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FEMMES in FINANCE: Meet Gina Schoeman, South Africa Economist At Citibank
Nicole Cameron
1 December 2016

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What does a typical day look like for you?

I work full-time but would call it "all-time" because as an economist we have to cover more than just ’economics’, which includes political developments; and these can happen at any hour, even over weekends. For example, if the Finance Minister is removed unexpectedly you don’t have two hours to react, you have about two minutes! A typical day starts very early with a 7:30am meeting in which we highlight any research we’ve written or any market developments that happened the previous day to our trading floor, to give them a heads-up on what it means and how they can use this to trade effectively. Every day is different, but the predominant role that I carry at Citi is to write economic research on South Africa. So it’s not only about reacting to high frequency data like GDP and CPI, but also writing thematic pieces on interesting stories and themes that I believe are important to the economic outlook; for example if I forecast that the consumer is going to do very poorly, I would drill down into the detail of the SA consumer and write a detailed research piece as to why this is, how each income bracket would be affected and how I expect this to impact the overall economy. This research provides our clients, who are predominantly institutional clients (mostly asset managers), information they may need to make risk-based investment decisions. On top of that I also have to track the markets as closely as possible.

Can you pinpoint a career highlight?

I think where I’ve been quite fortunate in my career is that I’ve formed very close relationships with policy makers - which is important to understanding economics. What’s stood out for me, right from the beginning, is how approachable the South African Reserve Bank is and how willing they are to engage. I’ve always been very interested in the South African consumer so much of my research goes in that direction, including labour economics, and I find the SA Reserve Bank, particularly the Monetary Policy Committee members, prepared to discuss these economic aspects, arming economists with information  they may need to forecast correctly. The openness and approachability of the SA Reserve Bank is certainly something that South Africa has going for it compared to other emerging markets, and its influence is something that has certainly paved the way for developing my career interest and niche.

There is a perception that the financial services arena can be a "boys club". Is this true?

Predominantly, yes. But I will say that it has certainly started to change. In the last decade I’ve definitely seen more and more women coming through the ranks. In the Financial Mail’s Analyst Rankings it is encouraging to see it unusually skewed towards women in the economics division. While the whole financial analyst industry is mostly weighted towards men, the economics section has started to shift towards women and I truly believe part of this is because women have a specific understanding of behaviour, and possess softer qualities like empathy, which makes them good at explaining the economic dynamics at play. This may sound stereotypical, and certainly many men carry these characteristics too, but on the whole, I believe that women have a natural strength to personal engagement which can make a big difference when it comes to relating to a client. Another trend that I’ve noticed is that working mothers tend to become more productive. A lot of South Africa’s top-rated economists have families at home - I guess as they say, if you want something done, give it to a busy person!

How do you personally balance a busy role and being a mother of young children?

My "juggling act" is not perfect, I don’t think you ever think you’re managing it perfectly, but I’ve found I’ve gotten better at it every year by putting the right support networks in place. We’ve got help at home, my husband helps where he can, and so we’re a team and make it work. I still manage to do most of the school runs! There is something to be said about the company you work for too, and Citi is admirably flexible when it comes to working mothers. At the end of the day, you are required to do your job. And in my experience, it turns out you tend to work even more as a result of this flexibility. 

Best piece of advice received?

I would say it’s been to get a good mentor, especially someone within the organisation, to work closely with. I’ve had two mentors who have had a profound impact on my career by coaching me especially on "invisible experience" - the things that don’t go on your CV but that help you through difficulties and challenges. At some point you are going to come across a challenge - which may just be a person you don’t like or a client you don’t get along with; or someone who has been deconstructive in their feedback to you - and it’s how you move forward that determines how you grow. A mentor can help you learn from your mistakes. I’ve been able to go to them and say, "I think I handled that badly," and they’ve replied, "I agree, but it’s okay because it’s been a good lesson for you." And so long as I learn from it, it’s unlikely to occur again. That’s an incredibly important learning curve for me. 



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