When Simeon Greaves, Director, Strategy & Performance, Lending at Coutts, walked through the doors of Coutts Bank as an intern six and a half years ago, there were no Black people at the director level, and his culture was not reflected.
This historic institution was traditionally seen as inherently white and serving the aristocracy. It was, therefore, no surprise that Greaves’ extended family were worried that he might feel intimidated. They needn’t have been because he set out to change things – and succeeded.
“I wanted to create a space for other people to be seen, so I gathered support from different levels to raise awareness of and start celebrating Black History Month and what it means,” he says. “That first event was a success, resulting in the team I had built securing a large budget and running multiple large-scale events.”
The most recent was a roundtable on the power of Black wealth. It discussed the challenges that Black and ethnic minority businesses faced and how to better encourage and grow Black wealth across society.
Greaves’ drive towards internal and external inclusivity – he is a key member of the Coutts LGBTQ+ network and the Campaign, and Events lead for the Wealth Multicultural Network – brought external recognition. He was a finalist in the ‘Rising Star in the Financial Services’ category of the 2022 Black British Business Awards. And while he may not have secured to spot, Greaves admits to feeling excited about being recognised and hopes it will inspire others. His 11-year-old niece was certainly “bowled over by the concept.”
He set his sights on the finance industry when, while studying economics and politics at Durham University, he was a brand ambassador for the RBS group. “I’ve always had a creative angle to the bigger picture, and I’m a people person,” Greaves reveals.
“I get my energy from other people working in teams. When I learned more about Coutts, I thought, “here is an industry where I could combine all these things”. Then I applied for an internship, and the rest is history.”
His current role is Wealth Manager, helping high-net-worth and ultra-high-net-worth European clients bring long-lasting purpose to their wealth. He specialises in advising UK resident non-domiciled Europeans and non-UK resident clients in Switzerland and Monaco.
From his own experience growing up, he believes that schools need to be teaching youngsters about money and saving. At the same time, banks must do more to engage with different communities.
Greaves explains: “At school, we had citizenship lessons about everything except managing your money. They should have taught us about pensions, ISAs, savings, and compound interest. As a Wealth Manager, these are the things I talk about every day, but many people aren’t afforded that privilege or that opportunity.
“Also, certain communities have a complex history with institutions like banks. Representation is, therefore, important – seeing individuals like you feels closer to home.”
“I think proactive action from those institutions is important to engage with different communities to demonstrate that the doors are open for individuals of colour. I’ve learned most of what I know about investments and savings from exams and university, not from my parents. They spoke about saving, but we didn’t talk about investing; that just wasn’t part of the conversation.”
Power of networking
He recognises that there is a funding gap between Black entrepreneurs and their white counterparts, a position exacerbated during the pandemic. He points to the power of networking as an essential business driver.
“It’s difficult when you’re starting out because you have all these ideas and drive but may need support on how to get from A to B?” says Greaves.
“Starting with networking is really, really important. We’re in a digital age, and Generation Z is leading the way: Instagram and TikTok can be fantastic ways of reaching a wide audience and getting your business out there. LinkedIn is also important because you can build a brand for yourself and your business.”
He also recommends that entrepreneurs research networking events and talks associated with their industry and attend them regularly. This is a great way to meet people and learn from them.
“It’s about being proactive in the same sense as your social media; it’s not just about having an account,” Greaves emphasises. “Who are you reaching out to and effectively cold calling? Are you sending messages out to X number of people per week? Are you ensuring you speak to five-ten people at every event you attend? That’s not always going to bear fruit straight away, but that consistency means you’ll hopefully start building connections that could manifest in the future. All it takes is one individual to start catalysing that journey.”
A downside often experienced by Black entrepreneurs was that their success tended to be questioned in a way that wouldn’t be for white businesspeople. And it usually meant having to prove why they were in the room in the first place.
Greaves is in no doubt that this is down to structural racism and bias within institutions’ inherent hierarchy and representing hundreds of years of struggle. Changing this, he suggests, would require a commitment of Goliath proportions.
“The important thing to draw out is around self-awareness,” he adds. “It takes a lot of introspection of individuals and institutions to untangle their biases. Then think, ‘what can we do about that? How can we be proactive?’ Because doing that on mass should hopefully start the ball rolling in the direction we need to go in; to come to a space where not only are people coming through, but people aren’t questioning why they got the job or why there are where they are.”
All in it together
Greaves is justifiably proud of what he has achieved at Coutts and how the bank has become much more self-aware and moved away from its previous image. The Black Wealth event held by the bank earlier this year clearly indicated how far things had progressed.
“It’s saying that Coutts is a business that is open to everyone, and we’re having conversations that are inspiring and have much value,” Greaves argues. “We’re bringing Black entrepreneurs together from different industries to talk about something affirming to hear. For me, it was saying that we can all be here and go there together.”
His enthusiasm for the job is fuelled by his love of engaging with people. He enjoys nothing better than supporting people’s financial wellbeing and learning what motivates individuals. This was, he says, part of his big-picture thinking when trying to build propositions around issues such as Black wealth and inclusivity.
Finally, Greaves advises anyone thinking of following his footsteps into finance to “know yourself. It isn’t easy when you’re young. But think about what motivates and excites you, and if that could lead to banking, then give it a go.”
He ends with: “It’s difficult because we’re not in a world that’s completely objective. There’s inherent bias absolutely everywhere. So, come into an environment with as much of yourself as possible and make sure there are people and mentors who can support you on the journey.