My wife, Catharine French, who has died aged 53, from cancer, was a quiet trailblazer for the rights of women in the City of London, an internal advocate for customers’ rights and a supporter of financial inclusion.
The daughter of archaeologists, Elizabeth (nee Wace) and David French, Catharine was brought up in Greece and Turkey before returning to a still quasi-Victorian boarding school education at Cheltenham Ladies College. She was amazed to discover that olive oil could only be bought at chemists, and nobody had seen an avocado. After leaving Oxford University, she became one of the first female graduate trainees at the stockbroker Cazenove and Co, which previously only admitted male aristocrats and founding family members, and where women were graded daily not on their performance, but on their clothing.
Tiring of this atmosphere, Catharine moved to become specialist assistant to the House of Commons Treasury select committee, helping pioneer greater scrutiny of government and advocating independence for the Bank of England in the 1990s. Later employed there and at the Financial Services Authority, Catharine supervised banks, nudging them towards higher levels of accountability. In 2003 she joined Barclays Bank, and stayed for 16 years, ending as chief administrative officer of Barclays UK.
There Catharine played a behind-the-scenes role in stabilising the banking sector during the financial crisis, but also consistently moved to put customers first. She held an important position in rebuilding City banking culture after the Libor affair, and resolved many a dispute. She was dear friend and mentor to many, especially young female entrants in the industry, and in advocating true diversity across financial services.
Catharine pioneered award-winning campaigns on financial literacy. For six years as chair of Banking on Change, working with UK NGOs, Catharine helped bring financial services to 500,000 people, mainly women, across seven African countries and found 25,000 micro-enterprises.
Catharine outlived many predictions of her demise, and was still working until her last four days. Few knew of the gravity of her illness. At her death, Catharine was a council member of Warwick University and board member of International Rescue Committee UK, among other roles.
She was the rock of all organisations she joined. Her laugh and smile would light up any room. A scholarship supporting an African postgraduate student in development economics at Oxford University is being founded in her memory.
Catharine and I were married in 1997. She is also survived by our children, Will and Olivia, her mother, and her sister, Anne.