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Nzelu: Blazing trail for blacks in European banking world

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Wall Street and the European corporate world are celebrating 10 Blacks that have distinguished themselves in the banking sector. Tagged the Wall Street prizes innovators, these dynamic trailblazers are being recognised for their ability to think differently and change how business is done.

In their various fields in the trading sector, these young professionals are emphasising the need to bring fresh perspectives to banking. And for this, they are endorsed by their peers for being leaders who stand out and are taking giant strides in changing the narrative in the banking industry.

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Among these 10 Blacks is a Nigerian, Chinedu Nzelu, who is the Global Head of Macro electronic trading at JP Morgan. Fondly called ‘Chi’ by colleagues and friends, Nzelu moved to the United Kingdom in his mid-teens and has been with JP Morgan in London for more than 15 years. He has been a managing director since 2016. At the institution, he is in charge of helping the biggest U.S. bank transform a corner of finance that has been slow to modernise.

The acknowledgement and celebration of this feat are justified. It has been a herculean task for Black professionals to occupy executive and other top senior management posts in the American and European banking industry. The negligible few Black professionals to be found in lower ranks were as good as being non-existent, as they were easily overshadowed by their White counterparts.

Unsurprisingly, analysts and stakeholders in that sector are of the view that incoming regulators will find a lack of diversity at U.S. banking giants, where Black professionals account for an average 3. 4 per cent in top managerial positions, despite comprising 13 per cent of the country’s population. And so, to have onboard these acclaimed Black bankers who are breaking barriers is raising hope among the Black community that all hope is not lost, after all, and that the best is yet to come in this regard.

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“At the time, I wasn’t aware of any Black managing directors across the trading industry, and the numbers are quite limited,” Nzelu said, reflecting the reality in an industry that is seeking to transform itself from one dominated by White men.

With a background in engineering and computer science, Nzelu easily fits into the mould of a fast-rising generation of young, forward-looking Black professionals, who are charting a new course and are in the vanguard of changing the hitherto imbalance narrative in the sector. Indeed, he embodies the type of tech-savvy trader in demand among Wall Street firms that are trying to digitise trading.

The emergence of these futurists is rightly viewed by analysts as being crucial in the quest to pave way for diversity in the sector. They are considered a representation of the new inclusiveness being increasingly embraced by U.S. firms that are trying to set higher goals through fresh, innovative thinking and ideas.

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Interestingly, financial experts have said that fixing the industry’s problems will require more frank discussions about race and diversity, as well as changes in recruitment and mentoring.

Chi Nzelu’s job at JP Morgan involves digitising the trading of products, such as foreign exchange, commodities, emerging markets, and interest rates, work that involves electronically making prices for clients more accustomed to their traders picking up their phones or sending instant messages.

Daily, Nzelu’s group processes more than 200, 000 trades with as much as $200b in volume.

Nzelu, 38, is optimistic that his appointment will be an inspiration to others aspiring for similar posts. He hopes his visibility, as a Black managing director will help younger Black professionals see the opportunity to advance.

“If you look at senior business leaders and nobody looks like you, then perhaps you don’t have a lot of implicit encouragement,” Nzelu said. “But if you find one or two people to anchor to, then maybe you start to believe that you can also be an MD.”

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