Julie: Welcome Amnah, could you give a short introduction for our readers? Who is Amnah?
AA: Thanks a lot for having me. Water best describes me. One of my bosses said Amnah you are like water, even if the door is closed you would enter beneath the door. I imagined a life for myself and created it with optimism, courage and perseverance.
Julie: You have quite an impressive track record in FinTech, but let’s start at the beginning: Have you always wanted to work in finance? Tell me more, where your journey began?
AA: Before I was born it was decided that I would study medicine as my father lost his mother to a critical illness and lack of good healthcare professionals in his hometown. It was emotional for him. I couldn’t get into any medical school as my biology grades were terrible. I was great at maths but no one wanted to hear that. I was labelled a failure and wasted a year sitting at home as no one was interested in my education anymore. I did my bachelors in computer engineering, went on to do my MBA and only joined Citibank because they came to my university campus and was the only multinational that offered me an international job. That was my ticket to freedom. Free to dream and live my dreams. I did not have a birth right to work as no one in my family had ever done a masters degree or had worked. My mom was a mom at the age of 17 and my grand mother was 32 only. Women’s identity was the men in their life be it the father, brother, husband or son. I wanted to be a person myself. So I decided to start my career with Citibank knowing very well I didn’t want to be a banker.
“Be humble enough to say I don’t know all the answers , smart enough to surround yourself with people smarter than you and courageous enough to take thoughtful risks. “
Julie: You have been acknowledged for your great work during your career, even listed in the top 10 women in FinTech 3 years in a row across the world. What does this mean to you?
AA:I am humbled and to enjoy the honour with such great leaders is truly inspiring. It just means that I have to continue to unlearn and learn. The world in which we live in today is so fast paced. Just imagine all that the students are studying at colleges will be irrelevant by the time they are in the job market. So the only way is to unlearn and learn ;unlearn old ways of thinking and challenging the status quo. Be humble enough to say I don’t know all the answers , smart enough to surround yourself with people smarter than you and courageous enough to take thoughtful risks.
Julie: How would you define success? Has this changed during your career, and why?
AA: It has changed ever since I started managing people. Managing people is a true privilege. I have changed countries multiple times and many times my successors have changed the business strategy I put in place and after a while I forgot what my business achievements were. However , I remember the impact I had on people. For me success is seeing how many great leaders I have been able to grow, inspire and support. Looking at how my old team members went on to become senior leaders in the same organization, took my job, became my peers is truly gratifying. This is how I define success.
Julie: I could imagine the way to the top is not without obstacles. What was your biggest learning point during your career?
AA: On a personal front my biggest learning is to share your vulnerable self as a leader!
I had brunt all bridges to have a life where I can work, live and travel the world and gain financial independence. I used to work for 18 hours a day 7 days a week with no holidays for the first few years of my life. I never had a single home cooked meal and lived pretty much on soda. Till one day in Poland I had a severe stomach ache and after multiple tests I was diagnosed with IBS. I had to change my lifestyle, eat well, exercise, sleep and rest more. It was a wake up call. I started to realize that my team saw me in a different light from that day onwards. They saw me showing my vulnerable side, embracing a life beyond work and I felt much better.
AA: On the professional front my learning is to risk your success!
I was the youngest asset business head at Citigroup’s second largest business in Europe and then went on to become the youngest consumer bank head for Standard Chartered in Asia. Managing a full business p&l was always the end goal and when I became the consumer
“You have to risk your success and it’s part of your leadership journey. “
bank head it was at least 8 -10 years ahead of my time. 8 months into my dream role I had to do a restructuring and I laid off 300 people. That day I thought banking isn’t for me. I want to use my creativity and leadership to inspire talent and grow businesses. I left banking at the peak of my career and joined a payment technology company. Everyone told me it was a mistake as I was doing so well in banking. The same technology company has promoted me twice , I learnt to many fascinating new technologies and I went on to run their largest region for products. You have to risk your success and its part of your leadership journey.
Julie: What advice would you like to give to your twenty year old self?
AA: Embrace yourself as a whole. When I was 28 years old I looked like 18. I landed up in a role which was always held by people in their 40’s, in a country where I didn’t know the language or culture. I was angry and upset when people thought I was an intern. I tried to look older by wearing specs. Now I look back and think why I didn’t enjoy that I looked so young? Why I didn’t take pride in my achievement of being a young person to get a very senior role and share my story to inspire them to dream big and shatter the glass ceiling. I changed jobs and countries twice in the last four years and both time I was expecting. Second time around I delivered twins few months after taking a new job and moving countries in fact continents. I was mentoring a young woman who was expecting her third child and she said to me she got upset at work as someone reminded her of something she forgot suggesting she had a pregnancy brain. I told her to embrace herself as a whole. Yes a woman goes thru a lot of changes physically and emotionally on her beautiful journey to bring a life. I asked her” Why wont you just take pride in it and reply back saying oh yes I do forget things with a smile”
Julie: You have had multiple leadership positions in your career, what do you think is the most valuable leadership skill?
AA: Courage. So many great talented people are frustrated working for leaders who cant decide, cant take the risk, cant have a transparent conversation about career progression. Cant act with sense of urgency, prioritizing pleasing everyone versus moving forward with accountability and the list goes on. All this boils to courage!
Julie: What attracts you most to work in the FinTech industry?
AA: The fact that technology is enabling us to have such a massive impact at such a rapid speed on redefining the future , reimaging the world and accelerating the inclusion of financially underserved communities.
Julie: One last question. We started Female x Finance to inspire, empower and guide young female talent to a career in finance with the goal to get more women into finance. What do you think needs to change to get more women into finance?
AA: It is a two way street. Young female talent needs to raise their hand, speak up in meetings, ask for the next big job, take thoughtful risks, belief in yourself that even if you don’t know 100% of your new job ,you will figure it out and make sure you are working for leaders who would see the light in you even when you are not at your best.. All of us have bad days. Financial sector is making huge progress on diversity and inclusion agenda. I have been fortunate to work for companies that have always focussed on empowering and supporting women. Organizations need to continue to do what they are doing but emphasise on two things. Firstly identify women leaders early on in their career and have a clear development plan to give them senior executive leadership roles in future with clear progression plan in place. Secondly, support work life integrations. Work life integration challenges go beyond gender but women definitely get significantly impacted if organizations don’t have programs and policies in place to support them.
Thank you very much for your time!