Interview - Nabila Nouinou
“We are creating financial products and services for the future, and the future is diverse.”
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your career.
How did you get to where you are now?
I started my career as a lawyer, practising in the field of corporate and commercial law in the Netherlands and later Dubai. Then I became an in-house legal counsel at Wirecard, before taking on several management functions, including the general manager for Dubai and the European regional managing director.
And why did you choose to join Payaut?
With a product this good and a target market showing such tremendous growth, it was not a hard choice to make. Being part of a start-up is often romanticised but it’s not all table tennis and videogames. It requires hard work and dedication and not one day is ever the same. But the rewards are amazing along with being able to work in an exceptional team, putting my skills and experience into action and immediately seeing results!
What are your day-to-day priorities and responsibilities?
As a board member, I feel my biggest responsibility is to help create a transparent culture of understanding and performing with the utmost integrity and compliance. Having experienced at Wirecard how difficult it can be to change this culture once a company is much bigger and more mature, it is incredibly rewarding to be able to set the tone at such an early stage.
The way I approach this also makes my job much more dynamic. I tend to join our product and development team in feature design sessions and interview potential candidates, even for roles that aren’t necessarily in my team. This ensures our policies and procedures can be most effective by understanding the business better, but also allows for healthy discussions increasing transparency in our culture.
And could you give an example of your day-to-day activities?
My main focus on a daily basis is to ensure that we build a business that is compliant with all the relevant rules and regulations on the one hand and leading the efforts to reduce business risks which could jeopardize Payaut’s profitability and productivity. This means:
- Ensuring the work adheres to the processes and policies created, which means there’s a lot of monitoring.
- Screening customers and assessing operational risks. Since some of the potential clients who are interested in Payaut are innovative and therefore present a completely new business model, they must be constantly tested as to whether they can be supported by Payaut in light of the regulations and rules set out by, for example, De Nederlandsche Bank.
- Being Payaut’s knowledge centre in terms of regulations, so therefore it is important that I stay up to date with all relevant regulations and regulation changes.
What accomplishment are you most proud of, personal and business wise?
Having been one of the first in my family to have the opportunity of enjoying higher education, I did not have a network readily available to help me kickstart my career. This means I had to create opportunities: taking part-time jobs and internships while at university, making sure I was noticed. As a result, I am proud I managed to have an international career with a global network of professionals.
“I did not have a network readily available to help me kickstart my career. This means I had to create opportunities.”
How would you describe your first month at Payaut?
As is often the case when joining a new company, there’s a lot of information to take in. We had an amazing compliance consultant who helped to take the first steps in terms of risk & compliance at Payaut and luckily, she had the time to hand over everything in a clear and relaxed way. Because of this, I immediately knew what my tasks and objectives would be in the short term and long term.
In addition, because Payaut is a start-up, it’s very interesting to be involved with all parts of the business. For example, since Corona our daily stand-up is through Slack, where all the Payaut employees discuss their activities that day. This really helps to stay aware of all aspects of the business and to see what the team is up to, even though it is digital at this point.
What challenge have you overcome, from a work point-of-view?
I went from advisor (legal counsel) to manager in a short amount of time. The difference between the two is considerable. In the first role, you’re placed ‘next to the team’, while as a manager, and as a manager of people, you’re suddenly in charge of and responsible for a large group of culturally diverse people – this certainly was a steep learning curve. In addition, it’s a very masculine world. I had to prove myself as a first-time manager and as a female manager at the same time.
A woman in tech is not that common. What would you say are the challenges and obstacles women face in tech?
Taking a closer look at the (fin)tech landscape in the The Netherlands it is indeed unique to have a female in the boardroom. I try not to think about the fact that I am usually the only in the room and sound like a broken record pointing that out all the time, but that is part of the problem – a lack of representation. If you can’t see someone who looks like you in a certain industry, you’re less likely to pursue a career in that industry.
From the conversations I have had with women with a tech background, another challenge seems to be acceptance. One of my mentees once pointed out the fact that even in a progressive environment, she felt she had to continuously prove that her technical skills are as good as (or even better than) the men on the team. This was a wake-up call for me. It is not enough for females to get a seat at the table. As leaders we need to take a step further and create an environment where all voices are heard.
“At Payaut we are building a culture that is diverse and inclusive on all levels.”
At Payaut, we are building a culture that is diverse and inclusive on all levels. We do this by prioritizing diverse hiring (#wearehiring) and by maintaining an open and transparent culture. We also actively encourage everyone to check their own and each other’s biases, we all have them. It’s just important to be aware of your biases and make sure they do not have a negative impact on the ultimate goal.
Would the fintech world be different with more women working in it?
Of course, it would. We are creating financial products and services for the future, and the future is diverse. Besides the proven advantages of diverse companies performing better, having more women (and people of different ethical backgrounds) will have a big impact on the level of innovation. If you have a homogenous team, they will almost always come to the same (less innovative) conclusions.
Lucikly, the discussion about diversity is gaining momentum. How long will it take before we see the results from the current debate?
Yes, the discussion is gaining momentum, but actual change is slow. The fact that during my recent round of interviews for another executive position, the interviewer wanted to know ‘what my situation in terms of a family is, and whether I understood the amount of time and travel the role required’, shows me that we still have a long road ahead.
On the other hand, it is very exciting to participate in Payaut investor calls and see a Zoom grid filled with as many men as women.
What advice would you give to people who have just started working for a start-up?
Be as flexible as you can be! Be a ‘sponge’ because there is no better school than somewhere that enables you to tackle many different subjects. And don’t be afraid to speak up and make yourself heard.