Partner, COO, and Head of Compliance and Legal at The Analyst Research LLP
May 6th, 2019, 5 min read
Interview by Sarah Wagner
This week, Sarah interviewed Kate Surala, a Czech lawyer working in London. Turning challenging situations into her favour is one key secret that helped her to become the first Czech female reading Law and Finance at the University of Oxford, and Partner and COO at the age of 25. Read about how Kate succeeds in the risky and male-dominated financial sector.
While much has changed in the past two decades, the financial world is still dominated by men. Women are massively underrepresented in senior positions. Do you perceive this as a problem, and if so, how can we solve it?
I can see a major shift in the past five years, how the environment is changing. Women did not have voting rights 100 years ago, could not apply for a credit card or loan in their own name 44 years ago, and only got the right to be paid the same as men for work of equal value. We still have a long way to go.
I advocate for creating a community where your family, colleagues, friends, and acquaintances support ambitious women to apply, pursue, and take up senior positions. Creating this ‘safety net’ where you can network, share your experiences, and most importantly, support each other to overcome various challenges in their careers.
"I was the first Czech female reading Law and Finance at the University of Oxford."
Never in modern history have banking and finance had a worse image than now. What drew you to the fields of law and finance, nevertheless?
When I was 12, my mum took me to a court, where she represented minors as a social worker in these hearings. Seeing the judge, the lawyers, people affected by unimaginable issues – that’s what intrigued me to tackle complicated issues, and present the results in a simple and comprehensive way. That's why I have started studying law. Practising law, being a compliance officer and now also a partner, I can unravel complicated issues and help others to come up with a solution every day.
My dad was a financial director of a construction firm and I have always been surrounded by financial professionals from an early age. My brother studied finance in the Netherlands and he inspired me to study abroad and combine these two subjects – law and finance. Being the first Czech female reading Law and Finance at the University of Oxford, that was the perfect stepping stone to my current role at The Analyst Research LLP. London’s financial market is a very dynamic and fast-moving environment that fits well with my curious, hungry-to-learn personality, constantly asking for the next challenge.
Banking is one of the last industries in which all the biggest companies are still run by men. In fact, not a single global bank is run by a woman. Please comment. Do you embrace the idea of quotas as a means to break the tenacity of male domination?
I don’t believe the solution is to force men to accept more women ‘in their boy's club' or the other way around. In my opinion, the solution is to create effective support groups to bring up the best in people. I am a great believer in mentoring, coaching and championing the individuals who are decided to achieve what they desire. I am an equalist – setting up quotas might impede the initial intention – to offer equal opportunities to everyone. I believe that diversity in any workplace will lead to a better, fairer and more prosperous society.
COOs increasingly face personal liability for corporate wrongdoing and regulatory violations. Can you sleep well at night, given the risky environment you operate in?
Our firm is regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and I have personal liability as a Chief Compliance Officer, Money Laundering Reporting Officer, and now also as a Partner. I am following ‘the 4D’ principle which gives four answers when I have been faced with a difficult question: do, delegate, defer or drop. Before you take a certain action, you must be absolutely certain about your decision on these four. If I am not absolutely sure and the deadline is not tight, I usually like to defer and have a second thought before I give my answer to the senior management. I used to feel pressured in the past and feel like I need to give an answer straight away. My 4D decision-making process has made it easier for me to make the right call. It’s also important to document every decision you take, even the one you have marked as ‘no further action is required’. If the regulator ever examines your files, they need to understand the logic behind your decision otherwise it looks like there was no decision reached at that time. That’s how I sleep well at night.
Where is your professional drive coming from? What is your vision and source of energy that makes you get up every morning?
I set different goals that I would like to achieve and break them into separate specific steps. By taking a small step every day and by making progress – this gives me the energy to keep going. I am really grateful for all the support I am receiving from my family, friends, my mentor, work colleagues and professional network. They keep encouraging me in difficult moments and support me in the time when I need it the most. To sum it up: work hard, play harder, but have fun doing it.
"Work hard, play harder, but have fun doing it."
Is there a crucial moment in your life that has altered how you perceive or do things with regard to your job, career or family?
My mum got diagnosed with breast cancer the week I was moving to the Netherlands to pursue my degree in European Law at Maastricht University. This was one of the most difficult situations I faced in my life – feeling like I need to make a choice between supporting my mum in the most dreadful set of circumstances and pursuing my future career. I managed to combine both by being there for my mother as much as I could while reading law books in a foreign language at night. It’s important to accept that not everything can be perfect.
This situation has taught me it’s important to keep your mental health in check while pursuing your ambitious goals. I have recently started supporting Avril Chester and her incredible initiative Cancer Central UK, a brand-new digital platform created to provide those affected by cancer with the help and support they need. Avril's innovative and intelligent AI chat called Ave will guide you through various questions ranging from benefits advice, insurance products, counselling, support groups, respite care, and wigs. I feel very proud and grateful to be part of such an important and successful initiative.
What do you do to ‘know’ yourself better and stay coherent with that view?
I self-reflect a lot and meditate almost on a daily basis. I have moved closer to our offices so I can have a nice walk every day to and from work. I tend to plan my day, set my professional and personal goals in the morning and reflect on my day on my way back.
What is a positive feature of your mindset that contributes to your success?
If we are lucky, we have approximately 30,000 days to play the game of this life. How we play it will be determined by what we value. I have decided to reverse-engineer my life to make every day count as I have recently realised I am, on average, in one-third of my journey. I have started with small daily steps to transform myself so that every day matters:
1. Being genuine and making a small gesture of kindness to the people around me. If someone has a bad day, accept it, feel it, and offer your help.
2. Even if you are rushing through your day make some time for a personal connection with people you might take for granted: the receptionist, deliveryman, waitress, shop owner, taxi driver and many more. Make every moment count and feel more alive and reconnected to the moment.
3. Be optimistic. People who are optimistic tend to be happier, healthier and cope better with stressful situations. I see a lot of advantages when looking at the world through a positive lens and focusing on the things that are good.
Do you want to leave our readers with any personal advice?
“Your life begins at the end of your comfort zone". That’s my life motto. By taking risks, being bold, failing, achieving something – that’s what you should do every single day. I have taken many risks in life, some of them have paid off, some of them have been a good learning opportunity. My advice is to go ahead, take the risk and see what happens. The worst that can happen is that you fail, however, you can learn from this experience for your next attempt.
Kate is Partner and Chief Compliance Officer at The Analyst Research LLP. She oversees all operations at The Analyst and leads legal and compliance matters as well as strategic development of the business. Her responsibilities cover a wide range of day-to-day management, including finance, client contract negotiations, HR, and other diverse business operations.
Prior to joining The Analyst, Kate worked in the legal department of Nordea Bank S.A., Private Banking in Luxembourg, where she specialised in MiFID II and General Data Protection Regulation.
Outside of work, Kate is working on her PhD thesis on the unbundling requirements introduced by MiFID II at Radboud University Nijmegen supervised by Professor Dr Danny Busch, LLM (Utrecht), MJur (Oxon). Kate is a graduate of the MSc in Law and Finance at Pembroke College, University of Oxford and holds an MA (European Public Affairs) and an LLB (European Law) from Maastricht University in the Netherlands.