In celebration of International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, I am proud to launch the Devil Wears Technology Blog. #Bossladies wear a lot more than clothes. We wear toughness, skills, creativity, emotions and intelligence…to name a few.
I am elated to be promoting a platform where women, can hear and share from each other. Learn and become empowered by women of diverse backgrounds and cultures who are and have established themselves in the banking, financial services and technology industries.
We ALL have a story to share. This blog is about discovering each other’s heritage, history, how we got started in the work life, for some of us it’s about how we mesh mommy life and work life, common interests and even common obstacles.
My first blog features an interview with Maria Mancuso, Founder of Fintech Americas.
Enjoy, Embrace and Empower!
“I believe women must embrace risk if we are to continue populating the highest levels of business ….that is, without risk, there is no reward. Risk is part of the game and the fun, I like to look at risk more as a challenge!“ – Maria Mancuso
Co-Founder, Fintech Americas
What were the experiences growing up that shaped who you are today?
I recall my mother’s unwavering support in my journey, as she would wait up for me every day at Midnight as I would arrive after a long day of working full time at JP Morgan and attending Law School throughout the morning and evening. Even though I would be exhausted and sometimes overwhelmed, she always believed in me and encouraged me to continue working hard and pushing forward. It was this support, coupled with the day-to-day example of my father’s seemingly interminable work ethic that propelled me to where I am today.
Did college play a formative role in your career?
For sure it did! Arriving in Austin, Texas from Buenos Aires to my college degree at the University of Texas was the culmination of an extraordinary effort that led to the opening of a whole array of new experiences and opportunities. Meeting, studying and getting to know people from all over the world provided me with a whole new perspective that has shaped my professional and personal world to this day
Can you tell us a bit about your career in the financial services industry?
Actually, the vast majority of my professional life has been in and around the financial services industry. I started my career at JP Morgan in Argentina where I got my first taste of the world of high finance. After law school and a stint at the law firm of Baker McKenzie, I went to work for Citi, first in Argentina and later on in a regional position in Miami for the Latin American and the Caribbean region.
When I started at Citi in Argentina, my first job was to manage the Documentation team of the Credit Administration Unit in the Corporate Bank. This was a back office position that gave me an amazing insight into how a global bank operates. It also allowed me to understand and experience the work flow processes that today are all being automated in the current “fintech” wave of disruption that is transforming banks. For example, credit approvals at the time would require paper documents having to be hand delivered to lending decision makers two floors above, a process that could take sometimes days and which today can be executed in minutes! I also got to see Citi’s first foray into internet banking with the formation of the Bank’s “Internet Group Dream Team” that was created under the premise that every household would have access to a computer… while this effort did not succeed as it was still too early, it did allow me to begin understanding the direction that banking would ultimately be heading. Shorty thereafter, Argentina plunged into a devastating financial crisis, I was moved to head the Argentina Public Affairs office. Needless to say, when your first day on the job starts with a riot in your headquarters, you know that it is going to be a challenging (and interesting!) job. This led to me being promoted to Miami, Florida to take on a Regional Communications role in Citi’s Latin America and Caribbean Headquarters.
The path through the different sectors provided me with a unique understanding of the banking business and working for multiple business areas provided me with a good understanding of the banking business that I still leverage every day.
What are some of the more risky career moves you've made that really paid off? How did they pay off and what would have happened if you were more risk averse?
As I reflect on my career, I recall my taking on assignments outside of my comfort zone and embracing opportunities that were just too good to pass up – risk be damned! I found great exhilaration in the challenge of pushing myself forward – just like my mother encouraged me to do!
However, by far the riskiest “risky” or “courageous” professional decision I have faced was when I decided to venture out into my own business. I partnered with Ray Ruga, a fellow Citi Colleague, to create a Financial Communications firm specializing in the Americas which has throughout the years, evolved into the Bank Transformation and Innovation business we lead today.
This career move, which was a quantum leap jump from the structured corporate world to the fast moving and unstructured entrepreneurial world has been an incredible and rewarding ride!
I believe women must embrace risk if we are to continue populating the highest levels of business…. that is, without risk, there is no reward. Risk is part of the game and the fun, I like to look at risk more as a challenge!
How have you seen the banking industry change over the years?
As I pointed to earlier, I have had a front row seat to the disruption transforming the banking industry. The emergence of the internet and the ubiquity of personal computers has positioned technology at the forefront of the banking industry. The introduction of the smartphone in 2007 heralded in a new era, opening an entirely new front in the banking sector, one that has led to a wave of new competition from startups that is upending the way consumers interact with banking. This challenge is forcing banks and other FI’s to face a new market paradigm that is requiring them to change the way they operate and compete – sometimes in ways that are "outside of their comfort zones."
What are the three trends in banking that you are personally watching?
Banking is in the midst of a transformative wave of disruption. While there are many trends I am following, the top 3 trends I am following are:
- The increasing automation of traditional banking functions, such as account opening, lending, reg-tech and its impact on competitiveness and efficiency;
- The growing importance of design and customer-experience (CX) for banking products, solutions and interfaces;
- The impact of artificial intelligence (AI) and Blockchain on banking. While it is still early, it is clear that these two categories will have a profound effect on the industry. There is tremendous excitement and anticipation in the space and what it could mean to the way banking operates.
What advice would you provide for [women] who are looking to take on leadership roles in the financial services industry?
Women (and men too!) must deepen their understanding of the trends reshaping the industry and the different strategies and technologies they will need to implement and operate to be competitive in today’s disruptive environment. Today, it is not enough to know finance or banking; having a working understanding of technologies that automate work processes, increase the speed of the service and enhance the CX will be critical for emerging financial services leaders. Believe it is a great time to be in the financial services industry and ripe and utilize all that technology has to offer. I cannot think of a similar time where there was so many opportunities to re-invent your job and position.
How do you mentor or empower women (or people in general) in your workplace?
I mentor them by bringing them into the process, pointing them in the direction of change that I’m seeing in the industry, encouraging them to immerse themselves in understanding the trends disrupting the business and giving them an opportunity to compete with their ideas and work ethic. Many women reach out to me as per career path and how they have to reposition themselves when going for an interview. If within my area of expertise, I gladly do it!
What magazines or books have you read lately?
Besides reading a lot of industry white papers on digital transformation, I will tell you that I just re-read my favorite book of all time, “The Fountainhead” by Ayn Rand. The Book speaks to me as it is dedicated to the inspiring power of the human spirit and the principles of rationality, independence, integrity, purpose, pride and self-esteem and its ability to achieve health, happiness and success. Needless to say, these are principles that I strive for everyday!
What do you do in your spare time? OR What activities reinvigorate and re-energize you?
I try to make the most of the weekend and enjoy it with my husband. However, as an entrepreneur, I’m “always” looking to sneak in some work time in the weekends. Sports are a very important part of my life as they keep me physically and spiritually energized. Spinning and aerobics are my “must-go-to” classes during the weekend. Our bird feeder has become an unexpected source of disconnection and tranquility, helping me connect to nature. It is a source of great fun and distraction as it has attracted a whole community of animals, not only blue jays and redheaded woodpeckers but also squirrels and a bright green lizard. Elliptical for the weekdays, work permitting, and a little tennis for a relaxed Friday night. A quite active social life, friends and weekend escapes certainly add to the mix!
What is your next big project?
The upcoming 5th Edition of Fintech Americas has a lot of my attention! Fintech Americas is a financial innovation and transformation conference focused on helping banks from Latin America and the Caribbean transform into agile, technology and data-driven organizations that effectively compete and collaborate with fintechs. This Conference is taking place September 6 & 7 at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach.
Its US sister, Fintech America, a series of eight (8) one-day educational seminars taking place in strategically selected cities throughout the United States for Community Banks and Credit Unions, also add to the mix!