Louisa MurrayLouisa Murray, Chief Operating Officer UK and Europe at Railsbank, is a commercial business and financial markets professional.

Kickstarting her career as one of the first female derivative traders at Barclays, Louisa has pushed to break the glass ceiling from the offset.

In her role as COO, Louisa combines her keen eye for making a profit with the ability to bring the best out of her team as Railsbank enjoys rapid international growth. In particular, her continued efforts to make a personal impact on the sector are showcased as she proactively hires women who have been on a career break into the company, and in turn into the male dominated fintech industry.

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

Having been in finance and trading for many many years, as well as a number of start-ups, I’m currently Chief Operating Officer of Railsbank UK & Europe. Railsbank is an embedded finance platform, which enables brands outside the financial services industry to offer banking products to their customers. The company was co-founded in 2016 by my colleague and friend Nigel Verdon. I joined roughly a year later as its fourth employee – I’d even say I recruited myself to Railsbank, more on that story below! – and currently, it’s my job to grow the sales and customer teams and lead the company’s overall growth strategy. From a personal perspective I have 3 children, all at university, 2 of which graduate this year and will be aiming to enter the tech and law industries, fingers crossed!

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I did at the beginning as I had real ambition to obtain a trading role, which I knew would play to my strengths.  However, for young people, career goals and ambitions don’t have to be tethered to a particular career path. For most of my career, I benefited a great deal from exploring different career paths, including a brief stint owning a chain of indoor playgrounds. When I decided I wanted a break from trading, I started a fintech C-Suite headhunting business. I was based in a WeWork, which is where I met Nigel, before Railsbank’s platform had even gone live. I sent him a LinkedIn request, but he initially ignored it. The next time I saw him was in the lift so I cornered him! I saw the enormity of what he was creating and after some persuasion,  headhunted myself into the Head of Sales role.

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

I started my career in stock broking at Smith Barney in the 80s, so it’s probably no surprise to hear I was discouraged from applying to be a financial trader at that time. The trading floor was considered a male-dominated environment and deemed ‘unsuitable’ for women.  Being told I couldn’t do something is like a red rag to a bull for me though! I persevered, and along with some great mentors guiding me along the way, I became one of the first female derivative traders at CIBC-Wood Gundy and subsequently Barclays.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Spotting and acting on potential opportunities has been extremely fortuitous for my career and has led to me having  had a number of career highs, but if I had to pick one, I would say spotting the opportunity which has since developed into Railsbank is my standout. I remember meeting the founders, way back in 2016 and when there were just four people in the company. I liked what I heard from  them and decided immediately that there was no way I was not going to be a part of Railsbank’s future. From that small start I set about building the company’s customer base – it’s been quite a ride!

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

Determination and a belief in what I can add to a given situation. As I said earlier, I built Railsbank’s UK & Europe customer base from scratch and to do that, you need a great confidence in your own abilities and it’s that that will get you through the tough times. You also need a good dose of luck – that you’ll be in the right place at the right time, and that you’ll work with a great product, or service, and that people will work with you, not against you. I’m very lucky to enjoy and have the ability to be able to talk to absolutely anyone!

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

Technology adoption across almost every area of business and the economy is frankly rendering the pigeonhole of working in ‘tech’ somewhat redundant. Figure out which industry you find interesting, whether this is law, life sciences, finance or anything else and put yourself forward.  If you’re suited to and enjoy the involvement with a specific industry, the roles will follow. Until you try, you never know what you’ll like (or not like) and, as in my case, who you might meet along the way.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

This may sound very predictable, but the only truly effective solution is strong leadership, strong female representation and commitments at an organisational level. Railsbank was only created in 2016 and the founders determined that an equal male/female mix was to be achieved, it’s not easy but we’ve made great head strides and this makes me very proud.

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

I think that it’s not only imperative to hire women into junior roles,  it’s also incredibly important to give women who have had career breaks a way back into the industry, especially if we’re serious about greater female representation higher up the ladder. I’ve made it my mission to hire lots of women who have had career breaks and they come with lots of different experiences and backgrounds that add immense value to the team.  .

There are currently only 21 percent of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

I’ve been asked this many times and whilst It’s sad when you see a figure of just over 20% of women who are currently working in tech, I’ve also worked in trading where the percentage was sub 10%.  I think the answer to the problem is twofold. Start early in primary and senior school and at the University level to attract women into tech and secondly, help ourselves. It’s up to us women already in tech to attract others in. There are no barriers to entry and women are already making highly successful careers in the industry. We all have to do more and become role models and mentors.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

Network, network and more networking. Now the world is opening up again, it’s a great time to get out and about, and meet new people, and especially talk to women currently working in tech. You quickly realise that there are many female founders, senior executives and investors who are doing great things, and these are the examples we should put forward. There are many opportunities for all and they need to be grabbed with both hands. But, you have to get there and listen and learn. You need to be your biggest advocate in tech!