This week we have the pleasure of interviewing Mona Patel who leads corporate, product and community PR at Metro Bank. With over 18 years of experience of PR in financial services, Mona has been recognised by PR Week as one of the most influential PR professionals in Britain, not something she could have predicted when she thought she would be a human rights lawyer!
Mona’s dedication to equal opportunities shines through in her work as an ambassador for The Diversity Project, a cross-company initiative championing a truly diverse, equitable and inclusive UK investment and savings industry. She also volunteers her time and expertise as a speaker with Speakers for Schools, a UK-wide youth charity which aims to end educational inequality by providing talks and work experience programmes to link state school students with influential figures and industry-leading companies.
1. Can you give us a brief overview of your career so far?
I spent my first 10 years mainly in the voluntary sector, campaigning and lobbying on a range of issues from international human rights and UK poverty to disability and genetically modified foods. I then fell into the financial services sector by accident and had a baptism of fire joining, what was then, the Investment Management Association as their Head of Communications, running the press office, parliamentary affairs function and website. Being new to financial services, let alone investment management, I pretty much learnt something new every single day. Then a stint at Royal London, as Group Head of External Communications, running a group press office covering the insurance, pensions and asset management businesses as well as the investment platform. I then landed at Metro Bank as Head of External Communication where I am responsible for corporate, product and community PR.
2. In 2021 you were named as a top PR pro in the PR Week Power Book. What is the secret to becoming one of the most influential PR professionals in Britain?
I honestly don’t know what got me there and I am deeply grateful. I guess after 18 years in financial services PR I have a good book of contacts, I’ve covered many different parts of the financial services industry and I’m well-known as a result. There’s a lot to be said for honesty and integrity. As a PR you are often like a broker between your firm and the media - you want to meet the needs of both parties but you can’t always do that. The secret is to act with integrity at all times, regardless of who you are or are not pleasing!
3. Tell us about The Diversity Project and what does it mean to you to be an ambassador for advancing diversity, equity and inclusion in the UK investment and savings industry?
The Diversity Project is doing great work across the industry thanks to a huge number of committed and talented people. It’s an honour to be an Ambassador and help to educate, raise awareness, change behaviour and influence hearts and minds. We are striving for a world in which D&I is the norm. My main driver is to help ensure my children don’t ever have to record D&I videos, become ambassadors and fight the good fight. Things have moved on a lot over my lifetime but we cannot be complacent. There is a lot more to be done.
4. You also partner with youth charity Speakers for Schools. What advice do you give to the young people who are lucky enough to attend one of your talks?
It’s really exciting to be a Speakers for Schools Speaker – I get the opportunity to open up the world of financial services and PR to young people and show them how interesting it is. My advice is always that there is a whole world out there with industries and job roles these students have never even heard about. I tell them to be open to new things and ideas and importantly to pursue what interests them as they’ll have to spend their whole lives doing it.
5. What do you find challenging as a Head of Comms?
Working in a sector that is not universally loved or trusted has to be top of the list. It’s also a hugely competitive field – there are hundreds of us and limited column inches (though digital news has helped) – so the challenge is how to tell a story in a creative way and stand out from the very big crowd? I am lucky to have a (small) team of uber creative talent to help in that regard.
6. What is your most memorable work moment?
I’ve had many, some memorable for the wrong reasons so I’ll go for one from very early on in my career. I worked for a UK poverty charity and got us on the front page of the Guardian with the headline “Poverty, what poverty says Lilley?” Lilley being the Minister in the then Department for Social Security. We basically got the headline as he replied to a letter we sent him effectively denying there was any poverty in the UK. Front page of a national newspaper = big highlight! I remember getting on the train with a copy of the Guardian (yes, it was in the days of reading an actual newspaper on the commute) frantically thumbing through the pages looking for coverage. Twice through the entire paper, I never thought to look on the front page!
7. What or who inspires you, and why?
Possibility. It brings hope and motivates.
8. As a senior leader, what is the most important lesson you have learned when managing people?
Everyone is different and there is no one size fits all when managing people. If you manage everyone in the same way you’re doing something wrong.
9. If you hadn’t ended up working in comms, what was your plan B?
Plan B was comms! Actually comms was never even in the plan. I studied law as I really wanted to be an international human rights lawyer. Long story short, that never happened!
10. Do you have any hidden talents?
I can do the frog stand pose (where you balance on only your hands with your legs balanced on your upper arms) and then jump from that into a plank pose. Does that count?
Thank you, Mona!
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