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Created on 31.05.2021

“You’ll progress by performing well – regardless of your gender”

We are profiling women who work in management positions at PostFinance. Felicia Kölliker, Member of the Executive Board and Chief Risk Officer, explains her career steps, why outstanding performance and self-marketing are key to career progress and why she believes she has struck the right work-life balance.

You’re the Chief Risk Officer, and you’re head of the Governance, Risk, Compliance and Legal departments. How would you sum up your role in simple terms?

In my role as Chief Risk Officer, my department and I are responsible for risk management. We ensure that the company is aware of the risks it faces and knows how to deal with them. In the Governance department, we also address overarching management issues, such as the company’s organizational structure. In the Compliance department, we primarily focus on the prevention of money laundering, and in Legal, we provide the in-house legal affairs service.

When you look back at your career, what were the key moments?

Rather than individual events, it was much more of a continuous development. I’ve always relished opportunities to implement exciting projects and tasks, and I’ve deliberately sought them out so that I could focus intensively on the issues. Every time I’ve had the opportunity to take the next career step, it has arisen more by luck than design, such as when direct line managers have moved on and I’ve applied for and been offered their jobs. I joined PostFinance in 2009 and have made great strides since then – both in my career, which I began here as a Compliance Officer, and in my private life. I also met my husband at PostFinance, and we’ve got two children now.

Which career steps have you taken?

Just short of a year after starting at Compliance, I looked for my next challenge. I found exactly what I was looking for when I was asked whether I wanted to take over the “Organization & Governance” project. This was part of the major initiative that involved demerging PostFinance from Swiss Post Group and placing it under the supervision of FINMA. I immediately jumped at the chance to take the project manager role that was offered to me. This project was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and had a major influence over the rest of my career. Spending three years closely scrutinizing the activities of an entire bank meant I gained an incredible amount of knowledge, but also developed a strong network. I got to know every department and every key position and had the opportunity to take part in the committees. That was the key to the success that followed. The project gave me the chance to take on my first line management role, and I then progressed within that same organizational unit to my current job as Member of the Executive Board.

That sounds easy. But was it easy in reality?

I’ve always worked extremely hard, given tremendous commitment, achieved a great deal and been fortunate that certain situations have arisen. I’ve obviously performed well, which has made an impression. In retrospect, I believe I’ve struck a good work-life balance. As well as advancing in my career, I’ve always had the opportunity to devote time to my private life, too. During this period, my two children, who are now six and eight years old, were born, and I’ve also taken time out when I needed it.

What were your career plans after graduation?

I had ambitions, but no fixed goal in mind. I’ve always attached a great deal of importance to ensuring that I enjoy what I do and being able to take on challenging roles that enable me to progress, change things and make an impact. Repetitive tasks are not for me. I need an environment that’s constantly changing and where there are always new challenges to tackle. I’ve never consciously planned my career or set myself the goal of achieving each step by a certain date or becoming a Member of the Executive Board.

What skills and attributes have enabled you to advance in your career? Maybe you have some advice for other women?

The key thing is performing well. Performing well is what impresses people and will allow you to progress – regardless of your gender.

As well as being highly motivated, what has helped me is my ability to take on, analyse and overcome challenges quickly by defining goals, identifying solutions and then implementing them. Consistent focus on solutions is a vital management skill. It all comes down to the ability to manage things, achieve progress and make an impact. Having and making the most of opportunities to show what you can do is also a key factor in making career progress. In this respect, I sometimes notice a difference between men and women.

In what way?

I’m generalizing here, and it’s not always the case, but men deliberately put themselves into the spotlight, while women do the opposite. In the best-case scenario, women realize they do their job well, but often hold back from showing people just how good they are. Personally, I’ve always marketed myself without being conceited or over the top, but in a very targeted way. You have to sell yourself. And then there’s your private life – if, as a woman, you want children as well as a career that’s very demanding, you need a supportive husband. My mindset has never been that women should shoulder most of the childcare responsibilities. I’ve always known that I wanted to carry on working full-time and did not want to reduce my workload. I wanted children, but not at the expense of my career. And that’s perfectly feasible if you organize your daily routine well, seek support and pull together with your partner to overcome hurdles. A supportive employer is clearly important, too. PostFinance is very good in this respect and offers working mothers and fathers a great deal of flexibility.

What specific advice would you give to improve self-marketing?

For example, by applying for jobs that you feel are a bit beyond you. When I applied for my current position on the Executive Board, somebody said to me: “Isn’t it a bit soon after your last change? Have you got the expertise for this?” I applied, despite other people’s reservations, because I believed I was a strong candidate and possessed some, if not all, of the attributes required. A job advert is always an  ideal wish list. But nobody meets all the criteria. When you apply, you should highlight your strengths, but also be completely honest and transparent about the skills you don’t have. I often see women being put off by long lists of requirements. Women read through an advert, and if out of ten criteria, they come across one they don’t meet, they don’t apply. Men look at the ten criteria and apply even if they only meet two of them. I’m generalizing again here, but that’s the tendency I’ve noticed. Occasionally, I almost have to push women to apply for management positions.

Do you specifically support women?

In principle, I only ever look at performance and have never taken the gender balance in my teams into account. However, the reality is that some specialist units are very male-oriented per se. I try to counteract this internally by encouraging women to take their next career step and by giving them professional development opportunities or a platform on committees to put them in the minds of decision-makers. And where candidates are equally strong, I increasingly tend to appoint the woman to create a better balance within my teams.

How do you manage the 100 or so employees under you?

I expect a high level of performance, because we’re all working to create added value for the company. That’s something I demand. If performance falls short of the mark, I provide direct feedback and expect employees to learn quickly. I’m also very appreciative of good performance and frequently praise it. I expect my unit managers to run their departments as if they were the CEO of a SME – which also means acting independently of me. My attitude towards them is: “You’re in charge, and I’m here as backup, to provide advice and to take on the responsibility if there’s a crisis.”

Are there new challenges for you too as a leader, in the current fast-changing environment?

No, we’ve simply entered a new phase. Changes happen all the time – I see that as normal and always view it as an opportunity for us all to grow together.

How do you like to unwind?

With my family, with whom I spend every free moment. My children and husband are the most important aspect of my life. People sometimes ask me what I do for myself. I say: “Two things – doing a job I enjoy and spending time with a family that means the world to me.”


Felicia Kölliker has worked at PostFinance since 2009 and has been Chief Risk Officer and a Member of the Executive Board since 2017. She studied law at the University of St. Gallen (HSG) and holds an Executive Master of Business Administration from the International Institute for Management Development (IMD) in Lausanne. Felicia Kölliker is married and has two children.

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