We sat down with Stephanie Balint, Head of U.S. Strategy & Operations with N26 Inc. in New York, to talk about her experience in the fintech industry, and the continued evolution of technology to solve old and new problems for consumers, and create new opportunities we have yet to think of.
How you get involved in fintech?
Stephanie Balint: I got involved with fintech very early on in my career. Right out of college, I started working in investment banking, and one of my first areas of coverage was fintech, which included players within market structure, exchanges, trading, and technology platforms. By covering that space, I learned a lot about the industry, and eventually moved on to work for a fintech company because I wanted an opportunity to have direct impact in day-to-day operations and scaling fintech businesses. One of the reasons this industry stood out to me is because of the unique aspects of the business models; unlike consumer retail businesses, fintechs are less subject to short-term trends and the whims of consumer demand, and have higher margins and therefore more scalable and profitable economics.
How have you seen the industry change across your career?
Balint: I have seen the industry change immensely over the past 10+ years. When I was first getting started in 2009, there was much more of a focus on established and mature companies who were utilizing older, legacy tech stacks and serving traditional financial institutions, but starting to do so in more tech-forward ways. Over time, I saw an evolution begin to take place with lots of new entrants in the space trying to better serve retail and commercial customer needs by replacing legacy tech. It was incredible to see so many talented people, who had previously worked at older financial institutions, come back to identify a problem in the space and propose new solutions that would eventually improve financial services as a whole and bring it into the modern age.
There have been so many interesting companies founded over the past 10+ years. Many of the small fintech concepts I was watching during my banking career have grown significantly, including neobanking. This was a category that was barely considered or on the radar, and now is its own massive category within fintech – with no signs of slowing down. Q2 2021 was the largest quarter on record for fintech with nearly $31B invested worldwide across 657 deals.
Some of the innovations I’m most excited about are around what I call the “plumbing” of financial services. Things like enabling faster payments, like ACH payments, foreign money transfer, and trade settlements. A lot of companies – like Plaid, Orum, or Wise – have already brought forth incredible solutions. Behind the scenes, as a consumer, you would never know what is driving your ability to get money faster or facilitate complex transactions.
Can you tell us a bit about your current role? How is your company impacting the future of fintech?
Balint: In my current role, I am the interim GM of N26 US. With that, I oversee our operations in the U.S. market, focusing primarily on the strategic and operational side of things. This includes working closely with our legal and compliance team to manage critical business partners, selecting new partners, and overseeing customer service and banking operations. A large part of my role is creating a shared strategic vision for the entity to work towards, as well as developing roadmaps and long, medium, and short term goals to achieve our vision in the U.S.
Where do you see fintech heading in the next 12 months?
Balint: There is a very strong appetite from investors who are trying to find the interesting companies that will rise to the top. I believe there is still a huge opportunity in the “plumbing” side of financial services, particularly with B2B businesses who are working to do things like speed up payments, improve infrastructure, and provide solutions to help globalize money movement. Generally, these businesses are working to bring financial services into the 21st century and it’s fascinating to be a part of this evolution.
What more do you think can be done to support women in fintech?
Balint: At an entrepreneurial level, I think foundational change needs to occur. Encouraging female founders by providing access to capital is essential to helping generate a more diverse fintech startup economy. The issue is that historically women have been underrepresented within VC investing. There are generally not many women in VC investing, compounded by not enough representation and funding of women at a founding level, which in turn leads to underrepresentation of women in fintech across all levels over time.
Within startups, I think it’s important that leaders take steps early on to build out a team that ensures diversity across all facets of the business. Seeking individuals with various social and economic backgrounds will ultimately contribute to a stronger and more inclusive product and diversity of thought within and across teams.
For individuals, I think having strong mentorship from other influential leaders is key to building a strong supportive network that will pay dividends throughout your career.
Where did you find support in the fintech world?
Balint: I had a lot of support early on in banking. As the only revenue-generating female senior managing director, and the only one in an advisory role leading fintech as a practice, my mentor in investment banking took a keen interest in me and helped me to build my network and coverage area to do things earlier in my career than I would have been able to on my own.
Once I moved directly into fintech, I found most of my support from other peers, not necessarily women. Especially at N26, many of the early employees at the company were like-minded and we found similar comradery in terms of drive, motivation, intellect, and general interest in how to navigate a small and growing organization, think critically about things, handle tough negotiations, optimize contracts for best possible terms, and build the team. I found that support from early employees who had gone through it together with me incredibly valuable as I grew in my own career.
What advice would you give to women starting their careers in the industry now?
Balint: First, know your worth. Figure it out early and don’t be afraid to ask other people you know in the industry for comparisons/benchmarks. Demand the pay you deserve and don’t be afraid to negotiate.
Second, invest your money early and often. You may make the same salary as your peers, but if you don’t put your money to work, you’ll be left behind in the long term in terms of wealth creation.
Last, don’t be afraid to ask for things you want. I feel strongly about the “don’t ask don’t get” approach. Ask for a seat at the table, to be included in meetings, for someone to mentor you … what’s the worst that can happen? You can always move on from a rejection but you can never get back a missed opportunity.
Photo by Christina Morillo from Pexels
We sat down with Stephanie Balint, Head of U.S. Technique & Operations with N26 Inc. in New York, to speak about her expertise within the fintech business, and the continued evolution of expertise to resolve outdated and new issues for shoppers, and create new alternatives we’ve got but to consider.
The way you get entangled in fintech?
Stephanie Balint: I acquired concerned with fintech very early on in my profession. Proper out of school, I began working in funding banking, and one in all my first areas of protection was fintech, which included gamers inside market construction, exchanges, buying and selling, and expertise platforms. By overlaying that house, I realized rather a lot concerning the business, and finally moved on to work for a fintech firm as a result of I wished a chance to have direct impression in day-to-day operations and scaling fintech companies. One of many causes this business stood out to me is due to the distinctive points of the enterprise fashions; in contrast to client retail companies, fintechs are much less topic to short-term traits and the whims of client demand, and have greater margins and due to this fact extra scalable and worthwhile economics.
How have you ever seen the business change throughout your profession?
Balint: I’ve seen the business change immensely over the previous 10+ years. After I was first getting began in 2009, there was way more of a deal with established and mature firms who had been using older, legacy tech stacks and serving conventional monetary establishments, however beginning to take action in additional tech-forward methods. Over time, I noticed an evolution start to happen with a lot of new entrants within the house attempting to raised serve retail and business buyer wants by changing legacy tech. It was unimaginable to see so many proficient individuals, who had beforehand labored at older monetary establishments, come again to establish an issue within the house and suggest new options that might finally enhance monetary providers as a complete and convey it into the fashionable age.
There have been so many attention-grabbing firms based over the previous 10+ years. Lots of the small fintech ideas I used to be watching throughout my banking profession have grown considerably, together with neobanking. This was a class that was barely thought of or on the radar, and now could be its personal large class inside fintech – with no indicators of slowing down. Q2 2021 was the most important quarter on report for fintech with almost $31B invested worldwide throughout 657 offers.
A few of the improvements I’m most enthusiastic about are round what I name the “plumbing” of monetary providers. Issues like enabling quicker funds, like ACH funds, overseas cash switch, and commerce settlements. Quite a lot of firms – like Plaid, Orum, or Smart – have already introduced forth unimaginable options. Behind the scenes, as a client, you’d by no means know what’s driving your capacity to get cash quicker or facilitate advanced transactions.
Are you able to inform us a bit about your present function? How is your organization impacting the way forward for fintech?
Balint: In my present function, I’m the interim GM of N26 US. With that, I oversee our operations within the U.S. market, focusing totally on the strategic and operational facet of issues. This contains working intently with our authorized and compliance staff to handle important enterprise companions, deciding on new companions, and overseeing customer support and banking operations. A big a part of my function is making a shared strategic imaginative and prescient for the entity to work in direction of, in addition to growing roadmaps and lengthy, medium, and brief time period targets to realize our imaginative and prescient within the U.S.
The place do you see fintech heading within the subsequent 12 months?
Balint: There’s a very sturdy urge for food from traders who’re looking for the attention-grabbing firms that may rise to the highest. I imagine there’s nonetheless an enormous alternative within the “plumbing” facet of monetary providers, notably with B2B companies who’re working to do issues like pace up funds, enhance infrastructure, and supply options to assist globalize cash motion. Typically, these companies are working to carry monetary providers into the twenty first century and it’s fascinating to be part of this evolution.
What extra do you assume will be achieved to help girls in fintech?
Balint: At an entrepreneurial stage, I believe foundational change must happen. Encouraging feminine founders by offering entry to capital is crucial to serving to generate a extra various fintech startup financial system. The difficulty is that traditionally girls have been underrepresented inside VC investing. There are typically not many ladies in VC investing, compounded by not sufficient illustration and funding of girls at a founding stage, which in flip results in underrepresentation of girls in fintech throughout all ranges over time.
Inside startups, I believe it’s vital that leaders take steps early on to construct out a staff that ensures variety throughout all aspects of the enterprise. Looking for people with numerous social and financial backgrounds will finally contribute to a stronger and extra inclusive product and variety of thought inside and throughout groups.
For people, I believe having sturdy mentorship from different influential leaders is vital to constructing a powerful supportive community that may pay dividends all through your profession.
The place did you discover help within the fintech world?
Balint: I had lots of help early on in banking. As the one revenue-generating feminine senior managing director, and the one one in an advisory function main fintech as a apply, my mentor in funding banking took a eager curiosity in me and helped me to construct my community and protection space to do issues earlier in my profession than I’d have been capable of by myself.
As soon as I moved instantly into fintech, I discovered most of my help from different friends, not essentially girls. Particularly at N26, lots of the early staff on the firm had been like-minded and we discovered related comradery by way of drive, motivation, mind, and basic curiosity in methods to navigate a small and rising group, assume critically about issues, deal with robust negotiations, optimize contracts for very best phrases, and construct the staff. I discovered that help from early staff who had gone via it along with me extremely invaluable as I grew in my very own profession.
What recommendation would you give to girls beginning their careers within the business now?
Balint: First, know your value. Determine it out early and don’t be afraid to ask different individuals you recognize within the business for comparisons/benchmarks. Demand the pay you deserve and don’t be afraid to barter.
Second, make investments your cash early and sometimes. Chances are you’ll make the identical wage as your friends, however if you happen to don’t put your cash to work, you’ll be left behind in the long run by way of wealth creation.
Final, don’t be afraid to ask for belongings you need. I really feel strongly concerning the “don’t ask don’t get” method. Ask for a seat on the desk, to be included in conferences, for somebody to mentor you … what’s the worst that may occur? You’ll be able to at all times transfer on from a rejection however you may by no means get again a missed alternative.
Picture by Christina Morillo from Pexels