Aleksandra Gren of Fiserv Advises ‘Teach STEM From an Early Age’ for Equality in Fintech

This article was first published on FinTech Futures on July 11th 2017.

Aleksandra Gren chats to us about her focus on making a success story out of fintech around the world. Today, she is Strategic Sales, Country Manager at Fiserv and Fortune Most Powerful Women US Mentoring Program Alumna. How does she think the fintech space will adapt as a more gender-equal environment, and how should we promote women in tech?

How did you start your career?

I started my career in banking at 23 after I graduated from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, with a degree in international relations. As I quickly realized that technology has a huge role in how things are run in the world of banking, I joined a fast growing U.S. technology company expanding its outreach in Europe and the Middle East. There, I saw first hand the continuing fusion of banking and technology in a number of economies around the world.

What sparked your interest in fintech?

From my experience of working in various countries, I saw how similar the challenges in banking were when it came to technology. In the mid-90s, technology and business departments within a typical bank didn’t talk to each other. As consumer-originated technologies started affecting the enterprise sector, business and technology began to realize how they need each other to be successful. Today most financial services’ CEOs acknowledge that running a bank is like running a big technology company which happens to be in banking. 

What was your lightbulb moment?

I don’t think there was necessarily a “lightbulb moment”. Different regions around the world embraced change differently. For example, some banks in Asia and Central Europe benefitted from the leap frogging effect and went from very little computerization in early 90s, straight to full digitization today. They skipped cheques, implemented instant payments, and designed new business models by leveraging the newest technologies from the start. The technology journey for banks in the developed economies of Western Europe and North America has been more evolutionary.

What inspires you?

People are my biggest inspiration. I believe strongly in the power of the individual. We as individuals are not powerless; people on their own can do great things and make positive changes in the world, even if it is through small steps. I was always inspired by personal stories of great leaders and very early on developed a belief that every person matters and can contribute. I always believed that it is important to motivate people to tap into their inner potential. In my opinion, the key measure of leadership is how effectively the leader is able to build talent around them. Do they listen to the people closest to the battle field, who test management’s strategies first hand? For me the biggest source of insights are always conversations with the front-line people in any business.

Why is the #WomenInTech movement important?

With the onset of artificial intelligence, bots and virtual reality, we are witnessing a shortage of data science skills. Various sources refer to vacancies counted into millions in the data science fields around the world by 2020. It is important that STEM skills are taught from a very young age and that STEM becomes a key priority for domestic digital agendas. For me, the #WomenInTech movement is very important as women represent 50% of society. They have extra responsibilities assigned to their roles, which should mean more investment, more recognition, and more support at a state and corporate level. The #WomenInTech awareness and programs also have the power to capture the mindset of young girls before college years. Women need to be taught the STEM skills needed at primary school, as it will help them to perform in future digital industries and succeed in the workplace. There are certainly some excellent schemes out there at the moment, but we still have a little way to go to capture girl’s imaginations at a very young age.

What piece of advice would you give women starting their careers in fintech?

Always keep learning: from people around you, the industry and changes in technology. Stay curious and open minded. It is important for women to step outside of their comfort zone and keep pushing for more.  Take a computer course, learn to code, do something you wouldn’t normally do. I would also say that women need to believe in themselves and know that their voice matters and that can drive innovation and change in the industry.

Throughout the year we will be profiling women in fintech, not simply to celebrate their success but also to hear what has worked for them during the course of their careers. Click here to read more inspirational stories from fintech’s leading women >>

Finovate Talks: The Conversation Continues

Today at FinovateFall, we continued to speak to some of our key speakers about the hottest topics that we have been discussing over this year’s event. Here, Nathan Snell, Chief Innovation Officer at nCino stresses the importance of customer experience and how the “innovation journey” can be improved when he spoke to Julie Muhn, Finovate Research Analyst at the conference.

Watch more interviews here:


Finovate Talks: Creating the Foundations for Financial Literacy

Ederick Lokpez, Director Engagement Strategy, Customer Experience Office, U.S. Bank

Watch here >>


Finovate Talks: RegTech – Innovation vs. the Regulation Regime

Joanne Barefoot, CEO at Barefoot Innovation Group

Watch here >> 


Finovate Talks: RegTech – Tech or Die

Pascal Bouvier, Fintech Venture Investor & Thought Leader

Watch here >>


How Can Banks with Older Core Systems Take Advantage of Fintech Innovation?

Oded Shoshany, CEO at CelerityFinTech

Watch here >>


Investing with a Difference: How To Stand Out From the Crowd

Ross Baird, CEO, Village Capital

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Top Tips for Startups To Stand Out Within Incubators

Matt Armstead, Executive Director, Fintech71

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Top Fintech Innovations To Look Out For in 2018


Fintech innovation is experiencing its highest-ever interest levels, and 2017 has seen some revolutionary new ways of doing business emerge. With the stage set for an explosive 2018, what are some of the top innovations to watch out for next year? Hear what global industry leaders predict for the future of fintech.

Nick Ogden – founder and Executive Chairman, ClearBank

The number one thing that’s going to occur in 2018 is fragmentation of the marketplace as we know it today. The days of big banks delivering everything and being specialists in everything are over. Some of them might still not accept that but the reality is that it’s happened.

You’ve got ringfencing in the UK occurring, and it will be in place by January 2019. Where you’ll get to is a situation whereby there’ll be transactional banking, which everybody needs – it’s how we pay bills and how we receive our salary. And it’s the same structure for businesses.

Then there’ll be different ways in which we consume financial services – things that we use occasionally like a car loan, a house loan, or a holiday loan. And the market will change to encourage customers to seek alternative choices as opposed to feeling reliant on one choice.

Ajay Bhalla – President of Global Enterprise Risk and Security, MasterCard

These technologies are now reaching a point where they can really change consumer experience, and that’s one of the reasons for our investments in this artificial intelligence space. These algorithms and the way they make decisions are becoming so good that we as consumers will increasingly leave our devices to start making decisions for us.

And it’s cool and it’s sometimes worrying, but in the bigger picture it’s going to change the way we live. And I think that’s not very far away now.

Karen Kerrigan – Chief Legal Officer, Seedrs

Rather than looking at a specific technology, have a look at a particular sector. There are a lot of challenger banks out there at the moment – Starling Bank, ClearBank, Monzo, Tandem – and they’re all vying for the same space. They’re all doing things slightly differently, but  ultimately are taking on the banks.

How they do that, what technologies they use, and how they embrace user experience will be a fascinating journey, and I’d urge everyone to keep their eyes on it.

Want to learn more about the future of finance from these and other global industry leaders, including Professors Nir Vulkan and Alex Pentland, and David Shrier?

Saïd Business School, University of Oxford is collaborating with online education provider GetSmarter to present the Oxford Fintech Programme, a 10-week online programme designed to equip you with the skills, tools, knowledge, and network you need to take a fintech startup from concept to execution.

Finovate Talks: How To Make it as a Small Business in Fintech – Kathryn Petralia, Kabbage

This year at FinovateFall, we spoke to some of our key speakers about the hottest topics that we have been discussing over this year’s event. Watch the interviews here:


Finovate Talks: Meet the Fintech Observer

Dave Birch, Global Ambassador, Consult Hyperion

Watch here >>


Finovate Talks: Financial Inclusion for Latin American Communities 

Ramona Ortega, CEO & Founder, My Money My Future

Watch here >>


Finovate Talks: How BankMobile Has Turned Digital Banking on its Head

Luvleen Sidhu, Co-Founder, Chief Strategy Officer and President of BankMobile

Watch here >>


Does the US Have a Savings Problem? 

Mimi Chan, CEO & Founder, Littlefund

Watch here >>


How Will AI Change the World of Underwriting? 

Mike Armstrong, President, ZestFinance

Watch here >>


How Can Fintech Facilitate Stability in a Gig Economy?

Rachel Schneider, Senior Vice President, CFSI

Watch here >>

Keeping Up with Fintech

According to Google Trends, the search term “fintech” only began its upward swing in search popularity in January 2015, hitting its peak in May 2017. This rapid increase in search prevalence came as a result of the world’s collective interest and investment in financial innovation and disruption.

While the evolution of financial technologies and innovation is ushering in an exciting new world of opportunities, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to keep up with the fast-paced growth of the global fintech industry. And with so much global interest, it’s near-impossible to stay ahead of the curve.

As Professor Alex Pentland, guest speaker on the Oxford Fintech Programme, puts it: “Fintech is happening right now. We’re seeing all these very exciting changes ranging from Bitcoin, which is sort of old, to Initial Coin Offerings, which are very new. We’re also seeing much more of the democratisation of fintech, so a lot of the crowdsourcing things are opening up new ways of investment that just haven’t happened before.”

From digital wallet Curve, to AI-driven mortgage auction system Lendr, fintech startups are being created by anyone and everyone with a good idea and the appropriate tools.

Fintech innovation isn’t limited to the game of upsetting incumbents and big banks, either. Proptech applications are allowing potential homeowners to virtually tour and remodel their future homes using VR, and with the increase in size of the transactions taking place on fintech platforms, recording, monitoring, and ensuring compliance will need to be high on everyone’s priority list, driving the need for regtech.

These revolutionary new technologies bring with them exciting opportunities, and worrying prospects. Industry experts believe that between 2 million and 6 million jobs will be lost over the next decade due to disruptive financial technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI) and blockchain. Illustrating the potential, digital challenger banks such as Starling and Monzo can operate with 90% less headcount than traditional banks.

While this is exciting for big business owners, the average employee will stand the chance to find themselves without a job very soon. But fintech, proptech, regtech, and other associated innovations will enable small and medium businesses to create both new wealth for expansion, and new job roles. The challenge now is finding a way to not only engage with fintech, but to also stay ahead of the curve.

One way to up-skill quickly is to tap into the knowledge of global experts, and put the skills you learn to use immediately. As industries and innovation continue to evolve at a rapid pace, interactive and online burst-like education is a natural solution. This format of learning allows you to enhance your skills in a matter of weeks, in your own time, and collaborate with like-minded individuals from across the globe.

Saïd Business School, University of Oxford is collaborating with online education provider GetSmarter to present the Oxford Fintech Programme, a 10-week online programme designed to equip you with the skills, tools, knowledge, and network you need to take a fintech startup from concept to execution.

D3 Banking’s Christina McGeorge Talks About Finding Her Niche as a Fintech Professional

This article was first published on FinTech Futures on June 27th 2017.

Part of our #WomenInFinTech series, we chat to Christina McGeorge – chief product officer and VP of product ownership for D3 Banking – about how she only became aware of her success within fintech a few years ago. She shares some words of inspiration and motivation to the next round of successful women in tech.

How did you start your career?

I began my career nearly thirty years ago as a software engineer at ACI Worldwide. I was still in college, working on my degree in management information systems at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. After two years, I switched my focus to solutions architecture because I wanted to broaden my skillset. I went on to work for ACI for 20 years, eventually becoming the lead design engineer for ACI’s point of sale product.

What sparked your interest in fintech?

Computer sciences had always been an interest of mine, so it was a natural fit to study in college. However, my curiosity and passion quickly grew beyond just computer sciences, and I found myself pursuing some exciting opportunities in the fintech space. I’ve been hooked ever since.

What was your lightbulb moment?

I’ve always enjoyed my work, but my lightbulb moment didn’t come along until a few years ago. While I was designing front-end authorization systems at ACI and back-office solutions for BHMI, I was assembling pieces of a puzzle, gaining more knowledge of particular niches within the fintech space. It wasn’t until I joined D3 Banking and gained a new perspective that the broader picture came into focus. Suddenly, the trajectory of my career made sense. Without my previous experiences and the perspectives gained from them, I would not have been positioned to contribute to D3 Banking as I have, helping to design our platform. The pieces of the puzzle just fell into place; I had been on this path all along.

What inspires you?

I’ve always been inspired by the notion of providing people with the opportunity to better themselves financially. This is why when I had the chance to join a start-up digital banking company more than five years ago, there was no hesitation. I was employee number 15 at D3 Banking, which allowed me to help build our platform from the ground up in a way that helps both banks to reduce complexities in their systems, and end users to better understand their financial situations and enhance communication with their banks.

Why is the #WomenInTech movement important?

Culturally, we struggle with the idea that it’s normal or even acceptable for girls to be good at math or sciences. In fact, I remember being one of few girls in my computer science classes. The #WomenInTech movement spreads the message that anyone in the world, even a young girl in grade school, can be good at science at math, and that the world is open to you. This is so important for future growth and progress.

What piece of advice would you give women starting their careers in fintech?

When I was younger, my grandfather used to quiz me on my math. I remember one day he told me, “it’s not whether you can; it’s whether you want to.” That’s something that really resonated with me, and is something I think is important for not only women, but all people to know. You are capable, if you’re willing to put in the effort necessary to achieve your goals.

Throughout the year we will be profiling women in fintech, not simply to celebrate their success but also to hear what has worked for them during the course of their careers. Click here to read more inspirational stories from fintech’s leading women >>

Increasing Use of Card Controls in SMB Market is Reducing “Friendly Fraud”

In 2014 Ondot Systems was a newcomer to Finovate. Now, we have asked them to give us an update on where card controls are in the small-to-medium-sized business market, and where they are set to take the fintech sector, in particular the future of fraud.

The small business credit card market reached 13.9 million accounts in 2015, with an average of 20 transactions per month, accounting for one in every six dollars spent on general purpose cards (roughly $430 billion all together). These payments are fundamental to running the operations of any small and mid-size business (SMB), from purchasing office supplies, paying off utility bills, clearing invoices of various service providers, etc.

An SMB owner opening up a credit card for the business has its benefits like financial rewards perks, and flexibility in spending. If handled correctly, allowing employee use of the owner’s credit cards can simplify the reimbursement process and reduce administrative hassles. However, without proper controls, employee credit cards can encourage bad spending habits, theft, or fraud.

Owner cards are only as good as the communication and trust between owner and employee. Unless the owner keeps close tabs on purchases, there is a risk of “friendly fraud,” which is when an employee takes advantage of their purchasing power for their own benefit. Left unchecked, these fraudulent charges can equate to thousands of dollars lost, the loss of an employee, or even a lawsuit.

A recent study by ACFE found that 60% of small businesses didn’t recover any of their losses from this type of fraud. By giving credit cards to key employees, it implies a high degree of trust, but unfortunately, fraud can and does happen.

According to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners’ latest study, illegitimate expenses make up around 14 percent of asset misappropriation fraud and cause a median loss of $40,000. If you aren’t monitoring those purchases closely, they may go unnoticed.

Owners typically wear many hats, and managing internal financial fraud should not have to get in the way of running a business. So how can SMB owners take the worry of transactional fraud off of their shoulders? Through proactive card controls, SMB owners can allow the use of SMB payment card by setting where, when and how the card can be used for business purposes.

SMB owners can set limits on purchase amounts, location where the card can be used, types of transactions and even merchant categories. In addition, through a few taps on their smartphone, they can view card activity in real time through push notifications and even turn the card off in case of misuse.

Let’s consider a use case of a small business owner employing truck drivers to distribute food supplies around the town. Truck drivers are given a payment card for fuel and other business purchases to make sure they make it to their destination without any hiccups.

The owner of the business is able to set location controls enabling card use only in the areas of their route, and limit transactions up to certain amount at gas stations only. They can set the parameters to deny the ability to withdraw cash from an ATM or use it for entertainment purposes for example. This avoids unpleasant conversations about card misuse while allowing business owners more time to concentrate on operating their business effectively. Through these controls, receipt management for reimbursement becomes a thing of the past and business expense management is more streamlined.

Another example for of how these card controls can protect SMB owners is in the case of doctors and dentists that have their own practice. Typically these doctors employ two or three people for the office where payment cards are used for everything from office supplies to keeping the lights on. Friendly fraud can often go unnoticed if, along with an office purchase, one were to also shop for some personal items. Such businesses typically do not employ full time accounting personnel to track expenses and run on a small budget where misuse can have an impact on the bottom-line.

Through card controls, SMB owners can take on the task of managing company purchases proactively. With just a few minutes on their smartphone app setting card controls and alerts preferences, they and their businesses can be protected from “friendly fraud.”

DTCC’s Lynn Bishop Encourages Women in Fintech to “Step Outside Your Comfort Zone

This article was first published on FinTech Futures on May 31st 2017.

Adding to our hugely popular Women in Fintech series, we speak to Lynn Bishop, Chief Development Officer, Managing Director, DTCC, about the best way to make it as a woman in tech, learning from her exceptional path to the top.

How did you start your career?

I started my career at Accenture as a consultant. At that time I had not yet decided on my career path, and working as a consultant allowed me to learn about different industries, experience multiple corporate cultures, travel internationally, and learn a lot about myself. The speed at which you learn in the consulting industry was very appealing to me, and working across many different projects and clients helped me to quickly build an expansive, diverse, and powerful network.

While I benefited tremendously from my consulting experience, after about 10 years I decided I wanted to build more specialized knowledge and so joined DTCC, my consulting client at the time. Since joining DTCC, I have held several different technology-focused roles, with the most recent one being Chief Development Officer (previously CTO) to which I was appointed in May 2016.

What sparked your interest in fintech?

I realized I wanted to specialize in financial services relatively early while still working as a consultant, and the opportunity to join DTCC in an IT-focused role allowed me to make real impact by developing and implementing solutions for the entire industry.

While there has always been constant change and innovation in technology which has challenged and motivated me, there has never been a more exciting time to be at a firm like DTCC than right now. We are at the forefront of so many exciting new innovations that have the potential to transform the post-trade environment and strengthen our ability to protect the stability and integrity of the global markets. We are also actively leveraging the cloud and exploring how we can use robotics and other new technologies such as distributed ledger to better serve our clients and the industry.

What was your lightbulb moment?

Many great articles have been written about fintech, but the ones that really resonate with me emphasize the importance of disruption. To quote Paul English from Prophet, “Disruption that actually makes a substantial change to customers’ lives, by making things easier, faster and more meaningful. It’s not about the tech or the widget, the app or the interface, but about how it addresses a real and important customer need in a new and improved way.”

While new technologies are certainly intriguing, what is truly important is making sure they address a real need and ultimately introduce a new and improved way of working within the industry while protecting market stability. At DTCC, we are collaborating with our industry colleagues and clients on ways we can use new technologies to solve operational challenges and reduce costs and risks.

What inspires you?

I have been very fortunate throughout my career to have an amazing support system including my family, friends, colleagues, and mentors. I could not have achieved what I have today without their support and encouragement. As a result, I find the most rewarding aspect of my job is to “pay it forward,” which means empowering others to reach their potential, both personally and professionally.

I thoroughly enjoy mentoring my junior colleagues at DTCC and also externally through the Posse Foundation. In addition, I am honored to be a part of United Way’s Women’s Leadership Council (WLC) Executive Committee, a network of community-driven women dedicated to making a difference in the lives of New Yorkers, with a focus on supporting ReadNYC, an initiative that strives to help low-income students improve their reading skills.

Why is the #WomenInTech movement important?

It is no secret that a significant gender gap remains within the technology industry, and especially in fintech. Many large technology companies have started to provide more transparency around their diversity statistics which I see as a positive development because acknowledging a problem and recognizing the need for change is an important step forward.

Women bring unique talents and perspectives to the table, particularly the importance of collaboration which is a key success factor in fintech.

Speaking on diversity in general, it is important to recognize that change doesn’t happen overnight. However there are actions we can and should be taking now. Ensuring female speakers are featured at fintech events, showcasing successes of female fintech leaders to help position women as role models, and creating a culture which promotes and rewards inclusive behaviors are a few examples of easy steps that would lead to systemic improvement. In the long term, it is critical to keep promoting and supporting science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) to improve the pipeline and invest in the future.

What piece of advice would you give women starting their careers in fintech?

There are two things that have made the biggest difference in my experience and still apply today to women starting their career in fintech: build a network of sounding boards and mentors who will provide guidance to you throughout your career, and don’t be afraid to take risks – push yourself to step outside your comfort zone.

Throughout the year we will be profiling women in fintech, not simply to celebrate their success but also to hear what has worked for them during the course of their careers. Click here to read more inspirational stories from fintech’s leading women >>

Alex Foster of BT Advises Women in Fintech: Don’t Wait to Become a Leader

This article was first published on FinTech Futures on May 18th 2017.

Alex Foster Adding to our stellar line up of leading women in fintech, we speak to Alex Foster about how she has become Head of Insurance & Finance Sector & Post Trade Services at BT, and what she would suggest if you were just starting out as a woman in tech.

How did you start your career?

I always had a fascination by what makes the cogs turn in the financial markets world. I started my career on the trading floor — initially working in sales trading which was at that time more voice-based.  Over time, the markets started to morph and automation and algorithms evolved.  With this “electronification” of the markets came the need for more than just traditional trading skills.  The role started to require greater market understanding, as well as market structure and technology knowledge.

To have a true understanding of how things work, I developed an appreciation of the effect of technology, such as the impact of proximity and algorithms.

My current role is at BT, a move I made to get a better view as to what was “under the bonnet” of the infrastructure underpinning the global financial markets. I’ve found this has made my skill set more rounded. I’ve been able to provide first-hand knowledge of customer requirements. This helps us to develop technology solutions that anticipate the needs, and support the aspirations of, the full spectrum of BT’s financial services customers.

What sparked your interest in fintech?

I have always enjoyed the tech side of financial markets and have always strived to act as an agent of positive change. Fintech has so much potential to deliver new ways of working. The possibilities that can evolve from a perfect synergy of new technology, collaboration, and regulation are incredibly exciting.

Consider the process: new regulation comes in, start-ups develop the necessary technology to manage it, and collaboration between firms sees the process through. Fintech is an integral tool for moving financial markets forward.

What was your lightbulb moment?

My light bulb moment came about four to five years ago, when I began working with bankers, some who were friends, leaving their traditional roles on the trading floor to create new and exciting fintech, regtech, and insurtech companies. As we know, these start-ups are a growing source of innovation in the financial markets industry. But their small size can create challenges around market adoption, delivery, and meeting the stringent contractual or compliance expectations of large financial institutions. We started to work with these companies to help them scale-up to obtain a global reach. I realized the monumental impact that these technologies and fintech firms could achieve when the right partnerships are in place.

What inspires you?

I find the drive and nerve that start-ups have when they decide to give their idea a go very inspiring. That willingness to try something different is so exciting because you see human ingenuity, courage and hard work at its finest.

At BT, I see so much innovation first hand. I also get involved with this as a non-executive director or simply as a noisy advisor. From these positions, I get to see the talent that it takes to take an idea and make it grow. The absolute focus you need to achieve this is exemplary.

Why is the #WomenInTech movement important?

The digital age is here and with it we can already see that new technology will pervade every part of our global economy. STEM is a big part of this growing field and one where more top talent is needed, but where female representation is still too low.  It’s so important that we see more girls taking STEM subjects in their school years. And it’s equally important that we attract, retain, develop, and progress female talent in these careers.

At a personal level, I have always loved tech – my school was one of the first that offered a Computer Studies O Level and it has been a huge part of my professional life. And I studied mathematics, statistics, and computing at university. That’s why the movement is so important; it encourages women to take up the opportunities which have made such a difference to me.

I’m encouraged to see that this is actively promoted at BT through initiatives like Step into Stem and BT TechWomen which aim to increase the presence of women in technology. Again, partnerships are essential – we are working with a number of our clients, start-up hubs, schools and business partners realise our ambitions together.

What piece of advice would you give women starting their careers in FinTech?

Make sure you have great mentors, both within your firm and externally. Never be afraid to ask questions, this will help you to continue to learn and flourish. Don’t wait to become a leader – start this at whatever stage of your career you are in. And finally, always aspire to be the leader that you yourself would want to follow.

Throughout the year we will be profiling women in fintech, not simply to celebrate their success but also to hear what has worked for them during the course of their careers. Click here to read more inspirational stories from fintech’s leading women >>