Building Sustainable Finance – Q&A with Lisa Nowell

I recently had the pleasure of an open and candid virtual Q&A coffee with Lisa Nowell, Chief Risk Officer at new entrant digital bank Ashman Finance. We talked about her first few months in the role, the challenges of joining remotely, core values, and any advice for the next generation of Chief Risk Officers…

Please introduce yourself…

Hi - my name is Lisa Nowell and I have been the Chief Risk Officer at Ashman for the last 5 months. However, I have been in financial services for 30 years (I know it sounds like I started in the dark ages!). I have had the privilege to work for some amazing firms in that time - both large and small - Nationwide, RBS, Barclays, Masthaven, Clear Bank and Monzo. On a personal level I live in Cornwall with my 3 dogs - Hattie, Poppy and Daisy - and love nothing better than a long walk along the beach. Lockdown is a bit easier down here.

Who are Ashman Finance?

Ashman are launching a digital-only sustainable bank targeting the real estate market. We are leading the market in proactively helping to fight climate change in financial services.

Why did you take the role?

Over the last 30 years, I have seen all the good, but also the bad, that the large banks do for customers, the industry and the environment. I knew it was possible to do it better and I wanted to do more. My journey started in the challenger bank market 5 years ago and it has ultimately led me to Ashman who offer the best combination of experience, respect for each other and an iron determination to make a difference to both customers and the wider environment. I wouldn't want to be anywhere else.

There were 2 things that really sold the role for me:

  • The team - each person has been chosen for their deep technical experience and their values - there are no egos at Ashman.

  • Second was the opportunity to really make a difference to the planet through the ESG agenda. The founders Manhad and Ashkin feel passionately that we can not only exceed the needs of SMEs but also ensure that we contribute to the sustainability agenda in a positive way.

What has been your biggest challenge since joining?

Onboarding without ever meeting the people I work with. Our HR Director has been fantastic in encouraging virtual social events and we all get together at 10am every morning - but I work a lot with body language and the way people react to what I say - which is not easy over Teams.

What have you learnt in your role, and about yourself, during these past 12 months?

There are 2 lessons that I have really reflected on during the last 12 months. The first is: always be true to your values and beliefs. Whilst it is nice to think everyone has the same values you do, it’s not always the case - and as a CRO you must be prepared to stand up for what is right. The second is: money is not the most important thing. Liking the people you work with and having a great manager is more important in life.

What core values do you live by?

Honesty, kindness and transparency.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

Landing my first CRO role at Masthaven. When I started in financial services women were massively underrepresented in risk management and most certainly wouldn't have been a CRO. To be able to achieve my ambition to be in a role that I absolutely love was a dream come true. I have to call out Andrew Bloom and Jon Hall at Masthaven as without their belief and support of me I would never be where I am today.

What advice can you give the next generation of Chief Risk Officers?

The executive team is the most important factor in being a successful CRO. Take your time and seek out people aligned to your values and beliefs with the right expertise - this will enable you to be the best version of yourself.

If you weren’t the CRO at Ashman, what would you be doing?

I always thought I would be a solicitor - but as I have got older, I love decorating and upcycling furniture so I would definitely take that route.

Any funny work-related anecdote you’d like to share?

One of the best things about working at Ashman is that our Head of Programme Management, Ben, tells us a joke every day - as a risk person I can be a bit literal, so it takes me a while to get some of them - but here is one I liked:

- Why don't vegans take risks? - Because their life could be at steak!