Women in Finance Awards Q&A: Mariam Rafi, Citi
Mariam Rafi, North American Head of OTC Clearing at Citi, won Excellence in Regulation at Markets Media’s 2019 Women in Finance Awards.
What is the ‘secret of your success’?
There are three guiding principles that I’ve followed in my career.
One, it is incredibly important to challenge yourself, and keep looking for new opportunities for professional and personal growth. It’s very easy to get stuck in a day-to-day routine and be comfortable with what you’re doing. But it’s important to take on new things, even if they seem like a stretch or a risk.
I spent a number of years as a credit derivatives trader, and then after the financial crisis, I was asked to take a role looking at hedging counterparty risk, which morphed into helping the clearing houses to set up for client swaps clearing. As a result, I helped design an entirely new market structure, which was basically the introduction of mandatory swap clearing in the US, and more broadly globally in helping the clearing houses with building out their methodologies to do that. It was uncharted territory, but it was a tremendous opportunity for growth, and it helped me create a whole new career path for myself.
Two, it’s very important to think about what your brand is, and how you want people to perceive you professionally. Part of that is thinking about what you’re good at. Throughout my career, I’ve thought about how I can help clients deal with evolving market structure, and I’ve gone out of my way to build expertise in regulation. I’ve taken opportunities to speak at conferences and author thought pieces. This has helped me to drive market structure change, and to help clients navigate changing regulatory requirements that are applicable to them.
Lastly, having the right people in your corner is incredibly important. Obviously, mentors, sponsors, and supportive managers make a huge difference in your career, in terms of advocating for you and also giving guidance in how you should approach obstacles or view certain circumstances. And mentors don’t need to just be within your firm, or even your industry — you can find guidance from a very broad set of different sources, including people who are junior to you.
It has been important to me to pay it forward and help develop up-and-coming talent. It’s amazing how often mentees become close friends and have ended up helping me in my career.
What’s your advice for women considering, or just starting, financial careers?
Your first role is very unlikely to be your last role, so professional mobility is very important. Learn as much as you can about different product areas so you don’t pigeonhole yourself. Keep learning and evolving, and position yourself for mobility.
Reputation is also incredibly important. Finance is a small industry in some ways, and people have long memories. So, always behave with integrity and preserve your long-term reputation rather than just taking a quick win.
How do you strike a work-life balance?
I have a very demanding schedule between work, travel, and client events. I have two young children as well, and balancing it all can definitely be a challenge.
Setting clear priorities in how you want to spend your time is very important, and self-care is a key part of that. For instance, I always carve out time to get to the gym, because if I don’t, I am less happy at work and impatient with my family, and it reflects badly all around.
As it relates to my family, I really try to strike a balance. If I’ve been having a stressful time at work, I’ll go out of my way to work a day from home, or come in late so I can take my kids into school. Nobody can go full-tilt all the time. Sometimes you need to step back and make time for the people who are important in your life.
What is something interesting that most people don’t know about you?
I love to read. It’s my escape. I’ll generally read a book a week. I love biographies, and fiction. If anyone ever wants a book recommendation, I have a pretty extensive list to share!
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