having an idea and bringing it to life is success.”
Asked how she has been so successful, her reply is characteristically open. “It depends what you mean by successful. I am one of the last left standing. I have known people who don’t fit in and say I can’t do this any more. I kept on fighting, and I think it is a fight. I don’t criticise people who give it up.
“You should be careful what you mean by success. I haven’t spent enough time with my family.”
Perhaps the most difficult decision she ever made was going back to work after having her longed-for daughter. She and Ashok had tried for years for a baby and Amy was born in 2002. “Economically it was easy and emotionally it was hard,” said Jayne-Anne. “When we looked at who was the bread-winner it was me and when we looked at who wanted to stay at home it was me. She came to us very late and there is only her. If I had my time again I would start much earlier and have many more babies.”
She has been frank about her experience of depression too, beginning her book The Virgin Banker with the aim of writing about building a business but finding herself revealing her longing for a child, the IVF attempts, and the depression which hit after the birth, and then again as her job became wildly stressful. She has compared depression to the hopelessness and desolation of being attacked by the dementors of the Harry Potter books. Today she is acutely aware of the need for a good work-life balance and the importance, mentally and physically, of building exercise, free time and family time into every day.
“Being CEO of a listed bank is really full on,” she said, recalling the early starts, the long days, followed by dinners which seemed essential. “You meet lots of interesting people and hear lots of interesting things,” she explained. But it took a toll and Jayne-Anne said that while she believes banks and financial companies make efforts to be inclusive, it is not necessarily enough. “I absolutely think that they are good at being inclusive but they are actually saying come and behave like I do. ‘Come into our group and operate in our way then you will be loved and supported.’ “For a woman to be heard you have to be more assertive than a man and when you are, men don’t like it and accuse you of being difficult. It’s been really hard for me and is really hard for lots of women and other diverse groups.”
In 2015 she was asked, by then Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, to look into why more women didn’t progress as leaders in the financial sector. She is proud of the work, which became the Women in Finance Charter, but is unlikely to be followed into banking by her own daughter.
“I think it’s fair to say she doesn’t want to be a banker!” said Jayne-Anne. She wants to make a difference, a positive difference. I don’t think she’s up for making the sacrifices I made.”
There is plenty more Jayne-Anne is proud of including starting a bank from scratch. “And I’m super proud that we were able to run a good bank,” she said, of Virgin Money. There is an economic principle that suggests everyone can be better off. That is very much Jayne-Anne’s type of business. “Our real focus in the job was a kind of gentle capitalism. Business is not all about making money. It’s also about looking after your customers and staff, doing something in the community. It doesn’t mean you had better products or services but you had all this very positive culture to try and do business better, and for me Snoop is a real continuation of that.”
“People want to make a difference in the world and I’m determined to make a difference in Snoop.”
As well as being executive chair of Snoop Jayne-Anne, who is 59 this month, also contributes to not-for-profit organisations including the Tate Gallery, the Princes Foundation and leads a Treasury-backed initiative to boost diversity in financial services.
It was from Norfolk that her glittering career was launched and, after living here for more than three decades, it made perfect sense that her latest project should be based here too. “You have got brilliant people in Norwich,” said Jayne-Anne.
It might seem a low-key, small-scale enterprise, compared with international banking and the national economy, but the intensely personal is where Jayne-Anne excels - as well as high finance, international economics and the rest.
Snoop is a money-saving app, put together by a small team of friends and colleagues. Most had been working at Virgin Money on an online banking project which was no longer needed when it was sold. “We thought. ‘Let’s not do a bank, let’s try and do something even better,’” said Jayne-Anne.
Testing began in January and there were soon 5,000 users.
“We knew that we had something highly engaging and then lockdown came and it was really those people who said it was the ideal time to launch when people were worried about finances,” said Jayne-Anne.
By April they were adding 1,000 new customers a day. “I think it’s because it is so personalised,” said Jayne-Anne
Users give Snoop access to their financial comings and goings and the free app zips around and suggests ways of making savings – advising on better deals on anything from mortgages and energy bills to groceries and subscriptions. snoop.app