As The Fintech Times celebrates Women in Fintech this September, we take a moment to hear more from some of its leading females.
Elizabeth (Elle) Kowal is Chief Product Officer at SaaS-based AP automation and B2B payments software provider MineralTree, she is responsible for leading MineralTree’s product and design organization. Her team ensures that MineralTree’s solution delivers maximum business value by understanding client needs, pain points, and market opportunities. The company gained significant momentum in the first half of 2020 as middle-market and mid-enterprise businesses accelerate the move to automate and digitize their AP processes. Q2 sales in MineralTree’s direct channel were the highest in company history and total bookings were up 80% over Q2 2019. The company also saw its average customer implementation time shorten to three weeks, with some customers implementing AP Automation in as little as three days.
Prior to MineralTree, Elle led product management at Fiserv, a global provider of technology services, where her team focused on billing and payment capabilities for businesses of all sizes. Elle also spent several years in leadership roles at various banking institutions managing technology, product, implementation and business development for payment, cash management and e-commerce offerings.
Tell us a bit about your journey…
I got into banking by chance while in college. I was a music education major studying Opera and I took a job at a local bank branch near campus. I moved up the ranks while still in school and was promoted to Branch Manager. I learned a lot about customer service and selling there.
There were a lot of women in leadership positions at the bank, and they had a really positive impact. Their presence and guidance really motivated me.
When I graduated, I moved back to Connecticut and took a job managing eCommerce and online banking for a small local bank. It was my first real taste of product management. I loved it and from there moved to another bank into a full-time product management role. I realized then that I really wanted to be involved in development and creation. That led me to a product strategy role at FiServ. I was also fortunate to work on a few projects that were like startups. It was very different than my banking experience. We were evangelists and change agents, building from scratch, forming teams, developing a customer strategy, and delivering the product. Being responsible for the end-to-end result was really exciting.
At the time, there were very few women in leadership roles at FiServ and very few role models. So I took it upon myself to try to provide that – to both the men and women on my teams. It had been such a benefit to me when I started, and I wanted to return the favour. It was also important to the success of my teams.
What achievement are you most proud of?
I went to college for music education but my early experience in financial services led me to go back and get another bachelor’s degree in Business Management.
Overall, I think I’m most proud of my journey. I’m not one for regrets and I’m proud of the risks I’ve taken. Every rise and fall has taught me something and helped me grow. My music background made me comfortable being the centre of attention when needed. As a musician, you can’t blend into your environment. You’re there to create it and be the energy in the room. I’ve made that part a core of my leadership philosophy.
I’m proud of teaching my daughters to wake up, show up, and never give up. Balancing family and work requires sacrifices and I’ve tried to show them what it takes to go after your dreams – whether its travel or 3:00 am phone calls with a team in India, balanced with a family game night and mother/daughter lunches. My husband is in the Military, so they see the sacrifice on his end and our support for each other.
What is your “day job” now?
I lead product and design at MineralTree, an Accounts Payable (AP) and payment automation solution provider. No one day is the same. My team is creating the strategy for our future, while putting out daily fires; leading transformational change for our customers while reviewing release notes. My focus is ensuring our success by helping others succeed. I spend lots of time mentoring, coaching, guiding my team and others throughout the organization.
What are your thoughts on women in fintech?
Sheryl Sandberg said, “In the future there will be no female leaders. There will be just leaders.” I truly believe and hope for that. My advice for women as leaders is: Be authentic. When you are the true you, and not the one you think others want or need, you will be vulnerable in a way that shines through. You will be open and honest with yourself and others. And you will be a leader that others want to follow. Be self-aware. Know who you are, know your weaknesses, but focus on your strengths. Be confident. Don’t overcompensate for what you don’t have or what you think you don’t have. Don’t apologize for who you are. Know your skills and be confident in them so you can ask questions and ask for help – that’s how you grow.
What are you most looking forward to career-wise?
Two things. One is the opportunity to fundamentally change the way our customers run their business – for the better. I also get tremendous energy from leading my team and mentoring others to find their voice and place. If I help a single individual succeed personally or professionally, I feel like I am making an important difference.