Maha is Head of Department in the Innovation Division leading the Financial Conduct Authority’s (FCA) response to the Kalifa review of Fintech and setting up the new FCA Regulatory Nursery. She is an experienced international business leader with a strategic focus and a long term vision. Maha has extensive payments knowledge across the payments chain from systems to end user.
Could we start with an overview of your career and what your current role at Pay.UK involves?
I’ve worked in financial services for a long time now and interestingly that has taken me around the world which is something I always wanted to do but never anticipated I can working in this industry. I started in Sydney, Australia where I covered roles in retail banking and payments locally. Then started to expand into global payments, global cash management, liquidity management and performed many roles across various disciplines from sales to strategy, product and risk and control. These varied roles brought me to the UK and in the last few years I joined the Financial Conduct Authority to set up their Payments Department which meant designing and delivering the Payments supervision strategy as well as delivering the second Payments Services Directive (PSD2) and open banking in the UK. In the last 9 months I have been running the interbank payments operations at Pay.UK the Payment System Operator of the retail Payments rails in the UK. This includes faster payments and bulk payments (Bacs) as well as some 9 managed services including Paym or mobile payments and Current Account Switching Service (CASS). I have now moved back to the FCA to lead on its response to the ‘Kalifa Review of UK Fintech’ and design their ‘Regulatory Nursery’ which is hugely exciting. As I reflect on all this, I must say it’s been a fun journey with more to come.
When was there a period in your career that was challenging and how did you overcome it?
We’ve all faced tough times during our work life and I’m no different. I’ve not always responded in the right way but I’ve always looked back and taken the learnings. Always consider your own response and behaviour and take advantage of mentors or sounding boards to help you navigate difficult situations. A great example is feeling like you’re getting unfair negative feedback or perhaps your project hasn’t landed the way you or those around you were hoping. Perhaps you or your team may have made an error. I’ve had experience with all of the above, and I have learned to do the following: a) don’t consider feedback to be a personal attack. Take time to ask questions about what you could’ve done differently and how can the person help you to develop in that area; b) take ownership and be solution oriented. If you made a mistake, or someone in your team makes a mistake, calm those around you by accepting responsibility and coming up with a solution (or a list of solutions). Fixing the problem quickly usually diffuses it quickly; c) look back and make changes. Whether it’s about the project that didn’t land or the error you had to fix, always take the learnings and demonstrate that you have applied them. You’ve noticed common point across all this is learning. It’s all about a growth mindset and you will find you gain a lot of supporters if you demonstrate a calm, curious and hungry for learning attitude.
Having lived and worked in Europe and Australia, what differences have you seen in the role of diversity in the work place?
Each location is on a different journey and are facing unique challenges when it comes to diversity, but the case for diversity and the benefit of diverse teams and inclusive cultures is the same in the UK, Australia and other countries. My own experience in both continents has shown that being the only ‘different’ voice in the room is daunting in some cases and admittedly there are times in my career where I did not speak up for fear of being labelled different. But it is a source of strength if you want it to be and now I ensure that the voices of those who have had life experiences like me are heard, that decisions need to take into account diverse groups of society and we need to make a change. I have grown into a more confident advocate for diversity and inclusion the more I experience how much we miss out by not speaking up, how much has changed but still needs to change and it is up to each and every one of us to take a stand.
What personal experiences have you had that have driven your passion for diversity & inclusion?
Financial services has typically been a male dominant industry. I often reflect on the times I sat in rooms being the only female. I still sit in meetings being the only person of ethnic background. I see it, I feel it and I know this needs to change if we are to make better decisions and represent society. You can still see this from the stats and the gender pay gap reports. Each person has an opportunity to make a difference; to be inclusive; to challenge their thinking. That is how we grow as a society. I want to do my part in moving society forward no matter how small that role is. It is the sum of all the small parts that is going to move the dial and the more people do their part, the more the dial will move.
What could the UK financial services industry being doing better to encourage diversity & inclusion and what could we learn from other sources?
There is a live debate going on about diversity and inclusion in the UK and I’m pleased to say that it is entering mainstream discourse more and more. Whilst we’ve come a long way, there is still a long way to go. For example, there are still gaps at senior levels in terms of fair representation and I think more needs to be done there. Nikhil Rathi, CEO of the FCA in a recent speech indicated that the FCA will explore whether to make diversity requirement part of its premium listing rules. These are the type of bold statements and decisions that will shift the dialogue further. I personally believe that targets are effective at least in the beginning. Where targets are implemented, results are achieved, like any good business plan!
What would your advice be to females starting their career in financial services who aspire to be a leader?
Ah. So much to say. Dream big and know that you are capable. In many cases you have to work harder which means that you are absolutely qualified so never doubt your abilities. When things get tough, always be part of the solution and know that this adds to your experience and resilience. Finally, engage in the D&I dialogue and find your way of contributing to it. Every bit counts.
Posted 10 days ago