The Middle East and Africa (MEA) region is 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 feature various female leaders from across the world. One of them is Noha Shaker, who is originally from Egypt but lives in between London and Cairo and is an expert in fintech and specifically in digital banking & inclusive financial services.
Noha Shaker is the founder and Secretary-General of the Egyptian Fintech Association and the elected Vice President the Africa FinTech Network, the union of African FinTech associations – both are non-profit organisations that serve Financial Inclusion, equitable economic and gender parity through fintech and entrepreneurship in general.
FinTech Egypt and Africa FinTech Network are inclusive platforms that aims to foster and connect all fintech ecosystem stakeholders, including fintech startups, financial institutions, regulators, service providers, mentors and investors. Its vision is to become a globally recognised fintech hub in the Arab world & Africa, home to next-generation financial services, talent and innovative development.
Noha is also the founder of TechFin holding, a company that builds and invests in financially inclusive business models targeting the MEA region. The company has a presence in London, Cairo and (soon to be launched) in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) as it’s about to launch its digital banking and cross-border trade facilitation businesses in collaboration with leading regional banks.
Noha was selected as one of the leaders shaping the future of the financial industry for 2019 – FinTech hotlist by Innovate Finance due to her efforts in building collaborative echo systems to grow and enhance the impact fintech startups can have. Making the world a more accepting and inclusive place. Her volunteer work with multiple developmental agencies over the years to build future leaders is one more reason she was chosen for such prestigious reward.
Working with governments, incumbent financial institutions to transform the corporate culture and improve digital infrastructure readiness to enable partnering with fintech startups is her passion. Democratising finance and a more inclusive financial industry is the goal she lives for.
Describe your career journey
I have worked within the financial industry for 20 years, spending 12 years working for Commercial International Bank (CIB), heading the Digital Ventures and Strategic Alliance for a regional leading bank along with heavy exposure to technology and management consulting, making me ready to take on the challenges I chose to pursue.
As a recognised thought leader and a female, what difficulties have you faced in your career?
The main obstacle has always been resistance to change, incumbent banks and large organisations tend to have very well rooted corporate cultures, to shift such corporate culture to welcome and embrace innovation and change is always hard.
The challenges I faced as a female are not much different than that faced by a male executive, you have to prove you bring value to the table to be able to succeed. I just had to put in extra effort to earn respect and be accepted in the ‘big boys club.”
What are the future trends and predictions you see happening in the region?
Broad digitalisation amongst incumbent financial service providers, changes in consumer behaviour to become more adaptive to digital services, the emergence of new, technology-enabled business and operating models amongst financial institutions and regulatory change that enables change.
If we take the banking industry as an example, we should see another wave of mergers and acquisitions amongst smaller banks, banks offering banking as a service “BaaS” relying on scalable fintech startups presence on the ground and agility in identifying and responding to ever-changing customer needs.
Incumbent banks are working on enhancing their technology infrastructure, building state of the art open API gates to be able to interact with the fast-growing digital services platforms.
The Government in Egypt is putting financial inclusion, digital economy and trade facilitation on the top of its agenda. Both The Central Bank of Egypt and Financial Regulatory authorities putting together fintech laws to enable multiple fintech use cases, launching sandboxes to ensure consumer protection while doing so. Also, building sovereign funds to close the gap of early-stage investments in fintech startups will contribute to the creation of a long pipelines of fintech startups that serves multiple national goals.
Multiple African countries are working on similar initiatives in collaboration with the local fintech associations such as Nigeria, Uganda, Mauritius, South Africa and many more.
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?
The future is happening, whether you are ready for it or not, so always be ready! That readiness is a function of ongoing learning, exposure to international markets, deeply understanding and engaging the local ones!
Keep your customers at the heart of everything you do, satisfying their need is your door to a sustainable, scalable and profitable business.
Grow your network of like-minded professionals and surround yourself with people who share your values and vision, they can and will push you forward. You are your worst enemy or best friend, only you can determine what you can and cannot do!
Everything is achievable, it is only a matter of will, effort and persistence over time. It is never a failure until you stop trying! Do not think time to market, think time to value and remain focused on your goals.
Embrace change, it is your best friend! Change creates opportunities for people who can spot them and are ready for them. Find your mission in life, the power of working for a cause makes you unstoppable!