Britain's first gay banking chief executive wants to shake up finance

by Hugo Greenhalgh | @hugo_greenhalgh | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 14 December 2021 15:07 GMT

Anthony Watson, the first openly gay CEO of a British bank and founder of the Bank of London (handout photo/RD CONTENT)

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Anthony Watson, the first openly gay British bank chief executive, aims to change the 'pale, stale, male and straight' banking world

(Please note language in 8th paragraph that some readers may find offensive)

By Hugo Greenhalgh

LONDON, Dec 14 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - As the first openly gay chief executive of a British bank, Anthony Watson says he has one very personal goal - to shake up the country's "pale, male, stale and straight" financial sector.

"We want to change the face of banking," said Watson, 45, who is also founder of the Bank of London, a clearing bank for business payments that aims to take on clients in mid-2022.

"This is a personal thing that's very important to me," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a video call from his New York home.

While Watson is still in talks with regulators in North America and the European Union ahead of the bank's planned debut, a recent fundraising round valued it at more than $1.1 billion, according to the Financial Times newspaper.

Former chief information officer for Europe, Middle East and global operations at Barclays, Watson is attempting to break the current dominance of four British banks - his former employer, along with NatWest, Lloyds Banking Group and HSBC - in the domestic clearing market.

Watson, who has invested his own money in the new venture but declined to specify how much, hopes the Bank of London will be bigger than Barclays and HSBC in terms of payment volumes and processes within 10 years.

"It's absolutely doable," he said.

'REPRESENTATION MATTERS'

Regularly listed as one of the most influential global LGBT+ figures, London-born Watson said he often experienced homophobia in the early days of his career, including facing down one colleague at a tech firm who used the expression "filthy queer".

"The way they said it, there was so much venom in their voice," he recalled. "I lost the plot in this meeting (when I heard them say it). I'm not a shy person and if I have an opinion, I'm going to give it and give it pretty forcefully."

Watson, who has a partner whom he declined to name, splits his time between London and New York, having previously been the first non-U.S. citizen to serve on the board of GLAAD, the world's largest LGBT+ media rights organisation.

He is a patron of Diversity Role Models, a leading British anti-bullying LGBT+ charity, and said an inclusive ethos would be central to the new bank's hiring procedures.

A study by two Finnish universities, which analysed the financial performance of 657 stock market-listed U.S. companies between 2003 and 2016, found that "LGBT-friendly" firms were both more profitable and worth more.

"We're purposely going after a diverse workforce, and if we can't find them, then we'll hire people and train them," he said, with plans to recruit more than 3,000 staff over the next five years in the United States, Britain and the EU.

LGBT+ leaders themselves have a role to play, not just within a company but also the wider world, Watson said.

"It's really important that we have openly gay people within companies that also have a voice in the communities in which they live, work and serve," he said.

"It can't just be pale, male, stale and straight in British banking; that doesn't represent society today."

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(Reporting by Hugo Greenhalgh @hugo_greenhalgh; Editing by Helen Popper. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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