Chirine BenZaied-Bourgerie knows a thing or two about being a leading woman in the fintech industry. As the head of innovation at Finastra, a financial software platform serving banks across everything from retail banking to capital markets, she runs a dedicated innovation team and encourages Finastra's 10,000 employees to innovate.
BenZaied-Bourgerie now has a strategic role, but she didn't start her career in strategy. A graduate in quantitative finance from Panthéon-Sorbonne in Paris, she began her career as a quant before moving into the (sometimes dreaded) area of model validation and product management.
"I worked in financial engineering before moving into product," says BenZaied-Bourgerie. As a quant, she was already talking to clients and product management formalized the dynamic: "I became the intermediary between the client base and the engineering team. It was about speaking to clients and seeing what their needs were and building the roadmap."
For women in engineering and quantitative roles, product management can be a next career step. Anecdotally, there are more female product managers than quants and engineers, says, and BenZaied-Bourgerie suggests reasons for this: "Maybe it's the people focus and ability to understand both sides, and to balance what your engineers can do with what customers are asking for. We see some very successful women in product roles."
In the financial services industry, BenZaied-Bourgerie says it often helps for product managers to have a technical background. - It would have been difficult to build the model validation team for Finastra without this, given the regulatory and risk management complexities involved.
In her current role, BenZaied-Bourgerie says she's focused on three areas: "- Sustainable and inclusive finance, banking as a service, and DeFi."
Sustainable and inclusive finance covers everything from ESG and climate risk to financial inclusion. Banking as a service is about the distribution of banking services through non-financial players ("Everyone is a fintech now," reflects BenZaied-Bourgerie.) DeFi refers to the rise of decentralized finance and blockchains and a world where NFT's and crypto permeate everything: "What we really see coming is how this changes other areas like capital markets, trade finance, lending and payments," she adds.
Based out of the Paris office, which is currently undergoing building work, for the moment BenZaied-Bourgerie spends all her time working remotely from home. "Flexible working here is really flexible," she says. "We can go into the office whenever we want. Some people prefer to go in a lot; others only want to go in every few weeks."
BenZaied-Bourgerie says this style of working has worked well for both her and her husband, who's now around more often to take care of the children. Ultimately, the greater flexibility often available in fintech firms may help encourage more women into the industry. "We don't have enough women in the fintech space - it's generally about 30% and once you get to the C-Suite it's about 5-6%." Finastra is aiming for 50%, says BenZaied-Bourgerie, and is already at that proportion in her own innovation group.
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