Here’s why Europe’s only female investment bank boss is buzzing

The only female head of an investment bank in Europe is seizing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape her division and drive the growth of one of Spain’s biggest lenders.

Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria leader Luisa Gomez Bravo, who has worked for Spain’s second-largest bank for 24 years, is launching one of the most ambitious recruitment programs in the sector while increasing the share of new female hires.

The Bilbao-based lender is looking to increase the division’s workforce by around 400 this year, or 10%, at a time when banks around the world are in a bidding war for talent.

When Ms. Gomez started in investment banking at Salomon Brothers in 1993, the industry was a little different.

The “macho alpha” bravado that was prevalent at the time has now all but disappeared on trading floors and banks are pushing for more women to enter and stay in the industry, she said in an interview at HQ. from the bank this month, the first since taking over the position.

“It’s not about favoring women over men, it’s about letting female talent flourish and then picking the best,” she said. “And we have to nurture that female talent and help them improve their skills.”

While Ms Gomez is the only woman to run a corporate and investment banking business in Europe, the equivalent unit of French lender Natixis is jointly run by a woman, Anne Christine Champion, and a man, Mohamed Kallala, in as joint managers.

“Wall Street Movie”

European investment bankers have enjoyed bigger bonuses in recent quarters and payroll costs are rising as companies try to retain employees after the pandemic boom in trading and deals.

Societe Generale said this month it planned to “massively” increase its bonus pool after a year of record profits.

BBVA’s corporate and investment banking currently has around 3,800 employees in offices from Spain to Mexico, Hong Kong, New York and Turkey. The ratio of female staff to total headcount increased to 39.5% at the end of 2021, compared to 37% in 2019. New hires, however, are 46.4% women, compared to 35% in 2019. Ms. Gomez also lobbied for a graduate. women-only training program, which is currently undergoing a selection process.

It’s not about favoring women over men, it’s about letting female talent flourish, and then picking the best

Luisa Gomez Bravo, Global Head of Corporate and Investment Banking, BBVA

While the bank has introduced measures to support women’s goals, Ms Gomez says there is still an industry perception problem.

“I often see that in advancing women’s careers, women themselves don’t apply for vacancies, there’s a lot of prejudice,” she said. “Women also need to do their due diligence and understand that things aren’t like the Wall Street movie anymore; the environment has changed.

BBVA is a primarily retail-focused lender that has attracted attention in recent months for an ambitious shareholder compensation program and the decision to boost its presence in Turkey at a time of economic turbulence in the country.

Ms. Gomez, 51, has held positions at BBVA ranging from head of asset management to head of investor relations. When she was appointed in December 2018 to head up corporate and investment banking, the mother-of-four’s mandate was to grow the business.

The unit has since increased its weight in the bank, from 22% of group profit to 24% at the end of 2021.

Ms. Gomez’s goal is to continue growing by rolling out new types of products, including across borders. The bank launched a supply chain finance solution and also introduced the first ESG-linked credit in Colombia.

In terms of promoting diversity in the workplace, Ms Gomez says she encourages women to be proactive in promoting their careers and balancing that with other demands on their time, including family. It’s more possible than ever before, she argues.

Updated: February 19, 2022, 3:30 a.m.

Mary I. Bruner