Maria Ana CazaresMaria Ana Cazares is Head of Cloud for Banking, Americas both managing and developing the local Cloud for Banking (C4B) team of experts.

As an experienced SAP Banking Architect with proven success in leading large SAP banking implementation projects, she now drives the alignment within respective market units and leads ongoing C4B engagements in the region. Maria Ana works closely with pre-sales and sales teams in C4B opportunities, acting as the main solution architect in C4B proposals.

She is based in Mexico City, Mexico, and was named #69 of Top 100 Women in Fintech by FinTech Magazine in 2022.

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

I’m the Head of Cloud for Banking (C4B) for the Americas at SAP Fioneer based in Mexico City. I am an experienced banking architect and have previously led large SAP banking implementation projects acting in various roles. SAP Fioneer was launched over a year ago as a carve-out from global technology leader SAP, focusing exclusively on software solutions and platforms for the financial services industry. In my role, I am currently leading the Americas team for our Cloud for Banking Business Unit, where we offer a full Software as a Service (SaaS) core banking solution that is ready-to-use and fully optimised, or in other words: ‘a bank-in-a-box’. My team and I work closely with our customers from their crucial first steps in joining the cloud. We take care of the C4B deals within SAP Fioneer, from sales to delivery, providing demonstrations, all the way to proofs of concept (PoCs) and ensuring implementations run smoothly.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I have always been quite tech-savvy, so the decision to study electronics and computer systems was an easy and natural choice for me. The fintech space fascinated me because it is, in the literal sense of the word, the combination of two increasingly fast-paced and complex fields. Visualising and adapting to global trends around digital transformation in the financial sector has always been a passion of mine. My job allows me to be part of innovative and disruptive business models in banking, while also helping customers evolve into more flexible and agile companies. I love that I get to make a positive impact on the day-to-day activities for the end user.

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

The financial services industry is heavily steeped in tradition, so as important as it is, facilitating change is never simple. For example, implementing new technology in older established companies has and still requires some convincing and a lot of explanation, even though it can streamline business processes to become more efficient. Even veteran experts in the space can still be hesitant, but most are open to the possibilities of what we can do and are willing to have the necessary conversations. This can all take a bit of time, especially when developing regulations are involved. Additionally, as I am based in Latin America, the working culture here still reflects some antiquated mindsets, and this has brought challenges when discussing topics such as mental health and a renewed work-life balance.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

It’s hard to mention a single event as my biggest career achievement, although I think each major milestone has enabled me to succeed in the new challenges I’ve been presented with over the years. I will never forget my first full core SAP banking implementation for a bank in Mexico City which was an 18-month long challenging project. In a big bang,  all original systems were shut down and all branches went live during one sleepless weekend, but we then celebrated the first transaction in the new productive environment which was a one cent card purchase. I definitely remember that project as that one had a great impact on me, as I learned so many lessons that only real field experience can provide, and I also felt so grateful to have the opportunity to lead a project of that magnitude. The bank is still on the same core system today, which just confirms the good work that was done by the whole team involved, and it is a big achievement for us all.

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

I think personality and attitude play a major role in your ability to be successful, and you need to be willing to take risks. As a woman, it’s particularly important that we defend our point of view and not let others override our decisions. We all need to be open to feedback as well as consider our peers’ opinions, but we need to be more vocal and many times may need to push resiliently to have our ideas heard.

I’ll also say that being at the right place at the right time can be a contributing factor to your success, as it has for me personally, and this is not just something that happens out of your control as you need to be a forward thinker and be ready to take opportunities when they arise.

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

Keep yourself informed, learn about new technologies and new marketing trends in the industry and continue to grow your creative mind as creativity is essential to be successful. There are many solutions to the same challenges and problems. Thinking outside of the box is what will allow you to be recognised and in turn bring more opportunities your way. It’s also essential to trust yourself, have the confidence to know that the worst thing that could happen is actually not as bad as it seems, and most importantly, take action and start doing what you want to do. Send that resume, apply for that job, raise your hand and ask for what you want.

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

Women are still a minority in the fintech space, especially in leadership positions, and even more so in Latin America. To make significant progress, women need to join forces, connect and support each other. This could be in the form of events or conferences to share our experiences from the female perspective and mentor newcomers. The advice I would give to women is to ultimately have the courage to go into tech, regardless of how male dominated the field may appear today. It’s not easy to be the only woman in a study group or even a boardroom, but every time a woman takes on a leadership role, we move one step closer to a more open and diverse work environment.

There is currently only 15% 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 think that in order to make real change on a corporate level, especially in technology, we need take action at the roots of society, ensuring younger generations are educated on gender issues and we need to normalise that women can become scientists, engineers, mechanics, software developers, and men can be nurses, nannies and secretaries. This way, young girls will not choose their career based on their gender, but instead be free to choose what they like and what makes them happy, without the need to fit into a stereotype.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

Social media and blogs are a fantastic way to discover new forums and groups which help build a global network of likeminded individuals where one can discuss new trends. I am also really glad that we can meet in-person again. Events feel so much more special now, and you get to meet so many different people who you may never have met otherwise. Being at conferences and talking to peers can create new opportunities and boost creativity.