Rothesay's Cleo Taylor Smith: Staying true to yourself

clock • 8 min read

Rothesay business development director Cleo Taylor Smith was named as joint winner of the Saleswoman/Marketer of the Year category at the third annual Women in Pensions Awards. She speaks to Professional Pensions about winning the accolade.

What does winning this award mean to you?

I am thrilled to have won the Saleswoman/Marketer of the Year award, especially among such a wide and varied shortlist. I have worked in the pensions industry for ten years but it was only two and a half years ago that I moved into a business development role, so I am very proud to be recognised at this point in my career.

On a more personal note, 2020 has been tough year for everyone and having the opportunity to join the virtual awards ceremony and celebrate (albeit over Zoom) with my team was a real boost and lifted all our spirits!

What is the most important lesson you have learned in your career?

I strive to bring my whole self to my role and firmly believe in the power of kindness in everything I do. In my early career, I thought that to be professional I should talk and act in a certain way, emulating the (mostly male) senior team members I was working with. However, I have found that relationships with colleagues and clients develop more naturally when you are true to yourself.

This has been even more apparent over the past ten or so months of working at home, where even the most well-prepared of Zoom meetings can be sidetracked by something unexpected - like my new kitten jumping on my shoulder during a negotiation call on one of our largest transactions of 2020! I think that these small windows into the lives of colleagues and clients has really helped to build relationships during this strange period where meeting face-to-face has not been possible.

What has been your greatest achievement, or one that you are most proud of?

Since joining Rothesay in 2016, I have worked on a number of our high profile transactions, both on the pricing and underwriting side when I initially started, and more recently managing transactions and client relationships in the business development team.

The achievement I am proudest of so far was being part of the team working on our record-breaking series of transactions over the summer of 2019. Over nine weeks, Rothesay wrote £15bn of new business across four of the largest bulk annuity transactions ever traded, including the largest ever UK buy-out for telent in September 2019. Nothing of this size or intensity had been completed by any firm in our market before, the previous annual record for an insurer was £8bn, and no insurer had completed multiple trades over £3bn in size in just one year before.

I am very proud to have worked in the core team on these four deals. It was really exciting to be a key part of a large team working to ensure that all four transactions completed successfully and almost simultaneously, while making sure that our high standards of service were maintained. I learned a huge amount during this short time, which acted as a springboard to further develop my role in managing and executing deals (remotely!) over 2020.

The Women in Pensions Awards

The Women in Pensions Awards aim to shine a spotlight on the work of the inspirational and ground-breaking women in pensions as well as the organisations and mentors that support them.

The 3rd annual awards were presented at a virtual event held on 25 November 2020.

To see the full list of winners and read more about the awards, visit the Women in Pensions Awards website.


What has been your experience working as a woman in the pensions industry?

I feel lucky to have worked for companies with a meritocratic culture and supportive environment for all employees to thrive. In particular, Rothesay adopts a very flat structure which I believe allows people to be seen as individuals with their own unique talents and strengths. This has enabled me to find a role that I find rewarding and challenging in equal measure.

What is your top tip for women looking to progress or start a career in the pensions industry?

When I started my career in pensions consulting, I had no idea of the breadth of career paths that would open up to me (and didn't know that my current role even existed!). Finding a role that suits you as an individual, using your personal strengths and reflecting what makes you who you are, is also more likely to provide a career that makes you happy in the long term. Therefore, my top tip is to be flexible, willing to try new things and take up new opportunities that come your way, even if they are in new and challenging areas.

How Rothesay is addressing the diversity challenge

How are you addressing diversity issues within your company?

As a founder-led business, Rothesay has been committed to actively promoting diversity and inclusivity from day one.

Creating a culture at Rothesay that values difference is an important part of our commercial strategy as we know it makes us a stronger, more dynamic business. We pride ourselves on having a very non-hierarchical structure which ensures that everyone is treated as an individual, whose opinion is valued and who has equal opportunity to thrive in their career.

We welcome open and honest feedback from colleagues and conduct regular employee engagement surveys to measure their opinion and to hear what we can do better. In our most recent survey we were pleased to find that 86% of our employees agreed, or strongly agreed, with the statement "My co-workers respect my thoughts and feelings" with only 4% disagreeing.

During 2020, all our people received training on what it means to be an inclusive company and we held additional sessions for those with line management or recruitment responsibilities. We have also recently welcomed Jane Hanson as a Non-Executive Director to our Board, adding to existing Board and Executive Committee responsibility for ensuring diversity and inclusivity across our business.

Have you launched any specific initiatives to help support diversity in general and women in particular?

Yes, and we are committed to ensuring that our initiatives incorporate the feedback we receive from colleagues.

Rothesay became a member of Cityparents following a series of meetings that Terry Miller, one of our Non-Executive Directors, had with some of our senior female managers to discuss actions to improve inclusivity. Cityparents is an award-winning organisation providing expertise and support to working parents in corporate roles.

We recognise that parenting responsibilities can be a key issue impacting people at work. We aim to support all parents at Rothesay, recognising that individuals need to feel supported in managing their personal and professional commitments. This includes offering training and support to all new parents and their managers alongside one-to-one coaching for any employees taking extended parental leave to help with their return to work. We also reviewed our parental leave policies and increased the entitlement for paid paternity leave. We fully endorse the industry-wide initiative, led by the Association of British Insurers, aimed at ensuring transparent, easily accessible information is available on parental leave and pay policies.

As recruitment plays an incredibly important role in supporting diversity and inclusivity, we work very closely with our third party recruiters to ensure we have a diverse candidate base for all our roles. We have also partnered with SEO London, an organisation which prepares talented students from ethnic minority or low socioeconomic backgrounds for career success through internship and graduate programmes as well as offering training, mentoring and work experience opportunities.

To what extent are you leading or taking part in industry-wide initiatives?

We believe it's vital to partner with others to most effectively tackle the prejudice and discrimination still sadly present in society today. This includes industry-wide initiatives as well as other partnerships, for instance with our customers, suppliers or organisations based in the communities in which we operate.

One area where the industry as a whole can play an important role is supporting a more diverse range of talent for the long-term. During 2021, Rothesay will be participating in #100BlackInterns, a programme which seeks to offer internships to Black students across the UK to help kick start their career in investment management. The programme has received such a strong level of support from industry, with over two hundred companies now offering internships, that it has led to the #10000BlackInterns initiative being launched. #10000BlackInterns will offer paid work experience across a wide range of sectors, not just investment management, creating a sustainable cycle of mentorship and sponsorship opportunities across the whole UK economy. We're currently interviewing candidates and are excited about welcoming interns to Rothesay.

What is your organisation's key message to women looking to progress or start a career in the pensions industry?

Our industry provides security and peace of mind for millions of people, something which is more important than ever due to the unprecedented challenge of COVID-19. It's dynamic and constantly changing, with a huge range of opportunities spanning multiple sectors and potential career paths.

We know that a diverse workforce is not only a strength, but absolutely vital to our continued success. As the range of opportunities within the pensions industry continues to grow, Rothesay is committed to making sure that the equality of opportunity does so too.

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