Members Area
E2W Connecting Women in Financial Services Men For Inclusion
Open Menu

Women in Financial Services Blog

Safia Mahmood - E2W Risk Group

Safia Mahmood - E2W Risk Group

katie.robertson / 07 Feb 2024

Safia Mahmood is one of the founding members of our E2W Risk Sub-group. This Risk Group has been created to provide a support network for women working within the Risk function, where they can network, share and learn from one another. 

Getting to know Safia:

A seasoned Credit Risk Management Leader with over 21 years of international experience, Safia has spearheaded the strategic direction and optimisation of extensive credit portfolios across global banking landscapes and academia.

With a PhD in Finance from the University of Salford, her journey is marked by groundbreaking achievements, including becoming the first female to hold the title of Head of Credit at Habib Bank Limited. Possessing deep-rooted expertise in financial institutions and structured finance, Safia excels in driving the development and implementation of innovative credit risk strategies, ensuring alignment with business objectives while championing responsible lending practices.

Her robust analytical acumen is matched by a profound commitment to fostering inclusive and growth-centric team environments, leading by example to inspire, develop, and elevate professionals to their full potential. As a forward-thinking strategist with a knack for identifying and leveraging emerging market trends and data innovations, she is poised to contribute transformative insights and steadfast leadership to dynamic, growth-oriented teams in the financial risk sector.

Quick Fire Q&A

What has been the biggest challenge during your career and why?

Embarking on a career in the traditionally male-dominated realm of banking and finance, particularly within the context of Pakistan, presented a formidable challenge. In the early years of my career, the industry's landscape was markedly different – fields like credit, finance, and other quantitative areas seldom saw women at the helm. Navigating this male-centric world often felt akin to charting uncharted waters, where earning serious recognition required not just competence but a relentless tenacity and a commitment to excellence. The journey, albeit arduous, was transformative. The necessity to assert my worth in a setting that was not traditionally welcoming to women meant that my efforts had to be thrice as fervent, my insights thrice as sharp. This relentless pursuit of excellence led to a pivotal turning point – a time when men had no choice but to acknowledge and respect my expertise, fundamentally altering the dynamics of professional interaction. Compounding this challenge was my age. My continued diligence and exceptional performance propelled me to leadership roles at a remarkably young age. Suddenly, I found myself steering teams composed of individuals far senior to me, and contemporaries in similar positions were often twice my age. Proving my worth, not just as a woman but as a young leader in a domain where experience is traditionally measured in years, was daunting. Yet, each of these challenges served as a crucible, forging my skills and resilience. They taught me that competence knows no gender or age, and that respect and recognition are earned through unwavering dedication and a relentless pursuit of excellence. These experiences didn't just carve a path for my own career; they also laid the groundwork for a more inclusive and dynamic industry, where talent is the true measure of one's worth.

During your career, has there been a time when you thought “Yes, I’ve made it!”?

During my career, a defining moment of realisation came in 2012 when I ascended to the position of Head of Credit at Habib Bank Limited, the largest bank in Pakistan. This milestone was not just about assuming a crucial role; it was about shattering ceilings. As the youngest individual and the first woman ever to hold this position, this achievement was a testament to the relentless pursuit and dedication that characterised my career journey. It was not merely a personal triumph; it was a beacon, signaling that perseverance, competence, and challenging the status quo can pave the way for groundbreaking success. This pivotal moment crystallised my belief that the years of hard work, resilience, and unwavering commitment to excellence had indeed culminated in a resounding, "Yes, I’ve made it!"

Tell us about your first job in the finance industry?

In April 2002, I embarked on my journey in the finance industry, starting as a credit officer. My initiation into banking was rigorous and multifaceted. My first directive from my boss was to commit the entire Prudential Regulations to memory, laying the foundation for my understanding of the intricate financial landscape before diving into the bank's own credit policy. During that time, the concept of centralised functions or specialised risk management was still nascent. Consequently, the role of a credit officer was remarkably comprehensive. It was not just about mastering credit assessments; it involved a hands-on approach to operations, from processing cheques and cash for clearing or deposit, to posting transactions into customer accounts, and even balancing the books at day-end. Moreover, the role extended to engaging with treasury for trade finance transactions and delving into the meticulous world of accounting. The role was undoubtedly daunting, a relentless blend of responsibilities that demanded precision, diligence, and a robust understanding of various financial facets. However, this lack of specialisation was, in retrospect, a hidden boon. It compelled me to not only master the duties of a credit officer but also to gain proficiency in operations, treasury, accounting, and risk management. This comprehensive exposure didn't just shape me into an adept credit officer; it sculpted me into an all-rounder, equipped with a holistic understanding of the banking sector and a versatile skill set that became the cornerstone of my career in finance.

The best gift you’ve received?

The most precious gift I have ever received is, without a doubt, my son. Like many mothers, I find in him a boundless source of inspiration and motivation, a force that propels me forward each day. His presence in my life embodies love, joy, and an unwavering sense of purpose, making every moment infinitely more meaningful. In the realm of professional achievements, a moment that stands out is my unexpected promotion to Deputy General Manager in 2018, a position parallel to that of a Senior Vice President. This recognition was not just a testament to my hard work and dedication but also a pleasant surprise that marked a significant milestone in my career. It was a gift in its own right, a testament to the faith my organisation placed in my abilities and potential, and a profound affirmation of my professional journey.

Best career advice you’ve received?

The best career advice I have ever received came during my early days as a credit officer, a time when every mistake weighed heavily on me. Feeling disheartened by the errors I was making, I confided in a senior colleague. His response was both simple and profound: "You make mistakes because you are actually working. If you were not working, you would not make mistakes." This perspective was transformative. It reframed my view of errors as not just inevitable but as indicators of effort and engagement in my work. This advice instilled in me a resilience and a willingness to embrace challenges as integral parts of the learning and growth process in any career.

What motivates you?

Challenges are the fuel that propels my motivation, igniting a drive within me that refuses to be quenched. The greater the obstacle, the stronger my resolve to confront and surmount it. Challenges do not bow me down on the contrary they sharpen my focus and fortify my determination. This tenacity is not just a personal mantra but a core principle that I passionately preach and diligently practice in every facet of my life.  I extend this philosophy to all working women, across finance and beyond, urging them not to shy away from challenges but to embrace them.  While it is natural for challenges to evoke fear, it is essential to understand that true bravery is not about the absence of fear. It is about feeling that fear yet choosing to face it head-on. Embracing challenges is about acknowledging the trepidation they bring and still deciding to take them on, not just to survive but to thrive. This is how we grow, how we evolve, and how we make meaningful strides in our personal and professional lives.

Back to blog