How Ubank’s Nerissa Chetty navigates the work-life balance

Nerissa Chetty discusses how managing expectations helped her to fulfil work and personal responsibilities.

Juggling a high-pressure job, personal responsibilities, and raising children all at the same time is all-too-familiar territory for many women – and something Ubank head of financial reporting Nerissa Chetty had to come to terms with quickly as the world transitioned to remote working overnight.

“My work from home experience coincided with the commencement of our annual external audit,” she explains. “This task is already challenging in having to co-ordinate requests from various stakeholders while managing external audit expectations. I had to quickly adapt to different ways of collaborating, information-sharing, etc.

“Added to this were school closures. My daughters, four and five years old at the time, also had to adjust to not having their usual routine. Online classes were particularly challenging due to their ages and attention spans,” she adds. “I realised that as much as I needed to structure my work related deliverables, it was also very necessary to plan out the day for my children. This assisted, to an extent, in minimising disruption to my work day.”

She admits that not everything went 100% according to plan, but she also learned that this was not the time to be perfect, but rather to be kind to herself and those around her. “It was clear from conversations with friends, family and colleagues, that everyone was struggling to adapt and cope with the sudden changes we faced,” she says. “This provided a certain sense of comfort.”

Managing work expectations was of critical importance and it was encouraging to experience an accommodating organisational culture, says Nerissa. The organisation was understanding of the unique challenges that women face, and allowed for flexibility in working hours.

“Organisations should recognise these unique challenges and respond by actively engaging in wellness interventions,” she says. “Very often, women feel guilty for having competing priorities and are almost ‘ashamed’ to admit when they are not coping. Socially, this needs to change and I believe the workplace is the perfect enabler of this message.”

Nerissa is the head of financial control and reporting at Ubank, where she oversees various financial functions such as payments, asset management, tax and annual reporting. She is also involved in the bank’s key decision-making linked to financial impacts, as well as designing finance requirements relative to new products and initiatives. “I am currently engaged in designing requirements for our technology upgrade,” she says. “It provides an ideal foundation to enhance the value that we in finance can provide to the wider business.”

While this has been quite an exciting opportunity for her, it hasn’t been without some challenges. “I’m currently working across various high priority initiatives and it sometimes feels a little manic,” she says. “I have found that planning and compartmentalising my day as far as possible is key. I also make sure to have rest periods within my day to keep my energy levels up. This is one of my take-aways from lockdown,” she says.

Nerissa not only manages a staff of 13, but she also serves as a mentor to members of her team. “As part of leading the team, there is some ongoing mentoring and coaching. This has been hampered to some extent by remote working conditions. Digital interactions sometimes lack the impact of one on one in-person engagements,” she says. “I make it a point to meet with my direct reports at least once a week, which serves as a mechanism for regular conversation and feedback.”

Nerissa is no stranger to the banking industry, having previously served as deputy CFO – banking at Sasfin before joining Ubank. She knew a career in finance was the right choice for her after scoring a perfect 100 on one of her grade 10 tests. Nerissa’s teacher was so impressed that he asked her to demonstrate the solution to the rest of her classmates.

“I immediately felt this was a natural affinity for me, and the concepts intuitively just made sense. So I continued my studies to become a CA(SA) through Deloitte,” she explains.

She credits her success to hard work, a refusal to turn down opportunities to learn and a willingness to serve. “I've also been fortunate to work with some amazing leaders who have invested time in building my career,” she says. “Furthermore, my journey to date has exposed me to many inspiring individuals who have taught me invaluable life lessons.”