You need to pursue it to make it happen: Meet Heiddis Bragadottir, Financial Controller at CFH
From a small town in Iceland to the plate glass financial center of London’s Canary Wharf. Heiddis Bragadottir details her rise to seniority and the journey which led her to key executive status at CFH, one of the world’s most respected liquidity and technology providers in electronic trading
Professional mobility and social mobility today go hand in hand, especially in the rapidly evolving and ever empowering institutional FX and business to business technology sector within the cutting edge of global financial services.
There was a time, not all that long ago when defined corporate structure created metaphorical glass ceilings, inhibiting progress and placing emphasis on specific roles. Thankfully, in today’s highly advanced world of meritocratic leadership in our innovative industry, avantgarde thinking and personal talent is the essence of progress.
The gender and age gap is not noticeable, especially at the refined end of the business in ultra-modern major technological and financial centres such as North America, the United Kingdom and the Scandinavian countries, hence the attraction to those culturally advanced parts of the world among those wishing to make their mark, and fulfil their lives at the same time.
Exemplifying this dynamic is Heiddis Bragadottir, Financial Controller at CFH in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Today, Heiddis Bragadottir spoke at length to FinanceFeeds about her early years in a small village in her native Iceland, beginning work as a very young 11 year old, and becoming driven and determined, leading to an international career at executive level.
“I grew up in a small town of around 1500 people in East Iceland, which is around 700 km from the capital, Reykjavik” said Heiddis.
“I come from a very hard working family. My mother worked about 3 different jobs when I was growing up, a day job, evening job and she would also often work weekends. At the same time she was raising 5 kids and never taking any time off. Despite the full schedule, she would still somehow find time to cook lunch for all of us every day and prepare dinner to have while she was at work. Relaxing and holiday are not words in her vocabulary. She is 74 now and just retired at the end of last year” she explained.
“My mother taught me dedication, loyalty and to always deliver top quality work. She taught me to work hard and set goals and how to reach them. My brothers and I were taught to always save for the things we wanted or needed to buy, so I saved up for a long time to be able to buy my first car and paid it fully in cash. Such a great feeling to have saved for something for so long and then being able to buy it with your own money” said Heiddis looking back on the early part of her foray into career mindedness in early adulthood.
A hard working beginning
Heiddis explained the importance of education, and her unusually tenacious work ethic. “It was my mother’s priority that I would get a good education and work hard for what I wanted to do and she has always supported me during my studies” she said.
“I started working when I was around 11-12 years old myself, by handing out newspapers in my neighbourhood and babysitting after school. Since then and through my whole education I have always had a job alongside school. I have worked in a petrol station, supermarket, hardware store and debt collection company to name a few. I would work evenings and weekends and during every 3 month summer holidays we had back then” – Heiddis Bragadottir, Financial Controller, CFH
“After I graduated from high school in my hometown, where my main focus was math and science, I moved to the capital to study something I had absolutely no background in, Business administration at the Reykjavik University” she said.
Which direction to take?
With such an enthusiastic start to work during what can absolutely be considered childhood years, Heiddis then looked for a specific direction which would lead to her empowering career.
“When choosing my degree I sat myself down and thought what do I like doing? Numbers were the first thing that came to my mind, I like numbers and should work with numbers, I thought. I also thought a business degree would always be useful for the future, learning about finances, accounting, marketing and leadership is something you use in many ways during your life. A business degree would also give me various opportunities plus I wanted to understand Finance and the Economy better” she explained.
“I actually think basic Finance should be implemented in the school system from early age. Learning about money management, loans, mortgages, interest rates, savings and the risk of investments etc will benefit individuals in the future. Everyone will need it at some point in the lives and it scares many. They often find it complicated and difficult to comprehend and things like taking a mortgage becomes overwhelming. If people had the basics I believe it would be so much easier for them to understand and built on their knowledge” – Heiddis Bragadottir, Financial Controller, CFH
“While at Uni I rented a small apartment along with one of my best friends and for the first time stood on my own two feet in the “big” city. Little did I know where I would move 7 years later. At the time this was a huge step as I didn’t even think I would go to Uni at all when I was younger. All the textbooks were in English and I didn´t think my English skills were good enough” explained Heiddis.
However, she looked back on this and said “But I was wrong.”
The Uni years, a global education, and arriving at Deloitte
“I really enjoyed those years at Uni and I grew a lot as a person and a professional. Part of that I believe is due to my two exchange programs I took abroad. I spent a semester in University of Alicante in Spain and a summer in Denmark studying at Copenhagen Business School” said Heiddis.
“There I got to know people from all over the world, with different backgrounds and beliefs. You can learn so much from interacting with people, by listening to their experiences and what they have to say. I got more self-assured with my English and I wish I could go back to my teenage years and tell myself to have more confidence back then. But you live and learn and I wouldn´t really change a thing about my journey” she reminisced.
“After graduation I got a job at Deloitte in Iceland working in both accounting and auditing. That gave me a good fundamental background in those areas. There I worked with so many amazing, clever and talented people that were always willing to teach and train me for any new challenges” she said.
“The beauty of working in such a small market as Iceland is it gave me a great opportunity to learn accounting from A to Z. From getting involved in basic bookkeeping to preparing financial statements and submitting tax returns. The teams for each of the projects I worked on were small, normally 2-4 people, so you would be involved in the external audit of the full financial statement of our clients and often documenting and testing internal controls for clients. So I obtained a good solid overall accounting knowledge” – Heiddis Bragadottir, Financial Controller, CFH
London Calling! The plate glass new world of Canary Wharf
“After three years of working very hard and soaking up the accounting knowledge at Deloitte I felt I was ready to take on the world. I choose to resign and move abroad to pursue a carrier in the Finance industry and where is better to do so than in London” she said.
We asked Why the Finance industry particularly appealed, and Heiddis explained “I think it was because in 2008 when the credit crunch happened I felt like I wasn´t knowledgeable enough about the Financial market as a whole. I had studied it at University but I believe work experience gives you better understanding, where you can connect to the market directly plus I learn very well by doing. So I wanted to learn and understand the financial world better.”
“For me it is normal to get out of my comfort zone, dive into the deep end and challenge myself. I have always been eager and unafraid to learn and try new things. It might not always be easy but it has helped me a lot on my journey. Just don´t give up” – Heiddis Bragadottir, Financial Controller, CFH
“After several comments from recruiters telling me I should rather focus on commercial and retail industry, I landed a contract Job in one of the biggest international banks in the world, HSBC Bank” she said.
“I had never been to Canary Wharf before. I remember going there for the interview, stepping out of the tube station surrounded by huge glassed skyscrapers that to me all looked the same. With people rushing everywhere and me trying to figure out where to go and not just follow the crowd. Then walking into the spacious, super busy, black and shiny HSBC reception with my biggest concern being that I would fail to pronounce the interviewers name correctly” remembered Heiddis.
“Then finally taking a seat waiting to be called in for the interview, taking a deep breath, looking around at the people and the fancy reception and thinking to myself WOW is this for real, am I really here doing this. I couldn´t stop feeling like I was in a movie” Heiddis looked back on her first ever view of life in the sophisticated big city, and specifically Canary Wharf, the most powerful financial center in the world” she said.
(subtitle) Success at HSBC led to a specialist career
“Only after few months in the HSBC contract role in European Finance department I was offered a permanent one role, and after few years I got a promotion to Financial accounting role within Global finance team” said Heiddis.
“I was responsible for the management and financial accounting for the HSBC Holding companies in LATAM, Middle East and in Europe. So I was in much contact with co-workers located in all those places as well as India” explained Heiddis.
“I loved learning about their cultures, traditions and mentality. Speaking and getting to know people from various different backgrounds gives you valuable insights and learning. I believe it is easier to work with people if you understand and respect their mentality. That gives you a valuable advantage to adapt more easily and communicate more easily in an international environment.”
“I learned to respect certain things I didn´t understand before. I now have connections all over the world which has given me a deeper understanding and interest in the global environment” she said.
“Working for a big international bank also gave me a great opportunity to learn about the financial markets, the regulatory world that comes with it and how the corporate world works. But a call from a recruiter 5 years later telling me about an opportunity for a Danish speaking accountant at CFH Clearing in London sparked my interest” – Heiddis Bragadottir, Financial Controller, CFH
The CFH years, and a return to Denmark
“Denmark has always had a special place in my heart and this would be a great opportunity to connect to it and the Danes again. I was also always determined that I wanted to experience working for a non-corporate finance business in London as you get closer to the business, more involved and get better overview and access to all functions” said Heiddis.
“Did I speak fluent Danish? No, not even close to it, and little did I know about the trading industry, but I just went for it. If you don’t try it’s not going to happen” Heiddis said enthusiastically.
“I had to brush up on my Danish and meet the former CEO for an interview in a language learned a long time ago which I never even spoken fluently. Luckily it went beyond my expectations and I landed the job” she said.
“I have worked for CFH for almost 5 years, starting as Management Accountant and then as a Financial Controller for the past 3 years” said Heiddis.
“Working for CFH has been a great journey for me personally and my carrier, I have learned so much about the industry, not just from an accounting perspective but also from a compliance and regulatory perspective. CFH is a FCA regulated entity which follows strict FCA rules and regulations which we have great training for, both online and face to face” – Heiddis Bragadottir, Financial Controller, CFH
“Working in a medium size firm gives you the opportunity to connect to everyone on a much more personal level and makes it easier to gain knowledge about different sides of the business. I was determined to make sure I understood the business of CFH, the reports Finance is working with and how the numbers come together, which meant reaching out to various people within the organisation no matter their seniority” said Heiddis.
Scandinavian egalitarianism and quality business relationships
“This actually comes natural to me as CFH flat structure is what I am used from back home. There is no need to be scared to approach anyone with any questions you might have no matter of their position. It is my belief that you are half way there by showing eagerness to learn and you won´t learn unless you ask or research for the answers” she said.
“One of my goals has been to strengthen the link between the finance team and other teams within the business. Especially the operations team, where the numbers a generated and the IT team where the reports Finance use are prepared. It is very important that those teams work well together to make sure reports are accurate and used in the correct way. It helps if we speak the same technical language and it is important that we successfully communicate any issues and changes that might have impact on the final reports Finance uses.”
“So I reached out and asked if I could sit with the operations and IT teams in Copenhagen office to both learn what they were doing and explain what Finance were doing and using the reports. Explaining things from the Finance point of view I believe is very important for the teams generating the numbers and reports. I also learned so much about the business by doing this and connected better with my colleagues. So well actually, that I ended up moving over to Copenhagen last year. Still in the same position but with my team based in London and me sitting in the CFH Group office in Copenhagen” explained Heiddis looking at some important infrastructural changes that she has made within the organization for greater internal communication and overall results.
“At CFH you have great and very talented individuals from all over the world placed in the right positions. They are all very knowledgeable and approachable. Happy to answer any questions, assist with any issues and projects or streamline processes when needed” said Heiddis.
Concluding, she explained “CFH and its people give me the opportunity and freedom to strengthen and expand my skill set and knowledge. I have grown both personally and professionally and CFH has allowed me to gain valuable experience making me a better employee for the future.”