Adding 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.
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.