At work with Áine McCleary

Efma feature

09 September 2019

Having started her career as a foreign exchange trader, Áine McCleary went on to lead senior teams across retail, corporate and institutional customer segments and became the first female president of the Institute of Banking in Ireland. Áine (an Irish name roughly pronounced as AWN-ya) told Efma’s Boris Plantier about the importance of stepping outside your comfort zone.


Tell me a little about your background.

I don’t come from a banking family but my mother and grandmother were both teachers so I did have strong, working role models. My career in financial services started with fx trading and institutional treasury sales, before moving across to retail banking. I currently lead a team of around 3,000 colleagues working across Bank of Ireland’s branch, contact centre and digital channels with a combined 23 million customer engagements per month.

What does your workplace look like?

It’s open plan with no assigned seating but the nature of my role involves getting out of the office and engaging with colleagues and customers across our network. I do a lot of driving but I use this time to make calls so that I can give people my undivided attention once I arrive. 

Could you describe your usual working day?

Is there such a thing? Every day is different and I enjoy that variety.  Bank of Ireland’s ambition is to enable customers, colleagues and communities to thrive so everything I do is with this in mind. I take part in breakfast briefings with colleagues, sit in on team huddles and meet customers. My frontline colleagues are the face and voice of Bank of Ireland and I learn so much from them. A large part of my role involves driving continuous improvement and innovation in our people, processes and technology so that we can keep pace with the evolving expectations of our customers.

What is your favourite food?

Do I really have to choose a favourite? For me it’s more about the company and the atmosphere than the food itself.

What do you do when you need a break from work?

I have four children – two girls and twin boys – and what I enjoy most is spending time with my family.  More often than not that will involve watching Gaelic football or hurling (a fast-paced stick and ball sport popular in Ireland and one of the oldest field games in the world) or being on the side line of matches where my children are playing. I recently started hiking and it’s a fantastic way to take time out with family and friends while being surrounded by the beautiful scenery we’re blessed with in Ireland. 

How do you build a successful team?

I really believe that having a mix of backgrounds, skills and experience on a team is the key to high performance. I strive to create an environment where everyone is empowered to bring their whole self to work and feels safe giving honest opinions and feedback. It’s also very important to lead by example. For me that means listening, being open and honest and making sure that everyone understands our ambition, purpose and priorities. And there’s no harm in having some fun along the way. 

There is a saying that we learn more from failure than success. Tell me about one of your failures and what you have learned from it.

It’s more a regret than a failure but, in hindsight, I wonder if I should have made certain career moves a little quicker. Moving from global markets and treasury after 16 years to a more strategic retail banking role definitely expanded my thought process and my perspective on the external financial landscape. Looking back, I realise now that I had to step outside my comfort zone in order to progress, and perhaps I should have had the confidence to do it sooner.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to succeed in financial services?  

I will always encourage people to make the brave decisions necessary to achieve their career aspirations and to have the self-belief to take that next step. The breadth of roles within financial services provides the scope to develop quite a diverse skillset, so my advice is to leverage any opportunity to learn and grow. Push yourself outside your comfort zone because that’s when you learn the most. When I find something challenging, I always think back to that 4 minute-mile barrier – everyone said it couldn’t be done, until it was.

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Keywords : Workforce management

Geography : Ireland