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Do it! There is so much opportunity in the fintech space

an interview with Audrey Mothupi, CEO of SystemicLogic.

The pandemic has enabled us to see a different form of leadership and this form of leadership is what the Fintech Diversity Radar wants to bring to the fore.

We are beginning to take active steps to put in place the right authorities that the fintech industry needs at a time like this. We need data that is relevant, up to date, and validated, combined with a transparent way in which to measure and monitor success.

The Fintech Diversity Radar, launching in 2021, is set to be the world’s first global platform gathering progressive data on women in fintech to understand their impact and contribution to the digital economy – and to hear their voice.

This week’s voice is that of Audrey Mothupi, CEO of SystemicLogic Group – a global financial innovation and technology disruptor with a leading edge in execution in emergent business models. Audrey shares her personal diversity story and her journey with Chisom Ezeilo, findexable’s Diversity, and Inclusion Analyst.

CE: Tell us about yourself and your career progression to your current position as CEO of SystemicLogic Group.

AM: I am a mom, entrepreneur, business owner, hiker, food lover, and a lifelong learner. Most recently I completed a course at MIT Sloan School of Management on the implications of artificial intelligence on business strategy. I am passionate about this subject and how it will change our world, as well as fintech and the role it can play in helping more women access financial services. I regularly speak about this at conferences and have spoken in diverse cities such as Berlin and Uganda.

I started my career in 1995 as a consultant with Genrho South Africa and have held executive roles in the broadcasting and financial services industries at Standard Bank Group, Liberty Group, and the SABC. I acquired SystemicLogic, a global financial innovation, and technology disruptor, in 2014.

I serve as an independent director on 3 company boards and I am chair of the board at my daughters’ school in Johannesburg where we do everything we can to empower girls and give them the skills to help them become leaders and entrepreneurs.

CE: Please expand on your time at Standard Bank Group and your remit as Director of Inclusive Banking.

AM: This was a very exciting time for me. I joined Standard Bank in April 2011 as Director for Banking and Lending Products and progressed to Head of Inclusive Banking.

In my role as director of banking and lending products, our team was responsible for migrating 3.5 million clients onto a consolidated SAP platform. This was a huge project and showed me how important the right tech and the right tech partner are, and how you always need to keep your tech updated.

As head of inclusive banking, I was responsible for providing banking services to communities to enable financial inclusion, for around 7 million customers. This included developing accessible products. When you don’t have access to financial products, it is challenging to find capital to start a business, even a small one, and deliver services to clients. Businesses without access to financial services spend too much time worrying about how they will pay their bills. Even a home loan, which can make a huge difference to a family, can be hard to access when you’re not in the banking system. When you build inclusive banking and reach more customers the whole economy benefits. You need to be innovative because traditional banking products often don’t work in this market. In 2013 my division was awarded the ‘2013 BAI-Finacle Global Banking Innovation Award’ for innovation in societal and community impact. At Standard Bank, I saw how important it is to have a financial services sector that offers more people efficient products that they can use anytime, anywhere – hence my passion for fintech!

CE: You have made a dramatic impact on what is still a male-dominated banking industry. What was your journey like and was the lack of diversity something you were ever concerned about?

AM: I am always concerned about the lack of diversity because it prevents us from delivering a really good product and really connecting with our customers. The same thing, people and ideas, every day reduces our ability to learn new things and think of new ways of doing things. It is so critical to always listen and learn from others who have different ideas.

It’s also important to have a broad view of business, even if you are a specialist. My experience spans various business domains including group strategy, talent design, marketing, and communications strategy, integrated with strong corporate relationship management. I might be passionate about fintech, but I made sure I understood the different areas of business so I could have a complete picture. This helped me enormously because I can connect with people on many different levels. It is something you get better at with time, there is no substitute for experience. But that doesn’t mean you need to be quiet while you are learning and gaining the experience. I either expressed my opinion or asked questions and looked for people I could connect with and learn from. It isn’t always easy to disagree when you are in a minority in the boardroom. But if we want a more diverse and inclusive financial services world we have to persevere and share our ideas.

I left home to study overseas in Canada when I was young, so I learned to be independent and confident as a student. I carried this through to business. Making a difference is really important to me – I couldn’t achieve it by being silent or sitting on the sidelines, even if it was sometimes uncomfortable.

CE: What particular challenges have you faced as a woman in banking and fintech? How do you handle or overcome these challenges?

AM: Very noticeably, women are still under-represented and outnumbered. Not enough women have access to financial products and services and at higher levels, women’s representation in banking is well under 50%. This is a problem because it means we have a system that is still biased towards men, particularly in the traditional banking environment. Sadly, this means when you do speak out you are not always taken seriously – as I have experienced.

In fintech, it isn’t as bad, but there isn’t enough focus on including women in the fintech industry and making sure women benefit from fintech products – which are so suited to bringing more people into financial services.

Networking, which women are starting to do more of, is a great way to support each other and build a more inclusive system. I have always built networks where women can support each other in business and am a former board member at the Nordic Female Business Angel Network, where we focused on building women entrepreneurs and startups.

We are starting to see a lot more mentoring of women and networking, which will grow more women in financial services and fintech. Tech was initially a man’s world – if we think back to the early 2000s and of course the Silicon Valley success stories. Women are doing great things on the ground in fintech, and there are leaders like Sheryl Sandberg in the space, we need to give them more credit, and when women do good things they need to take the credit. That means talking about the awards you receive and putting yourself out there to speak at conferences and mentor other women in the fintech space.

CE: Any advice for women hoping to build a successful career in fintech or establish their own fintech startup? 

AM: Do it! There is so much opportunity in the fintech space. We’re going to innovate differently in the future and need young, inspiring, and different innovators to show us how.

1. You need a good idea, some backing, and good networking skills so you can sell your idea.

2. Research your idea, develop a plan, and make it known how it is your idea will make you money.

3. Support from friends and family is nice, but don’t worry if they are too skeptical or say it is risky – fintech success comes from taking some risk, not none.

4. Look for networks of other fintech startups and women in fintech. Chat to them, ask them what worked and how, copy what you need to, innovate the rest. And partner up if it makes sense.

5. Tweak and tweak and tweak some more. You won’t know what works well and what doesn’t work well upfront. Be agile and flexible and willing to change. Change what you need to until you’ve got what you and other people want.

6. Remember fintech knows no boundaries – your world is the world – your world is not only your country or continent.

7. Rethink or banish the word failure. If something doesn’t work it isn’t a failure – it is an idea for another time and place. We spend far too much time worrying about will I fail rather than looking for ways to succeed. Stats that tell you the majority of startups fail don’t capture what fintech startups are about. They are about finding and trying new ideas, not just doing one thing and abandoning everything if that one thing doesn’t work.

8. Have confidence in yourself and your idea.

9. Always keep the focus on your customers and connect with them often.

10 Never stop learning.

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