Woman on Laptop

Get your tech skills ready for the future

Woman on LaptopAlthough most of us are complaining that the national wifi is groaning under the strain of millions more working from home, imagine how much worse this lockdown would be without the tech to communicate.

Just pause and think about it for a moment. We were already glued to our phones, but now we depend on them more than ever to keep in touch with friends and family. The internet and our home computers allow us to work remotely. Smart TVs help keep us entertained and up to date on the world outside. Health and fitness trackers feed data into the impact of our one-hour workouts so we can track our progress. Tech is saving us all.

Fintech is a big part of it too. Increased online shopping (and let us all clap our hands for the couriers and posties) especially for groceries, means a rise in online payments. In fact, some sources say that FinTech has experienced an upsurge of 72% in usage during the pandemic. Even on the high street, contactless has become the payment of preference with the upper limit now raised to £45 so that people can avoid using cash and keep the virus at bay.

Turns out the world owes a lot to all those unsung female tech heroines who – back in the day – invented and developed computer science.

Why fintech is the future

While pundits debate what sort of world we’ll be living in when this is all over, there’s one thing we know for certain: fintech will be playing a bigger role than ever.

It’s true that some of the fintechs – like many other businesses – are having a bumpy ride, but when you look at the way our behaviour’s changing you can see how the industry is going to bounce back.

Let’s look at some of the evidence.

Banks were already closing their branches, even though branch banking was still popular with some customers. With less footfall on the high street, those customers are either obliged, or more inclined, to choose online banking and mobile apps. Now that they’ve switched, many of them will stick with digital options for convenience.

In the same way, where some consumers might have been more wary or even not have trusted technology in the past, they will be more likely to embrace it after this crisis. They will be more open to open banking, for example.

Companies too have had to adopt fintech to get themselves through this. Some insurance companies are turning to block chain to verify medical data and, because banks are having to move more quickly to offer digital services, they need fintech consultants to help them upgrade.

Governments are supporting fintechs. The Australian senate has reopened its committee on FinTech and RegTech to support the industry and find new solutions that can be delivered by the government and private sector.

The China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission (CBIRC) is asking the country’s financial services sector to reinforce internal fintech capacity and invest in research and development. While in South Korea, new laws have been passed to regulate and legalise cryptocurrencies.

So if fintech is the future, what can you do to update your skills, networks and know-how so that you’re ready for when this crisis is over?

Develop your skills and knowledge

First, take a look online and you’ll find some excellent, even free, courses from world renowned universities like the Open University (OU) and Harvard.

The OU’s free courses include several on data analysis and interpretation, including Simple coding, which will teach you the basics of Python, and a course on Learn to code for analysis. You will be awarded a ‘certificate of completion’ for these when you finish. Harvard also runs several free online courses in programming, data science and computer science.

If your budget allows, both offer paid courses as well, but there’s plenty to keep you busy if you’d rather not splash out at this point.

On the banking side, things are moving quickly. You’d be wise not just to keep up to date with the news but to follow comment and analysis too. You might consider listening to podcasts of discussions with experts and thought-leaders, or extending your understanding of the sector through reading.

And while many events can’t run anymore, some of the best are going online and providing great opportunities to network and learn. Innovate Finance, for example, had to cancel their conference for UK Fintech Week (20-24 April) but they’re marking the week with a digital programme. And the Financial Alliance for Women are opening sessions in their Ask the Expert series to non-members for the first time.

At any stage of your career, it’s important to network, learn and develop your skills if you want to stay ahead of the curve. At this strange moment in history, it’s just as possible to do all of that as it was before the lockdown – and all because of tech.

Helene PanzarinoAbout the author

Helene Panzarino is an Associate Director at LIBF’s Centre for Digital Banking and Finance. A former banker turned entrepreneur, educator and investment readiness adviser in fintech, she’s helped over 15,000 small to medium enterprises access funding options. She’s listed as a Senior Leader on the Women in Fintech Powerlist 2019.

learning, digital experience

It's always a good idea to develop your tech skills | Sharing some thoughts on how to do it

learning, digital experience

It will come as no surprise to most or all of you that no matter how or where you earn your living, technology will play an important role in your career.

Helene Panzarino – of Centre or Digital Banking at The London Institute of Banking & Finance – offers her tips on skilling up on tech.

At the end of last year, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) reported that 62% of companies in the UK expected to retrain employees over 2019 – with over half of those businesses citing new technologies or new services as the reason.

While there is concern about the skills shortage in the UK’s tech sector, Britain’s digital skills gap is affecting all industries, even farming, according to Access Government. The workplace is simply becoming more digital. Every industry – from media, banking and recruitment, to health and education – needs more tech savvy workers, and every sector is coming to rely on technological expertise.

So, if your tech skills are good, you can look forward to some great opportunities. If you’re not so confident, now’s a good time to brush up. No need to panic – it could be easier than you think.

Tech skills are plenty, so if you are not looking to take a degree level qualification, which tech skills should you be learning?

This depends on you, your interests and where you want your career to take you.

It’s always worth taking a regular and objective look for gaps in your skillset and asking yourself what you need to take you to the next level.

If you’re in a business strategy role, consider learning more about data analysis for example. People in this sphere are highly valued by employers because ‘data is the new oil’ and plays a vital part in the overall business process. If you’re in marketing and comms, you need to know how to write for the web, what keywords are, and to understand search engine optimisation and user analytics.

Unsure of where you want to go next? Then talk to colleagues, managers, friends or family. Concerned about the cost? Your employer may offer you internal or external training funded through their learning and development budget.

Although it can sometimes feel like information overload, it’s useful to keep an ear to the ground for what’s happening in the wider world of tech. Free online publications, like WiredBusiness InsiderTechCrunchThe Verge and Engadget will keep you up to date. If you have a good idea of what’s going on, this will help you work out where your interests lie.

Once you’ve decided where you want to get to, the next step is to work out what to do to get there. The National Careers Service website offers an online skills health check and details of different careers – including a section on computing, technology and digital. This will help you identify gaps in your learning and experience. It’s also great to seek out inspirational role models in your chosen area, join groups or associations where members share their experience and expertise, or attend topical events, Meetups, and lectures where you can network with people who are doing or have done what you are looking to start.

Skilling up

If you are in employment, it’s always worth asking your line manager what sort of training is available through your employer’s learning and development programmes. For example, we work with banks and financial services companies to offer training in FinTech and digital banking. If training isn’t available in house, your company may fund you to attend an external course, especially if you can make a good case for how the training will support you in your role.

But if you can’t get training through work, all is not lost. There are plenty of affordable – even free – accredited online courses available.

The Open University (OU) has some free courses, including several on data analysis and interpretation, including Simple coding, which will teach you the basics of Python, and a course on Learn to code for analysis. You will be awarded a ‘certificate of completion’ for these when you finish which you can mention on your CV. The OU also runs courses up to degree level, so if you decide you want a career in digital, take a look.

Code Academy and Udemy run affordable short courses, that you can study online in the evenings and weekends. Another good provider is Lynda, which now belongs to LinkedIn and offers training you can do at your own pace at home. Their courses cover everything from computer languages at various levels, to user experience (UX) social media marketing, graphics and web programmes.

Shout about your achievements

Once you’ve completed a course, let your line manager know so that they can help you integrate your new learning into your work. This will be important for your next performance review or when you apply for a new job.

Give your digital skills and experience prominence on your CV and in any performance review with management. Show how you used your skills, what the outcome was and how it has had a positive impact on the business.

Improving your digital skills is a win-win. Apart from improving your salary, it shows employers that you understand what they need and that you have the initiative and ability to pursue your professional development.

Training in technology will help you with problem solving and analytical thinking - both of which are valued in the workplace – and will set you on the right path to succeed in your career.

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How to network as a tech woman

Article by Helene Panzarino, Associate Director, Centre for Digital Banking and Finance, The London Institute of Banking & Finance

networking featuredIt may not come as too much of a surprise that good networking skills are important in any career.

Word spreads between like-minded people who are connected, including news, the latest thinking, the best events and upcoming jobs and opportunities.

Networking is particularly important for women working in traditionally male-dominated industries – like computing, technology, science, engineering and banking and finance. Fintech is a good example. According to Innovate Finance, “Women represent just 29% of the fintech workforce, 17% of senior fintech roles and of the $1.7 billion that flowed into UK fintech firms in 2018, only 3% went to firms with a female founder.”

Those successful fintech men are well networked and, as a consequence, may be the first to hear of new opportunities. Women need to break into those networks – and also create our own – but how do we make it happen?

How to start networking

First of all, don’t panic! You don’t have to spend your weekends golfing (unless, like me, you want to!) And if you’re nervous about networking, you’re not the first.

Start by thinking about your ambitions. What do you want your next career move to be? If you’re not sure, ask yourself which parts of your work interest you the most. What avenues do you want to explore? Networking is a great way of working out what your next move might be.

Next you need to find the people and organisations that will help you explore – who will answer your questions – or who you might want to work for in the future. They might even be people who inspire you – whose career paths are a bit like the career you’d like. And anyone who can help you innovate and learn is worth connecting with.

Find out about networking opportunities and events

Thank goodness for all those amazing women who developed computer science in previous centuries! Because of technology, networking has never been easier.

So you have sites like MeetUp, which is like a listings service where you can search for events around the subjects that interest you. Meetup also hosts groups like Be Equal which was set up to diversify the tech space. They run events and webinar sessions.

Working Out Loud is a completely different way of networking. The idea is you connect with like-minded people online and work on a project together. So, in their words, “You invest in relationships by making contributions over time, including your work and experiences that you make visible.” If you’re nervous about attending events where you don’t know anyone, this is a great way to start.

Most professional institutions offer a programme of events, including The London Institute of Banking & Finance where I’m an Associate Director of the Centre for Digital Banking and Finance

In the fintech space, there are many events running on every day of the week in all parts of the country, including some aimed at women. As well as making some great contacts and being inspired by successful women, women’s networks offer a space and a platform to discuss issues that are specific to women. They can also be great for helping you develop a support structure. Have a look online for events because most of the newsletters you subscribe to, or sites like F6S, publicise monthly or weekly event notices.

So once you’ve worked out what kind of event you want to go to, the next step is to book your place – and don’t forget to put some business cards in your bag before you go! May seem old school to some of you, but it’s still nice to have a tangible reminder to give and receive.

At the event

Many people are anxious about networking and hate the ‘small talk’, but the thing is, the more you go to networking events, the less frightening it becomes.

Most of the events you go to will be interesting in any case, and if you go to a talk or seminar, then you have something to talk about when it comes to the ‘small talk’. Networking is really just about asking questions and getting to know people. If you think of it in those terms, it’s like any other social event. And you will meet people you like. You may even start to enjoy it – especially as your network grows and you start to recognise familiar faces.

Making the most of social media

It goes without saying that LinkedIn is a great networking tool but are you using it as effectively as you could be?

There are some obvious things about LinkedIn that any ‘how to make the most of LinkedIn’ blog will tell you – from updating your profile regularly to following the right people and organisations. Join professional groups and make sure you interact with people, by contributing to conversations. Share posts, but only when they’re relevant to your work or interests.

Remember, it’s not about selling yourself, but sharing your thoughts on a work-related matter or area of interest. That can give you real visibility.

Nurture the relationships

Once you’ve connected with someone, be sure to follow up. For example, if you get talking to someone at an event, connect with them on LinkedIn afterwards. (Include a message when you invite them to your network.)

Once you’re networked, the next time you need advice, you can go ahead and ask for it. You might offer to buy someone coffee. People can always say ‘no’, and you haven’t lost anything. Chances are though, they will be happy to give you ten minutes of their time. Remember, they were once in your situation too.

Helene PanzarinoAbout the author

Helene is a former banker turned entrepreneur, educator and investment readiness adviser in fintech.

She is a mentor and advisor who has helped over 15,000 of small to medium enterprises (SMEs) understand, prepare for, and access funding options at all stages of their business growth.

Helene is an adviser to a number of fintechs, including Yovo, a fourth generation utility token business, and Biid, a digital identity platform based in Spain.

In 2016, her book – Business Funding for Dummies – was published by Wiley and she was named a Top 10 Influencer in SME Funding in 2016. She has also contributed to The Entrepreneurs’ Network (TEN), The Parliamentary Rose Report on Female Funding in FinTech and The Scale Up Summit on Female Founders Raising Post-Seed Finance.

Woman on Laptop

A day in the life of a tech woman

Woman on LaptopHelene Panzarino describes a typical day in her busy life as a successful tech professional, fintech programme director and educator.

7.00: Great day today! It’s the London Lendit FinTech conference, which is always an incredibly good learning and networking opportunity. I’ll be chairing a wonderful fireside chat in the morning, and moderating a cracking panel on ‘banking as a service’ (BaaS) in the afternoon.

But I’m not a good early person. The alarm went off at 5.12, and I hit snooze – way too early.

The rain outside is torrential. I love autumn, but I can’t stand the rain! I pad downstairs for my morning double espresso and a hearty breakfast, trying not to wake my snoozing husband. This time of the morning is very peaceful. Time to gather my thoughts before the day starts in earnest.

8.00: Donned my glad rags and made my way to the train, only to discover it was late! Again! Shoved my way on and eventually got to the next leg of the journey – Uber – where I reviewed my notes and changed my shoes.

In my opinion, moderating and chairing are tough gigs. You need to do your research on panel members, as well as know your own mind. Rewarding, but needs time to be effective.

9.00: London Lendit FinTech conference

Lendit takes place at the Business Design Centre in Islington, which I love.

And it’s handy, as in the middle of the day I’ll need to whizz over to Kings Cross to present to my next potential FinTech Pathway Masters’ class at UCL. Then I’ll have to get back for the panel at Lendit.

First order of the day is to chair the fireside chat on ‘Banking into the Unknown’ with a formidable female banking trailblazer, Olga Zoutendijk.

Olga has over three decades of global banking experience and currently sits on the Board of the Private Bank, Julius Baer. She was the first female Chair of a Supervisory Board for a publicly listed company in the Netherlands, and suffice it to say, she is not afraid of the unknown.

She’s passionate about courageous leadership, and its role in attracting and retaining talent, at the same time as leading their organisations into the digital age.

She highlights the fact that banks do thousands of things okay, but FinTechs do one thing very well.

Lesson: don’t try to be all things to all customers. Be the thing you do best and then partner or collaborate.

She reminded the audience that banking provides a service to customers and that the trust lost in the last financial crisis needs to be regained.

Banks should become the trusted players in the digital eco-system. She also reminded everyone that learning should never stop.

Very wise words from a very wise, and courageous, woman.


Poor planning on my part! My eyes are treated to two enticing lunch spreads – both at the conference and UCL.

My scheduling means the Brazil nuts in my bag will have to do!

2.00: Moderating the BaaS panel

An afternoon BaaS panel includes:

  • another female innovator, Sophie Gibaud, who is also about to be a mum again
  • Nick Ogden from Clear Bank, who just made a major banking announcement last night on ‘real-time gross settlement’ (RTGS)
  • another serial FinTech entrepreneur, Nigel Verdon from Railsbank
  • and Frank Otten from Varengold in Germany, where they help SMEs get debt funding at rates that work for the SME.

This is a formidable group of panel members, but most of them I know well, so I know it will be enjoyable but informative. They do not disappoint.

The take-away on BaaS is  to be quick – to manage the risk, maximise your distribution channels and don’t try to nick your client’s clients!

Luckily for me, the wonderful woman who is my communications secret weapon is able to attend the conference, so we refresh my speaking schedule after the panel. Multitasking all the way!

I’ve also finally got to the point where I’ve stopped doing the things I don’t enjoy or I’m not very good at, and started taking on the help I need. It’s a false economy for me to be misusing my time.

5.00: Last meeting of the day

The day ends with meeting a blockchain expert ahead of a course that’s launching in the coming year. Wonderful depth of knowledge and a passion to educate!

The rain has finally stopped, which is just as well as someone in the Speakers’ Lounge nicked my brolly!

7.00: Home time

Back home for dinner followed by more marking of dissertations after watching ‘The Cameron Years’.  I’m ‘good tired’ and off to bed before Day 2 at Lendit.

A full but rewarding day full of good reminders.

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Helene Panzarino: Women who count

Women in Engineering

Helene Panzarino looks back at how women have played a key part in developing technology and their role in its future.

On April 2018, the number of girls choosing to study computer science at A’level dropped below one per cent.

The year before, it was reported that only 17 per cent of people in the tech sector were women.

Alarming and disturbing statistics in themselves, but to add salt to the wound irony is when you consider that – without women – we might not have a tech sector at all.

You could say that women invented computers. In the past, the word ‘computer’ even used to mean “female mathematician” or “women who count”.

It all started with Ada Lovelace – the incredibly clever daughter of the poet Lord Byron – whose mother insisted on her learning maths and science as well as languages.

She wrote the world’s first machine algorithm for an early computing machine that existed only on paper. She is widely attributed with having invented computer science and – although she didn’t work alone – there’s no doubt her contribution was invaluable.

In honour of her achievements, Ada Lovelace Day is held every year on the second Tuesday of October, which this year will be 8th October, so mark this special date in your diaries, but also remember to keep her accomplishments in mind every day.

Early “computers”

Looking into the etymology of the word ‘computer’, some very telling facts reveal themselves.

According to the BBC, the word "computer" comes from the Latin "putare" which means both to think and to prune. By 1731, the word had come to mean someone who did calculations.

In the late 19th century, at Harvard College Observatory in the USA, a large group of workers were employed to analyse images of stars and compare their positions. These workers were women and – because they were brilliant mathematicians – they were called “computers”.

This pioneering work of the computers at Harvard continued into the 20th Century.

Taking a leaf out of Harvard’s book, in the 1930s, NASA began hiring women as “computers”. When war broke out, NASA expanded its computer pool, recruiting many college-educated African American women.

The legacy of Ada Lovelace looked to be gaining some traction and momentum, seeing women take their rightful place at the scientific table.

So what went wrong for tech women?

In post-war Britain, IBM UK measured the time it took to manufacture a computer in “girl hours”, because the people making computers were nearly all women. The British government – the biggest computer employer in the land – declined to give women equal pay as at the time computer work was considered low value.

But then perceptions changed.

It became clear that computers had great potential, that they would be essential in the future. This meant they required managers to decide how they were programmed. But back in the 1960s, women were considered unfit for management.

Tech women still go strong

You’d be forgiven for thinking that was the end for all those women in computing, but you’d be wrong!

In 1962, computer programmer Stephanie Shirley struck out on her own and set up the software company, Freelance Programmers. One of her clients would be Ann Moffatt from the team that programmed the iconic supersonic aeroplane, Concorde. Ann eventually became technical director at Concorde in charge of over 300 home-based female programmers. That is some kind of powerful statement for women in tech!

As technology advanced, by the 1990s, nerds and geeks were cool. However, despite the early key roles for women in the space, the stereotype was distinctly male and so was the US tech heartland, Silicon Valley.

What led to this shift in the landscape is a much longer debate than this piece allows. Perhaps it was the lack of visible role models, or part of the wider problem of girls being less likely to choose maths and science at school. Whatever it was, the reality was that fewer women saw a future for themselves in tech.

One thing we know for sure though, it wasn’t – as one Google employee suggested two years ago – anything to do with differences in the brain.

In a vein of hope and somewhat bucking the trend, in some parts of the world – such as India and South America – women play a much bigger role in IT, than in Europe and North America. This deserves our attention.

Tech can give you a great future

As a result of tenacity and a united voice, thankfully things are changing. We have some great examples of women in tech with:

In banking and finance – the sector where I work – technology is changing the way we do things. There is increasing demand – and the inevitable scarcity – for new talent to help innovate.

More and more, banks and financial services organisations will be looking for talented professionals who already have the skills they need – or who they can train. Gender parity in all areas of financial services has to be the goal.

This represents a new wave of opportunity and potentially gives a whole new meaning to ‘women who count’.