Susie Peterson - flexible ahead of her time

3 min read

Flexibility is often cited as something that affects women in the workforce and job sharing is one example of this.

Job sharing is not a new concept, Susie Peterson State Manager, BT Advice, was part of a very successful job sharing partnership when she had her children in the 1990s but things seem to have a stalled a little since then. Susie talks to us today about her drive to successfully implement flexible working arrangements in financial advice in BT when it’s so important.

1. Tell us about your experience in job sharing?

I started job sharing with Lyn Atkin in 1993 as a relief branch manager in St George Sutherland region in Southern Sydney. We both had children and were looking to continue our careers while working part time. I remember our first meeting at her home to see if we thought we could work together. We were very open with each other about our future plans; I knew I’d have another child within the next two years or so, she also had ambitions to take a career break with her family to travel around Australia for an extended period. We were confident in each other’s values, work ethic and skills and thought we could make this work, neither of us knew exactly how at that stage. Lyn had been a branch manager, I hadn’t but was ready for the challenge and Lyn was a great coach. As it turned out it was very successful, we worked out how to communicate efficiently so as not to be on the phone too much on our days off (no email back in those days or mobile phones). Our file notes and notes we left each other in a day book were very comprehensive. We both took the career break mentioned above and came back together after that to apply for a promotion to a business banking manager (BBM) role in the Sydney CBD.

Lyn transitioned to full time work after this role finished, I stayed part-time for a couple more years and created the NSW women in business strategy which led ultimately to the Ruby Connection.

2. Often HR teams are focused on other priorities and find it difficult to set up job-sharing arrangements for employees – can people find their own partners – how might this work?

I’d say it’s a joint responsibility. I think all leaders have a role to play in promoting flexibility. Job share is one aspect of that, but one that is under-utilised and not well enough understood. Use your networks to let others know if you’re interested. We didn’t have Yammer, internet or social media back in the days of our job sharing so I could see a place for this for like-minded individuals to reach out to each other. The thing that I think makes job share that much more flexible than part time work is the seamless nature of it. There are many ways to do it not just the traditional two part timers or two women with young children. It could be an option for older workers who want to transition to retirement or for someone with other interests or responsibilities outside Westpac that wants to stay in an interesting role. Transfer of knowledge is a great by-product of the arrangement. I’d love to see some older financial advisers job-sharing.

3. What are your top three tips for successful job sharing arrangements?

You must want to make it work, leaders need to support it and be ready to modify if necessary, understand your own and your partner’s strengths and weaknesses and if possible divide responsibility to work more with your strengths. Lyn and I had very different personalities and different strengths and weaknesses. This worked really well as some parts of the job Lyn was stronger in and enjoyed more and I was weaker or got less satisfaction from, and vice versa. The customers were all very supportive as well and we didn’t have any issues with anything falling between the cracks. Often the client would ring me and say “hi Lyn, about what we discussed yesterday……”, I’d politely let them know it was Susie not Lyn but I knew exactly where Lyn was up to and I would seamlessly carry on the conversation. The same happened with Lyn. The bank got more than their money’s worth as we were both committed to not letting our customers or each other down so went above and beyond the productivity they would have had from just one of us.

4. How do you feel about the progress/lack thereof of women in the industry today?

When I started in 2001, between 10-20% of advisers were women, there are now just over 20%, I’d like to see more as I think women have a lot to bring to the profession and the helping nature of the role is suited to many women. I also think it’s a role that works well with flexibility. Financial advice is not a sales job, it is truly a relationship role where you help people protect and grow wealth and most importantly provide peace of mind. We need to bust the myth that this is a sales business which tends to have negative connotations to many women I speak to.

5. You’re a BT boomerang – can you talk about your first roles here and how things have changed since you’ve been away?

I started as a junior in a branch in 1980 (Bank of NSW) straight from school in the country (Young). In those days the branch manager was a very senior role and all client’s needs were handled within the branch. There were no financial planners in the bank, the first ones started in PICs (personal investment centres) in the late 80s and they focused on investment advice. Investments via unit trusts were sold by branch staff over the counter in branches before that. Life insurance was sold by door to door salesmen and through brokers who were “tied agents”, paid by commission. Financial Advice has come a long way in a short period of time. Customer expectations and regulator intervention has driven much of the change.

When I left Westpac in 2005, we had just started the regulatory changes that continue today – FSRA had introduced the Statement of Advice as a requirement when providing personal advice. Commissions were the norm as a way of paying advisers via investment and superannuation products. When I left I was looking to understand how advice was provided in a non-bank environment and chose to go to a small boutique, self-licensed business. We were charging a fee for advice rather than being remunerated by commission. There was no direct revenue component in our remuneration. That experience gave me a great appreciation for the values and knowledge I had acquired in my 25 years in Westpac.