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 email@example.com.