Catherine Isaza is a Colombian banker spreading her wings. She hails from Medellin, once associated with cocaine money and violence but now regarded as the emerging market’s financial capital. The sector helps keep Colombia’s $380 billion economy humming at 5% growth, the IMF estimates.
After a long stretch at Bancolombia, the country’s largest commercial bank by assets, she hopes to go global with an MBA in the UK, at Lancaster University Management School. Catherine says the degree, highly-ranked and offering value for money, will boost her career, give her global perspective and links to London.
She spent six years at Bancolombia, most recently in commercial corporate banking, where she co-managed a portfolio valued at $285 million. Before that was a spell at Lloyds’ private bank on Wall Street.
Catherine sees huge potential for financial services in Colombia. Its top banks have sought expansion, buying out units from the likes of HSBC and BBVA across Latin America.
What opportunities are there in Medellin’s financial services sector?
As Medellin is Colombia’s second largest city with a population of over 3.5 million people, there are plenty of job opportunities, especially in the financial services sector.
It is a city that has reinvented itself. It has been worthy of being named the “most innovative city in the world” by the non-profit Urban Land Institute in 2013, due to its recent advances in politics, education and social development.
It is a city with industrial dynamism, and it is home to the Grupo Empresarial Antioqueño, which is made up of several companies that have an international dimension, such as Grupo Suramericana (banking and asset management), Grupo Nutresa (food industry), Cementos Argos (multinational cement company) and Bancolombia (Colombia’s largest bank). Within financial services [in particular] there are a great deal of opportunities. The group as a whole employs over 80,000 Colombians in different sectors.
What is it like to work in Colombia’s corporate banking sector?
As a commercial corporate banking assistant, I had the opportunity to work with corporate clients from the health services and transport sectors. It was a great learning opportunity, since the role permits dealing not only with clients but really gaining a deep understanding of how the banking system works.
The corporate side of the banking operation is crucial, since these companies live in a past-faced world, where a bank becomes a company’s ally not, only in its everyday treasurer.
The bank has to be impeccable with its service promise, guarantee the correct operation of its systems, have immediate availability in case any urgent matters arise, and be a financial advisor.
Why did you decide to begin an MBA? What made Lancaster University Management School stand out?
In order to continue with my professional and personal growth. My belief is that studying an MBA not only allows students to have enriching and once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, but also permits the enhancement of their academic foundation, and helps boost career progress.
Apart from the personal growth opportunity that comes from studying abroad, which I find fascinating, I was really keen on going back to school and setting my life in “pause” for a while. Since I previously had the opportunity to live in the US while doing an internship at a financial institution in New York, I decided I wanted to experience a different culture.
I found the Lancaster MBA by its rankings (top 35 in FT MBA rankings 2016). After doing some substantial research, and comparing it with other business schools within the UK, I decided it was the one that had the best “value for money”, especially with the wide range of scholarships available.
The possibility of going to London during the whole year for different MBA-related activities, its international module, and variety of exchange opportunities, also [were attractive].
What tips do you have for securing a scholarship?
The first thing I advise to future applicants is to apply in advance, because scholarships normally run out pretty quickly. Competition is tough and you have to be ahead of a great number of other applicants.
It is important to dedicate enough time to write the “statement of purpose”, or “motivational essay” that is presented to the school.
Applying for an MBA is different than applying to other postgraduate degrees, since MBA selection processes are more thorough. Applicants must remember that this must be treated as a job interview. It is good to know your strengths and weaknesses, and most importantly to know what you think makes you stand out from other applicants.
You have to be able to convince them that you deserve the scholarship. Last, but not least, it is important to be self-secure and believe in yourself. There is no way of convincing other people to support you if you don’t even believe you deserve it.
What are your career plans for the future — both in terms of sector/function and location?
I am being sponsored by my current employer (Bancolombia), so my career plans for the future definitely involve going back to Medellin. I love my country and want to go back home to apply the knowledge I gain from the Lancaster MBA.
I will look for career progress within the organization. Since Bancolombia is an International bank, there are a wide range of opportunities.
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