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Women Leaders and Teachers of Tomorrow: In Conversation with Dorota Zimnoch, Global Top 50 Women in Tech

We interviewed Dorota Zimnoch to capture her thought leadership on the future of the FinTech industry, her advice for students and her views on the importance of female leaders in technology.

Dorota Zimnoch is a FinTech thought leader based in the UK and has been ranked in the Global Top 50 Women in Tech (Onalytica, 2017) and ranked #19 in PwC Power Global 100 and Women in Finance 100.

Can you tell us a little bit about your professional journey and some of the challenges you’ve faced?

Really, my focus on technology happened to me by chance. So at Citi Bank almost 20 years ago, they launched a program of management associates. And I was invited to join the program and one of the projects I received was in technology.

And I didn’t have much knowledge or interest in technology prior to this. But just basically talking to interesting people, and mainly my environment, and seeing how passionate these people were and how powerful those technologies could be got me interested.

And, you asked me about challenges. I don’t think I faced many challenges but it was a big challenge for me to be taken seriously because, I was so young and I’m a woman, so what would I know about technology?

I remember the moment when I learned about online banking. And I went to my managers and told them that I thought it would be interesting to do something like that in Poland. But they looked at me and said, “I think it might be a good futurist topic for you to do but I don’t think we’ll be ready to launch something like that anytime soon”. But I didn’t give up and I was talking about this everywhere and to everybody. At the time, it was this dream at the back of my mind that we might someday do this in my country.

And it was a few months later when my managers came to me and said, “Oh, you mentioned something about online banking. Well, can you do it?” And I said, “Yeah, yeah, of course I can do it.” Mind you, this was in the late 90s early 2000s, so you couldn’t Google things or connect to people to LinkedIn to figure out how to do it. And I basically thought it was a fantastic challenge. You know, what could go wrong? I mean, you don’t have a benchmark to follow, you just had to give the best of yourself and go for it. And it was fascinating. So that’s how it all started.

“And I basically thought it was a fantastic challenge. You know, what could go wrong? I mean, you don’t have a benchmark to follow, you just had to give the best of yourself and go for it”

What’s one experience that you would like to share in the classroom?

I think what I would like to tell students, and especially the women, would be just to find the thing you’re passionate about and just go for it. And just make sure that you get as much knowledge as possible and network in the space as much as possible. There will be doors in front of you and challenges, and you might not understand why you have to go through those. But, take every one of those as an additional experience that you would appreciate later. 20 years ago I was facing challenges that I had to fight and I didn’t know why I was facing those but, I know that if I didn’t go through all these experiences, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

Advice for students looking to join the FinTech industry

First of all, my personal thought is that we won’t be talking about ‘industries’ in a few years because at the end of the day we are talking about humans and end consumers. Those consumers will not follow industries, they will follow the best experiences and those companies that make them feel like partners. In other words, if they value Amazon or Apple or Facebook as a brand, they would be much more likely to trust them for services than financial institutions.

I must stress here that what I see very often is that people only focus on the exciting parts of it, so what are the products and how they work etc. But they don’t understand the process around it like for example regulation and compliance, which are extremely important too. It’s really about being open minded and understanding how in the future consumers and how will they spend time and money and their data. So if you can take an interest in consumer behaviour and understand that, it would really go a long way.

What do you think about the future of regulation in FinTech?

People don’t like regulation… But at the same time, we all strongly agree that there are circumstances where it is necessary. There are a lot of conversations around regulation and my take on it is that the process should be collaborative between regulators and banks and financial institutions. What we see is that first there’s a solution designed, then there’s a celebration of it and then there’s a regulation. Like for example, GDPR where everyone tries to fit into it.  But that’s not the most efficient approach… I think technology will help us more and more to automate some of the processes so it’s less labour heavy and whatnot. But, on the other hand, it needs to be more collaborative in order for there to be a lasting impact.

How are Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning impacting the FinTech industry?

So obviously AI and machine learning are key trends in the FinTech industry. The financial industry is built on data and these tools can help. For example, if you take the insurance industry, it can be used first to understand data, then to assess risk and finally to underwrite programs. It can automate labour heavy processes… and reduce human errors.

It is also very useful in detecting fraud… For example, there is a firm that uses Shift technology process in detecting fraud. There was an example of claims that were submitted for a car accident … somebody from the insurance firm analysed claims and determined the case was eligible. However, simultaneously, they also used AI where public CCTV cameras and other databases were scanned and it was determined that nothing actually happened. An individual would not be able to scan through all these databases …. Obviously there’s this other side about the future of work and will machines take over… However, I think that when applied in a smart way, artificial intelligence and machine learning will have a positive impact on how we do our business and also our lives.

“Technology is always going to be advancing, the future lies in being able to understand how to work with automation.”

What do you think are some of the more positive trends in FinTech?

Well, fintech developed with the development of technology… I like to take the example of DNA sequencing. In 2007, it cost something close to $2.7 billion. Today, you can do it at a fraction of the cost. So, technology is getting cheaper… Today with the latest technologies, with mobile phones and with all the technology around us we can gather more and more information and that will lead to offering products and services that are better targeted and are value for money and that can be sold at a fraction of the cost than what it used to be in the past. The technology revolution that we’re experiencing right now and the convergence of all the technologies coming together will lead to more and more people joining the financial services in the way of financial inclusion.

Why do you think it’s important to have female role models?

You see, this is an interesting conversation because I don’t quite like this distinction between females and males in general. We are all professionals and we should be seen as equals… At the same time I do think it’s important to highlight this discrepancy in the proportion of female versus male representation in the field… I speak at a lot of conferences and honestly, there is hardly ever more than one woman on a panel, particularly in FinTech. And this is by no means is the reality that there are no women out there… They’re just not given an opportunity. When journalists and event organisers call experts, they don’t go beyond this closed network. It would just take one moment of asking if they could recommend a female colleague to change that…

Do you think that women leaders can bring a different perspective to the classroom?
So, if I think back to when I was in school, it would naturally not be my comment that my female teachers were always so much better my male teachers. However, having a confident woman in front of talking and inspiring you can make a huge difference… For example, men naturally have a different voice that can reach farther and somehow that is seen as a sign of confidence and it’s a natural advantage… For a woman it’s an extra step to go out there and be confident… I think that men and women can equally be experts and be inspirational, I don’t see a difference in that space… But there are certain things, like for example, good communication skills are immensely important, which woman usually are better at. So if you consider those elements then there is a difference. But again, coming back to the beginning of my response I see everyone as individuals and as long as we build on our strengths, we will be able to achieve anything.

Who are your female role models?

So this may surprise you, but for me the woman who has really inspired me is Marie Curie. I’m Polish. So obviously I was exposed to her at a very early age and I was fascinated. It was not just her but an entire family of Nobel Prize winners… She was a great role model in the space to show that, you know, who can tell me I cannot do it? These are your barriers, these are not my barriers. As long as I don’t buy into them and as long as I don’t accept that these challenges that you put in front of me are not for me to overcome… that’s where things end. But, if I dare to challenge those, if I dare to be brave and go for it because I have that passion, because I have that dream well then, here you go… There are some elements that are universal to both men and women… I think my attitude is to be open-minded with everyone you talk to and let them inspire you, from a bus driver, to a Stanford University professor to a female CEO.

Closing Remarks

… The change is in you and the future is what you own and I would say to every person that I could reach through this interview to just go for it. It’s in your hands so, go for it.

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