How Diversity, ESG, and Women's Empowerment Impact Business with Laura Rofe | Curiosity Code 011
02 May, 2024
In this episode of the Curiosity Code podcast, Alex welcomes Laura Rofe, a distinguished leader in the fintech industry with over 14 years of experience in payments and partnerships. Currently serving as the Director of Account Management, EMEA at Thunes, and the founder of Empower Me, Laura is celebrated for her commitment to advocating for women in payments and her significant contributions to diversity and inclusion. Throughout the interview, Laura shares her inspiring journey from an executive MBA holder to a fintech visionary, discussing the challenges and complexities of the European payments landscape, the importance of ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) initiatives in fintech, and the role of technology in advancing financial inclusion. Laura also touches on the power of strategic partnerships and the necessity of creating seamless customer experiences through local payment methods. Furthermore, she offers valuable advice to young professionals, especially women aspiring to leadership roles in fintech, emphasizing the importance of being true to oneself, continuous learning, and advocating for others. This episode provides deep insights into the evolving fintech space, highlighting the critical role of leadership, diversity, and innovation in shaping the future of payments.

Alex: Everybody, and welcome to another episode of the Curiosity Code podcast. And today we are excited to have Laura Rofe, a standout leader in the fintech world. Laura brings over 14 years of experience in payments and partnerships, currently leading a director of account management, EMA at Thunes, and as the founder of Empower Me, renowned for her advocacy for women in payments and her pivotal role in fostering diversity and inclusion, Laura's journey from an executive MBA holder to a visionary in fintech is as inspiring as it's influential. We'll be curious to discuss Laura's passion for fintech innovation in our new episode of the Curiosity Code podcast. Welcome to the show, Laura.

Guest: Thank you so much for having me. I'm really excited to be here.

Alex: All right, so Laura, you've held several pivotal roles in the payments industry, from managing key accounts to fostering global partnerships. Can you walk us through your career journey and what led you to your current role at Thunes?

Guest: Yeah, absolutely. So, I mean, as I mentioned, my current role is a director of account management at Thunes across the, particularly focusing on the EMEA space and essentially Thunes to give people a bit of an understanding of the fintech space for a global network provider. And essentially what we do is enable companies and their customers to essentially send and receive cross-border payments. But in terms of my career, when you speak to anybody who's currently in the world of payments, and I really don't, I don't think that anybody ever set out from the get-go to decide that they'll work in payments, really. I mean, I got to the end of my university degree, in Australia, and I thought, my gosh, what am I going to do next? I'll just apply for a bunch of graduate roles, right? So I did that and I was offered a position for Australia's largest bank, which is Westpac, in their graduate role, which was super exciting. Got to wear kind of your learner plates, as it were, throughout the corporate banking world. And I was there for five years and then I decided to, wanted to go on a bit of adventure and I moved to London. But at the time, to be honest, the job market was quite difficult. I went from a big corporate role in a corporate bank to starting at the very bottom of the ladder again, which definitely learned me a lot. And I went through quite a bit to get where I am today. But what they say is what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, right? So times when I actually moved out of this fintech space for management opportunities, but it always called me back in and I've been across the foreign exchange card issuing, and local payment methods. And here I am today at Thunes, based in sunny Barcelona.

Alex: So what tune is about? What's the main core business there at Thunes? Yes.

Guest: Yeah. So as I was touched on previously. So Thunes are in the payment space. We definitely rely heavily on or talk about our network as an infrastructure provider, connecting with a lot of network partners around the world to be able to then facilitate and support our customers and their customers to do either receive payments or send money across borders. That's probably the core of it. Sometimes payment worlds can be quite complex, but sending and receiving money to cross border is probably the very, in its simplest form.

Alex: Right. Speaking about complexities, so you've worked across different continents, cultural context, and now in Europe. What are some of the unique challenges you faced in the fintech industry, particularly in European payments landscape?

Guest: Yeah, I think I often get to ask this particular question, and there is without a doubt a lot of challenges in the payments landscape. I want to tackle this question a little bit differently today. I mean, we talk about the payments landscape and we talk about, you know, there's lots of things when it comes to our challenges, our costs, you know, regulation, you know, complexity around network, having to have so many network providers, legacy technology, for example, a lack of transparency when it comes to, you know, customers being able to send and receive their money. And I think they're absolutely right. And these are challenges that have been ongoing many years, not only within EMEA and the European payments landscape, but at a global level. But I think, you know, technology is really helping to lead the charge and collaboration in improving some of that. But one of the other challenges, which is something that I think we need to be more talking more about, is also not just applicable to the world of fintech, but generally speaking around environmental, social, and governance. And I think this is a topic that we've heard more and more about over the past couple of years. And you might think, you know, why do I bring this up as a challenge? And I think, you know, if we start looking at, I mean, you can tackle ESG from a number of different angles, but if we ever look at it from a company, company level, many organizations are very focused on driving revenue and doing business, and rightly so. That's, that's what business is for. Right. But, you know, lots of organizations and people may think that ESG initiatives aren't necessarily fitting into that banner of driving revenue, but rather a nice to have, perhaps. And because of this, you know, we've seen the thing like greenwashing, you know, ESG initiatives being tick box exercises, but it really doesn't have to be. I mean, for example, you know, some research that I've seen done over the years, you know, PwC survey found that 85% of financial service CEO's polled that promoting inclusion, for example, and diversity really helps enhance business performance. McKinsey stated that gender diverse executive teams can achieve up to 25% more above average profitability. So I think a challenge is firstly sitting around educating the market and helping them understand that we do need to focus on ESG. It is something that is going to stay within payments and over the years. And I think, you know, challenge is helping businesses and organizations understand where they can start because it is a big task that needs to be tackled. And, you know, you've got organizations with varying, different budgets, different sizes, different resources. What can they do to start looking more and more at this? Because it's only going to become a more and more important issue.

Alex: Makes sense. So you're managing such a large region. Do you see a difference in approach to ESG as a challenge in different regions? So let's say, I don't know, Europe versus Africa. Do you see any patterns?

Guest: Yeah, I think this is a good question, Alex, and probably one to explore a little bit further. You know, ESG, there's definitely different regions, different countries who are far more advanced and ahead of the game when it comes to doing ESG and right down to actually individual, you know, organizations. And I think, you know, a lot of that is driven, can firstly be driven by individuals within organizations and those who are like, perhaps passionate about it, who want to impact and make a change. So you can have changes that vary from different organizations. And an example that the other day I was chatting to someone who works within the diversity and inclusion business of Google and they told me that Google has over 120 odd individual staff members solely focused on diversity inclusion, from their products to their internal staff. But I think ESG is also changes from region to region to country, just like culture does. Cultural elements that you may see in Europe are very different to what you may come across in APAC and et cetera. But at the end of the day, I think from an ESG perspective, the differentiator is how I had organizations within those companies rather than ESG has an overarching goal. And that's something that globally we can all work towards.

Alex: Right. I would assume it also depends on the maturity of the organization and simply budgeting constraints.

Guest: Yeah, I think these elements definitely factor into it. But another having said that, I definitely see some of these big corporates we touched on Google before. Big corporate bankings, big corporate banks, I know some of them are starting to implement more programs and initiatives that solely focus on this. But then you have smaller organizations. For example, Thunes, who I'm currently working for, we're global company, but you know, we have a staff members around 300, 5400 people. And at Thunes, you know, they have people, staff who are focused on diversity and inclusion within the organization. That's their, that's their role. You know, Thunes does partner with an external organization, actually called Handprint, and it's about planting trees. So for every transition number of transactions that we do, you know, we plant a tree. So, you know, I think. I think, yes, budget constraints come into that, but there's ways that you can really look at how you can tackle that. And I think it starts with your. Starts with your people and who you are in the organization and what executive sponsors that you have to help support and drive those initiatives because there's things that you can do without a budget as well.

Alex: Sure, makes sense. Let's chat a bit about diversity and inclusion. I know that it's quite an important part of professional activity and I know that you're quite passionate about that. What are the projects and initiatives in that domain you are currently involved in?

Guest: Yeah, I think. Thank you for asking. And yes, if you haven't gathered already, I'm quite passionate about ESG and diversity inclusion. I just think that there's something that all of us can be doing and maybe I take it a step before I dive into what I'm doing. How I kind of got to that point. I mean, I've been in the payment space for over 14 years now and why I became passionate about it. Well, I've definitely experienced scenarios where I've been excluded in the workplace time and time again for my career because I'm a woman. I mean, I've even had male clients refuse to shake my hand because I'm a female. They'll shake my male colleague's hand, but not mine. And heavens forbid why that happens. And, you know, time and time again, you read these articles where, you know, I just think women leadership is less represented. Only 10% of leadership roles across fintech globally are females. You talk about the gender pay gap and I just read an article yesterday that said that 15 of the top 20 best funded uk tech companies have a wider gender pay gap than the national average. So, I mean, for me, I just don't want people having to experience some of the things that I've been through. You know, the whole unfairness of it all, and so want to try to do something about it. But, you know, outside of these sort of negative experiences, that's where I really want to channel my energy into positive causes. And, you know, I've helped some of the things I've done in the past have helped organizations build out their ESG reports. I was proud to say I was just featured on the Women in Fintech power list, which is exciting, and recently nominated as the country ambassador for the European Women in Payments Network.

Alex: Congrats.

Guest: Yeah, thank you so much. I'm really happy about that, not just for myself, but it just helps me be able to then drive, you know, these initiatives and this, this agenda forward even more. And one of the things I'm doing as part of the, or the EWPN for short is. So I'm based mentioned. I'm based here in Barcelona and in the midst of organizing an event, the theme is empowering diverse leadership and having an in person event here with some great panel speakers. It's also online if anybody feels like they would like to join. But it's really about looking at how, yes, we can empower people. And leadership comes in many, many shapes and forms. Right. And some of these initiatives and projects that I'm working on, you know, the reason that I want to do this is to empower somebody else who can then take something away from these events or take something away from the projects that we're working on and then share that and pass it on, pay it forward so that we can have a greater impact. And so I'm also building out a network. That's where empower me comes about. And it's about empowering yourself to work with others, building a connection, bringing people together, because I think this is just so, so important because, you know, when it comes to diversity inclusion, that the World economic forums states that we won't reach gender parity for over another 123 odd years. And, and to me, I'm like, that's just not acceptable. What could we do about that? So I think the more and more people we bring together, the more and more people who can take something away. That's a win for me. So these are just some of the initiatives that I'm working on at the moment.

Alex: So the upcoming event, when will it be? And what's the topic again?

Guest: Yes, so it's on the 23 May we here in Barcelona. We've got some great sponsors who are working with us, some keynote speakers, authors, TEDx speakers. And the theme is around empowering diverse leadership. We're touching on topics, on defining the leader that you want to be, how technology, the likes of AI, can help strengthen you as a leader, and how you can take that forward and empower others. And some exciting topics along these lines all centered around leadership.

Alex: All right, we'll make sure to post a link in the description below so that listeners can sign up.

Guest: Fantastic.

Alex: Then Europe.

Guest: Thank you.

Alex: Okay, let me see my notes here. So what changes have you seen in the industry regarding female representation and leadership? And how does your work in european women payments network contribute to these changes?

Guest: So for me, I think in terms of the changes, I don't think there's been enough change. Things aren't moving quickly enough. I mean, I touched on before that women represent less than 10% of leadership roles in fintech globally. You know, and having said that, it is progressing. You are seeing more programs, more companies who are focused on diversity, inclusion. And one thing I want to emphasize as well is that, you know, my talk about, you know, women in payments, that this is one, just one area of diversity. You know, diversity is a broad spectrum of areas. Your gender, your race, your religion, and all of that ties into really having great benefits for an organization. So I think in terms of what I've seen as changes, I think we're starting to see more of these sort of big payments events and organizations enabling a platform for greater diversity. And across speaking panels and people who come and present their ideas and thoughts, I think we're starting to see that more. I think we're having our customers as well really start to help push this agenda. Because. What do I mean by that? Well, essentially, I think what was in a report I was reading recently stating that I think it was a PwC report. That's it. They found that 83% of consumers think that companies should be actively shaping ESG best practices. And consumers really being more vocal about this, they're stating they will buy from organizations and companies that have this on their agenda, that are doing things that benefit, say, for example, the environment. So I think we're really starting to see a change in the market driven by our customers. And we need to listen to this, because at the end of the day, if you're not keeping up with what your consumers want, you'll be left behind. And it's another reason why ESG is so important to take into consideration, because you're helping to deliver what your customers need at the end of the day.

Alex: In terms of fulfilling customers needs. I'm curious if Thunes has anything to offer in terms of ESG. I heard that you have the initiatives as far as ESG goes in terms of plant increase and such, but I'm wondering if there is such a thing as like a payments provider to offer extra services to your clients who are using Thunes so that their customers will be satisfied in terms of their ESG needs.

Guest: Yeah, really good question. And maybe I start with the fact that I'm not sure if yourself or listeners are aware, but, you know, over a billion people in the world are unbanked. And what do I mean by unbanked? I mean that, you know, in first world countries we're very used to having access to financial services products. We have a bank account, often we can whip out our credit card to pay for goods and services. We have access to loans and this sort of thing. But a lot of the world don't even have access to a bank account. And that's when you may have heard of financial inclusion comes into it. So one of the ways that Thunes helps support and our products and services are financially inclusive. And what I mean by that is that we work with a lot of emerging markets. So Africa is a great example, enabling payments, enabling our customers, customers to have access to be able to send and receive money, for example, through what we call mobile wallets. They just need to have a mobile phone and perhaps they can send a payment or receive a payment from a family member who might be earning income over in Europe. So in terms of what Thunes do, we are definitely supporting and enabling people across the globe to send and receive money. So I think that's where we tie into the, and fit into the ecosystem from a financially inclusive perspective, which is great. And I think it's a great question to ask because there's definitely, it's definitely something that people should be aware of. Financial inclusion, sure. Not take it for granted, right? But what we have, you and I have every day, so.

Alex: Exactly, exactly. Because being spent most of my life in western world, you rarely think about ESG. As a consumer, at least myself, I'm guilty of that. So it's great when this kind of things are embedded into the providers level culture and offerings. Let's move on. Let's talk about partnerships. When I look through your professional experience, I see that you spent quite a lot of time in maintaining strategic relationships. Can you share any particular successful partnership story that made it a success?

Guest: Yeah, absolutely. I think, yes, I enjoy working. That's. My roles have primarily been around partnerships, building relationships, working with clients, being the face of the business, etcetera. And I think, you know, in terms of. And that's one of the reasons as well. You know, I love building out a network and meeting new people. And I think the power of partnerships and relationships is something we don't talk about enough. For example, I had my move to Barcelona and my role with Thunes came about because of the power of relationships, the power of my network. I reached out and that's how I came about this role. So in terms of, you know, Thunes as a whole as well, we as an organization, heavily rely on relationships and strategic partnerships in order to deliver our business, you know, and it doesn't just end there. I mean, right down to an individual and personal level. Right? We all rely and have different partnerships and relationships in our life. And what I think really makes a strategic, strong strategic relationship and what makes something successful is transparency and communication are key and the element of trust. When we have a relationship and a strategic partnership, you're relying on somebody else to deliver something for you. So here at Thunes, I have the expertise around the payment space and my customers rely on me to be able to deliverer and consultant and advise on that. And then on top of that, I touched on Thunes. We have the power. We talk about the power of our network and we wouldn't be able to deliver a powerful network without strategic partnerships. We work with many banks across the world, many scheme partners, and then on the other side of the coin is our customers and we have our partnerships there, so they help support our business. So for me, yeah, I really enjoy that also, delivering those partnerships is part of a team. You know, I might be the strategic account manager, etcetera, but I couldn't do that with our backend, our support functionalities, our product, those delivering, you know, our legal and compliance advice as well. So it's all very interrelated and interconnected. But power the partnerships is something that I very much believe in.

Alex: Yeah, I like how you put partnership connection to pretty much networking and human interactions. It's an interesting view on the subject of partnership and I can imagine that the organization, like Thunes, will have hundreds of partnerships worldwide, given the complexity of technology and domain of payments around the globe. Speaking of the payments and innovation in payments, the expectations of consumers are shifting as we became more and more advanced, technology wise, where do you see the future of payment solution evolving? What innovations are you most excited about? Maybe.

Guest: Yeah, I think a great question, and I think from one payments person to the next, they may have their own answers on this. But where I see it, I mean, absolutely changing consumer demand, what we want as customers every day in our payments and our purchasing experience, we want innovation, we want things to be easy. Right. So for me, I think as organizations we need to be looking at creating greater seamless customer experiences, things that can be done quickly these days. I know I talk to my friends and my colleagues and one thing that we all wish we had more of was time. How can we making life easier for our customers? I think also it's coming more down to personalization as well. What do our customers want? What I may want here in Spain, maybe something different to what you want in your location. Right. So one thing that we do at Thunes is we have what we call an accept functionality. And this is all about local. Or sometimes people refer to them as alternative payment methods. And these can vary across from country to country, region to region. An example of this may be if you're in the UK, you might like to pay with your credit or your debit card, or you've used PayPal in the past, or you've heard of Klarna, China. We see the likes of Wechat Pay and Alipay. There's some countries, but still prefer heavily to pay in cash, likes of Germany, bank transfers. So these are all unique, bespoke ways in which people want to pay and how they want to pay in their own countries. And essentially, I think organizations need to be thinking, in order to go global, you need to be thinking local. So if you want to attract spanish consumers, for example, a very popular payment method, here is what we call BiSm. So how are you going to access these payment methods within these countries to be able to offer to your consumers? And I think this is just going to become more and more in demand. I referred to before as, you know, people know in the payment space know it as alternative payment methods, but they're simply not alternative anymore. They're becoming more and more necessity. And I think this is one area that is going to be more and more of a focus, because as a whole, I think you know, the industry from an innovative perspective, driving innovation. I think it's going to be more about enhancing existing, you know, functionality and making things easier and more seamless. So that's my thoughts and my take on it. Innovation in payments.

Alex: I like that in order to go global, you have to go local. That makes sense. In payments world.

Guest: It does.

Alex: Let's wrap it up. We're getting to the end of this episode. I usually ask for advice and a word of wisdom to young professionals, but in your case, I'd like to get your advice to young professionals, especially women who aspire to take up leadership roles in fintech and related industries.

Guest: I think that's a great way to end the session, to give feedback, particularly to our young leaders of tomorrow. And leadership, like I said, is something that's quite important to me. And I think, you know, if I take a step back and think about lots of us, if we go into Google, for example, and ask Google how they define leadership, it will come spit out an answer along the lines of, you know, it's a leader of a team, a CEO, a leader of a nation. But, you know, we don't have to be, that doesn't have to be the case. I think you can be a leader in your own way, you can define your own version of leadership. And I think some ways to, to think about that and some advice is that, you know, really just be yourself, define who you are and stay true to your values, I think is important. I think being kind not only to others and having empathy, but to yourself, I think we're very hard on ourselves these days to achieve and succeed. Are we going to be the next Instagram fame? Are we going to be what? But just, you know, just be kind to yourself. I think being bold is important. Don't be afraid to ask questions, to make noise. Talk about your wins. You know, motivate, inspire those around you. I think that's really important for me. I think it's also growing your knowledge. Always keep learning and surround yourself with mentors and allies, supporters. Build your network as we touched on today. Lead by example. And last but not least, I think it's really important to be an advocate. And what I mean by that is lift up your peers, celebrate the successes of those around you, give recognition to others is something that I also really stand by and think is really important. So that would be my takeaways.

Alex: Thank you. Thank you, Laura. Thank you for words of wisdom. I think it will be really helpful to young ladies joining the professional world. Thank you for your words of wisdom again, and thank you for being guest of our show. It's been a pleasure.

Guest: Yes, thank you so much for having me and look forward to speaking to you and staying connected. Thanks.

Alex: Thank you. And for everybody else, that was another episode of the curiosity co podcast. Don't forget to subscribe if you haven't yet and hit the like button. See you next time.