Cloë Atkinson is managing director for Mortgage Engine, a fintech platform using application programming interface (API) technology to improve the connectivity between mortgage lenders and brokers. It is designed to make the mortgage application process faster and more efficient. Mortgage Engine brought the first ever multi-decision in principle (DIP) proposition to the mortgage market when it launched in 2019.
Before joining Mortgage Engine, Cloë worked at Santander as head of mortgage transformation and controls. She has more than twenty years’ experience in financial services.
What brought you into financial services?
I joined Santander in 2003 as a trainee accountant, after graduation from London Guildhall University with a degree in accounting finance.
I had always been attracted to the idea of working in financial services. My aunt was an accountant and I admired her – she was a real role model for me as a child. I also have fond memories of helping my mum with grocery shopping and being set mental maths and budgeting exercises in the supermarket to make it more interesting. I enjoyed maths at school and carried this right the way through to university and the first steps of my career.
What do you think makes a successful leader? And in particular women leaders?
A good leader must be inspirational. It is their role to instil a sense of purpose and direction for their businesses and for their teams.
In the current times of crisis, it is also vital for leaders to be dynamic, agile and aware of the ‘bigger picture’. Leaders need to be able to adapt to changing business needs and rapidly articulate how that impacts plans for the team moving forward. This ensures that everyone can be successful together – whether you’re a team of two or a large corporate.
If you could tell your younger self one thing you know about business now, what would it be?
Trust your mind, trust your instincts. When faced with a challenge, the solution that first comes to mind is often the right one. Be strong, stand your ground and make your opinion heard. This doesn’t mean being closed off to new ideas, but for collaboration to work, it needs strength at all sides.
What's your own personal mantra?
Work smart. Always prioritise and focus on crossing the most important tasks off your list first. That will be far more valuable in the long run than slogging away at tasks on the peripheries.
What do you think is key for finding a successful work-life balance?
Going home. As mentioned, I think it’s really important to prioritise what needs to get done at work – but you can work forever and still find things that need your attention. Going home and learning to switch off is a key element of any successful career. Mortgage Engine demands my full attention during the working week, but as soon as I get in the front door my time is about my children, my husband and my home life.
What do you think is holding women back?
I’ve often read that women are more likely than men to be put off applying for a role because one thing on a job description’s list of requirements doesn’t match their skillset.
Focus your attention on emphasising what you can do and learning what you can’t. Pool your resources and build a good network of contacts across areas of expertise. You will never be expected to know everything, but ensuring you have someone you can ask will reap rewards for the rest of your career.
Of course, there are problems with the generic recruitment process, but these will take time to solve.
Do you think there is still a glass ceiling?
The evidence suggests there is, which can be disheartening and disappointing. In Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men, Caroline Criado-Perez suggests that the answer here is evolution, rather than revolution. Melinda Gates argues in The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World that we should not be seeking to ‘give women a leg up’, but instead find ways to work together for the greater good.
I think there’s a great deal of substance to both of those arguments: we have to evolve by creating opportunities for women in different ways. For example, men have traditionally performed better in job interviews than women. How does that contribute to a level playing field? There are more creative ways to recruit successful and ensure the right people are being hired for those roles.
How do we encourage more women into financial services?
The industry needs to offer more platforms for women in the industry to become role models for younger generations. I was inspired by my aunt at a young age – the more female role models we can help give a voice, the more women we will encourage to explore opportunities in financial services.
The government and private organisations need to work together with schools, colleges and universities to promote relevant subjects in an attempt to encourage young women to study them, as well as raising awareness of the career paths available. This transparency from an early stage is key if we are going to encourage more women into our industry.
Organisations can also continue their work in communities with children and young adults starting to think about the future – opening their eyes to the variety of roles and career opportunities available in the sector.
I also think there is work to be done across the board in making recruitment and interview processes more accessible.
The gender pay gap is only second worst to the construction industry. What can organisations do to address this?
Organisations need to be more transparent if they’re going to truly drive action and implement change. We have seen examples already of firms responding to the new rules around gender pay gap transparency, addressing the issues where needed. And I think there’s an education piece around helping professionals – male and female – feel more comfortable in discussing the challenge and exploring solutions together.