Sinead Barry is standing in a modern office space in Accenture and smiling into the camera.
Sinead Barry. Image: Accenture

‘I like to burst the myth that my career has been a carefully orchestrated plan’

10 Feb 2020

Having studied biochemistry at college, Sinead Barry of Accenture wasn’t always planning to forge a career path in financial services.

According to Sinead Barry, you could call her “the biochemist who has spent her career in financial services”. Now working at Accenture, where she leads the company’s customer insights and growth practice for financial services in Ireland, Barry feels she is in a sector that has offered her “the opportunity to enjoy a wide variety of roles”.

From a summer job at a bank to recently getting the chance to chat with Accenture’s global banking lead, Barry talked to about her unique career journey to date.

‘As a biochemistry graduate, financial services was not always my career aspiration’

What does your job at Accenture involve?

My job at Accenture is to lead our customer insight and growth practice for our financial services industry group in Ireland.

My team and I work with organisations to help them improve their customer experience, develop their digital offering, utilise analytics and drive growth. Digital has disrupted every aspect of business as we know it, so creating a compelling customer experience has never been more important.

It’s the ideal role for me as it allows me to do two things that I am very passionate about. I like to champion the customer and the importance of their experience when using a product or service. I also strongly believe in the value of stewardship by developing our people, and spend time in my role helping others to navigate their own career paths.

Did you always want to work in the financial services sector?

As a biochemistry graduate, financial services was not always my career aspiration. A summer job in a bank caught my interest and led me to a role working for a company called GAM Fund Management.

I had a great boss, Billy Norris, who offered me exposure to both operational and project roles. It was a fantastic experience. In my early days, I worked on a Swift implementation programme and that really uncovered my interest in technology and change. You could say that I am the biochemist who has spent my career in financial services!

It is a sector that has offered me the opportunity to enjoy a wide variety of roles. I’ve always felt challenged and have had the space to grow and develop new capabilities. I do think in the coming years we will see people enjoying careers that span across a variety of industries and experiences – work will evolve and look different to today and I think people need to embrace and plan for this inevitable shift in the workplace.

Has your career path been straightforward?

I always like to burst the myth that my career has been a carefully orchestrated plan – it hasn’t. Like everyone, I have had many highs and lows and some key career inflection points.

As I glance back, achieving my MBA at 23 was pivotal and it was only then that consulting captured my interest. I think early on I understood the importance of always reskilling and keeping up to date with trends, current thinking and technology, which is now more important than ever with things moving at such a fast pace.

What have been the biggest challenges for you and have there been any key learnings?

The one piece of advice I would love to give to my younger self is the importance of being balanced in all that you do, be that in work or in life. I am the type of person who throws themselves into work 100pc, but at times that can be at the detriment of other aspects of your life.

I continue to work on not letting that happen, but it’s a discipline I do wish I had mastered earlier in my career. My best advice would be to define your priorities and be protective of your time – that’s when you create balance.

What aspects of your job do you find the most rewarding?

I find the opportunity to support and enable others on their career journeys the most rewarding aspect of my role at Accenture. I like to think that I can pay it forward for the excellent coaches and mentors who have supported me to date.

I believe that mentorship is invaluable and it’s something that is incredibly important to us at Accenture. For a successful career, I think it’s essential to find out what it is that you do best, and ensure you have the support that you need to plan and develop your best possible career.

Are there any skills you think have been important along your journey?

There are two skills that are extremely important in any scenario – firstly, remaining calm under pressure, and secondly, ensuring that you listen and really hear the perspectives of those around you, be they colleagues or clients.

Do you foresee any major challenges or trends cropping up in the financial sector in 2020?

Having recently had the opportunity to chat with Alan McIntyre – Accenture’s global banking lead – on the top 10 trends for banks in 2020, there are two key trends that stood out for me and which I found particularly interesting from a customer perspective.

Firstly, we are seeing the emergence of a socially conscious or ‘purpose-driven’ banking era. Consumers are increasingly aligning their buying with socially conscious providers, which means that we should see banks and financial services organisations beginning to really align their efforts with social issues.

The second is the continued focus by the banking sector to continue to build trust and provide transparency to their customers in terms of cost, data and privacy. I think it will be interesting to see how these trends play out across 2020 and beyond.

Are there any books, podcasts or people that you go to for updates and emerging trends in the industry?

I have a few go-to authors and podcasts. I highly recommend reading Daring Greatly by Brené Brown – it’s an insightful read and I practise some of her tips. I also follow Jim Marous on Twitter and listen to his Banking Transformed podcast regularly.

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