Welcome to our ‘Unlocking Leadership’ series, where we tap into the wisdom of some of the most inspiring founders, leaders and business minds of today. Dive into exclusive interviews and discover strategies and insights, as we explore the secrets to successful leadership.

Susanne Chishti is Chair of leading fintech investor network, FINTECH Circle. She is co-editor of the bestseller ‘The Fintech book’, a fintech commentator on CNBC, and has been listed among the ‘Top 100 Fintech Women’ in the world for 2024 by Fintech Magazine.

She is also a Non-Executive Director at Crown Agents Bank (CAB Payments PLC) and CMC Markets PLC, as well as a member of the Risk, Audit, Nomination and Remuneration Committees.

Here, she shares her thoughts on game-changing moments in the industry, what the future looks like with AI, and the importance of kindness and agile leadership…

What is the biggest challenge facing the fintech industry today?

I think the biggest challenge across the fintech industry is to develop products and services that clients love using, and that become an integral part of people’s lives. For fintech enterprise solutions, it’s really about identifying a problem which hasn’t been solved yet, and coming up with an enterprise grade solution for it.  

How are you responding to this challenge, as an organisation?

FINTECH Circle has partnered with Wiley to publish 7 fintech books to cover the areas of Fintech, Wealthtech, Insurtech, Paytech, AI and Legaltech (part of The FINTECH Book Series) and also ‘Fintech for Dummies‘ which all summarise the challenges our industry face and possible solutions for them. 

With ITN Business, we co-produced four fintech films which showcase some of the most successful fintech companies over the last few years. (Find all films on demand here.)

Explore our 2023 programme, Finance: Equity and Inclusion

What major trends or innovations affecting the fintech industry have had the most impact on FINTECH Circle?

The rise of AI has had huge implications for the finance sector, which is embracing AI on many levels. Most finance professionals have probably trialled and used AI-powered solutions in their private lives, and companies have implemented AI across many areas — from operations to transaction screening, to co-pilot functions — to improve general effectiveness. 

The impact of AI on cost reduction and work efficiency will be immense; however, the impact on employees is not yet fully understood. No doubt, many roles will be made redundant as a result, and equally new roles will be created. It will be much harder for universities going forward to prepare students for the future of work as our society is going through so many significant changes.

What do you envision to be the next key trend or ‘game-changer’ within the industry?

I think that a key trend will be to have ‘AI helpers’ in all parts of our lives; from drafting our emails and booking holidays, to professional data gathering and analytics, to decision making.

I’ve seen a fintech startup which could show that their AI pension agent was even more accurate than a human customer service representative in answering client queries. So, in some areas of our work, AI agents will do a superior job to what we’re doing as humans.

Many people will be scared and wish that we could stop AI, but I think that the ‘genie is out of the box’ – we now need to make sure that AI is fully aligned with human and ethical interests. The key action for governments must be to regulate AI so that its further development can only happen if certain guardrails are met to protect people and to ensure that AI’s risks to society are contained.

What principles guide your leadership during periods of uncertainty or rapid change?

My leadership style is built on lots of respect for the people I am working with, and optimism, courage and intellectual curiosity to fully assess all possible scenarios, in order to decide the best course of action for the company, its employees and shareholders.

Strategic decision-making ultimately requires you to know your purpose as an organisation, to fully understand your current position, and to correctly assess internal resources and external opportunities.

What’s interesting is most companies don’t have 3 year plans anymore, but replan every year as the market is moving so fast. The competitive environment is changing and new technologies and partnerships open up new opportunities all the time. So, an agile leadership style is key, and needs to be both flexible and pragmatic — while also rooted in strong values such as good ethics and fairness to all stakeholders.

What’s your advice to someone embarking on a career in fintech? 

Find an area that you really enjoy, which draws on your strengths, and is in high demand at your workplace — because it involves work that others would find difficult.

When I started my career as a management consultant 25 years ago, I found it very easy to develop a corporate strategy and create a PowerPoint slide deck explaining it. What I found easy, others found hard and vice versa – so it helped me build on what I could do well.

Be prepared to try new things that seem scary at the outset. Only when you take on new responsibilities do you learn new ways of working, and that’s when you grow as a person and as an employee.

I believe in kindness, friendliness and creating an enjoyable working atmosphere where people can learn and collaborate together. When people feel good about themselves and the company overall, they will be able to perform best and everybody wins!

What are some of your favourite aspects of working in this industry?

I love getting to meet so many interesting people across all the different organisations FINTECH Circle works with. No two days are the same and I find it very fulfilling and fun to always learn new things and be inspired by great leaders and their companies.

The fintech sector is vibrant and fast-moving. The UK government and regulators are very supportive of the sector, because to an extent its success impacts the appeal of the UK economy. As fintech solutions have entered the mainstream, they’ve made the UK a more attractive location to start and scale a business.

What has been a personal career highlight? 

As a Fintech Board member and Non-Executive Director of private and listed companies, highlights were to prepare an AIM listed company, SafeCharge for its sale to the Canadian company Nuvei for £700 million in 2019 (UK Takeover of SafeCharge).

Also, the preparation of taking private equity owned Crown Agents Bank public in July 2023, when the IPO (initial public offering) of CAB Payments PLC took place at a market valuation of £850 million.

What excites you about the future of fintech?

I’ve no doubt that most citizens will be using fintech solutions over the next few years. Even if they’re not familiar with the term itself, fintech will be what’s powering the apps and services they’re using to pay, save, invest, borrow, donate to charity, and shop, every day.

 

SMART THINKING: Susanne Chishti on supporting women in fintech.