Kristina Nikipolska is the Deputy Chief Risk Officer at Ecommpay, an international payment service provider and direct card acquirer, designing custom payment solutions for online merchants globally.

Working across a variety of industries including retail, travel and FinTech, the firm’s payment gateway facilitates an omnichannel payment process,combining acquiring capabilities, bulk payouts, best local payment options and technological innovation, all in one seamless integration.The company uses the latest graph analysis technology to ensure maximum security and provide real-time payment processing solutions, while also offering unparalleled levels of advice and support through dedicated account managers.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role ?

I have a background in law and used to work at a legal and corporate consultancy, including a BIG4, before I made a sudden and (not actually planned) transition into crypto and FinTech in 2017. It was the early days of the ICOs boom and the first ever 20k Bitcoin high. It was a thrilling time to be a part of such a rapidly growing industry.

During this period, I shifted my focus away from classical jurisprudence and began to immerse myself in AML/CFT and regulatory compliance, with a particular focus on the US and UK markets. As one of the earliest players in this field, we were able to study the emerging crypto regulations closely.

In 2020, I joined ECOMMPAY and was introduced to the exciting new world of e-commerce and online payments. Starting as a compliance specialist, I gradually grew into a DMLRO role. Now, I’ve made one more switch in my career path – this time to corporate risk management. As Deputy Chief Risk Officer within the same company, I continue to embrace new challenges and opportunities for growth. As with any profession, I need to also be aware of new changes and developments within the fields that we service, such as retail, travel and FinTech.,

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Yes, but I planned my career as a lawyer, though life turned out differently. While this was my chosen profession at the beginning of my career, through time and experience, I realised that it no longer resonated with me and did not provide the life-work balance that has always been important to me. So I decided to pursue other options. Although I wasn’t sure what they were yet, I knew that I wanted to work in an innovative field that offered opportunities for growth and learning. I also wanted to utilise the skills and knowledge that I gathered during my time in consultancy, and I was curious to see where else they could be used successfully.

At the time, fintech was a growing trend, it was on everyone’s lips, but I wasn’t too familiar with it until I was invited to attend a fintech event with one of my friends from the law network, where I learned more about the industry. It inspired me to apply for opportunities within the sector, which eventually landed me an interview with a cryptocurrency company. I did get hired and I was very intrigued, although my work was initially more focused on legal and regulatory matters.

As time went on, I started to deal with AML/CFT issues and found that it was incredibly interesting to me, as it involved the skills I acquired as a lawyer, but also allowed me to immerse myself in a new promising niche. I believe that staying open to new opportunities and being willing to take risks and tackle new challenges has been crucial to my career development.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

I believe it is both a challenge, but also an advantage: the ability to drop your primary area of expertise and start learning something new. It is always a difficult task to start from scratch. I have done it three times, which is always a steep learning curve, moving from law to crypto, and then to payments and e-commerce; through law and AML to risk management. This is always tough  – while your basic needed skill set may remain the same, you need to gather a lot of completely new knowledge, usually in a short period of time and deliver tangible results (FinTech can’t afford to be slow), while also keeping in mind that the industries differ from each other significantly. At the cryptocurrency company, I needed to know a lot about emerging crypto regulations, blockchain specifics and the conditions of the market in the regions we focused on, however when I joined Ecommpay my areas of expertise were expanded to a variety of e-commerce business industries operating worldwide with different payments methods. Still, I overcame this challenge by treating this as an opportunity to learn something new and expand my skills and knowledge, being persistent and focused on my goal. It has ultimately led me to where I am today, and I am grateful for the growth and development that came with it. We will see where this curve will bring me next.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

To hold a senior position while also managing a large, distributed team and growing as a leader. At ECOMMPAY, I have had the opportunity to oversee teams in multiple locations with diverse backgrounds and skill sets. I think that being a good manager is completely different to being a good specialist, it is its own craft and requires another range of abilities. As banal as this may sound, I would say the most important advice to being a good supervisor and mentor is to be honest, personable, give constructive feedback and treat people the way you would want to be treated, with humanity. During my time as a supervisor and as part of a team, I have also found a lot of value in things like supporting each other, empathy, and offering help when needed. Sometimes qualities such as those can even be more valuable than hard skills.

While I consider it one of my main achievements, managing a distributed team can be challenging. However the time during the pandemic has certainly shown us that this is feasible. I think the best way to approach this situation is to plan out your communication in a way where all of your team feels like they are receiving enough information and no one feels like they are left out. Frequent meetings between team members and supervisors should also be scheduled. It is also great to have group chats for the team that would encourage both work and socialising, where important topics could be discussed, but also memes and jokes can be shared. This helps the team bond and adds humour into the communication mix which is invaluable when dealing with all kinds of work matters. It is also important to set goals for the team, make sure that everyone understands their responsibilities, and help the team’s members understand that we are all working together and moving towards the same objectives. It is also paramount that each colleague is aware of how their work has been helpful in reaching targets, and that other members know how valuable their coworker’s input has been. This gives a sense of transparency within the team, but also gives credit where credit is due.

I have found that by fostering open communication, setting clear expectations, and establishing a culture of trust and accountability, we have been able to achieve our goals and deliver successful outcomes. So, I would say growing and achieving together as a team – is the biggest achievement.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

I believe that taking off the restrictions of thinking big has been a major factor in my success. In approaching a challenge, I don’t limit myself to what has been done before or what is currently feasible. Instead, I try to think creatively and look for opportunities to push the boundaries. By taking a more innovative and visionary approach, I have been able to bring fresh perspectives and new solutions to the table. Of course, this can be challenging, and not all ideas will be successful, but approaching problems with an open mind and a willingness to take risks produces remarkable results.

I honed my skills in creative thinking when I was a lawyer. While people think this is a boring job, you actually need to be really creative when it comes to the solutions you choose. You can have one main goal and then a million different ways to reach it. The process of combining facts and documents that you need to present as part of your case is actually a very artistic process. You can also often be faced with a situation that no one else has dealt with before, and you need to come up with your own solutions to the matter. I do think a lot of the time certain people will have a predisposition to creative thinking, however, this ability can also be cultivated through being placed in situations and activities that allow you to be more innovative, while also having a power of decision making and responsibilities.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

My top tips for excelling in a career in technology would be to stay curious and keep learning. Technology is a rapidly evolving field, and staying up-to-date with new developments and trends is essential to being effective in FinTech, regardless if you work within AML or marketing.

Be willing to take on new challenges, seek out mentors and advocates who can support your growth, and find ways to give back to your community and help others succeed.

Additionally, I think that building strong relationships with colleagues, mentors, and other professionals in the industry has been essential in helping me achieve my goals. Mentorship in particular can be very helpful because sometimes you need a person who can help you systematically gather and organise knowledge and give you tips. The industry is huge and most people don’t have time to work, learn, and research all at once, so if there is a person in your life who is very knowledgeable in certain topics, it can be very valuable to gain additional information from them. Additionally, it is crucial to consider a company’s corporate culture when deciding where to work and to make sure that elements like learning and mutual assistance are a part of it. I’m glad to have ended up at Ecommpay, where an expert approach is applied both within the team and in client communication.

What barriers for women working in tech are still to be overcome?

Despite progress in recent years, women still face several barriers when working in tech, such as unconscious bias, a lack of role models, and limited opportunities for advancement. It is also still the case that the majority of leadership positions within the industry are taken by men. Additionally, women may be discouraged from pursuing careers in tech due to stereotypes about the industry being male-dominated, or unwelcoming, or doubts that a woman could be successful in the technology industry. I wish women to approach these challenges with a positive attitude, seeking support from like-minded people.

What do you think companies can do to support and progress the careers of women working in technology?

Companies can support and progress women’s careers in technology by actively promoting gender diversity and creating inclusive work environments. This can include measures such as offering mentorship and leadership development programs for women, providing flexible work arrangements, and addressing issues such as unconscious bias in hiring and promotion processes.

Ecommpay, for example, has been giving the support and opportunities needed to the women employed here, which has resulted in 57% of our department heads and C-levels being female based on the latest gathered data.

In an ideal world, how would you improve gender diversity in tech?

In an ideal world, gender diversity in tech would be the norm, with women and other underrepresented groups fully represented and supported in all areas of the industry. Achieving this will require a combination of efforts, including education and awareness campaigns, policy changes, and efforts to promote diversity and inclusion at all levels of the industry. It is vital to talk about issues, the more we talk and discuss them the more progress will be made. Another idea would also include creating internal education and leadership seminars for women within companies to prepare and develop more future female leaders.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

Some interesting resources that I can mention include the Women in Tech and Great Women in Compliance podcast, and Female Innovators at Work: Women on Top of Tech book by Danielle Newnham.