US-headquartered financial and professional services giant Citi is doubling-down on its commitment to breaking barriers to entry for careers at its Belfast operation.
The global bank, which has had a presence in the city since 2005, has launched a unique new programme designed to attract an increasingly diverse talent pool locally.
“We're extending the opportunities to work in financial services to areas where people hadn't previously considered,” according to Citi Belfast site head Leigh Meyer.
Speaking to the Irish News, the Zimbabwean-born banker of 37 years experience said: “When we talked about this last October when Ambassador Jane Hartley visited, we were very specific about the people we wanted.
“We're focusing on five areas - lower skilled people, new immigrants, parents and carers, people in the neuro-diversity space, and school leavers.
“We hadn't looked at this cohort previously because we hadn't considered their skill set, and they hadn't necessarily thought about us as an employer because they perhaps saw us as some sort of elitist profession.
“But that has been the genesis for what we are now calling our Career Empowerment Programme.”
Launched in collaboration with Belfast Met, he describes it as "a major leap forward", engaging with the Department of Economy’s economic strategy’s three pillars of innovation, sustainability and inclusion to equip people with the skills needed to succeed in a lifelong professional career.
Citi started its business in Belfast in 2005 with an original plan of recruiting 375 technology staff to deliver services to the bank’s global institutional clients group.
But since then, Citi has grown to be the north’s largest financial services by tapping into the deep and broad talent pool and engaging with universities and other higher learning institutions to develop a strong pipeline of talent.
During the pandemic, it employed an additional 1,000 new people in Belfast through organic growth and internal transfers, and in 2022 it announced an additional 300 jobs covering all levels, from apprentices and graduates to experienced roles.
Far surpassing growth projections, Citi now employs more than 4,000 members of staff over four locations in Northern Ireland.
Its skills set includes around 40 nationalities working within its teams in Northern Ireland, and it also benefits from five inclusion networks including disability, families matter, multicultural, women and pride, which champion diversity, equity and inclusion across the firm.
Mr Meyer added: “Citi believes that everyone can belong in banking, and as the global bank’s customers continue to grow in diversity, it is crucial that our growing team reflects that diversity.
“The Career Empowerment Programme will ensure a wider range of voices and backgrounds are present within our workforce and reinforces our commitment to providing jobs to people here in Northern Ireland.
“As the only global investment bank operating in Northern Ireland, we are proud to be opening the doors for more people to live locally and work globally, supporting businesses around the world.”
He added: “We've always been about identifying and removing barriers for entry.
“We always knew the talent is here and that the skills need to be augmented - not foundational skills, but levels of numeracy, literacy, attitude, aptitude and confidence.
“So we know if we find those right people, we can bring them in, give them the appropriate training, and make them effective in the responsibilities we have.”
Citi's Belfast operation conducts $600 billion of business each working day (“That's a big number,” Mr Meyer says).
The company took a leading active role in developing the unique Northern Ireland fintech and Professional Services Programme which recently launched at Belfast Met and attended by US Economic Envoy to Northern Ireland Joe Kennedy.
The innovative programme aims to give young people not in education, training or employment the pathway to a growth industry career in a range of areas including business, digital, fintech and professional services.
The programme will include project based learning placement in Citi and other partner organisations which will involve mentorship to build confidence and soft skills which are key to employment and progression.