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Beyond the Byline with Imani Moise, Financial Times

Kelly Whalen,  Zach Harris

We had the pleasure of hosting the Financial Times’ US Banking Correspondent Imani Moise for a candid conversation on a variety of topics, including her experiences as a Black female journalist, what she’s focused on in her beat and best practice with us PR professionals. Check out the highlights from our conversation below. You can also follow Imani on Twitter (MoiseNoise) or subscribe to her weekly newsletter FintechFT, which provides a briefing on the fintech sector from around the world every Monday.

Can you tell us about your experiences as young, Black woman in journalism and how diversity strengthens newsrooms?

A big reason I became interested in journalism was from reading How to Be Black by Baratunde Thurston. In the book, he writes that one of the first things he was told by the Black student union at Harvard was to never speak to the school newspaper because they would misquote you, take your words out of context or make you look foolish. Rather than take that advice, he decided to join the newspaper as the only Black person in the newsroom.

I interpreted that story’s meaning to be how non-representation is not the answer to misrepresentation and if you’re not in the room, you’ll be spoken about anyways. You need to participate, otherwise you can’t get upset when stories don’t reflect your own experience.

This became a huge priority for outlets during the social unrest of 2020. I, along with other Black reporter regardless of their beat, were assembled to form an ad-hoc committee to advise what stories on race needed to be told. Some really impactful stories came out of that, but at the same time, it shouldn’t fall on Black reporters exclusively to tell them.

You shared an experience on Twitter about the receptionist at a major company not believing you were there to interview their CEO based on your appearance. How do you overcome challenges like this?

It’s hard to pull out examples because it’s like being a fish in water. I’ve lived these experiences my entire life; you learn to anticipate it and take actions that establish yourself at the forefront, like how I’m earning my CFA. When I finish, I can add it to my email signature, my LinkedIn and more to provide that extra level of credibility. 

One situation that was a big push for me to get my CFA was when I was in a meeting with the CFO of a very large bank who felt the need to explain to me what net interest income was. Maybe it was stalling, but at that point, I had been covering the banking sector, and this bank specifically, for more than two years and was well aware of how banks make money. It was condescending and a rude assumption that I didn’t know the basics of how a bank operated.

For those that have seen Scandal, Olivia Pope (played by Kerry Washington) said it best –  you need to be twice as good to get half as far when you’re Black, and that has been my life experience.

As the US banking correspondent, you’re of course watching all the major banks on a day-to-day basis. As we go deeper in 2022, what are some of the biggest shifts in the industry you have your eyes on?

Technology and the money being spent to get banks up to date with it. Over the past two years, you’ve heard banks talk about fintechs as legitimate competitors for the first time. Beforehand, they spoke on fintechs with a dismissive tone and didn’t consider them real players.

You’re also seeing the disintermediation of the industry. A lot of different sectors are nipping at the heels of banks. In every single investment banking business line, market share is consolidating across the top three banks, except within the debt markets. Why is that? Is debt underwriting being commoditized at a faster rate? These are questions we’re still exploring.

What is also an interesting trend is how sophisticated clients are realizing how many products can be commoditized, leading them to use services from an array of different providers. As a result, banks are scrambling to provide services that aren’t commoditized (or at least don’t look like they are) to stay competitive. 

When you think of your favorite sources, or most common sources, what do they have in common? How can executives be the most helpful?

Flexible ground rules. I’ve had agreements where the conversation is on-the-record, but if the spokesperson mentions any client names, that’s off-record automatically. Ultimately, I understand you can’t be quoted talking about your clients, but I also want you to keep talking to me; I have no interest making you second-guess another conversation with me.

So, with that in mind, be honest and frank when we set something up so it’s a productive use of time for us both. That helps prevent conversations where executives don’t say anything. Having ground rules in advance –and understanding them– helps them drop their guard a bit and really go in depth with the topic.

Also, it doesn’t really matter to me how many people are on the line or in the room, as long as there’s no gatekeeping. I’ll often ask executives questions directly over email but CC their public relations team so the conversation can keep moving but all involved feel comfortable given the extra visibility.

To best avoid them, what are your pet peeves?

Consent. I need to agree to an embargo before receiving materials and I need to consent to going off-the-record or on-background. If you send me an email saying “on background” I haven’t had a chance to agree. Also, if you’re doing an embargo or something on-background, make sure it’s worth the terms.

Short lead times on an embargo can be tricky. I’m juggling a lot and don’t have time to do something well in 24 hours, sometimes even 48 hours. There have been times where I’ve received legitimately interesting news, but there just isn’t enough time to do it right. Also, have the things you need for an embargo ready: partners/clients/customers I can speak with, product/announcement details, clear timeline expectations, etc. That makes it easier to say yes!

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