A solid bank in a changing world
Amelia Witsenburg, group controller‘The financial world has been my world for the past 18 years. And I love it! During my degree in business economics I was curious about how banks work. Since my minor was in corporate finance—which is all about mergers and acquisitions—it seemed logical to start my career at a small merchant bank. It was interesting work but after a while I felt the need to move to a big international bank. When I looked at the top three banks in the Netherlands, it was the history and commitment of Rabobank which appealed to me most. The fact that the bank is strongly rooted in society and has social impact objectives made it an easy choice for me. That was how I started my career at Rabobank, initially as a credit analyst.’
Setting and adjusting the course
‘For several years I worked as team leader at a control department in one of the group entities. Four years ago, I became a group controller and it’s the best job I’ve ever had. Together with five other controllers, I’m responsible for performance management, budgets, forecasts and determining the key financial performance metrics for the business. We look at the Rabobank Group as a whole, so every business unit in the Netherlands and around the world, and ask: are we still on track to remain a rock-solid bank? Since the financial crisis banks are required to maintain a more solid equity base. That’s our overriding objective. We help the business units which make up the group to develop steering mechanisms and working methods to measure their own performance and compare it with other parts of the group.
Group Control is basically the hub where the tremendous quantity of figures produced and used by the bank all come together at group level. This includes the forecast reporting to executive management. The group business units send us their forecasts, we then transform them into a single group story, and together we present it to the Managing Board. The business unit controllers explain their unit’s perspective and we explain what it means for the group as a whole, and whether adjustments are necessary and feasible. I get a real kick from this part of my work, it’s such a high-energy period: the tasks have a clear beginning and end and it’s always a team effort.’
Responding to change
‘So much is happening in the financial sector, from social developments to stricter regulations. We have to respond to these changes. For instance: what will be the impact of the abolition of the home mortgage interest rate deduction in the Netherlands? How will the Basel IV rules affect our capital buffers? International regulations and requirements are increasing. Group Control is also the main point of contact for the ECB’s Joint Supervisory Team when it comes to the financial management of the Rabobank Group. All of this makes my work multifaceted and extremely diverse, there is rarely a dull moment. I thrive on the tight deadlines we work to.’
Ideal mix of process and content
‘Financial management suits me perfectly. Not only do I get to see the financial ins and outs of the company, we also partner with many other departments in the financial domain, for instance Business Controllers, Treasury, Portfolio Management and Risk Management. In other words, it’s not all about tallying up the figures, it’s about ensuring connections with other departments too.
Although women are still a minority within the department I see more women joining Group Control. This is a good development as it increases the diversity of the team. In my job, you have to be good with numbers, but you also need people skills and empathy to understand the interests of the people you’re working with and for.
So to other women I say, “come and give it a try!” This department gives you an overview of everything and Rabobank is a fascinating company, with a flat organizational structure and space for bold ideas and people with initiative. The culture here matches my own approach of “Let’s just get on with the job,” and I feel that I am really valued. If things go wrong occasionally, that’s not a problem either, together we all learn from our mistakes.’