Here's why Europe's lone female boss of an investment bank is on a hiring spree

Luisa Gomez Bravo, 51, is encouraging more women to join Spain-based lender BBVA as the industry looks to boost gender diversity

Luisa Gomez Bravo was appointed in December 2018 to the top post in corporate and investment banking at BBVA. Photo: BBVA
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The sole woman in charge of an investment bank in Europe is wielding a unique opportunity to reshape her division and boost growth at one of Spain’s largest lenders.

Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria executive Luisa Gomez Bravo, a 24-year veteran of Spain’s second-largest bank, is introducing one of the most ambitious recruitment programmes in the industry while driving up the share of female new hires.

The Bilbao-based lender is looking to boost headcount in the division by about 400 this year, or 10 per cent, at a time when banks globally are in a bidding war for talent.

When Ms Gomez started out in the investment banking business at Salomon Brothers in 1993, the industry looked a little different.

The “macho alpha” bravado prevalent then has by now mostly disappeared across trading floors and banks are pushing for more women to enter and stay in the industry, she said in an interview at the bank’s headquarters this month, the first since she took over the position.

“It’s not about favouring women over men, it is about letting female talent flourish, and then picking the best,” she said. “And we need to encourage that female talent and help them improve their skills.”

While Ms Gomez is the only woman running a corporate and investment-bank business in Europe, French lender Natixis’ equivalent unit is run jointly by a woman, Anne Christine Champion, and a man, Mohamed Kallala, as co-heads.

'Wall Street movie'

European investment bankers have enjoyed fatter bonuses in recent quarters and staff costs are on the rise as firms try to hold on to their employees after the pandemic trading and deal-making boom.

Societe Generale said this month that it’s planning to “massively” raise its bonus pool after a year of record profit.

BBVA’s corporate and investment bank currently has about 3,800 employees in offices from Spain to Mexico, Hong Kong, New York and Turkey. The ratio of female staff to total headcount rose to 39.5 per cent at the end of 2021 from 37 per cent in 2019. New hires are 46.4 per cent female though, up from 35 per cent in 2019. Ms Gomez has also pushed for a graduate training programme just for women, which is currently conducting a selection process.

It’s not about favouring women over men, it is about letting female talent flourish, and then picking the best
Luisa Gomez Bravo, global head of corporate and investment banking, BBVA

While the bank has introduced measures to support women’s goals, Ms Gomez says there’s still a problem of perception about the industry.

“I often see that in the progression of women’s careers, women themselves do not apply for vacancies, there are many biases,” she said. “Women also have to do their due diligence and understand that things are no longer like the Wall Street movie; the environment has changed.”

BBVA is a mostly retail-focused lender that’s caught attention in recent months for an ambitious shareholders remuneration programme and the move to boost its presence in Turkey at a time of economic turmoil in the nation.

Ms Gomez, 51, has held roles at BBVA varying from head of asset management to leading investor relations. When she was appointed in December 2018 to the top post in corporate and investment banking, the mandate for the mother of four was to grow the business.

The unit has since increased its weight in the bank from being 22 per cent of the group’s profit to 24 per cent at the end of 2021.

Ms Gomez’s goal is to pursue growth by rolling out new types of products including across borders. The bank has launched a supply-chain finance solution, and also introduced the first ESG-linked credit in Colombia.

In terms of fostering diversity in the workplace, Ms Gomez says she encourages women to be proactive about promoting their careers, and to balance that with other demands on their time, including family. That is more possible now than ever before, she argues.

Updated: February 19, 2022, 3:30 AM