SFE Young Professionals Q&A with Finance Secretary Kate Forbes

On Thursday 3 December, Scottish Financial Enterprise Young Professionals  (SFE YP) and 100+ attendees were delighted to be joined by Cabinet Secretary for Finance Kate Forbes for our annual SFE YP parliamentary event. I was honoured to open the event, which was sponsored by Phoenix Group, and gave an overview of SFE YP’s key successes of 2020, which you can see in our 12 Days of Christmas LinkedIn post.

We were delighted to hear from Sandy Begbie, Scottish Financial Enterprise Chief Executive, and John Mcguigan, SFE Board Director and Customer Director at Phoenix Group. Both spoke about the importance of young professionals working in our industry and why we must support young people looking to enter the world of work. John also highlighted the importance of supporting colleagues through the pandemic and young people, as well as the economy and environment in order to contribute to a sustainable and successful future for Scotland.

Sam Young, Business Manager at Phoenix Group and SFE YP Committee member, hosted an incredibly insightful Q&A with Ms Forbes, which I’ve summarised into three key topics. 

1. Successes and lessons learnt

Sam’s first questions were on Ms Forbes’ top successes and challenges in her career. Ms Forbes said some of her best career opportunities came from accidents and from pushing herself out of her comfort zone. She gave two examples which bookend her career. The first arose from speaking to a stranger over sandwiches at a lunch, which resulted in being offered her first graduate role and chartered accountant training. It turned out the casual conversation was with a senior director of the firm. More recently, Ms Forbes handled the challenge of delivering the Scottish Government’s Budget, and preparing for the politics of her new role, with just a few hours’ notice.

Reflecting on some of the more challenging times of her career, Ms Forbes touched on the public aspects of politics, namely social media and the way mistakes are so public. She has learned that with any mistake or difficult time, you have two options:

  1. Quit and go home or
  2. Pick yourself up and go back into battle

Summarising that mistakes are momentary and to be learned from, she suggested we should be well- prepared, believe in ourselves and choose to take advantage of situations that arise.

2. Politics: yesterday, today and tomorrow

In answer to the question “why politics”, Ms Forbes admitted she had always been drawn to politics and had pontificated about doing good with the opportunities she had. Starting her role as Finance Secretary in February 2020, Ms Forbes said some of the key challenges of managing a budget in a global pandemic include:

  • Forecasting a fixed budget ahead in phenomenally difficult times
  • Prioritisation of key work
  • Consideration of the future and ensuring post pandemic strength

Ms Forbes  acknowledged financial services had been sorely tested during 2020, but had finished the year in a positive light, particularly in comparison to the 2008 financial crisis, which she put down to the proactive and caring response from banks and financial services more broadly.

She also outlined three contributing factors she sees as being key to the future of our financial services industry:

  • Supporting the next generation of leaders through schemes such as the Young Person’s Guarantee
  • Being robust on what to back going forward to set the future up for success
  • Innovating and pioneering technolog-

3. Hot topics in politics

The gender gap

Sam introduced the next topic by reminding attendees that in 2020 Ms Forbes made history not once, but twice by being the first female to deliver a Budget in the Scottish or Westminster Parliaments and by becoming the first female and youngest person to hold the post of Cabinet Secretary for Finance.

According to the most recent Global Gender Gap Report 2020, politics is an area in which ‘women are severely underrepresented’. In Scotland, with Ms Forbes’ appointment, 12 out of 25 cabinet members are women, which is 48% compared to the 51% of women in Scotland’s population. In another comparison, 27% of the UK Government’s cabinet are women.

Ms Forbes said the number of women elected to the Scottish Parliament in 2016 was similar or lower than in 1999 and the more we can do to support women through mentorship and networks (like SFE YP) in all professions and stages, the better. Referring to her own experiences as a female politician, Ms Forbes gave some fantastic advice, “don’t let how other people see you define your role, let the role define it; put on confidence like you put on your clothes and finally; believe in yourself, prepare and be just as good or if not better than everyone else”.

More broadly, Mr Forbes also commented on the disproportionate impact 2020 has had on women and young people, largely due to retail and hospitality being hit the hardest. In comparison, she pointed to the increase in female self-employed entrepreneurs, indicating more women are starting businesses and that support is needed to help them develop and grow. On top of various policy areas, she highlighted the duty and responsibility on firms and businesses to support all under-represented groups.

Climate change, sustainability and the future

Ms Forbes said climate change was one of the biggest challenges today. As well as serving on the Scottish Parliament’s Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee, Ms Forbes also led the campaign to ban plastic straws. She encouraged attendees to take climate change, as well as the coronavirus recovery, seriously by using our roles as innovators for the sector. In order to succeed, she said, innovation and being at the forefront of change is the biggest opportunity for Scotland’s financial services industry.

To close off the event we heard from outgoing SFE Chief Executive Graeme Jones, who founded SFE YP in 2016. Graeme reflected on SFE YP’s achievements, including growing to 700 members thanks to leadership from SFE YP committee including previous chairs Rory Marsh, Victoria Mclean and Amy McDaid.

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Thank you to all of our speakers and members for supporting this event. We have plenty more planned for 2021 so keep up to date by: