In this week’s interview it’s the turn of a woman whose career boasts a number of ‘firsts’ in the fintech sector.
Originally a commercial banker, Helene Panzarino is the Director for the Centre for Digital Banking and Finance in The London Institute of Banking & Finance (LIBF), part of the Vacuumlabs Community Bank team.
She is an experienced fintech programmer director, exited entrepreneur, educator and author. As mentioned above, her career has seen a variety of ‘firsts’, including the FinTech Scale Programme for Rainmaking, the Inaugural Programme of Education and Events for Innovate Finance, the FinTech Entrepreneurship Masters for UCL, and the FinTech/Digital Bank Executive Education Programme for Imperial College Business School.
Her book Reinventing Banking and Finance: Frameworks to Navigate Global Fintech Innovation, was the no. 1 banking book for 2021 by Investopedia.
How and where did you start your career in fintech?
Having started in correspondent banking, then leading a software house, you could say I had the ‘fin’ and added the ‘tech’, so I started on the journey in the late 1990s. My more formal and daily dive into fintech started during my time at Grant Thornton, where I was working with high growth tech businesses to help them access funding, sharing my extensive SME network. Funding Circle, Syndicate Room, MarketInvoice, as it was then, CodeInvest, et al, were all launching and it was a perfectly symbiotic relationship that continues to this day. The next few years saw me establish events and education for Innovate Finance, create Masters courses in fintech, and create the first Fintech–Bank Scale programme for Rainmaking, which set the benchmark for genuine commercial engagement between banks and scaling fintechs. I am currently part of the solutions house Vacuumlabs, with special brief for fintechs and community banks, and the Subject Matter Expert in fintech for LIBF, so one foot in each camp of academia and industry.
Are there any women in tech (or fintech) that have particularly inspired you?
Prof Dame Sue Black – She overcame adversity and gives so much to educate, inspire and support others – men and women. Her book Saving Bletchley Park, chronicling this important piece of history and the role that social media played in saving it for future generations. Makes tech exciting!
Duena Blomstrom – CEO of People Not Tech – One of the most genuine and creative thinkers in fintech and beyond. Duena has a 360 degree view on how teams and tech can co-exist and she delivers on the promise. She is also a genuine advocate for other women in fintech.
What’s the most pressing issue for women in fintech today?
You might expect me to say more tech upskilling, more roles on Boards, which are both necessary as so many roles – tech and non-tech – require an understanding of the tech, and so many Boards lack representation that reflects an enormous customer segment and diverse approaches to leadership challenges and solutions. However, I consider the most pressing issue to be to start ‘walking the talk’ when it comes to leaning in, supporting, advocating and so on. I make no secret of the fact that my experience and observation is that there is much more talk about this than actual walk, and as a woman, I find it disturbing and concerning. The whole is more important than the parts for me when it comes to this topic, and the collective good has to come before individual if we are to make progress and achieve equality. To do this effectively, women need to have a strong sense of self and self-awareness to enable sharing and advocating, and perhaps this is the area for improvement. On more than one occasion I’ve heard fintech referred to as a ‘viper’s nest’, and although this is by no means limited to the women in fintech, it’s not a good place to be and everyone has a responsibility to change it and create a more win-win environment.
What advice would you give to women looking to get into fintech?
Have a frank conversation with yourself and be honest as to what you want to get from getting into fintech, and then find opportunities to fit your brief.
Get a solid network – the ‘who you know’ is key to successfully navigating the fintech space.
Don’t be dazzled and taken in in by the hype in the headlines, social media, lists, etc. Do your due diligence on people and companies.
Look to the more experienced members of the fintech community for advocacy and advice. There is so much to share, learn from them, but make sure you treat them with respect and try to make relationships give and take. You haven’t got the right to anyone’s time unless they are your direct reporting line so don’t come with expectations.
Find a systematic way to keep on learning, newsletters, short courses, podcasts, etc. because it’s a rapidly changing and rapidly paced industry and can feel overwhelming as regards info overload.
How do you think fintech solutions can help advance women’s financial health?
Financial education to give you confidence with accessing and understanding products and services.
Investing in what matters to them, achieving life goals using fintech tools to support savings, investment, purchases and later life planning.
Founding or having a stake in a fintech that does well, teaches you life and business lessons, or working with those who empower you in roles in their companies.
The previous fintech-themed interview with Helen Child, Founder of Open Banking Excellence, can be found here.