The fintech sector is expansive, diverse and rapidly evolving. It is an industry characterized by innovation, with participants adapting to shifting needs and overcoming development, regulatory and roll-out hurdles along the way.
But those hurdles can be bigger for some than others. Fintech bridges the worlds of finance and technology – both traditionally male fields. Yet women are rising up and making a mark, shifting perceptions of the industry from the inside and trailblazing developments in this new era of digital finance.
In this special feature, eight women making waves in the industry, each bringing something new and exciting to the sector, share their views and experiences.

“BE THE KIND OF PERSON WHO PEOPLE LIKE TO MEET AND TALK TO”

Katia Lang
Head of Fintech Times

A few years ago, I became interested in the growing buzz around fintech and crypto. I decided to position myself in the industry, moving to London in 2015, where I co-founded Disrupts Media and began publishing The Fintech Times newspaper, which first went to print in January 2016. The newspaper connects fintech with the world and has gone from strength to strength, experiencing steady growth in headcount, readership and revenue.

I honestly feel that being a woman in tech is good in this day and age. There are plenty of opportunities around, and it’s all about being yourself that makes you stand out.

I believe it’s crucial to learn as much as you can, attend every event possible and really listen to what people are saying while you’re there. My favourite event has been Money2020 Europe – it’s a great event to hear from and mingle with all these amazing fintech founders and reconnect with people we’ve known for years. Besides being one of the best organized fintech events out there, it feels like coming home to old friends.

Being a woman doesn’t change a thing, you just need to be the kind of person who people like to meet and talk to. You would be surprised how far simply being friendly can get you.

Nicole Sander
Head of Regulatory Policy, Barclays

When I entered the fintech space in 2014, after becoming interested in blockchain, I remember mapping out the key stakeholders both internally and externally. The majority were male. This was particularly noticeable at events such as roundtables and conference panels. I recall attending one panel where there were six middle-aged, middleclass men and a male moderator discussing bias in AI.  While they were all knowledgeable, the irony of the topic and composition of the panel was not lost on me!

“SPEAK UP TO MAKE SURE MY VOICE IS HEARD”

In the past, people have been surprised that I’m a woman in tech, but things are changing. There are some amazing women-in-tech role models and a number of initiatives promoting women in the industry.

The best advice I have been given is to speak up to make sure my voice is heard. I ran with this advice, joining presentation courses to improve my skills. This has taken me far in my career – I’ve been invited to the European Commission’s Innovation Expert Group, gained a spot on the 2017 Innovate Finance Women in FinTech powerlist and the 2018 Lattice80 Top 100 Women in Fintech Global list, and regularly sit on panels at conferences and roundtables, which I believe boosts the cycle of bringing more women into this space.

A good starting point for women wanting to get into fintech is networking and educating yourself in this space, whether that’s through reading lots of articles and publications, speaking to colleagues and/or attending events. My experience shows that if you are truly interested in something and work hard, you can achieve anything.

Carolin Gabor
Managing partner, Finleap

I am one of the four managing partners at Finleap and responsible for business development.

I work in a sector that tends to have very few women, particularly in upper management. Fintech is located at the intersection between finance, digital technologies and entrepreneurship, where it is even more difficult to find women.

At the beginning of my career, I was  quite lucky to be in a relatively sheltered environment, where I developed and learned to make my voice heard in an all-male environment. Nowadays, I am also fortunate to have the freedom to balance family and career. For me, the start-up industry makes it a lot easier and I have more flexibility than I would have in a large corporation.

“I AM FORTUNATE TO HAVE THE FREEDOM TO BALANCE FAMILY AND CAREER. FOR ME, THE START-UP INDUSTRY MAKES IT A LOT EASIER AND I HAVE MORE FLEXIBILITY THAN I WOULD HAVE IN A LARGE CORPORATION”

In 2016, I launched the Fintech Ladies Europe initiative, now named Fintexx, which brings together women in fintech and gives them more visibility. This year, we hosted for the first time our female hackathon, TexxFactor, together with Deutsche Bank, which was definitely a highlight of the year for me. The idea behind TexxFactor is to find solutions to oft-neglected areas, such as financial planning, investment opportunities and pension schemes. We wanted to provide a platform and the chance to work on ideas for a digital solution that fits the needs of women – something made for women by women.

“IT IS REALLY IMPORTANT TO CONSTANTLY LEARN AND ADVANCE IN AREAS OF TECHNOLOGY AND LEADERSHIP

Raja Al Mazrouei
Executive VP, Fintech HIVE

I have held various positions at the Dubai International Fund Centre (DIFC), including commissioner of data protection, head of operations and head of information technology at DIFC Authority and senior vice president of marketing and corporate communication at DIFC.

It is really important to constantly learn and advance in areas of technology and leadership. Technology is the foundation of all future sectors, and leadership development is essential to enable the teams and functions to adapt and advance as the industry is changing, and also to engage with constantly developing consumer behaviours.

I enjoy working with startups. I find ways to enable them to access the financial services ecosystem and at the same time learn from them about their technologies and their ambitions to disrupt the world. I would like to form a youth inspirational link for students and entrepreneurs to embed this culture earlier in our community and inspire those looking for a spark to connect with the real world.

One current challenge for all providers of financial services is cybersecurity and the trust in machine judgment over human judgment.

For firms trying to solve problems in the sector, I say believe in the opportunity and pursue it fiercely; if you believe in its power the whole world will believe in it and support it. For the established firms, I would say embrace change and collaborate with the smaller players, invent a new model of collaboration and engagement to create a sustainable business model that supports both the established firms and the start-ups.

Sheila Warren
Head of Blockchain and Distributed Ledger Technology, World Economic Forum

I began my career as a Wall Street attorney at the law firm of Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP before turning to philanthropy and non-profit technology more than a decade ago. Past achievements include creating a blockchain-backed registry for non-profit organisations.

“MY ADVICE FOR WOMEN (AND MEN) TRYING TO ENTER THIS INDUSTRY IS TO TAKE THE LEAP! IT’S STILL A GREAT TIME TO BREAK INTO THIS INDUSTRY

I began my career as a Wall Street attorney at the law firm of Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP before turning to philanthropy and non-profit technology more than a decade ago. Past achievements include creating a blockchain-backed registry for non-profit organisations.

My experience in blockchain and tech has been influenced by the fact that I am a woman. But I actually find the blockchain space refreshing compared to much of the rest of the tech sector (or law, for that matter). There are so many incredible women bringing their expertise in all sorts of areas – investment, policy, law, business – to bear on this space, and while there’s still a lot of nonsense (as with any space that attracts a ton of capital), for the most part it is not that hard to separate signal from noise. And I do feel that the reality inside is different from the perception from outside. Some of the most respected people in this space are women.

My advice for women (and men) trying to enter this industry is to take the leap! It’s still a great time to break into this industry, and the potential is largely only limited by your imagination.

Blockchain technology has applicability in such a wide variety of areas and sectors that I think it’s wise to think about what you are deeply knowledgeable and passionate about (in my case, civic tech) and find a way to bring that experience to bear on this yet-nascent industry.

Marisol Menendez
Head of Open Innovation, Santander

I entered the fintech industry in 2013 and have delivered strategic consultancy for global corporate projects.

For me, the most important areas of development are the startup ecosystem and corporate programmes, which have been developing for some years. Now we need to connect these networks among sectors, technologies and countries.

My passion lies in open innovation – creating connections so that innovation can flow where it previously couldn’t. I’m currently focused on understanding and creating connections that will foster cross cultural partnerships – for example, by connecting the Nordics to the Spanish-speaking world, or non-financial sectors with the financial industry.

My advice to those trying to problem-solve in the fintech space is not to forget that behind all the technology and the disruption speed are humans. Remember that real changes will come through how we interact with one another.

For women in the industry, it’s important to make connections with other women in this sector for support and recognition. Personally I am part of Power Women in FinTech Index by Innotribe 2016, Powerlist Women in Fintech 2015 & 2017 and Women in Tech Spain.

Attend events, too. When I visited the BBVA Open Summit, it was clear that all participants were eager to connect and interact. When you walked around you could see hundreds of people talking, laughing, pitching, listening or attending any of the keynotes or panels. These are the threads that create the fabric of innovation in collaboration.

Kaushalya Somasundaram
Head of Fintech Partnerships, HSBC

As a director in the HSBC Strategic Innovation Investments team, I believe the biggest opportunity in fintech lies in the application of machine learning and intelligence to various facets of financial services. Finance has historically been an extremely data-rich industry and machine learning offers the ability to improve every aspect of our products and services, ranging from client experience to operations to risk management.

Fintechs have embraced AI from an early stage – for example, in extending credit to subprime clients. However, banks have been curtailed by legacy systems and data silos, which many are starting to overcome only now. I think this will have a transformative impact on financial services quite quickly, unlike technologies such as blockchain, the effects of which will be felt in the medium term.

My advice for firms in this sector is this: if you are an early-stage startup, focus on winning deals or partnerships with smaller organizations before targeting the large ones. Large banks want to adopt solutions that are proven in the market at some scale and will be reluctant to commit to a new company that lacks a proven product or business model. Think through the pricing model. A good pricing model ties closely with the enterprise sales cycle in that it is relatively cheap to pilot, demonstrates quick tangible results, and scales with the benefits reaped by the client. Remember that the buyer has to make a business case to adopt your solution, and the more you can do to help the better your success will be. Consider regulations and, where applicable, engage proactively with regulators. Financial services is a heavily regulated sector, but the good news is that many regulators now have programmes to support new companies and innovations.

Antoinette O’Gorman
Former Chief Compliance Officer at Ripple Labs Inc

“BUILD YOUR TEAMS TO BE SUCCESSFUL AND EMPOWER THEM TO ALWAYS STRIVE TO REACH HIGHER GOALS

I’m quite well known in the fintech world for my work as the CFO for Ripple’s compliance function alongside product and engineering teams on compliance requirements. Behind that is 18 years of financial-sector experience, coupled with extensive practical experience in both US and global cryptocurrency compliance and regulatory matters.

Today, I’m an independent adviser to emerging cryptocurrency and fintech startups on strategy, risk management and regulatory compliance consulting.

One major industry challenge is that when you are working with incredibly smart people who are building products and developing technology that has the potential to transform the payments industry, compliance with global regulations is not always first and foremost on their minds – yet it is the single most important thing to get right. Making sure everyone understands the importance of regulation and compliance with those requirements, even when it means redesigning a product to fulfill those obligations, is crucial to building successful software technology and products.

People in this field need to be able to think beyond the traditional payments landscape. It is imperative that you know your stuff and understand regulatory parameters, not just jurisdictionally, but on a global scale. And it is extremely important to take the time to understand the underlying technology – I can’t stress that enough; that way you can truly add value and be considered as one of the key cross-functional collaborators.

Be a mentor to others and lead by example; build your teams to be successful and empower them to always strive to reach higher goals.

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