Interviewed by Laura Packham
Helping to shape the world of business in Europe, Nathalie Berger has spent the last two decades contributing to the European Commission. In this interview, Nathalie shares with us more about her role in managing the European economy in the face of financial crisis and coronavirus, as well as her thoughts on leadership and the ‘double-glass ceiling’ in the banking industry.
You began your career as a lecturer and freelance consultant for a banking group. What drove you to join the European Commission in 2000 and what has kept you there 20 years on?
Since an early age, I have been very interested in international organisations, peace-making, integration and co-operation. When I was in Strasbourg, I was a very active member of The European Movement. Then I had the opportunity to join the European Commission and thought that it could be the best place for me to make a contribution.
Since then, it has been a fantastic experience! There have always been very interesting and fascinating opportunities, and it has allowed me to go toward what, for me, is a genuine objective in my life: contributing to the European project.
Under your leadership, your team contributes to the work of the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision, ensuring responsibility for the policy implementation of the Basel framework in the European Union. What is your role in contributing to the management of the economy in Europe and what are your key measures of success?
I am in charge of banking regulation and supervision in Europe and we pursue a double objective. The first one is financial stability which you need for the economy’s price. The second is to allow banks to play their societal role, that is which is to contribute to financing the economy, bringing cash and liquidity to industry, Small to Medium Enterprises (SMEs) but also to consumers - to all of us.
When we want to purchase our residence, we need to have a mortgage and for that, we need to be able to count on the support of a bank. We need to ensure the bank is reliable because we give them our deposits. So, we pursue financial stability, as well as growth and competitiveness.
My role is to contribute to shaping the regulatory framework in which banks, credit institutions and investment firms, are active in the European Union. We do this by following very balanced rules that ensure appropriate protection. In 2008, there was a major financial crisis after which we implemented a regulatory framework at a worldwide level. Why did we need to have access to a worldwide level? Because markets are interconnected and consist of an internal dimension (the European Union) and an international dimension.
The global economic landscape is everchanging. How can the European Commission keep pace with the rapid transformation in economies, and manage the systemic risks this poses?
I don’t think that the Commission should “keep pace” but that it should be at the forefront. We should anticipate evolution and movements and create the basis and the context in which businesses can thrive and facilitate.
We should have a very quick response and create conditions that allow others to make the most of the market and of the opening of the market. With this opening and a wider playing field for our companies, in every possible sector, there is risk because everything is inter-connected. When something happens in China, it can have major repercussions in France and across Europe.
So we participate in the international corporation organisations; the Basel Committee on banking supervision, the Financial Stability Board, we work together with the European Banking Authority and the European Central Bank, as well as the Single Supervisory Mechanism, which has been put in place in the Eurozone. We have the opportunity, through these different areas of cooperation, to manage and monitor the evolution of risk to try to design the appropriate response, which is what we are doing now in the context of the coronavirus crisis.
We manage and monitor the evolution of risk to try to design the appropriate response, which is what we are doing now in the context of the coronavirus crisis.
Managing a team effectively requires vision, communication and a number of diverse skills. What is your leadership style and how has it evolved since the beginning of your career?
I have been a manager for about 10 years and the more I accumulate experience in this area, the more I am convinced about working on the basis of trust. I really believe it encourages my colleagues to give the best that they can. I remember the2012 Nobel Lecture by Aung San Suu Kyi on the value of kindness : “Of the sweets of adversity, and let me say that these are not numerous, I have found the sweetest, the most precious of all, is the lesson I learnt on the value of kindness. Every kindness I received, small or big, convinced me that there could never be enough of it in our world. To be kind is to respond with sensitivity and human warmth to the hopes and needs of others. Even the briefest touch of kindness can lighten a heavy heart. Kindness can change the lives of people ».
I try to find the right balance between being kind, demanding and supportive and leading them to excellence. I am extremely lucky because I have a first-class team, so it is an honour and a pleasure to lead them.
My management style is open and inclusive. I always associate with people, I organise brainstorming, I exchange opinions in an open matter but once a decision is taken, there is solidarity and we all stick to it and move forward. I also make sure that when there are successes, people are appropriately rewarded so that their contribution is acknowledged.
I want to empower people; I want to empower people in my team – in the moment and afterwards.
I have been a manager for about 10 years and the more I accumulate experience in this area, the more I am convinced about working on the basis of trust.
While the goal is the realisation of a workplace environment in which men and women equally lead, barriers remain to gender balance. Do you agree women in the banking sector face a “double-class ceiling”? What actions are being implemented to promote gender diversity in this sector?
I must say that I too often find myself the only woman in a meeting. Be it when I am talking about regulation among supervisors, policymakers and regulators or when I meet with industry. There are few women. Generally, when there are women, they will likely be the lobbyists or the coordinators, more rarely for a substantial exchange about the issues. This could mean there is an issue with the complexity of the rules, which makes it perhaps less attractive to women.
There is certainly a double-glass ceiling within banks. The European Banking Authority published a very interesting report about the very low proportion of women on the board of directors in banks. They are looking to implement strong encouragement measures because it is widely known that when you have a more balanced composition, you get better results. This is because women and men often have different ways of thinking, leading and managing and these competencies are very complimentary.
We are starting to see some changes by some groups and companies who are trying to diversify their boards and management teams - all this is very much welcome.
As women, we also need to go the extra step, jump in the hot water, and not to be impressed by the fact that we are facing all these men. Recently, I chaired a meeting with about 20 people present. I was the only woman in the room. When the meeting ended, a man from industry approached me, almost apologetically, highlighting the low number of women and hoping that it was fine for me. I said, “It’s absolutely fine for me – the problem seems to be more on your side”.
I have no problem being surrounded by men but at some stage, it is getting a little embarrassing – so up to the gentlemen to take action!
“I have no problem being surrounded by men but at some stage, however it is sometimes getting a little embarrassing – so take action!”
Studies show that a key component to a company’s success lies in the recognition and promotion of women in leadership roles. How can women leaders be recognized in the workplace, particularly in the banking sector?
The governance of the banks, in the banking sector, is really where a lot of effort should be focused. We should take a look into other areas, too, such as investment banking and trading, where the proportion of women is still limited. This could be because these types of positions involve very extensive hours and a lot of stress. I fully understand that when women have other priorities, they may not want to take on all that. Perhaps, it is up to the bank and managers to think of ways that will attract women to take up these positions. It should be an effort, an investment and an adaptation for the short-term in the direction of long-term benefits.
Proust Questionnaire: What do you consider your greatest achievement?
My wonderful boys, Sidney and Hugo. I am the proud mother of twin boys, aged 17. They are the most wonderful boys on earth and if I have one achievement in this life - it is them!