Turkey is unique in its geographical position as it is located between Europe, Asia and the Middle East. The Middle East and Africa (MEA) region is generally an up and coming region with respect to its wider economic development. Specifically, the region has seen a growth and importance in fintech, producing its own unique innovations, entrepreneurs and thought leaders in the space. As The Fintech Times in September celebrates Women in Fintech, we take a moment to hear more from some of the leading female leaders in both the Middle East and Africa. One of them is Demet Zübeyiroğlu.
Demet is the Chairperson of FINTR (Financial Innovation and Technologies Association) a recently launched non-profit to strengthen the fintech practice in Turkey. She is also Managing Director and Co-Founder of KOOPHub, a diverse and independent community enabler in financial innovation. Previously, she assumed executive, advisory and entrepreneurial roles in ICT industry with a focus on technology and innovation. She was one of the founders of Turkey’s first telecom magazine that was published for 20 years upon its debut in 1995. She became engaged in fintech once she led a team in launching the Turkey’s first prepaid card in 2005. She has taken part in many other first- of-its-kinds gigs in the country including a calling card operator, a co-working space as well as a fashion show of wearable technologies alongside support of a global chip maker. She is an electronics engineer by education from Istanbul Technical University.
Describe your career journey
I personally started my career in ICT sector through various roles and ventures; and spent years in publishing proprietary magazines, building startups, involving in industry-related projects and programs. The information communication technologies industry has been an extraordinary landscape to witness a sea of change towards digitalisation and new technologies. I am so blessed to have been a part of it as it provided an immense opportunity to learn a lot for a young entrepreneur who is an engineer by education. What I grasped over the course of 20 years has enabled me to smoothly enter into the fintech landscape almost 5 years back. I became a part of fintech consultancy and then commenced the first ever fintech hub in Turkey. Only this year, we have converted all fintech activities under a non-profit and formed the first ever fintech association in Turkey. I am currently serving as the Founding Chairperson of Fintech Association Turkey aka FINTR.
As a recognised thought leader and a female, what difficulties have you faced in your career?
The country that I am from is largely dominated by male executives, not a surprise, yet financial services as well as telecommunications industries stand out to be different. Female professionals consist almost half of the workforce in banking, insurance and capital markets. Women leaders are seen climbing to the top positions in mobile operators. It is a bit unusual in this part of the world.
Despite a solid gender diversity, I have also experienced challenges particularly as a young female entrepreneur. Finding my way in a competitive environment came with occasional mistakes as I was experimenting. Yet I was overreacted once in a while due to those mistakes which was a bit deterrent. It was equally tough to manage peers and colleagues to lend ears to my ideas and opinions. Particularly when those ideas were a bit too early for their times.
What are the future trends and predictions you see happening in the region?
The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is truly diverse due to varying regulations, market structures and competition policies. Such differences make it hard to consider the region as a whole and in one piece. In a more subject-specific categorisation, financial inclusion remains to be the hottest topic in low income countries. Solutions offering basic account services are still of utmost importance in such countries. The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region however has seen massive investments by the banks towards digital and online services. Startups find it difficult to scale up due to fragmentation of the markets and crowding-out by traditional players. Turkish payment service providers have experienced exponential growth due to double-digit increase in e-commerce services for the last twenty years. The region has yet to produce a fintech unicorn due to fragmentation and regulatory gridlocks. In the years to come, we might see mergers and acquisitions that bring some of the large-scale startups to the stage of unicorns.
What advice and recommendations do you want to give future female entrepreneurs and thought leaders who are based in the Middle East & Africa (MEA) region?
Opportunities abound for those who ably see the gaps in the system. The region is not an exception to such paradigm. Female entrepreneurs need to be bold. I am not saying they should take risks recklessly, but they need to be courageous enough by harnessing the risks and opportunities in the meantime and get ready to walk on a tightrope. It is what it takes to become successful in a challenging world.