Women in Fintech: Kathleen Craig on the Importance of Financial Literacy

As we approach the end of the summer, we reignite our #WomeninFintech series. We recently spoke with Kathleen Craig, CEO, HTMA creators of Banker Jr. and Plinqit about what inspired her to launch fintech software for banks and credit unions to engage their next generation of customers and why she thinks the future of fintech has to become more relationship driven.

Finovate: How did you start your career?

Kathleen Craig: I have more than a decade of banking and customer service experience. Prior to launching HTMA, I served as Vice President of eServices at a Michigan-based community bank. I studied Business Administration at Eastern Michigan University.

Finovate: What sparked your interest in fintech?

Craig: During my time with eServices in 2010 through 2012, I could see the writing on the wall that our community bank was going to need to compete in the digital arena. At the time the large cores were making this really hard to do. I understood that open banking and open API’s were an inevitability and I wanted to be a part of driving our industry forward to a place where only the largest technology companies could use technology and consumer data to serve $1 billion bank customers better.

Finovate: What prompted you to launch HTMA/Banker Jr etc.?

Craig: My motivation to create HTMA came from my passion for technology, children, and financial literacy. Our first product, Banker Jr. for banks and Member Jr. for credit unions, launched in January 2013 to provide financial education to children while giving institutions the opportunity to tap into their up and coming customer base through a branded platform. The solution is now licensed by financial institutions in nineteen states.

Finovate: Why is it important to teach financial literacy to children?

Craig: Financial education is lacking, especially among the youngest generations, and we are seeing the effects in consumer financial behavior and saving habits. In fact, according to GOBankingRates, over half (58 percent) of American adults do not have $1,000 in their savings accounts to cover emergency expenses, and many are struggling to pay down debt. Forbes reported that 38 percent of United States households carry credit card debt. Just under half (43 percent) of individuals with student loans are not making payments. Additionally, one in three Americans have no money saved for retirement.

Meanwhile, only 16.4 percent of United States students are required to take a personal finance course to graduate high school, however, the group where the biggest lack of financial literacy can be seen is Millennials, with only 24 percent demonstrating basic financial knowledge. This is a serious problem.

Finovate: Why is it important for banks to embrace new tech?

Craig: One of the biggest differentiators for community financial institutions is their customer service and ability to help their community members. However, increasingly people are not walking in the doors, so technology is going to be the best way for them to translate that great customer service to a digital experience. To do this, we are going to have to push for it and be creative and innovative.  Digital lends itself to transactions versus relationships, but we believe it can do both.

Finovate: Where do you think the future of fintech is heading?

Craig: It has to be more relationship driven. While it is great that folks can check balances, deposit checks and transfer money, people really need guidance and help with their money. Right now education and guided experience is not happening yet in fintech. There is a lot of talk about AI, chatbots and data driven tech, but measured successful outcomes that demonstrate a customer is better off having used your platform is what fintechs need to be striving for. The future of fintechs needs to be made up of less buzzwords and more customer results.

Finovate: What piece of advice would you give women starting out their career in finance/ fintech?

Craig: First, you need to do what you are passionate about. Secondly, have great mentors and advocates. The wider and more diverse your circle is the more fun you will have and the more success you will be able to achieve by learning from those you surround yourself with.

Women in FinTech: “The Ability to Serve Customers in the Best Manner Possible is Where I Draw Energy.”

As part of our #WomeninFinTech series, we sat down with Kristin Marcuccilli, executive vice president and chief operating officer at STAR Financial Bank.

We talked about her transition from the world of college football to the world of banking and finance, what technology she thinks will lead the way, and why it is important to work with like-minded individuals to drive a business forward.

Finovate: How did you start your career?

Kristin Marcuccilli: STAR Financial Bank is a privately-owned family bank that’s been around for more than 75 years; in fact, my grandfather’s name is the “T” (Thomas) in STAR. Despite this family history, I didn’t always aspire to become a banker. I earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology and pre-medicine from the University of Notre Dame, and my student work in football operations and player development ultimately led me to my first job in the Notre Dame Football office for three years.  It wasn’t until later that I decided to pursue a master’s degree in business administration and management from Indiana University.

While working toward my master’s degree, I asked my dad about potential opportunities with the bank – though I still was unsure if this was the right path, I became more curious as I progressed in my studies and job experiences. When an opportunity to join the bank arose, I had to follow the same process as anyone else. Our bank has strict rules about family employees: we must work somewhere else for five years first; new positions won’t be created just for family members; and we must pursue an MBA or banking certification to even be considered for a senior management role.

In 2008, I joined the bank as a project manager, and haven’t looked back since. Over the past 11 years, I have worked my way up to chief operating officer, and I now help oversee our technology partnerships, project management efforts, bank operations and strategic direction. During my time at the bank, I’ve helped establish a strategic vision, oversaw a website redesign, helped implement 55 Interactive Teller Machines and have enhanced our digital banking strategy.

Finovate: What sparked your interest in fintech?

Marcuccilli:My interest in fintech stems from the reason I choose to work in community banking – it’s a relationship business, and our team’s involvement in creative thinking that will ultimately help change and influence the way people and businesses interact with their bank is an ever-present and ever-evolving challenge. A passion for fintech calls for an entrepreneurial spirit and the ability to embrace failure and change nearly every day. For me, that’s an exciting challenge.

Finovate: What technologies have you seen lately that have excited you?

Marcuccilli: New technology seems to appear overnight. Years from now, we expect that real-time payments will be the norm – no more waiting for money to move overnight or over the course of several days via check. The application of biometrics and advanced analytics for enhanced security will continue to expand and evolve, and artificial intelligence will support personalized customer experience through digital channels. Electronic delivery of documents, signatures and account opening will also likely be dominating a once paper-intensive banking environment. Self-service kiosks will also have advanced to replace much of the standard transaction activity both as in-branch and as standalone options. All of this excites me, as the ability to serve our customers in the best manner possible is where I draw energy.

Finovate: Why is it important for banks to embrace new tech? How is Star Financial Bank doing this?

Marcuccilli: In our rapidly changing industry, banks that are slow to adapt risk falling behind and losing critical business. Bankers have a significant advantage when it comes to building valuable relationships and supporting their local communities, but they must also add modern technology to remain nimble and relevant.

At STAR, we place a strong emphasis on maintaining our community focus while optimizing delivery channels and meeting customers where they are on their financial journey. We take a collaborative approach when evaluating and implementing new technology, starting at the top with our CEO who encourages the team to embrace change.

I am proud to be part of a powerhouse team, working alongside innovators and leaders who dedicate significant time and effort toward studying technology and client behavior to best meet our community’s needs. We have a group of smart, data-driven individuals who ensure our technology and services align with our business and customer demands.

Finovate: Where do you think the future of fintech is heading?

Marcuccilli: Delivery channel optimization (to ensure convenient and engaging customer experience), security threats and payments are all rapidly evolving and will continue to be a major focus in the fintech space. To effectively address these trends, there will be a growing demand and emphasis on the selection of third-party partnerships.  Finding the right technology partner – both a technical and cultural fit – will be important in facilitating the best experience for customers.

Finovate: Why is the #WomeininTech movement important?

Marcuccilli: There is a general lack of female representation in financial services, especially when it comes to the technology side of the house.  As industry professionals, we can help influence this by supporting and encouraging women to join and contribute to the field. Series like these are a powerful way to highlight how women are innovating and making a difference in their local communities through financial services and technology.

Finovate: What piece of advice would you give women starting out their career in finance/ fintech?

Marcuccilli: My advice is to be open to different possibilities within the financial services and fintech space as there are no shortage of opportunities. It’s important to surround yourself with strategic and smart individuals who help build up the team, supporting professional goals and development. I’d also encourage women to become involved in their local communities. Learning and growing from individuals outside of your organization can also be key to professional success. When we commit to staying attuned to business and industry trends and recent developments, we’re able to better support an ecosystem of entrepreneurship and growth in our local communities.

Finovate: And what piece of advice do you have for other banks to attract and retain more star female talent?

Marcuccilli: At STAR, we prioritize collaboration and innovation, and that’s been very attractive to top talent. Showing potential employees that the bank cares about exploring new ideas from all levels of the institution, not just from management or the C-suite, can be a powerful differentiator. Institutions that break down silos, encourage cross department collaboration and transparency, and embrace change will find more success in attracting and retaining star female talent.

Women in Fintech: “Pursuing Growth and Pursuing Profits Are Not Mutually Exclusive”

Ahead of FinovateEurope, we spoke to Valentina Kristensen, Director, Growth & Communications at OakNorth, about her experience in fintech, why sometimes it pays to take a chance and write an elevator pitch for your ideal role, and where the future of fintech is set to go. Valentina will be discussing the current state of play amongst challenger banks during her presentation at FinovateEurope next month.

VALENTINA KRISTENSENRead more about Valentina Kristensen’s upcoming presentation. And for more information about FinovateEurope, including how to pick up your tickets, visit out information page.

Finovate: How did you start your career?

Valentina Kristensen: My career in communications started at Lansons. I was introduced to the agency by someone I met at a CIPR (Chartered Institute of Public Relations) “drinks and links” event who told me they were looking for recent grads to join their trainee programme. I had sat my final exam at university two months earlier and was a week away from finishing a PR internship, so I was looking for a job in the industry. I really liked the look of Lansons and their clients, so applied, went for various interviews and a test, and was fortunate to get the job. It was 2011, so the midst of the financial crisis when a lot of companies were still undergoing hiring freezes, so I was very lucky to get it when I did!

Finovate: Tell us a little about the work you did when you started at Lansons and how that led you to fintech.

Kristensen: My first client at Lansons was Metro Bank which gave me my first foray into challenger/disruptor brands and from there, I was hooked. “Fintech” as a concept wouldn’t become mainstream for a few more years, but my time at Lansons gave me exposure to a number of challenger brands across different financial services areas – wealth management, alternative lending, pensions, banking, etc. – so I was well-versed in the “fin” of “fintech” by the time I decided to specialise in fintech.

OakNorth was a client of mine – I joined the account in June 2015, so before OakNorth had launched, done their series A, got their first client, etc. A few months after the launch in September 2015, I was seconded as things were getting busier, and from my first day, I absolutely loved it. I loved the work, I loved the challenge, I loved the team and leadership, culturally it was a great fit, and I believed in OakNorth’s mission and what it’s trying to achieve. So I emailed Rishi and Joel (our co-founders) asking to meet with them to discuss an idea I had, and then two days later, I gave them the elevator pitch as to why I felt they should hire me full-time.

Finovate: Bold!

Kristensen: Granted, it was a ballsy move, but I’d have always regretted if I didn’t go for it and fortunately, both Rishi and Joel were very receptive, so it was a risk that paid off! I joined full time in July 2016 and it’s been quite a journey ever since – going from a start-up to where we are today with a £2.6bn loan book, c.300 people across the group, offices in multiple markets, over $570m raised and a $2.3bn valuation.

Finovate: What was your lightbulb moment?

Kristensen: It was during my secondment – it was a Thursday after I’d left the OakNorth offices and I was on my way to meet some friends for dinner. I was on the tube and it just hit me – “I want to work for OakNorth. That is where I should be.” And that was it. By the time I arrived at the restaurant to meet my friends, I was so excited and had drafted a pitch to Rishi and Joel in the notes section of my phone! If I’d been too afraid to take the chance, it’s very likely that I would have missed the opportunity and wouldn’t be here today.

Finovate: Do you think we see too few women in fintech? Why do you think this?

Kristensen: Unfortunately, yes, but with every year that passes, I feel like I’m seeing more and more women pursuing careers in these industries, more and more women speaking at and attending industry events, and more and more women in leadership roles at finance and fintech companies.

I think the reason that historically (and still today) numbers are low is because there’s still not a strong pipeline for encouraging women to enter these fields and move up the ranks into senior roles in these fields. 

Finovate: How can businesses improve this?

Kristensen: I’ve seen loads of great initiatives – blind CVs, the Women in Finance Charter, the Fintech Parity Pledge, gender pay gap reporting as it helps to highlight gender disparities at different levels of organisations – and institutions – FinTECHTalents which I’m on the steering committee for, Code First: Girls (I’m actually starting their 8-week coding course this month which I’m really excited for!), Raspberry Pi which is training 40,000 teachers on computing and coding so that every child (boys and girls) in the UK can learn computer science…These are just a few examples, but businesses could partner with these institutions or commit to some of these initiatives and I’m sure we’d see numbers improve.

At OakNorth, we work with schools and universities to do anything from a guest lecture or Q&A session on getting into fintech, all the way through to larger initiatives whereby we sponsor a series of talks and events specifically aimed at encouraging girls and young women to consider STEM industries for their future careers.

Finovate: What advice do you have for women starting their career in FinTech?

Kristensen: My advice isn’t really women specific, as I think it’s relevant for anyone starting their career in the industry – take every opportunity to learn and meet new people. There are loads of free industry events that are great for doing this such as: the Monzo open office days or Fintech Insider After Dark Live. Also, make sure you subscribe to relevant podcasts as they’re a great way to get to grips with all the different parts of the industry and discover which one excites you most – some I listen to are: Fintech Insider from 11:FS, Rebank: Banking the Future, and Breaking Banks. 

Finovate: What tech innovations are you most excited about this year?

Kristensen: Well what we’re doing at OakNorth – applying big data and machine learning to SME lending – clearly excites me! But beyond that, I think anything in regtech is also super-interesting as it affects pretty much everyone working in the industry, and could have a 10X impact on their ability to securely service customers without jeopardising on the speed or quality of the user experience.

Finovate: So, what will the future of fintech look like?

Kristensen: It depends on how far into the future we look! In the next five years, I think we’ll see more consolidation amongst small-to-medium sized fintechs, IPOs from some of the larger ones, more unicorns being born (and some dying), and (hopefully) more fintechs proving that pursuing growth and pursuing profits are not mutually exclusive!

“View Your Career as a Marathon, Not a Sprint,” says Mary Jane Ajodah to Future Women in Fintech

MARY JANE AJODAH_FinovateFall

Mary Jane Ajodah covers fintech and emerging technology within the Client Service Delivery Strategy Group at Bank of New York Mellon. Her responsibilities entail developing use cases for emerging technology with various business areas, identifying and driving opportunities for partnerships with third parties, and articulating a strategic vision around new technology for operations. Ahead of her session at FinovateFall – Industry Discussion: Transforming Legacy Businesses with AI – Building win-win Partnerships while Focusing on Utility, Practicality and Efficiency – we speak to her about her career path and her words of advice to the future women in fintech.

Finovate: How did you start your career?

Mary Jane Ajodah: I started my career in IBM’s internal strategy consulting practice. I worked on several projects core to IBM’s reorganization and transformation, including the launch of the IBM Digital business unit. I gained invaluable experience at IBM, particularly around how innovation and change are executed in a mature enterprise.

In late 2015, a recruiter from BNY Mellon reached out to me on a role focusing on fintech within the bank’s Operations Strategy team. Around this time, interest in topics such as ‘enterprise blockchain’ and AI was accelerating, with a great deal of discussion around the future role of custodians and other financial intermediaries. It was a unique opportunity and key point in time. Since joining, I’ve worked on a number of projects related to BNYM’s overall growth and innovation strategy. I’ve also appreciated the opportunity to cultivate our relationships with startups and VCs where there is mutual benefit.

The recurring theme for both of these roles has been driving change within enduring organizations (IBM at 100+ years, and BNY Mellon at 234 years). Mostly, I’ve been fortunate to have learned from inspiring senior leaders, and to have worked with excellent teams.

Finovate: What sparked your interest in fintech?

Ajodah: I was interested in both finance and technology separately, and my current role brings both together. I studied economics and international relations at NYU, and wrote my undergraduate honors thesis on sovereign debt and default. As I started my career, I wanted to ensure I had a skill set that would endure over the long-run – understanding the impact of technology on changing business models is a core component.

Finovate: What was your lightbulb moment?

Ajodah: I’ve had a few lightbulb moments on specific projects during my career, generally uncovering some root cause or issue and proposing a solution after interviews with various stakeholders and subsequent analyses. It is very rewarding when those moments happen.

Finovate: What inspires you?

Ajodah: Travel inspires me the most. I like to do a lot of solo travel, and have visited a lot of cool places. I visited Svalbard, the last human settlement before the North Pole, when it was 24 hours of night. This trip inspired an Off-Broadway show that I wrote and produced this past July — “Savage Force”. We sold out for all the nights of our run.

I am inspired the most by those that can be successful in multiple fields of endeavor – Fridtjof Nansen – who discovered most of the Arctic, along with being a scientist and diplomat, is one of them!

Finovate: Why is the #WomenInTech movement important?

Ajodah: My generation has tremendous opportunities thanks to the success and contributions of the women of generations prior. During the time I spent both at IBM and BNY Mellon, there have always been senior women at the highest levels of management with tremendous energy, experience, and knowledge.

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

Ajodah: View your career as a marathon, not a sprint. The ability to contribute consistently and effectively over time, and put in the intensity where it is truly needed is crucially important.

“Skills Can Be Learned, but Values and Character Matter Most.” Ghela Boskovich on #WomenInTech

Ghela_Boskovich_women_in_tech“Don’t tolerate disrespect or discrimination against you or anyone else. Don’t wallow in imposter syndrome because someone gaslights you. Don’t apologize and don’t explain/justify/mitigate your existence in the room. Be accountable, and hold others accountable for themselves.” Ghela Boskovich, head of fintech/regtech partnerships, Rainmaking Innovation, spent the last ten years focused on business development for core insurance and banking system solutions, and is the founder of FemTechGlobal that bridges the gender gap in fintech and the financial services industry. We speak to her about her career, inspirations and advice for fellow #WomenInTech.

Finovate: How did you start your career?

Ghela Boskovich: In grad school, unbeknownst to me, my committee chair put me forward for an internship with the state utility commission. The phone call telling me I got it was a total surprise. That started my journey into rate-of-return and pricing regulation modeling. My career took a bit of a detour from regulatory analysis, but the path eventually lead to being involved in tech business development. Exposure to core policy admin systems for insurance bled into dynamic pricing solutions for financial services. Pricing, for me, came full circle. It introduced me to the ins and outs of core banking systems, strategies for product development, looking at the whole architectural landscape of product workflows and processes. It was the beginning of my love affair with fintech. Now with regtech playing such a key role in the industry, my career-long romance with regulatory and policy impact is in full bloom.

Finovate: What sparked your interest in fintech?

Boskovich: I was head hunted to join a fintech dynamic pricing solution company to help build out the business pipeline. Fintech, as a hashtag, was still a nascent term at that time. My history with pricing modeling and the fact that I was working with tech that automated relationship pricing created an atmosphere for my curiosity to flourish. I had the perfect perch from which to see how systems, data, modeling, product and customer all fit into a puzzle; pieces which could take different shapes depending on how they were deployed or organized. That puzzle fascinates me, and now all I do is play with these puzzle pieces.

Finovate: What was your lightbulb moment?

Boskovich: There are a few moments in my life when the spotlight suddenly shone on truth, but most of the time it’s little candles that have flickered here and there, one or two being lit by a conversation with colleagues and peers, that combined to eventually light up the room enough to remove the shadows in the corners: the slow dawning of realization. Oddly enough, most of those have revolved around language, grammar, and sentence construct. I see fintech as an alphabet of sorts, piecing it together to craft a sentence (workflow) that has meaning (purpose and output/product and service). The tech itself is built by (logic) language, the way it integrates and speaks to other systems is a communications structure. It all maps back to that, and we’re in a position to refine the language of financial services through fintech.

Finovate: What inspires you?

Boskovich: Language. I adore language and its power, and how the careful, conscious use of language can inspire others. Language of course is a double-edged sword, it can be the most beautiful, constructive, inclusive thing, or it destroys, condemns, and reveals the ugliness inside. Lately I’m trying to pay attention to the former use of language, and in our industry I’m seeing more and more of it inspiring people to be open to change, embrace diversity, and include others who’ve previously been on the sidelines. The language of collaboration is inspiring: improving service through fintech collaboration, expanding inclusion to reach the un- and underbanked, empowering through personal insights with an aim towards financial health. How we talk about our industry is becoming more positive, and that is inspiring.

Finovate: Why is the #WomenInTech movement important?

Boskovich: Taxation without representation is tyranny. At the fundamental level of social organization, the notion that anyone would submit to a government taxation scheme without due representation is antithetical to the idea of democracy. That’s how I see #WomenInTech: a push towards fair representation and say in how tech is deployed, especially as tech as policy is a reality. Women are 51% of the population, and women control 80% of (all and any type of) household discretionary spending. We are a distinct minority in deciding how the money system is designed or run, it impacts us disproportionately to our representation in the industry. That smacks of tyranny. There are myriad business cases for women in tech, so if we’re driven by ROI, there’s justification aplenty. There is, however, a more fundamental reason: representation and justice.

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

Boskovich: Find your tribe. Seek out those that would challenge your assumptions, those who will teach you, and those who will encourage you to do the crazy, irrational, new thing – but who have similar core values and respect for others. They are out there, and they’ll be the best safety net and cheerleading squad you could ask for. Don’t tolerate disrespect or discrimination against you or anyone else. Don’t wallow in imposter syndrome because someone gaslights you. Don’t apologize and don’t explain/justify/mitigate your existence in the room. Be accountable, and hold others accountable for themselves. Fintech is like any other industry (albeit with a dearth of women), and like in any other industry, skills can be learned, but values and character matter most.

Women in Fintech: Surround Yourself With the Best-In-Class

Emma Margetts_Women in TechAdding to our line up of leading women in fintech, we speak to Emma Margetts, Head of European Operations at Visible Alpha, about how she made it in the financial services space, having started out at just 16 years old.

How did you start your career?

While growing up in South Africa, I always had a passion for capital markets and entrepreneurship. I started investing in the stock markets at 16 years old and later started the non-profit Business Learning Network, the first women’s accelerator for female entrepreneurs in the townships of South Africa. Straight after university, I moved to London and worked in asset management for five years. This is where I met my co-founders for Alpha Exchange and the idea for our company was born.

What sparked your interest in fintech?

I’ve always loved the financial markets coupled with knowing definitively that I wanted to be an entrepreneur. The problem was: I didn’t know where to start.

Many people starting out in fintech ask me if it’s possible to run a tech company without being technical. Well, if you don’t count being able to turn an iPhone on or off as technical, then “yes.”

The truth is, I surrounded myself with a best-in-class co-founding team with complementary skill sets, which proved to be the optimal way forward. I had the vision and drive to make up for the shortfalls in my technical skills. But even so, it was an extreme learning trajectory for the first 18 months.

FinovateFall 2018_See the future of fintech

What was your lightbulb moment?

Two and a half years ago, the initial idea behind Alpha Exchange came to me and my co-founders, Alex Santos and Scott Winship, while we were working in asset management in London. During this time, the average investment analyst we worked with would receive upwards of 1,000 emails daily containing investment research – only 5-10% of which was ever opened. We saw research distribution as an inefficient, legacy-driven process that had seen little to no innovation. Research pricing was also a problem in that it lacked transparency, as it was typically “bundled” in with a broader set of client services.

We knew there had to be a more intelligent and efficient way to quickly surface relevant insights, cut through the noise, and create an investment edge. So we set out to do just that. Despite daunting competition from the likes of Bloomberg and Thomson Reuters, we built Alpha Exchange, a platform that aimed to transform the way institutional participants interacted, shared knowledge, and discovered investment insights.

At the same time, the world of investment research was rapidly evolving before our eyes. Asset managers were battling some of the most widespread regulatory challenges of our time brought about by a revamped version of the Markets in Financial Instruments Directive, MiFID II.

We then had the opportunity to join forces with Visible Alpha, which acquired Alpha Exchange in November 2017. By joining our two platforms, we have created a robust end-to-end MiFID II solution. This has opened up many more possibilities, and I’m proud to be leading Visible Alpha’s European operations.

What inspires you?

I surround myself with people who approach life with passion and enthusiasm. I get so much out of this – I think that kind of energy is contagious and necessary in life.

I’m inspired by remarkable people who are courageous and brave. My mum is one of these people. She is a strong woman who has faced entrepreneurship battles whilst raising a family and being a constant source of excitement in my life!

Why is the #WomenInTech movement important?

When I started Alpha Exchange, every pitch, every boardroom, every investor, mentor or advisor was male. Also, being in my mid-twenties, the amount of times I get a look of surprise and have to repeat who I am and what my role is always makes me laugh.

I made an active choice many years ago not to focus on being just one of a few women in a field or an industry, but instead to concentrate on always improving my skills, going for every opportunity presented to me, and being an expert in my industry of choice.

I feel empowered knowing I’ve not let stereotypes hold me back. My best advice for women is to spend your life doing something you love, regardless of how male-dominated the field may be.

I have been lucky to have incredible female fintech mentors as part of my work life (big shout out to the incredible Jenny Fielding, MD at Techstars).

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

Go for it! There is never a perfect time to take the leap and start something new. There is always a reason to wait another day. I guess the critical ingredient is getting off your butt and doing something about it. It’s as simple as that. A lot of people have ideas, but very rarely do people action on them.

I ripped off the band-aid and resigned from a stable job in order to start something that I had barely figured out myself. It probably took me more by surprise than it did anyone else. I was terrified, but I quickly discovered that as a fintech founder you only ever experience two emotions: euphoria and terror.

It’s important to surround yourself with people who believe in you and your abilities. There are countless examples of women who triumphantly navigate through male-dominated landscapes, and there’s no reason why you can’t be one of them.

Women in Fintech: What the Industry Can Do to Promote Gender Diversity

As the number of women representing start-ups at FinovateEurope 2018 is at its highest since conception, we gather some of the leading ladies in fintech to discuss how the industry has evolved, what practical steps can be taken to move keep moving forward and why male colleagues and peers need to get involved too.

The panel:

  • Julie Muhn, Senior Research Analyst, Finovate
  • Magdalena Kron, Head of Rise London & VP Open Innovation, Barclays Bank
  • Janice Diner, Founding Partner & CEO, Horizn
  • Benedetta Arese Lucini, Co-Founder, Oval Money

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 >>

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 >>

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 >>