LONDON — Manolo Falco, head of EMEA corporate and investment banking at Citi, says
there are three things he will always make time for in his job.
- First is deal making and doing transactions for clients.
- Second is building teams to battle Citi’s competitors in the M&A and deals league tables.
- And third is spending four days a year to lead Citi’s volunteer programme in Africa, in which young bankers mentor local entrepreneurs for six weeks.
“I went the first year and my mind exploded in a positive sense,” Falco said, appearing relaxed in a t-shirt and jeans in an interview in London. “I have to say since then, I’ve thought, ‘whatever is happening, I’m going” … I really enjoy being there.”
“You know, four days of my life there are a lot of things that happen, but I’m very much of the mind that this is a wonderful opportunity to create something,” he said.
The programme is in its second year and saw 24 young volunteers from Citi’s four global regions spend a month and a half in Jinja and Mbale in Uganda. The bankers are split into groups of three, and each group is assigned two entrepreneurs.
We’re using this in the universities now, as one of the selling points of working for Citi.
They aim to spend five weeks analysing the business and identifying growth opportunities, after which time Falco and his senior managers fly out to hear pitches for investment, Dragon’s Den style.
While the investment amounts — between about $US1,000 and $US2,000 — are about a million times smaller than the deals Falco is used to, they are an important boost the local businesses.
The bank benefits as well by boosting by giving its junior bankers some practical training for their finance skills, while at the same time bonding them to the bank and each other.
“Jinja is where the Nile begins and so it’s a pretty unique place. In the weekends the volunteers have free time and so they did rafting in the Nile, safaris, saw the gorillas,” he said. “They have had a fantastic time and they have done something very powerful.”
The final point is an important one for the bank.
Gone are the days when investment banks could turn up to universities and simply cream off the best talent and retain them with ever-growing bonuses. Since the 2008 financial crisis, and the tech boom, banks have found it harder to compete with other industries for the top people.
“You know, banking used to be the obvious first pick of students leaving university and now we have a lot of competition from new technology companies so this is undoubtedly something that helps us retain and bring in the best talent,” Falco said.
They have breakfast, lunch and dinner together. Part of it is to live a project with your generation all together.
“I think this project, if we did it 20 years ago it would create the same buzz. Africa is a very special place, it’s so beautiful and also the last frontier in many ways,” Falco said.
“But also this generation, the millennials, are more concerned about their social obligations and want to give back to society. We definitely see it as something that would help us recruit good people. We’re using this in the universities now, as one of the selling points of working for Citi,” he said.
The programme has “many times” more applicants than places available, Falco said, and the bank tries to get a balance between men and women and volunteers from different parts of the bank.
“There is a committee of very impartial people and candidates have to present why they want to go and the reasons why they feel this is important,” said Falco. “It’s open to everyone to apply, not just the top performers, we want a good mix of people.”
Then they are thrown together, living in the same hostels. “They have breakfast, lunch and dinner together. Part of it is to live a project with your generation all together,” Falco said.
Once the business plans are finalised, and the investment amounts decided, the volunteers stay an extra week to make sure the funds are put to good use.
After which they return home, but are still able to stay in contact with their entrepreneurs. Falco also makes follow up analyses of the businesses, some of which he says are doing “very well.”
“It’s a phenomenal combination of three things. Giving back, having an adventure and also creating a bond between the volunteers and Citi,” he said. “The whole thing is pretty powerful, I have to say.”