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Inclusion, learning, and ambition: a conversation with Bless Chiwanda.

Over seven years at NatWest Group, Bless Chiwanda has made quite the journey. Beginning serving customers in a frontline branch role, he’s followed his interests to changing the way customers interact with us as a Journey Developer.

‘I had worked for Sky TV in the past and I started working for the bank as a temp before securing my first permanent role as a Senior Personal Banker in 2014,’ recalls Bless. ‘I covered several branches at the time and led several student campaigns at Heriot Watt University back when all student accounts were opened in branch.

‘I learned a lot about banking in this job and was really pleased that the bank offered a professional qualification as well. It helped me get a sense of just how banking fits into society and its role in the wider economy. It also taught me a lot about regulation and the importance of ethics in banking.’

Then a move to a branch in our main Edinburgh office helped him grasp the true range of career options available. ‘I was drawn towards a role within a support and control function,’ says Bless. ‘I was intrigued by all the processes and, up until that point, I had not really appreciated the scale of the operation. I used this opportunity to learn as much as I could about all the departments and to figure out what I would like to do next.

‘I still felt I needed to learn more about our customers before moving into a support function role. So, when an opportunity came up in Premier Banking, I joined as Premier Banking Manager in 2017.

‘Premier Banking was a game changer for me, it was a really good opportunity to get really close to our customers, to understand what makes them tick and what they like about the bank. It was a fabulous four years in which I learned a lot about myself and about what it was I wanted to do next.’

Making progress

During his time in Premier Banking, Bless’s interests started to turn towards technology. He used our internal on-demand learning platform to study agile and cloud computing, rounding out his new knowledge with videos on YouTube.

The next big step forward was when he took up a place on the reciprocal mentoring programme run by our Multicultural Network. ‘As technology is my area of interest, I was paired up with someone from Technology,’ he says. ‘They did a great job pointing me in the right direction in terms of what to look out for and how the bank works from a tech perspective.

‘Reciprocal mentoring made me realise the challenges our leadership face when it comes to delivering on our diversity and inclusion goals. I wanted to play my part in helping reach those goals, so I became Regional Co-Chair of the Multicultural Network for Scotland. As well as being able to play my part in something I'm very passionate about, it’s given me an opportunity to further hone my people and presentation skills, as wells as talk to colleagues across the bank, grow my network, and get a more rounded view of the organisation.’

Falling into place

Everything started to come together when Bless signed up for some job shadowing in Digital to help him work out where he wanted to be.

‘I jumped at the opportunity, and while I was there one of the Journey Leads asked what I wanted to get out of the shadowing. I said change management experience because it was always the issue that was flagged up when I tried to get a new role before. She got me involved in delivering a project from start to finish to allow me to get more hands on experience. My self-led learning efforts came in very handy as it made it easier for me to understand a lot of the terminology and indeed the technology they use, and the pros and cons of each.’ 

That experience helped show Bless what he wanted to do next.

‘I figured out that perhaps I would benefit from an additional step before I could dive straight into the world of core tech. So I turned my attention to the business side of the tech teams.’

Bless took up a one year secondment as a Journey Developer helping to make sure our customers can make effortless payments. And he’s working on some major change while he’s there.

Bless acknowledges the challenges of starting in a new role while working from home, but he credits his manager and new team for their support.

‘Hazel and the team have been so welcoming and have been brilliant in helping me settle right in,’ he says. ‘I was a bit unsure how it would be starting a new role remotely working with people I’ve never seen face-to-face but it’s been fabulous so far.

‘I'm really enjoying it. It's a lot to learn, but I enjoy learning new concepts and new things and I think, for me, at this stage in my career, I'm definitely in the right place.’

CareerSense

While Bless’s journey owes much to his self-starting and determination, he’s the first to agree that he’s also benefitted from the help of others. So he’s pleased to see the launch of CareerSense, our new initiative to help young people aged 13-24 boost their employability.

‘CareerSense will help many kids see that they too can dream beyond where they are, that they can break free from generational poverty,’ he tells us.

And he sees particular value in how CareerSense can help to tackle inequalities. ‘Ethnic minorities tend to have lower paying jobs, be twice as likely to get declined for a mortgage, and hence are more likely to live in deprived areas with poorer education. That means less chances of getting into Russell Group universities, therefore less chances of being employed in high income jobs, then passing on the same to the next generation. A vicious cycle basically. I think it is an important move by the bank to address inequality at grassroots level.’

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