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Advice from the Females in Fintech

Women in Fintech

Women in Fintech

The fintech industry characterised by innovation, with participants adapting to shifting needs and overcoming development, regulatory and roll-out hurdles along the way.
Fintech bridges the worlds of two traditionally male fields – finance and technology – but the sector has witnessed an increasing number of women rising up to make a mark, eager to shift perceptions and trailblaze along the way for men and women alike.
For our December issue feature, we sat down with selection of eight women currently making waves to hear about their journey to the top, advice to others trying to achieve the same, and personal opinions and where the industry will grow.

Please subscribe to our magazine to read the full interview with Antoinette O’Gorman, Carolin Grabor, Katia Lang, Kaushalya Somasundaram, Marisol Menendez, Nicole Sandler, Raja Al Mazrouei, and Sheila Warren.

…On getting to where they are…

Sheila Warren, Head of Blockchain and DLT, 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.

Raja Al Mazrouei, Executive VP, Fintech HIVE

After having 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.

Antoinette O’Gorman, Independent Consultant, Former CCO at Ripple Labs Inc

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. It is all natural progression.

Nicole Sandler, VP of Fintech and Regulatory Policy, Barclays 

I entered my role with Barclays through a role in Recovery and Resolution Planning and then transitioned into fintech by assisting my then boss with preparing for a conference where Blockchain was on the agenda. 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.

Marisol Menedez, Head of Open Innovation, BBVA

I began working on banking projects in 2013. My passion for creating connections so that innovation can flow where it previously couldn’t brought me to Open Innovation. 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.

Katia Lang, Head of Fintech Times

A few years ago, I became interested in the growing buzz around fintech and crypto.  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.

…On being a woman in the industry…

Sheila Warren, Head of Blockchain and DLT, World Economic Forum

My experience in blockchain and tech hasbeen 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.

Carolin Grabor, Managing Partner Finleap Ventures

“I work in upper management, where it tends to have very few 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. Unfortunately, it is not always like that. 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.

Nicole Sandler, VP of Fintech and Regulatory Policy, Barclays

When I entered the fintech space in 2014, 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! I think it is important that when you see a conference or event that does not promote diversity amongst their speakers that you speak out as this too will help facilitate change.  In the past, people have been surprised when they see 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.

Marisol Menedez, Head of Open Innovation, BBVA

For women in the industry, it’s important to make connections with other women 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 is important, 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.

Katia Lang, Head of Fintech Times

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. 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.

…On the industry itself …

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.

Raja Al Mazrouei, Executive VP, Fintech HIVE

I enjoy working with startups and finding ways to enable them to access the financial service ecosystem whilst at the same time giving myself the chance. learn from them about their technologies and their ambitions to disrupt the world. In the future I see benefits in forming an inspirational alliance for students and young entrepreneurs to  embed the fintech culture earlier in our community and inspire those looking for a spark to connect with the real world.

Antoinette O’Gorman, Independent Consultant & Former CCO at Ripple Labs Inc

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.

Marisol Menedez, Head of Open Innovation, BBVA

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

…Words of advice… 

Kaushalya Somasundaram, Head of Fintech Partnerships, HSBC

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.

Sheila Warren, Head of Blockchain and DLT, World Economic Forum

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.

 Katia Lang, Head of Fintech Times

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.

Nicole Sandler, VP of Fintech and Regulatory Policy, Barclays

One of the best pieces of 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 helped me progress in my career – I was successful in gaining a place on the European Commission’s Expert Group on Regulatory Obstacles to Financial innovation, 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.

 Raja Al Mazrouei, Fintech Hive

It is really important to constantly learn and keep advancing 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.

Antoinette O’Gorman, Independent Consultant & Former CCO at Ripple Labs Inc

My advice? 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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