RMB Corporate Banking CFO Storme McDonald on banking, digitisation and dogs

Storme McDonald is the CFO of Corporate Banking at RMB. She is a passionate advocate of digital transformation and a lover of dogs, she tells CFO.co.za.

You are known as something of an expert in the robotics space. Tell us a little bit about that.
In the past, finance may have been quite rigid, so it’s quite exciting that we are now transforming the finance function from a digital perspective.
And I don’t mean we should have robots instead of people. We need a complementary skills set. We need physical beings that are able to do the thinking for you – skilled people like CAs, CIMAs and CFAs. The work that people in these positions sometimes do doesn’t require them to think, but they have these specialist degrees. So robotics adds in an additional component to the digital workforce. It frees the specialists up to think, so you can get better value from them.

It’s very much about people. At no point are we looking to replace people with robots. We’re looking to employ highly-skilled people and want to give them the best in terms of doing a job.

In all honesty, they are what makes the finance team. As CFO of Corporate Bank, you can’t do everything on your own. You are only as good as the team you have.

So I created a digital programme called “Amplified Intellectual Capital” and we put people through it providing a toolset that allows them to work smarter. Because they have the tools to help them, they can spend less time on the things that don’t matter, and more time on the things that do, while embracing technology and gaining the skills required for the future.

How did you end up working in finance? Was it a part of your career plan from the beginning?
I did my articles at EY and wasn’t in the financial sector at all. I was in Retail and Consumer Products, with a lot of retail clients as my base, and I spent my article years doing stock counts. Then I was seconded to New York with EY, then returned with my articles completed, and stayed on as a manager, still with retail and consumer clients.

But then I started looking for a role for myself. I only knew auditing and wanted to get a more diverse skillset. I started looking for jobs, but I think I frustrated my recruitment agent because I didn’t know what I wanted. I said she should just send me the job specs and I’d see.

An opportunity came up at Credit Suisse Standard Securities, and I thought it looked interesting – something different. I took up this job and during my time at the stockbroker, I wrote some of the stockbroking exams. Then there were some structural changes and I ended up in Standard Bank working for the stockbrokers, in the Global Markets business.

Then the opportunity came up at RMB, on the product finance team for Corporate Bank. I knew nothing about corporate banking, but it worked out and after five to six years in stockbroking, I ended up in RMB, first the product finance manager of the team, and then I got promoted to CFO of Corporate Banking. Working here feeds my energy because it gives me the autonomy to be able to run things that I am passionate about.

I am definitely energised by making the finance world a better place because finance sits at the core of every business. It lets you see everything – risks, opportunities, what is getting produced and where the company is going. So you have the foresight and can identify what levers you can pull.

What opportunities and challenges are you currently facing in the industry?
The fact that the world is changing and technology is moving faster than anticipated are both opportunities and challenges. It’s not that easy to move with things all the time, which creates an opportunity for us to develop resilience, which is what will take us through to the future.

The world is shifting to a place where we require specialists, but also have a need for generalists, so we have to know what technology is available and how best to deploy it in these mammoth organisations.

The challenge that comes from that is that there are changes in the life expectancy of people and companies. People are part of the workforce for much longer, and want more from their jobs. They want to be part of something that matters. So we have to find ways of providing that when everything is moving at such a fast pace.
 
What was your hardest day professionally? Or your toughest lesson?
The hardest day I had professionally was the day I got this job. I was head of product finance and for three years I had been working with a gentleman who was the head of finance, and we both applied. By my expectations, he was far more suitable as he had more experience in running the area  – he had more experience and had been in the bank longer. On the day I was given the job, he got the feedback first, before me. I remember walking out feeling overwhelmed. The current CEO of the business and the CFO of RMB had expressed so much faith and confidence in me, but inside I was asking, “Can I really do this?” Then I had to walk downstairs and face the person who also applied for the job. But he was exceptionally supportive and said he felt I was the right person for the job.
 
And your feelings of being overwhelmed, did those abate?
Whenever you get a new job, you never know until the first day what the job actually is about. And it’s not like there’s a manual that explains, start at step one. So it’s been one of my biggest growth experiences, but through the journey, I’ve had exceptional support. And there have been “wow” moments, where I realised that people are the most important factor and support
 
What makes a great CFO?
I think a CFO needs to be agile. I think a CFO needs to be passionate about the business. I think the CFO needs to be passionate about people. And I think that you need to stay humble – even though you are a CFO, you don’t know everything, and you’re never going to know everything. It’s critical to let people from your own industry and other industries help you. And you need to be a leader – you have to be inspirational.
 
Which leads into the next question – what is your leadership style?
I am quite a relaxed leader in the sense that I allow people to get their work done. I like to conceptualise with people and then watch them grow the concept into something and deliver it. I like to be there to have discussions with them and hear their views, but I like to see them get there on their own.

I thrive on people. I love engagement and growing people and driving change. The transformation of finance, with amplified intellectual capital, is so important to me. People make the difference in the world, and we can’t get there if we don’t drive this change, but if everyone buys into it, and drives it with their own viewpoints, we will make it successful.

Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?
If you asked me four years ago if I would be in my seat now, I probably wouldn’t have said so. For me, it’s less about the particular role and more about what I see myself doing. I definitely see myself driving business change and making clients’ lives easier. I am very passionate about transformation, driving change and making our clients’ experience better, while growing our people. So my focus is on that.
 
What advice would you give your younger self?
To have more patience with myself. As most people we can be our own worst enemy. I’ve always been driven, and I think I can miss out on some of the things that are happening around me if I move too fast. Parts of my career I look back and think, “How did I miss that?” It went so fast, I missed that I had been a part of it. I didn’t stop to smell the roses.

The younger guys in my team teach me so much about working and jobs. The older generation don’t realise that people coming into the workforce now have a different paradigm of working. In the days when we were doing articles, you went in and you worked, but the guys coming in now work smarter, think differently and find work-life balance important.
 
What are your interests outside of work? 
I am an absolute dog lover. I train Labradors and golden retrievers to do field trialling . I also work with charities like Lab Lifeline, and try to help them raise funds. My husband says the only thing I am not allowed to do is bring home more dogs because they will never leave. We already have three and if it were up to me, we’d have 20.

Once a year, I try take part in an event called “Bark in the Dark”, and my exco are usually my best sponsors. Basically, you go and live with a shelter dog for the day, give them physical attention, and spend the night in their kennel.

I am also a half-marathon runner, and I also run a shooting club with a friend of mine, introducing women to clay target shooting.