Amex: Fostering a Culture of Female Leadership in Finserv

We speak to Amex executives Charlotte Duerden, Hannah Lewis, Stacey Sterbenz and Caroline Bouvet
We speak to Amex executives Charlotte Duerden, Hannah Lewis, Stacey Sterbenz and Caroline Bouvet on their journeys to become financial services leaders

In this exclusive, we speak to American Express’ female leaders, as they recount what they have learned on their growth journey to becoming figureheads in financial services, and highlight various paths young female professionals can aspire to follow to achieve success in the finserv space.

Charlotte Duerden

Charlotte Duerden is Chief Customer Officer for Amex’s International Card Services. Prior to this she was UK Country Manager and has been recognised as a leading executive based in the UK for her advocacy in championing female inclusion. 

Charlotte Duerden, Amex

One of Charlotte’s biggest learnings is not just to hold ambition for herself, but to share it with those around her. 

“Ambition is not something to be embarrassed about and it’s important to foster a culture where people feel able to talk openly about their personal and professional goals,” she says. 

“Doing this has helped our women colleagues at Amex feel they are supported in achieving their ambition.”

Charlotte says a big part of this comes in cultivating an environment where women can feel open to discuss what they want from their careers, and it takes commitment to support them on every step of that journey. 

“Gender inclusion will never be a case of ‘job done’ but by making it an ongoing focus at Amex we have driven, and continue to drive, meaningful change,” Charlotte continues. 

“Key to this is ensuring women’s voices and ambitions are heard and understood. This helps reveal the barriers to women realising their potential, and enables us to tackle them, head on. 

“Whether it’s understanding and leveraging the importance of mentors, enabling ongoing career conversations, and creating tailored development opportunities or creating safe spaces for discussion such as within our Women’s Interest Network, intentionally creating opportunities for honest dialogue about women’s experiences at work really does reap rewards.”

Hannah Lewis

Hannah Lewis is Amex’s UK Country Manager and leads a colleague base of almost 6,000 people. She has a 16-year history at Amex and took on responsibility for the UK business in 2022. During her tenure, she has held roles across multiple areas of the business including Consumer, Commercial and Merchant and in roles including product marketing, business development and partnerships. 

Hannah Lewis, Amex

“During my 16 years at Amex, I’ve had some great women mentors who have really helped to guide and shape who I am as a leader today,” says Hannah. 

“I learned a lot from them, and while it's important to take onboard advice from others, you also have to do so in a way that feels right for you.”

For Hannah, what makes an individual different is what ends up becoming their ‘superpower’, and aspiring female leaders in finserv should not let preconceptions about what makes a great leader impact their authenticity.

“I think that women often put extra pressure on ourselves because we feel somehow there is more to prove. In a traditionally male-dominated sector there may be an even greater tendency to set ourselves impossibly high standards,” she continues.

“We all have our own unique ways of solving problems, leading and motivating people, and if you’re not doing that authentically, it won’t be effective and you won’t have the impact you want to have on your colleagues, business or your own career.

“One aspect of my own style I have learned to embrace is listening and seeking to understand other’s thought processes. I want to be challenged, I want to hear a range of perspectives and I want to ensure my decision making is considered and thoughtful.”

Hannah notes that empowering colleagues to speak up is a great stimulus for creative thinking. “In a sector that is driven by innovation, I want everyone to feel empowered to share their ideas because that’s what propels our business forward.”

Stacey Sterbenz

Stacey Sterbenz has recently been appointed the role of Senior Vice President, Acquisition and Customer Marketing for International Card Services, following a 2-year tenure as Vice President & UK General Manager of Global Commercial Services, where she played an integral part in driving the commercial sales and marketing teams at Amex.

Stacey Sterbenz, Amex

The key to success for Stacey in her career comes down to honesty, both with herself and those around her. “Being honest about what I want from my career has been key to unlocking new opportunities and continuing to learn, grow and progress,” she says. 

Of course, the financial services industry offers such a broad range of varied career possibilities, typically with opportunities to move to different teams, disciplines or locations.

“But sponsors, mentors and leaders are not mind readers,” she adds, “and the support you can benefit from to explore these opportunities, or be considered, may not be forthcoming if you are not being transparent about your intentions and aspirations.

“My ambitions have changed over time from wanting to move countries to being anchored, from the experience of leading bigger teams to the experience of a new stretch area. I’m fortunate that working in payments for a globally connected company like Amex, all of these possibilities have been on the table. 

“However, being open about the direction I haven't wanted to take has proved equally crucial in helping avoid wasted time on undesirable detours.

“While it’s good to be open-minded, don’t let that be at the expense of being open about the right career pathway for you. Only you can truly know what this is, but it will have little impact while it stays unspoken or hidden.”

Caroline Bouvet

Caroline Bouvet is Vice President of Products and Partnerships at American Express, having joined in 2007 from Accenture. With 15 years of experience at the company, Caroline is responsible for managing the portfolios of Amex cards across both the consumer and commercial business.  

Caroline Bouvet, Amex

“My role might not be what you’d expect when you imagine a career in financial services,” says Caroline. 

In charge of managing the portfolios of cards across both the consumer and commercial business at American Express, it’s Caroline’s responsibility to ensure these portfolios not only fulfil the needs of customers but are best in class. 

“A typical day for me could include anything from leading a meeting with one of our strategic partners to attending a Cardmember restaurant experience and hearing directly from customers,” she continues. “It’s a varied and exciting role, and one I wouldn’t have imagined existed when I started my career.”

Indeed, financial services is a very diverse sector, and there are lots of opportunities available for women to build amazing and rewarding careers. One crucial aspect Caroline has learned is that you can’t underestimate the importance of a company’s organisational culture.

“Having a great company culture is critical to not just encouraging women to start their career in financial services, but also to unlocking potential throughout their journey. 

“For me, being recognised as a person with a career and a home life was very important. I have always been supported to grow and progress with flexibility, and this has been a huge contributor to professional development. 

“It’s no coincidence that I am surrounded by inspiring women every day. Around half of the senior management roles in the Amex UK business are held by women, and this wouldn’t be possible without the growth opportunities and empowering culture we have here.”

FinTech Magazine congratulates Charlotte, Hannah, Stacey and Caroline on their remarkable careers and efforts to champion the role of women in financial services, and thanks Amex for facilitating a positive working culture that promotes gender inclusion.

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