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 >>

Coder, Broker, Music Producer: Hellenic Bank’s Natasha Kyprianides is Inspired by Constraints

This article was first published on FinTech Futures on May 3rd 2017.

Music producer, broker, coder, and a leading influencer within fintech, Natasha Kyprianides is not short of experiences and skills. Group Head of Digital Banking & Innovation at Hellenic Bank, she gives us a window into her fascinating path into fintech and some expert advice for other women in fintech paving their ways.

How did you start your career?

My first interactions with digital technology were through hard-disk recording for audio and music production in the late ’90s. I even built a professional recording-studio facility that I had briefly turned into a commercial one, but it was short-lived because I didn’t feel at the time that this was what I was looking for in a career.

I stumbled into banking 17 years ago, by accident. It was at a time when the stock market was booming in Cyprus, and I joined the banking sector as a broker. I then gradually started to unravel my resourcefulness in seeing things from a creative angle, and combined it with my passion for technology. I spent the early years of my career being more hands-on, by coding and building web interfaces of all sorts, as well as project managing in the digital space.

What sparked your interest in fintech?

In 2008, I was given the opportunity to set up the Electronic Banking department (a “dated” term as these days it’s been renamed to Digital Banking) from scratch, and acted as country product owner for the Cyprus subsidiary of the biggest bank in Greece (Piraeus Bank Group). That’s how I entered the world of innovation in banking!

I was able to blend three components that I’m mostly passionate about: Creativity, Technology and Entrepreneurship. This is also how my obsession began – about putting the customer experience first. I then went on to build an impressive portfolio of cutting-edge digital banking products.

The term “FinTech”, or financial technology, was not on the rise at the time.  It only started to gain real traction in 2015.  That was the year when I joined Hellenic Bank with a mandate towards the digital transformation roadmap.  The capacity of my current role enables me to fully harness the power of fintech to deliver fundamental innovations that disrupt and challenge the business model of a traditional financial institution.

What was your lightbulb moment?

My light bulb moment came in 2014. A year after the financial crisis had hit Cyprus and business was no longer as usual. I was starting to become rather restless, lacking motivation and enthusiasm. I had embarked on a journey to look for a new role and relocate (if necessary), somewhere where I could realize my vision of building impactful digital products to shape the future of payments, and thereby bring about social change.

What inspires you?

It’s probably a crazy answer, but I am inspired by constraints.  When there is less of a cushion between oneself and failure, innovation becomes a necessity.  I have come to discover that constraints can improve my agility and get my synapses firing at lightning speed.  Our perceived limitations may give us direction on where we might play, or want to play.

Why is the #WomenInTech movement important?

It’s tough to prove gender bias is real but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.  In fact, I have personally experienced it throughout my career but choose to brush it off.  I think of myself as a “person” and not a “woman” in tech or fintech.  I have observed reactions to my male peers at the workplace (who are not necessarily more capable) as being more authoritative and better-respected figures. That type of perception also affects differences in compensation and grade.

Overall, a diverse workplace is confirmed to get better results, more accurately reflects the customer/client base, and ensures a wider range of experiences.  Having said that, the best person should be hired for the job and not just to satisfy a statistic.

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

If you are passionate about leaving your mark and making an impact, a career in fintech will provide opportunities so that you can get in on the action.  These avenues have the potential to change your life and maybe even the world.  This alone, can motivate and inspire the right type of person (whether a woman or man) to choose this 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 >>

How to Make it as a Woman in FinTech: “Don’t Wait to Become a Leader”

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

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 light bulb 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 realised 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 #WomenInFinTech 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 & 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.

We hope you enjoy our Women in Tech Series, where we celebrate the accomplishments of women in the technology industry, and learn more about what it takes to succeed. For more insightful stories from fintech’s leading women, check out our previous Women in Tech interviews.

Do you know a woman in fintech whose achievements we should know more about? Contact us at sophie.cater@knect365.com.