Director at Sapient Global Markets
London, United Kingdom
Can you please provide an overview of your role at Sapient?
I work within our transformation and strategy capability, working with organisations embarking on their journey of digital transformation to unlock customer value.
How did the experience of growing up in Athens shape your career choices?
Athens in the 80s & 90s was a bubble. It was new then and gone now but, for a time, Athens was cosmopolitan but safe, exciting but accessible. If we were a backwater, we didn’t know it. Nothing felt impossible. I grew up in ‘inner city Athens’. Tiny apartment in a high rise. Cockroaches and a single tree across street. But there were 4 theatres at the end of my street and more than 50 dotted around Athens. And the ticket was the price of a milkshake. Golden blue-flag beaches were a bus ride away and I could see the Acropolis from my grandmother’s window. And at every dinner table people fighting about politics, art and football as if the fate of modern civilisation was hanging in the balance. You don’t come out of that without being intense. About everything. And distrusting anyone who says things have to be a certain way, and no other.
You mentioned your mother “is a legend”. What type of role model was she for you?
My mother had a life of few options and hard choices and was determined that I would have plenty of both, whatever the cost, which was considerable for her. Both in terms of how she deployed limited resources and how she lived her life after her divorce when I was very young. The cost to me was simply relentless learning. Music, art, languages, sport, travel, experiences. How will you know what you are good at, unless you try?
My commitment to her was two fold: I would ‘lock in’ the qualifications (language certificates, good school grades) to secure each step towards financial middle class independence, something she always longed for herself. And I would never say die. I never had the time to think anything was too big or too far. I was too busy getting there.
Why did you decide to go to university in the UK and how did you go from the inner city of Athens to Cambridge?
My mother told me to!
When it came to figuring out what to do after school, everyone in my extended family had an opinion. As the first woman in my ‘line’ to have the chance to go to university, it was an interesting exercise in inter-generational transference of dreams and the pressure to go into the professions was huge. When I dropped the bombshell that I was going to study the evolution of political thought and systems of social organisation, and was contemplating leaving the country to do so, the family was in uproar, equally incensed by my chosen field of study and the abandonment of the patria. My mother was the only supportive voice. You study what you like. You do what you wish. But aim for the top otherwise what’s the point? I gave a formulaic answer along the lines of ‘I will do my best’ thinking this was motivational pep talk. I should have known better. ‘You are going to Cambridge’. So I did.
You initially studied Political Science. How did you end up working in Financial Services?
I studied political philosophy and the history of political thought as an undergraduate and state development for my MSc then went on to do a PhD in legitimising radical reform (working on the rise of public Islam in the context of Turkey’s EU accession). My first job after academia was in defence, which doesn’t seem like a huge leap. The company I joined was pivoting away from traditional security (Gates, Guns and Gurkhas, as they delicately put it) to non-weapons defence technology and I worked on the acquisition and integration: not the systems, but the governments, clients, partners and employees that needed to understand and support the transformation. Building the story of how technology was bringing complex activity together in a holistic, seamless way was hugely inspiring but the industry was not for me. So I jumped into FinTech or, as we called it then, a small company selling technology services to a big company. I transitioned back from small to big but never straying from the design and implementation of solutions for clients of all shapes and sizes. Looking back the path makes sense although I will admit it is rather eclectic.
“Digital isn’t something you do.” What did you mean by this?
‘Digital’ is about human experiences and value chains re-imagined. ‘Digital’ is powered by technology, it is not reduced to it. I love tech for what it allows us to imagine and build. Every discussion around emergent technology should be a conversation about human potential and the value it unlocks.
What as your experience like establishing an innovation team for BNY Mellon?
It was an amazing journey.
I wore two innovation hats at BNY. I was EMEA head of innovation, a culture change and intrapreneurship initiative, and I set up and headed the EMEA innovation lab, focusing on delivering value through client co-creation and three-way prototyping with clients and startups. As this was taking place within the context of a meaningful technology transformation, I had an incredible end to end view of the business and the market with real freedom to deliver creative solutions. Leaving was an extremely hard decision but the right one: after years of building momentum and a portfolio of success, I wanted to maintain the same pace and intensity at a systemic level, so joining Sapient to work on large scale digital transformation was a fantastic opportunity for me.
“I’m constantly holding a magic marker.” What were you inferring with this comment?
It’s human nature: when something grabs your imagination, the first thing you say is ‘show me’. To tell, is never enough.
In any conversation we have, half the content is a set of unspoken assumptions. Starting points, constraints, conceptions of purpose. ‘Unspoken’ remains ‘unquestioned’ and often becomes ‘misunderstood’ or ‘misrepresented’. So we go round in circles of ever-tightening constraint and abstraction which in service design and technology terms mean we could be ‘leaking value’ like crazy. If you tell the whole story, the dynamic changes. If you start sketching it out, missing parts and vague ‘therefores’ are thrown up in sharp relief. ‘where do we begin’? ‘what is that for?’ ‘how does it work’?
It’s been said by many in FinTech that the banks sit on a wealth of customer data, that Big Data is their holy grail. Do you agree with this assessment?
There is immense value to be unlocked from becoming more customer-centric. Banks have a substantial and meaningful runway ahead of them in leveraging their wealth of available data to derive customer-centric insight and value. Extracting value from a wealth of structured and unstructured data, however, is not as much a technical problem, as a business problem. Technical heavy lifting will undeniably be needed to get you from having a ‘data lake’ to being a data-driven organisation but fundamentally: saying ‘there are 10,000 species of snake in the world’ is data; ‘there’s one under your seat’ is information; ‘it is asleep right now, so you can get up and walk away’ is actionable insight.
You need data for it, but the value is identifying what decisions need to be made and when, and which elements in your data store would be valuable towards that decision-making.
Getting to that is a journey: it doesn’t start with data, it starts with a sense of business purpose but it is fuelled by data – and the more exposure to information one has, the smarter the questions they ask of it get. Banks have scores of untapped stores of data. But this is not a data strategy strategy conversation. It is one about customer centricity.
Why did you decide to accept a position at Sapient? What excites you most about your role?
Sapient is that rarest of animals: a ‘digital native’. They can have an ‘authentically digital’ conversation because they are both authentically digital and authentic in their digital proposition. They know business transformation. In a holistic, connected world of boundless possibility, they are the only show in town that has everything needed for the journey in one toolbox. For sapient, digital is not a side show or an afterthought. They don’t have to learn it. Explorers in unknown lands seek native guides to negotiate their passing. Sapient are among the few digitally native veterans around. How could I resist?
Who(m) do you believe has had the most influence with respect to your own career (outside of your mother of course)?
My grandfather taught me that in life you don’t choose what you do in each situation, you choose who you are in every situation. It is harder, but simpler. And there is no space for moral reductionism.
Teaching at the London School of Economics taught me that until you can explain something to a room full of people who are smarter than you, you don’t understand it.
And my old boss Virun taught me that bringing your whole self to work is not only ok, it actually makes for a better day and a better life.
Who do you consider to be strong women leaders in the FinTech space?
You have had an incredible line up of women already, many of whom I am lucky to call friends and part of my FinTech Family. Trying to avoid referencing the ladies who have already graced our screens, I would also call out Kim Joyce, Diane Paredes,and Julie Meyer as three who teach me something every time I meet them.
What do you see as the 3 leading future trends for FinTech?
I believe in a connected world, bringing the user/consumer to the centre of the value generation landscape. Customer centricity is key. Around that, I see IoT connectivity and ‘non-participatory assent’ rapidly emerging as part of the connected experience. I see identity protection, encryption and identity objects as assets soon dominating the conversation. And I see value chain simplification as technology allows us to focus on ‘why’ – and to leave quite a lot of overhead behind.
© 2015 | FemTech Leaders