Black History Month : Robert Ottey

We have spoken to a number of black colleagues who have shared their experiences working for Standard Chartered.

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Born and raised in London, with his parents arriving from Jamaica in the late 1950s, he was the youngest of five children in a working-class family. With early guidance and mentoring from his primary school headteacher who saw his potential, Robert earned a full scholarship to a top private school in London. This led to several education opportunities, including later winning a place at Cambridge University where he graduated in Chemistry.

While Robert was keen to pursue a science career, a lack of industry opportunities in the early ‘90s meant he switched to pursue accountancy. Robert qualified as a Chartered Accountant and worked as an external auditor with Deloitte in London, where he also met his future wife. After a series of audit positions with several large financial institutions including a stint in New York, Robert joined Standard Chartered in 2011 in London, leading Compliance and Financial Crime Audit. More recently, Robert took the opportunity to take on responsibility for Europe & Americas audit and he moved to New York in January 2019.

Did you ever felt like you faced racial discrimination? If so, how did you manage that? What have you seen on opportunities for black staff in banking?

I’ve not really experienced direct discrimination or comments in adult life, but there can be micro-aggressions or unseen prejudices and biases I wasn’t aware of. When I was an external auditor, on some occasions the people I dealt with by phone would be visibly surprised when I showed up at their offices as a black man plus responsible for the team.

Something that has seemed very slow has been other black graduates coming into accounting or banking; especially in the UK. Many of the black staff I saw at Standard Chartered London, or previously at Barclays, were transfers in from African offices. I rarely saw any ‘home-grown’ black staff. We also need to attract and retain far more black women too, and this must relate to the gender diversity and inclusion agenda.

What is your biggest ‘ask’ of people?

Don’t try to be a hero. Bring other people in if you see a problem or you’re having challenges, whatever your role is, then keep the communication going. Also, take time to continue learning and improving yourself. As the needs of our clients change over time, the day-to-day tasks each of us are doing today, may not work so well in the future.

If I had one wish, what would I change?

Robert would have liked to do more activities with schools and universities in earlier years to explain the attractions and experience of coming into accountancy or banking.