Hanna Zubko

Hanna Zubko

Co-Founder & VP of Business Development, IntellectEU Inc

New York City, New York

@hanna_intellect | LinkedIn Profile

What was your experience like growing up in the Ukraine, specifically concerning STEM studies?

Ukraine has a very powerful educational system for high level mathematics, computer science and engineering. Given that students start working as early as their first or second year of their bachelors’ degree program, a twenty year old university graduate in computer science is often considered a senior developer by clients in Europe and the US.  An early career start for software engineers is often necessary to pay for tuition which, in turn, helps build strong personalities with a laser focus and practical attitude to life.

Your parents are both engineers, yet you recall growing up ‘very poor’.  Do you find this contrast striking concerning the emphasis placed on engineering degrees today? 

In early 1990s after the collapse of Soviet Union, R&D and production facilities were closing down and engineers were not in demand. With 48 patents, my father had to start his own business in order to bring his patented ideas to life and feed the family. I still recall that even apples were a luxury for my family then. Despite challenges of Perestroika times, strong science and technology education created an excellent talent pool in Ukraine. Many Ukrainians looked outside to apply their talent; My Ukrainian friends that I grew up with live and work all over the world from Silicon Valley to Singapore. After the Revolution of Dignity in 2014, I observed the opposite trend. Many accomplished Ukrainians migrated back to Ukraine as the place of opportunity to apply their skills widened. For example, Lyuba Shipovich, who left her CTO role in New York City to make technology a transparency enabler in the Odessa Region of Ukraine. Today, the Odessa region of Ukraine adopts blockchain technology for holding online auctions for leasing and selling of state-owned property. Another example is Natalie Jaresko, an American-born Ukrainian investment banker who served as Ukraine’s Minister of Finance from 2014 till 2016.  

What prompted you to leave and live / work abroad?InterviewNotes

I always felt cosmopolite and was attracted to the idea to experience the world to the fullest. I am grateful to the US Department of State for sponsoring my education in the USA through the FLEX high school program and Global Village for Future Leaders of Business and Industry program at Lehigh University.

Today, through growing my business internationally, I strive not only to create workplaces in the US, Belgium, Ukraine, Portugal, Netherlands and Germany, where IntellectEU is currently active, but also help my colleagues to discover their full potential, explore the world and make their dreams come true.

What was your experience like in founding your own company?

I have always wanted to be an entrepreneur and start my own company. Once I set my mind on something, I am determined to make it happen. I became an entrepreneur at the age of 19 and have created five companies since then. IntellectEU is my primary focus right now. Even though there was no specific business plan, I took every opportunity that came my way. This combined with careful management and frugality brought initial successes that were inspiring enough to continue on that track. As the initial company grew, focusing on strategy and the business model became more important. Also, becoming increasingly responsible for more and more employees and their families adds a dimension to entrepreneurship. IntellectEU is fully self-financed and my business partner and I still retain 100% ownership. We keep reinvesting the profits into building our integration middleware software, hiring and training new employees.

Your company is highly focused on integration solutions for FI’s.  Why is this?

Financial Institutions have grown complex IT infrastructures over the last 40 years. It is not uncommon that a mid-sized bank may have a “zoo” of 50+ back office systems. Interoperability between those various systems and networks becomes more and more challenging. I believe that integration solutions along with standards can make interoperability a reality.

You’ve had the opportunity to work with both SWIFT and Ripple as an integration partner, basically both sides (old and new) of the payment rails.  What do you believe is the future path for payments?

I believe the future path for payments lays in industry collaboration. Both SWIFT and Ripple joined Linux Foundation’s Hyperledger project contributing their experience and technology to the benefit of the community. Ripple was the first company that made enterprise-ready solutions for global cross-border settlement for FI’s based on distributed ledger technology. Ripple is very focused and innovative. SWIFT has also recently published a whitepaper on distributed ledger technologies. SWIFT has an advantage of uniting 11000 FI’s in over 200 countries that they have collectively worked with for over 40 years.

“I’m passionate about standards.”  What do you mean by this?

For my company there is a huge opportunity in the movement of the industry towards standards.  IntellectEU was involved in the early development stages of the financial messaging standard, ISO20022, bringing the first testimonials at Sibos years ago. I strongly believe that standardization is the way to bring overall costs in the industry down. I am also excited that IntellectEU has joined Linux Foundation’s Hyperledger project as a founding member to advance Blockchain technology and contribute to the creation of the cross-industry open standard for distributed ledgers that can transform the way business transactions are conducted globally.

Who(m) do you believe has had the most influence with respect to your own career?  Why? 

I feel fortunate to have many mentors who supported me in my professional career. Initially my parents encouraged me to pursue my dreams. Then my business partner, Dirk Avau, with whom I have been working with for almost a decade. As a former IBM and Belgacom executive and a father of five, Dirk has endless patience to coach and give chances to young individuals. Dirk is also an advocate for gender equality which is reflected in our company’s hiring and promotion policies. Once IntellectEU became a SWIFT Business Partner for the United States in 2013, Fred Slavin from SWIFT has been mentoring me, which was very valuable given Fred’s previous 30 years of experience on various positions at Chase and willingness to share his wisdom.

Who do you consider to be strong women leaders in the FinTech space?

In the FinTech space, I would most certainly name Blythe Masters as a strong leader. I admire Blythe for her abilty to communicate complex concepts in a very comprehensive way. She was able to demonstrate impressive results throughout her career both at J.P.Morgan and now as CEO at Digital Asset Holdings, bringing distributed ledger technology on top of the agenda in many financial institutions and market infrastructures. Her success ranges from landing a deal with ASX to raising a $60mln investment round from a very desirable and balanced pool of investors. On top of that, she finds the time to be on the board of the Breast Cancer Reserach Foundation and the Global Fund for Women. She is truly an inspiring role model.

What do you see as the 3 leading future trends for FinTech?

Technology will bring new opportunities to make the global financial system more efficient.  Unfortunately, a lot of effort will have to be spent on fighting cybercrime, therefore cybersecurity and identity management will be in trend. Financial inclusion is also an important topic; Enabling more individuals participate in the financial system globally is a huge challenge where technology could help. Finally, making it all work together based on standards, and integrating it with existing legacy systems to make financial industry truly interoperable is a trend and an opportunity that our team is going after!

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