Nicola Firth, founder and CEO of Knowledge Bank, started out as a mortgage adviser before launching the pioneering criteria search system, Knowledge Bank, in 2017.
Have you always wanted to work in the finance sector? (if not, what job did you picture yourself doing?)
NF: Like a lot of people in our industry I fell into it completely by accident, but I’m very glad I did. When I was at school I thought I wanted to be a primary school teacher and I spent years thinking that’s what I’d do.
How did you get into the industry?
NF: I really wanted to be a mortgage broker so I got a job in an estate agent whilst I studied my CeMAP to give me a really good understanding of the house buying process and how everything either side of the mortgage worked.
Have you ever found it quite hard to fit in as a woman?
NF: Personally, I haven’t because I’ve never believed that there was ever anything I couldn’t do because I was a woman. With that said, there have been challenging times and interesting conversations in my career that wouldn’t have happened had I been a man.
Have you noticed a change in the number of women in the field since you’ve worked in it?
NF: I definitely have. I think the biggest difference is younger women coming into our industry which is fantastic to see. There is some real talent out there and that certainly bodes well for the future.
What are the greatest improvements the finance sector has made in relation to gender equality?
NF: There are some great initiatives out there today including the Diversity and Inclusivity Finance Forum (DIFF) which supports not only gender equality but also diversity and inclusivity. There are also more events to celebrate the contribution that woman make to the sector which serve to keep the awareness at the forefront of everyone’s minds.
What would you say to encourage other women to join the finance sector?
NF: I would say that for any woman choosing to join our sector, you will be welcomed and supported by an amazing group of both men and woman who will help with your growth and champion your success.
What skills or qualities do you believe you bring to the role?
NF: I believe that along with vision, I bring passion, drive and enthusiasm to lead a team to constantly strive and innovate.
How does your role fit or benefit your lifestyle?
NF: I guess with the magnitude of what I took on with Knowledge Bank it was about getting my lifestyle to fit around my role. But for me that was fine and what needs to be done as an entrepreneur when you’re building and scaling a business. If you enjoy what you do you don’t see it as work anyway.
What are your hobbies?
NF: I love walking. Getting out in the surrounding countryside with our two black labradors is what I love to do in my spare time. I also love roller skating and baking – but not at the same time.
What improvements regarding gender equality would you like to see in the finance sector?
NF: Seeing more women in board positions. We’ve already seen great strides in terms of women taking up positions higher up company structures but there’s still a way to go before we see genuine equality in the board room. I’m proud to say that at Knowledge Bank we lead by example on this as our board is made up of three women and two men.
Which women in the finance sector or corporate world inspire you most?
NF: I am constantly inspired by other women in business and what they’ve achieved at all levels. I’ve just listened to Anne Boden’s audiobook about how she set up Starling Bank which was a great listen. But equally, I’m inspired by the women around me every day on our team who are doing amazing things at work whilst juggling family commitments, running a home, caring for parents, etc. I’m in awe of how they fit it all in and still bring their A-game.
What is a life lesson or piece of advice that helped to shape who you are today?
NF: Someone once told me that you should never be fearful of someone wanting your job and that you should embrace that ambition because you can only move onwards and upwards if there’s someone able to take over from you. I’ve always embraced this as it also breeds a culture of aspiration and growth within a company.
How do you apply that to your working life?
NF: Upskilling people and seeing their personal and professional development I something I’m passionate about. Being able to give somebody an opportunity and then watching their confidence grow is a real privilege.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
NF: Hopefully still making a difference and driving innovation that makes a tangible difference to brokers, lenders and customers.