In this exclusive interview, Titilola Shogaolu, Divisional CEO, Interswitch Financial Inclusion Services [IFIS] harped on the strength of women and urged that women should disassociate themselves from cultural barriers of believing that they are not equal to men; as such, cannot take initiative or forge ahead to improve themselves. Excerpt.
How crucial is your role to the growth and development of FinTech in Nigeria?
Fintech is the modern phrase for financial technology. Fintech companies are organizations that use technology to support or enable banking and financial services. These companies also find ways to seamlessly integrate the solutions into the lives of customers.
My role within Interswitch Financial Inclusion Services (IFIS) impacts majorly the unbanked, under banked and undeserved market segments. IFIS is leveraging technology to offer financial, non-financial, retail and social services at agent locations nationwide.
The agent business provides the opportunity to create empowered, engaged and profitable entrepreneurs (agents). Our agents are taught how to feed themselves and their family for a lifetime rather than depending on stipends from people.
Furthermore, as the agent network expands, financial services become readily accessible. This is core to the growth and development of the financial industry. Services such as account opening, funds transfer, cash in, cash out, purchase of airtime recharge and bill payment can be performed at locations close to home, place of work, trade and worship. IFIS is geared towards removing the barriers to financial inclusion and reducing the financially excluded numbers.
What is your relationship with the FinTech industry?
IFIS is one of the players within the FinTech industry. We are a licensed Super-agent by the Central Bank of Nigeria [CBN]. IFIS is creating and empowering a network of visibly disaggregated agents across the country under the Quickteller Paypoint brand. Our agents use either a PoS terminal, mobile phone, laptop or personal computer to process transactions and render services at their location to a customer. These devices and tools simply require data for connectivity to the IFIS platform.
Within the Fintech industry, IFIS also integrates to other stakeholders e.g. banks, companies across different industry segments. This integration facilitates the online real time transactions at the agent location. We are the last mile that assists financial institution, government and billers to reach the end-users at locations within a good proximity to the customers that require these services.
Are you a member of any industry group?
IFIS is a member and stakeholder of the Shared Agent Network Expansion Facility (SANEF). It is a project powered by the CBN, banks, super agents, licensed mobile money operators and Nigeria Interbank Settlement Systems [NIBSS] with the primary objective of accelerating financial inclusion in Nigeria.
I am a member of the various Central Bank working groups and these include Government Flows, Transport Initiative Working Group and a member of Nigeria Economic Summit (NeSG) Financial Inclusion Thematic Group. These groups have the objectives of deepening and strengthening the National Payment Systems.
Do you consider yourself a FemTech in FinTech?
Should there really be a difference in gender when it comes to Fintech? Perhaps not, as I have over the past 15 years charted a career in the digital payment industry. Within the FinTech space, various job roles and functions ranging from human resources, accountants, developers, engineers (network, system, information security etc.), IT audit, sales, product managers, business development, marketing managers, administration, project and programme management etc. All these roles require skilled personnel either male or female.
Would you say working for a bank is different from working for a FinTech firm or a startup?
There is a difference between working for a bank and working for a Fintech firm or Fintech start up. Perhaps working in the digital banking or e-business division in the bank is comparable with a Fintech firm/start up although the e-business and digital banking team collaborate with other divisions within the bank.
Similarities exist in the fact that both bank and FinTech rely heavily on interconnected systems, entities and software to process transactions, regulated by the CBN, provide services to customers using a range of digital channels and technology. Ultimately, this is geared towards a win-win (profit inclusive) for all stakeholders in the value chain.
Kindly share the biggest issues women are facing in the workplace?
Some women need to disassociate themselves from cultural barriers and re-orientate their mindset around their belief of not being equal to men and therefore not taking initiative or forging ahead to improve themselves. Sexual and mental harassment in certain roles and industry cannot be ruled out as the kind of issues some women face.
Would you say women are underrepresented at the top of the corporate ladder?
Generally, women are underrepresented at the top of the corporate ladder. However not at IFIS, as the Divisional CEO and three board members are female. However, in recent years, there is more positive awareness and precise effort been taken by forward thinking organizations to have women adequately represented within entry, middle and senior management levels.
Let me quote from Dana Manciagli who says that, “In the workplace, women are great at inspiring and lifting up those around them, as they value teams and relationships. This is why most women leaders are such excellent long-term strategic thinkers.
They are less inclined to rally behind a short-term strategy if a more sustainable approach can be executed…Women allow others to participate and build a very open environment for other people to get in.”
How have you faced any gender-related obstacles in your career?
What could have been an obstacle was discussed with the organizing committee of the event and my request was obliged. I was permitted to bring my daughter who was on exclusive breastfeeding to the Techno Interactive industry conference in Calabar. This was in 2009. I was presenting and was a part of a product demo booth at the event. The expenses for my daughter’s caregiver were borne by the company. This was encouraging and motivating.
Managing work-life balance is a big deal now. How do you create a balance?
As a woman, there are several activities and relationships with your nuclear family, extended family, work department, place of worship etc that revolve around you. You are expected to be self- disciplined and highly organized by planning your schedule. It is also important to have pre-agreed plans and arrangement for when those impromptu travels, late meetings, off-site retreats would emerge.
A good support structure, an understanding and a hands-on spouse cannot be overemphasized. The support structure can be built around family, trusted friends with same core values and principles or paid-for services. Making the most of weekends, public holidays and creating an alignment with the school calendar for my kids has worked for me. I thank God that I have a very strong support structure that has worked for me over the years.
As a woman, you also need to understand your work cycles and any seasonal activities that may impact your work or industry. This could impact positively on your efficiency and help you to plan better.
How would you mentor women who are in your present position?
There is no limitation to what you can achieve because you are a woman. The only person who can limit you is yourself. Understand and identify what your passion, strengths, aspirations are, work through your plan to attaining those set goals.
What is the best advice you ever received?
Whatever skill I learn or whatever knowledge (formal or on-the-job) becomes an integral part of me. I will be privileged to teach and use it but it cannot be taken away from me. Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God, not because you are compelled to do it. Do it wholeheartedly and remember to enjoy the process.
Who do you admire most in the FemTech in FinTech space?
I admire all the female staff in their various job roles within Interswitch Group for their unrelenting, innovative, can-do team effort. The numerous achievements attained by the company, awards received could not have been possible without them and, of course, our male counterparts as well.
The combined effort of FemTech @ the Switch that deploy products, create solutions, manage
Projects and provide support, attain industry certifications and the attendant national, regional and international impact the execution of their work brings, is truly worthy of admiration.