“Teach STEM from an early age” for equality in fintech
Aleksandra Gren chats to InsurTech Rising about her focus on making a success story out of fintech around the world. Today, she is strategic sales, country manager at Fiserv and Fortune Most Powerful Women US Mentoring Program Alumna. How does she think the fintech space will adapt as a more gender-equal environment, and how should we promote women in tech?
Aleksandra (Aleks) Gren is a Country Manager for Fiserv International, part of global financial technology company Fiserv. She has nearly 20 years of experience in the financial technology sector in EMEA. Her current responsibilities include organizing, structuring and leading new technology initiatives for major EMEA-based financial institutions, with a focus on Central and Eastern Europe (CEE).
How did you start your career?
I started my career in banking at 23 after I graduated from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, with a degree in international relations. As I quickly realised that technology has a huge role in how things are run in the world of banking, I joined a fast growing US technology company expanding its outreach in Europe and the Middle East. There, I saw first hand the continuing fusion of banking and technology in a number of economies around the world.
What sparked your interest in fintech?
From my experience of working in various countries, I saw how similar the challenges in banking were when it came to technology. In the mid-1990s, technology and business departments within a typical bank didn’t talk to each other. As consumer-originated technologies started affecting the enterprise sector, business and technology began to realise how they need each other to be successful. Today, most financial services’ CEOs acknowledge that running a bank is like running a big technology company which happens to be in banking.
What was your lightbulb moment?
I don’t think there was necessarily a “lightbulb moment”. Different regions around the world embraced change differently. For example, some banks in Asia and Central Europe benefitted from the leap frogging effect and went from very little computerisation in early 1990s, straight to full digitisation today. They skipped cheques, implemented instant payments and designed new business models by leveraging the newest technologies from the start. The technology journey for banks in the developed economies of Western Europe and North America has been more evolutionary.
What inspires you?
People are my biggest inspiration. I believe strongly in the power of the individual. We as individuals are not powerless; people on their own can do great things and make positive changes in the world, even if it is through small steps. I was always inspired by personal stories of great leaders and very early on developed a belief that every person matters and can contribute. I always believed that it is important to motivate people to tap into their inner potential. In my opinion, the key measure of leadership is how effectively the leader is able to build talent around them. Do they listen to the people closest to the battle field, who test management’s strategies first hand? For me the biggest source of insights are always conversations with the front-line people in any business.
Why is the #WomenInTech movement important?
With the onset of artificial intelligence (AI), bots and virtual reality (VR), we are witnessing a shortage of data science skills. Various sources refer to vacancies counted into millions in the data science fields around the world by 2020. It is important that STEM skills are taught from a very young age and that STEM becomes a key priority for domestic digital agendas.
For me, the #WomenInTech movement is very important as women represent 50% of society. They have extra responsibilities assigned to their roles, which should mean more investment, more recognition and more support at a state and corporate level. The #WomenInTech awareness and programs also have the power to capture the mindset of young girls before college years. Women need to be taught the STEM skills needed at primary school, as it will help them to perform in future digital industries and succeed in the workplace. There are certainly some excellent schemes out there at the moment, but we still have a little way to go to capture girl’s imaginations at a very young age.
What piece of advice would you give women starting their careers in fintech?
Always keep learning – from people around you, the industry and changes in technology. Stay curious and open minded. It is important for women to step outside of their comfort zone and keep pushing for more – take a computer course, learn to code, do something you wouldn’t normally do. I would also say that women need to believe in themselves and know that their voice matters and that can drive innovation and change in the industry.