Suzi Barling (Fr 2005) is an Executive Manager for Corporate Transaction Products at CommBank. Whilst she is now based in Sydney, Suzi spent two years in Japan where she did a stint teaching English. She shared with us how valuable she found her time living and working overseas, her experiences in a variety of diverse roles at CommBank and how her Diploma in Psychology has helped her in the finance industry.
Please tell us a bit more about yourself – where are you originally from and where did you grow up?
I grew up in Canberra, and spent most of my school life there. Later, in my high school years, I boarded in Sydney and finished my schooling before going to Drew’s.
Why did you choose to reside at St Andrew’s College?
My brother was a fresher in 2003 and I had the opportunity to visit him while I was at boarding school in Sydney. He made some wonderful friendships whilst at Drew’s and enjoyed the social and sporting activities on offer. After being at all girls’ schools I was really excited to witness the positive changes that St Andrew’s was going through in those early years of co-education. Having been to boarding school, a college environment was a natural progression but I don’t think I appreciated how fortunate I was at the time to be living in such a unique environment, where I got to live with my brother and make lifelong friends.
What parts of College life were you involved in?
I’m not much of a sportsperson and not skilled in the arts either, so the most I could offer in those areas was to be the coxswain for the Rosebowl Rowing competitions. I loved that I was able to be part of the Rosebowl competition and I also loved all the traditions of St Andrew’s. I would however say that I was most involved with the social side of College!
What drew you to working in finance and the banking industry?
I have always loved numbers but never really saw myself in financial services. I started my career in market research which was a perfect fit following my studies in econometrics, psychology and marketing. I first joined Commonwealth Bank in the market research team, so it was more about the role rather than the subject matter, as I was really interested in consumer behaviour and analytics and could see that CommBank was a place where I could learn and grow.
You’ve worked across a number of roles and teams at Commonwealth Bank during your career. How do you think this has helped with your career progression and professional development? Would you encourage others to take the opportunity to try different roles in the same company?
Absolutely! I’ve been very fortunate to work in an organisation where I have been able to experience so many different roles. I’ve worked in the Retail, Business and Institutional Banking areas at CommBank, with roles spanning research, analytics, change management & communications, and product management. For me I always chose roles that interested me, I love learning and continuing to learn is very important to me so that has been a primary driver for my career moves.
I would absolutely encourage others to actively manage their own professional development and first and foremost find roles that they are interested in and passionate about. For me moving sideways and learning new skills has been really valuable. I definitely think there is a place for deep expertise in an area but more and more we are seeking diversity of thought and different perspectives and for me, experience in different roles meant that I could bring different perspectives to my new team.
Could you tell us about what you do in your current role as Executive Manager, Corporate Transaction Products at Commonwealth Bank?
In my current role I look after transaction accounts and cash management services for CommBank’s corporate and institutional clients. I still don’t think my parents know what that is, but the way I explain is that I make sure that the bank accounts that big companies use are the best they can be. My team manages everything from developing the product roadmaps, managing operational and compliance risks, pricing and margin management and everything in between. It’s a fantastically diverse role and I get to work closely with our sales teams, our Treasury department, our legal and compliance teams as well as marketing and corporate affairs departments.
Throughout your roles, has your Diploma in Psychology been beneficial when approaching different or challenging situations?
Absolutely, and particularly in my earlier career in market research which was rooted in understanding why people made the choices they made. I originally did Psychology for the dinner table conversation – there are so many fabulous studies that have been done that give us fantastic insights into why we are human and I love hearing about those insights and sharing them.
I spent a lot of time understanding biases in my studies, and that lens has helped me in my career and personal life. Each and every one of us bring a great deal of history, context and assumptions into day to day situations that drive how we react and have in those situations. I often find myself trying to understand why people act the way they do and what biases or assumptions they might be bringing to a certain situation. I think that can help to ‘put yourself in their shoes’ and find some common ground to work through challenging situation.
We know you have spent some time living and working in Japan! What took you over there and could you tell us a bit about your experience?
In 2017 my husband (Chris Barling, Fr 2006) was offered a role in the Central Management Group of the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan. We had just had our first child and I’d returned to work full time and he was working part time, spending a couple of days looking after our son who was about 8 months old at the time. We were both incredibly excited about the opportunity but it was also a very challenging decision for us. I had been determined to take a new step in my career so the prospect of being a stay-at-home mum in a country I’d never even visited was pretty daunting. At the same time I knew that the experiences we would have as a family by living somewhere like Japan for 2 years would be invaluable in the future, so I took a career break.
Arriving in Japan I was confident that my skills and experience would mean I’d easily find a role – but I hadn’t taken the cultural differences into account. It was very challenging to find a job but after some volunteering with the Australia & NZ Chamber of Commerce in Tokyo I managed to find a role at Lendlease. Most of my colleagues didn’t speak English and I had to adjust my naturally open and inquisitive style to be much more respectful and considered. Every day in Japan brought new personal and professional challenges and it forced me to see things from different perspectives. It was an experience that I never even dreamed of, and one that changed me, but most importantly it was an absolute blast and Chris and I made lifelong friends there – much like College!
You had a bit of a career change whilst in Japan and became an English teacher for almost two years. Could you tell us about this change and how you came to be a teacher?
Anyone that knows me will know that I was not born to teach and so becoming a teacher was really a stretch for me. I wasn’t prepared for how difficult it would be to find work in Tokyo – the language and cultural barriers were something I hadn’t really thought about before arriving. After applying for literally dozens of jobs with no response I asked fellow expats what I could do and most had done English teaching. I gave it a go, and was placed in a Junior High School on the outskirts of Tokyo and it took me an hour and 3 trains to get there. It was quite honestly a disaster. I couldn’t communicate with the kids because my Japanese was so poor and the other teachers were (at times) making English spelling and grammar errors but the hierarchy meant I was not allowed to correct them. There were some very funny moments with the school kids but eventually it confirmed my suspicions that teaching was not for me!
Do you have any advice for people looking to move overseas, and more particularly to a non-English speaking country? Are there any key tips or words of advice you would give?
Do it! I can’t recommend it highly enough. There are so many things that worried us about moving – missing family, meeting new people, learning the language, career opportunities, and childcare options – but the sense of achievement in overcoming these challenges, and the absolute joy of life in Japan was incomparable. The worst thing that can happen is that you don’t enjoy it and you come home to what you knew. But if you’re someone who has already moved to College, made new friends, applied yourself to a new challenge at university and had a lot of fun doing it, I think it would be a safe bet that you’d get a lot out of moving to a new country.
What do you like to do outside of your work?
Obviously not a huge amount at the moment in Sydney! My young children keep me busy now and I’ve got back into running in the latest lockdown which has been great.
What are you reading/ watching/ and or listening to at the moment that you’d recommend?
I wish I could say it was something intellectual but other than the Economist I exclusively watch and read about crime. I love true crime – I know it is such a cliché – and I’m fascinated by the psychology of serial killers. If I’m not reading a crime novel I’m likely to be watching a true crime documentary; listening to Casefile, Canadian True Crime or Australian True Crime; or if I need to zone out I watch old episodes of Law and Order!
Do you have any words of advice to young Androvians thinking of pursuing a career in banking?
I do, but I think the best advice I can probably give in this area is to those who are not thinking of pursuing a career in banking. The financial services industry is going through a very exciting period of change and that change will accelerate in the coming years in so many ways. Large organisations like CommBank aren’t (only) looking for people who majored in Finance and Economics, they’re looking for people who can think laterally, solve problems and communicate effectively. Our 2022 Graduate cohort includes people from diverse backgrounds with degrees in marketing, arts, science, engineering, as well as traditional business degrees. A career in a place like CommBank will allow you to gain experience in a range of areas and to move laterally to pursue your interests as they emerge.
To those who aren’t yet sure what they want to do I’d encourage them to first think about what kind of company they want to work for – the brand, the people, the values – and then secondly the diversity of experience that company could provide.
Is there anything else we should be asking you about?
The one thing I would say to young Androvians would be to think globally. We’re incredibly fortunate in Australia to have a diverse culture, but I think that moving overseas and being a very small fish in a very different pond really helped me better understand what we mean by diversity and inclusion. The opportunity to live and work overseas helped to open my eyes to new perspectives (not all of which I agreed with), and that personal growth experience is one that I think is unparalleled if you stay within your comfort zone.