Continuing with our IWD 2019 “Women in Tech” series, we sat down with Emma Alley, Head of Strategy & Financial Planning at Moneycorp, to discuss her thoughts on the changes within diversity throughout her successful career and what she has learnt on her journey so far. Let’s hear her insight into the tech sector…
What first attracted you to pursuing a career within the tech industry?
To be honest, I kind of landed into the tech industry as it wasn’t an industry I actively pursued. I started off my career as a stockbroker, investing for high net worth clients in a range of asset classes. It was there that I started my understanding of businesses and their financials and I had the desire to want to learn more. I decided to switch careers after 6 years stockbroking to study for my Chartered Accountant exams and I joined KPMG as a graduate trainee (but with a bit more experience than usual). I was lucky enough to join the Transaction Services department of KPMG where I learned every aspect of a company’s financials, breaking them down and rebuilding them. After four years there I then moved over to London and worked for a PLC which I enjoyed, however it wasn’t providing the pace of change that I wanted. I was then approached for this role at Moneycorp, and met with the CFOO (Chief Financial Operating Officer) Nick Haslehurst. I loved his passion for the role, his ambition for the company and the vision he had to drive it forward. He came from a payment and FX back ground so I knew I could learn a lot from him. I decided to work here for a year to learn as much as I could about the business, working as hard as I could to insert myself in to many areas of the business and learning about payments, FX and retail. I loved it so much however, I haven’t left, which has allowed me to get into the role I am in today.
During your career, what changes have you seen within the industry?
My own experience of the industry is reflective of the six years I’ve had at Moneycorp. Since the start, it has constantly evolved and changed. When I joined, it was a predominantly retail business, focused on a face to face, cash to cash business, but over time, in line with the dynamic changes in the fx and payments space, it has evolved into a company focused on international payments and foreign exchange, with a predominantly online customer journey, focused on ease of use and simplicity.
The pace of change over the last few years has been phenomenal, which has been driven by the customer. It’s about trying to keep up with the technological development to satisfy our customers’ needs. Our priority has always been taking business off the banks as opposed to trying to directly compete with the ‘challengers’ that are coming into the market. If you start to go down that route you can very quickly have a race to the bottom on price, but to be profitable and grow as a business, you must balance revenue, price and service and the underlying proposition you are bringing to the customer at the end of the day.
How well do you think the tech industry is doing in improving gender diversity?
This is a tough question, as you can only really judge what your own company does. Values and improving gender diversity has to come from the top and we have a senior management team and HR department that constantly challenge gender diversity in our organisation and seek to make sure the playing field is level.
However, in my personal opinion, it shouldn’t be that you have to hire a woman; I think if you start to go down that road you won’t be necessarily hiring the right person for the role and that never ends well. I interview a lot of women and I am very pro hiring more women onto my team, but it really comes down to their expertise. It’s down to what that persons’ experience, ambition and their passion is when you look to hire. Passion for me is everything, as to work within a business that is so fast paced you have to really love what you do.
If you were in charge for the day what would be the first thing you would do to improve balance at work?
I think balance has to be driven by the individual; as a leader you want to see a better work life balance for every member of your team, but they have to be the ones who define the goals. I know I challenge my team constantly to think not only what they have to juggle within a day, but how they juggle it and how efficient they are at doing that. I don’t want to see my team in here late at night unless they have to do. I don’t really believe in it. I’ve done that myself in the past, where long days are the norm, but as I have gotten older and hopefully wiser in my career and maybe more confident, I just believe you can push yourself to find that balance. You do need to be very focused and very efficient in how you manage your day. Organisation is a large part of that. The perfect balance of work and life comes down to how you control and manage the environment around you; your team, your manager, your tasks, your personal activities.
As a manager, I love seeing the drive and the ambition from my team to get everything right, but you must push yourself to achieve this during the day. As much as I’d like to see that balance more, I definitely don’t want to stop the ambition. So coming back to the question, what I would do is challenge everyone to work smarter and faster. Organisation is key!
During your career, what hurdles did you encounter and what did you learn from them?
In my first job I was one of the only women on a trading floor of men and it was a very aggressive environment, which makes you build a strong back bone quickly. It makes you quite hard actually, I look back at the person I was at the time and I don’t necessarily love who I became. I think careers and the environment that you work in can change you as a person and you don’t really realise this until you step away. You have to challenge yourself. And in your 20s, I truly believe you should try everything and challenge yourself to constantly change. I believe in loving what you do, which I appreciate can be a privilege in a way, as not everyone gets to do what they love and it does take courage to leave when you’re unhappy in something. I went from earning a very good salary for my age in my first job to earning a graduate salary at KMPG – that was definitely a hurdle, but one which made me appreciate the value of having a good support system around me through family and friends. When I moved to London, a new hurdle that I faced was that every recruiter saw me as a newly qualified accountant even though I had six years’ prior experience. I overcame that challenge by believing in myself and my ability and not settling for less, it was about getting my voice heard. I think this is a huge hurdle that many women come across, having the confidence to be heard, showing your assertiveness and making sure that people value what you bring to the table. Men may appear to be more natural at this, but I have learned over time, it really is about that perceived confidence, and when it’s there, women are treated no different to men.
I think it’s really important for women to make sure they have a voice, whether that’s in a discussion about pay, seniority level or ability. And to do this, you have to believe in yourself, your ability and find that confidence to have your voice heard.
What is it you enjoy most about your role?
I love the pace and I love that it is so diverse. I am incredibly lucky that I am in a role that has grown every year I have been here and currently it allows me to combine commercial analysis, due diligence, strategy and project management. I have an incredibly supportive CFOO and a role that allows me that depth and breadth across the entire business. We have all worked hard as a team for the business to achieve incredible growth over the last few years. It’s a privileged position when you get to do a role that combines so many different projects that your mind is constantly challenged. I love that every day is different.
Finally, what advice would you give to a woman who is looking to move into tech?
I would say that you need to research your market and know the skills you are bringing to the table. When looking at job descriptions I think it is important that you have a list of what your strengths are and what you are going to contribute to the team; and also knowing what you need to improve on. I don’t think you necessarily need a tech back ground; people are often scared off that they don’t have a background in the industry. I didn’t know anything about FX or payments when I started, but it didn’t matter. You quickly learn! It’s important to remember that when you have a finance background, you are in a very unique and lucky position, because you can work within any industry. As long as you are good at what you do and you have that understanding of how businesses and P&Ls work, you can apply for anything! Research helps, you need to research the company and ensure you can be passionate about the role and the sector, as well as a high level overview of what the market is doing. It’s all about your energy, confidence in your ability and the passion for what you want to do.
Finally, it’s also about finding the right boss and team, that is hugely important, for whatever industry you choose.
Emma Alley is Head of Strategy and Financial Planning at Moneycorp (www.moneycorp.com). She is an experienced commercial and financial professional and has been working in the fin-tech industry for the last 6 years. Prior to this she worked for KPMG in Transaction Services. She is a Chartered Accountant and holds an MA in Economics and Econometrics from University College Dublin, and a BA in Business and Economics from Trinity College Dublin.