Season 10 - Episode 7
The Power of Women in FinTech by PayPal Senior Director of Product
Mudita Tiwari, PayPal Senior Director of Product, loves solving problems on a big scale. She enjoys deep solutioning, working at the intersection of the private and public sectors, and strategic planning. Read on for her take on women in FinTech and the future of the Fintech industry as a whole.
Let’s get started with learning a bit more about your personal story. Can you tell us how you got to where you are today and how you got started in tech?
Absolutely. Yes. So it’s been a little bit of a winding journey for me. I was one of those people who didn’t really know what I wanted to do when I “grew up” and was excited about all things tech.
I started my journey as a developer and realized that I wasn’t a very, very good developer, but loved all aspects of creating and developing a problem out. I subsequently became a management consultant after doing a stint in development and working with some really brilliant engineers and enjoyed that quite a bit.
Back when I started my management consulting career, there used to be this concept of implementing large enterprise level software. And that was the first foray I would say into Product Management, where you really learn how to gather requirements, understand and listen to your customer, do a lot of deep thinking and writing, and developing that type good behavior. And then working with a cross-functional team, with your clients as well as yourself, in order to implement a product.
So that was where I started understanding that I enjoy the aspect of deep solutioning, understanding a problem in depth, talking to people, working with different minds to come towards a solution together. But also realized that my heart was aching for some fulfilling, meaningful work. Not like my consulting practice work wasn’t meaningful, but I really loved the idea of the private sector and the public sector joining hands and building solutions that could really scale.
One of the things that deeply thrilled me is, Hey, you take a problem, but if you’re able to implement it at scale the opportunity to service many people is really exciting and really fulfilling.
And I think the public sector gives you that aspect, and the fuel that private sector innovation provides can be a phenomenal experience. I had a great opportunity to then work with the the county of Los Angeles, worked in the DC area quite a bit as well. Worked in Fresno county, worked in Honolulu, Hawaii.
So I was very blessed in traveling to different parts of the country and really servicing our government sector quite a bit. But then took a break because I needed more time to think about what life would be next.
Went back to school for my grad school education and actually got trained as an epidemiologist and a biostatistician and in public policy. So very different from the work I actually do. You can find many ways into Product, is what I think I’m getting at.
And then ultimately, did a lot of work as a Program Manager for the Gates Foundation, also worked for the World Bank Projects quite a bit, and really understood the importance of financial technologies and how they can empower people on at the grassroots level.
And PayPal really sits in the middle of this problem and trying to solve this problem, but there are many other excellent companies and thought leaders thinking about the same kind of problem as well. So that’s how I found my role through many types of trainings into the product role and enjoyed greatly because I’m able to take a little bit from all of those experiences, and now work towards building a product that can be scalable, can be something that is delightful, something that really makes an impact on the lives of people. And that’s how my Product journey has been.
Now that you’re a Senior Director of Product, what does your day to day or week to week look like at that level?
That’s a good question. Actually, I would say that one thing that we learned during our consulting days, I think that way thinking about Product potentially still holds true. And I’ll share that, and let’s see if the audience resonates with this.
So we think about a problem space in three ways. One is people, one is process, one is tech. And that’s an oversimplification obviously of the problem, but as a Director, or even as a Product Manager I would say, you’re always trying to move these three levers when you’re working.
You’re thinking about the people that you work with, whether they’re your team or extended team, you’re thinking about the processes to unblock them and to simplify execution of product, building the product, bringing it to market. And then the third piece is obviously innovative technological solutions.
I think the rigor and the discipline, the focus behaviors are things that we need to champion in order to make a product. And a lot of my time is spent really thinking about how do I introduce good behaviors in our team and really celebrate the excellent success that naturally comes when you hire brilliant minds and just unlock their potential.
My job, as a number one thing that I do, is to really step out of the way and not get in the way of my team and really accelerate them. And then also as I am getting out of the way, understanding from them through a continuous communication, where are the friction points that they see in their own day to day execution? So a lot of time is really spent on the people management aspects of my job and and really nourishing and taking care of my team and then our extended team by default.
And then of course figuring out the processes we need to put in place in order to make sure product delivery is a well-oiled machine. And there’s always an opportunity to do better and better and better. And especially when you work for companies that are a little bit more mature or have done things a certain way, how do you then challenge the status quo without fracturing the system and still accelerating the team?
So I think about that a lot. I think a lot of my time goes in strategic planning, strategic initiatives to bring the business along, and really then making sure that we are aligned to the strategic priorities and not doing work that doesn’t make sense for the overall growth of the team or the company. And then obviously measuring our growth and our contribution to business is the third angle that I think about and work on constantly. So a little bit nebulous, happy to go deeper into any of these areas if you’d like.
At PayPal, you’re in the FinTech industry. Are there any kind of unique challenges to being in the FinTech industry that you might not see in other spaces?
Absolutely. We are in a very unique position as PayPal because people trust you with their financial wellbeing in many ways. So regulation, adhering to the compliance framework, is the number one commitment to business.
And then just taking care of your customers, whether they’re merchants or they’re consumers, and PayPal is very blessed in that we have a multiple-sided network. So on one side we have our merchants, over 300 million. We have consumers on the other hand who log into PayPal to transact.
And then of course the third area that I’m extremely passionate about, and my team leads, is the developer segment. Essentially, how do you take developers who use the APIs and SDKs that PayPal bills and really sort of puts together payment solutions— beyond payment solutions, even—for our merchants to go ahead and accelerate the online presence or their eCommerce offerings.
I think of it as a three-sided network for us that we are constantly responsible for. But it is rooted in the idea that financial empowerment is extremely important for folks, regardless of their strata or socioeconomic condition. But especially for the vulnerable populations and doing right by them is something that is a huge mission for PayPal.
And often we talk about democratizing financial services. So always thinking about how do we reduce the friction for people who are consuming these services and how we can do better as a company each day in order to service our our base.
I can hear the passion in your voice as you’re talking about it, it’s obvious this is a problem that you’re obsessed with, which is a great thing for product people. I’d like to ask you a bit about being a woman in FinTech—the outside of perspective of FinTech is that it can be a little bit of a boys’ club. Is that a giant misconception or is there a nugget of truth in that that you’ve had to maneuver?
Here’s how I’ll say it. I will keep all company brands aside and just look at the problem in itself and its entirety.
Silicon Valley, or just the tech space in general, has to do better when it comes to being more inclusive and a place that is more inviting for women in general, or any underrepresented group in particular.
And there are various ways of looking at that problem. It starts honestly very early in the way our education system is set up, right. And the incentives we put in place.
There are trends that we are seeing obviously changing. If you look at the number of women graduating from colleges with advanced degrees, et cetera. It’s rising quite a bit. And that’s very interesting and exciting for me as a person in tech.
And the second thing is, I will be honest—women need men as allies in this conversation. And any time that allyship breaks, then we are almost working against each other rather than towards a common goal, which is that everybody deserves to have a great working environment where they feel respected, they feel like they have a seat at the table, they have a voice in the system and can really, truly bring about change.
So the way I see it is certainly not a gender friction issue, it’s just, how do we build those allyship models and bring each other along? What my team does in particular, and strategies that have worked well, is really be mindful about inclusion and diversity from the get-go. Anytime we make a hire into the team, we have an opportunity to put the best foot forward as being an inviting workplace, as a place where both women and men have a seat at the table.
But we are specifically talking to women about things that they need. I’ll just give an example. Women with young children may not be at the liberty to travel as much for work. We’re in a different COVID space, but imagine a world where business travel comes back. We have to be mindful of that, right? And can we put policies in place where young fathers and mothers potentially don’t have to travel? And can you call that out in a new job description to make it a little bit more inviting for women?
The other thing we did for example, within my team, is really looked for gendered words in our job description. So for example, women don’t often respond well to job descriptions that say, Hey, you gotta be a go-getter. You gotta be a complete shape shifter, you should be able to transform the company—it’s too much to take on for any human being, by the way, it’s just bizarre that we should even put those types of aggressive requirements in a job description.
The way we perform well in our jobs is if we’re collaborative, if we communicate well, if we’re able to bring each other along. And those are words that resonate with men, they resonate with women as well. And so how do we neutralize some of that gendered entry even with just a job description?
And then, if we’re setting up hiring panels that are diverse, not just men, but women, people from different types of backgrounds, et cetera. So there’s careful thought that goes into hiring within my team itself. And then just of course, oftentimes making sure that when we’re hiring women, they see women leaders and are able to see that we’re putting our money where our mouth is.
Just making sure that we are being authentic in the way we are showing up. And I’m very fortunate, very fortunate here at PayPal, and many other companies that I’ve worked for, where these conversations are not frowned upon. These are conversations that people embrace.
Oftentimes we can lead with examples of good behavior and make that a structural change within the team so that it’s not something that you have to talk about. Like inclusion in hiring is not something I have to talk about because that’s how I’ve structured the hiring process. And it’s just a process we follow. So that’s what I’ve learned.
And then of course, many other aspects have of being a woman in tech and FinTech, you know, the spaces for women to own and to lead. And I’m excited about what the future prospect brings us. I’ll tell you, there are a couple of companies that I’m extremely excited about in the FinTech space.
And I’ll just name one. And I am not an investor in this company, I have no personal interest, but it’s just the way this company showed up was quite exciting. Ellevest is an interesting company I think, that is women owned, and thinks about the way women invest and speaks to women. There is an immense opportunity also in the market just generally, if we’re going to be serious about bringing women along, is to invest in products and idea is that make sense for women.
And I would say keep Ellevest on one side, keep Robinhood on one side. And it’s interesting to see how they both show up. And I think it is a fantastic space for everybody to win, but maybe how you shape your messaging and product for the audience, leaders have to think about, and it all depends on the leader on the seat at that point.
Finance is becoming more and more of a hot topic in the public space with investments, cryptocurrencies, and NFTs all getting the spotlight. As a professional in the space, what you think we’ll see from the FinTech industry in the next five years in terms of democratizing these services?
I’ll take a slightly different stab and maybe a more nuanced response to this than probably you hear from a lot of the Product folks in FinTech.
See, my career in FinTech started with my work at at UCSF, at the Gates Foundation, with the World Bank Initiative. So my perspective on FinTech is very different from what the one percenters or the five percenters of the world thinks. And that is also important. But the real financial empowerment, where the FinTech technology needs to really reach, is at the bottom of the pyramid.
And this is like a poor way of describing it. But the pyramid let’s say if it’s like that, if I can make my hand work, we are solving for this top portion of the world. But the problem and the inclusion for financial services needs to happen at the bottom of the pyramid to really transform and accelerate the innovation.
Crypto has huge potential, for sure. So does these non-traditional ways of financing. So I’m very excited about some of the work that non-traditional banking ideas are bringing into the space.
Imagine a world where you needed to have collateral, you needed to have a good credit score. You needed to have your parents who could vouch for you for your credit, et cetera. Majority of the world may not work like that.
You know, people may not have a perfect credit score or a mechanism even to get into the credit market. So what are the alternative systems that we can build in order to enable these people?
Buy now, pay later is a classic example of how we shifted already in the market—that you don’t need a huge credit worthiness in order to buy something that could be an aspirational buy for you. You can split it up in multiple payments, et cetera.
So the innovation is happening already, even without us trying sometimes. I think COVID did a lot of that. But I really do envision and hope for a world, as you asked, Ellen, is where we can solve for that bottom of the pyramid customer.
If a woman in India—and that’s something I’m personally passionate about—is able to go in, use a savings product, and build for the future of her daughter, for her education, for her wedding, for her healthcare. That’s a win. And that’s the end game.
Honestly, I don’t think we’ll be able to get there in five years. It may not happen in my lifetime, but that’s where the ball needs to be or the eye needs to be. But then definitely all the trends that I’m seeing are very, very exciting. Crypto, especially as you said, NFTs. Yeah. I’m interested to see how that’s going to show up. I think I’m a little bit old school sometimes where I’m like, “Oh, how does this apply for scale?”
But ultimately, if the core financial services cannot operate for people who need it most, then we keep solving for that top 5%. And that’s exciting, but there’s a bigger opportunity out there for sure.
Do you have any advice for people who already work in Product who are looking to transition into FinTech, or for people that are coming to this straight out of college?
Yeah, I’m so delighted that FinTech is suddenly garnering a lot of interest. And universe willing, it stays like that for a long, long time to solve all of the world’s financial problems.
I would say that if you are of a curious mind, you are excited about how finance generally works, and you are not offended by the idea of a democratization of money: This is your space. You should be excited about all the tech improvements and acceleration that’s happening here.
COVID again, I’ll say, was a huge accelerator for the e-commerce space anyways, and payments power a lot of the e-commerce technologies as well. If you’re interested in FinTech, apply. Apply. Because FinTech, as far as the core payments pieces are concerned, it is a massive space.
And if you can touch components of it—even I, having worked this space for quite some time, I still feel like I’m just scratching the surface because the technology is just so deep and so wide that I think it’ll take lifetimes to really, truly understand all aspects of it.
But I think understanding how the whole credit processing works, how the debit processing works, understanding how money movement works, et cetera. And this is publicly available information that we can just go ahead and digest. I think Visa puts out great learning materials, Paypal puts out great learning materials. I think a lot of the new FinTech players put out amazing free knowledge out there that I think we should just be eating up and reading on a regular basis.
But then honestly just jump in. There is no magic formula to this. Make your way into the industry. I know that a lot of hiring is happening in this area. It’s a great time to actually join as well. Luckily like the job market is good for the techies and product folks at the moment.
And I would say that it’s not just product, even if you can touch the program aspects. Even if you can touch the analytics aspects of this work, it is actually great learning and sets you up for success. As far as the qualifications you need, as long as you have basic understanding about finances in general, as long as you are curious about customer problems, as long as you understand that solving for friction is the biggest value add here—I think you are gunning for the right kind of role in FinTech.
You’re almost making me wanna transition into FinTech now, that was so convincing. (I hope my manager’s not listening to that… It was a joke!) Let’s transition into some more lighthearted things. If you could go back in time and give any piece of advice to the younger version of you for your career, what would that piece of advice be?
I feel like I shouldn’t give any advice because I’m learning so much myself. I think there’s, this is an advice for myself that I have been using on a daily basis. I think just compassion for yourself and I am, you know, there is a spiritual angle to this as well. And I’m reading the questions that are coming in from the audience as well. Things are changing so fast, so fast in the, in the whole digitization of the economy that is taking place right now is that we literally have to hang on and just write this right. It’s a fantastic time to be in actually there is the fear of missing out of course, but that’s where compassion for self comes in. You know I remember back in the day when I was working at eBay the CEO had said you’re always training for the marathon.
You are not training for the sprint. Of course, it’s great to sprint, take a breather recharge and come back, but you’re training for the marathon. And I think if we take time as a more longer term flow, then it’s easier to deal with personal failures or personal you know, times where I feel like, oh my goodness, I don’t think I’ll be able to survive this like shocker into, into, into my life. But I think having compassion for that is key. And then just writing down your achievements on a yearly basis, this is something that I worked with the chief architect at eBay when reporting into him, he said a great practice. He did is at the end of every year, he pulled up LinkedIn and wrote down all the great things that he had done. And it’s fascinating because you’re writing a little bit of your history and, and, and proudly showing it to the world. But it’s such a great way to just look back how far along you came. And it’s almost a deliberate exercise. Otherwise we are just running in this hamster wheel without realizing that, you know, we’re making a contribution to our own learning. We are sort of making a contribution to the tech space and, and documenting that is, is of the great way
I love the analogy of the marathon. As you advance in your career, the more things you are able to delegate and get off of your plate and onto other people’s so you can focus on the bigger picture. But is there anything that you like to keep for yourself just because you enjoy it?
Yeah, before I became a people manager, I also spend number of years just doing individual contributor or IC work as, as it’s called in the industry a lot of times. And I love doing the deep writing, the structured thinking. I liked I used to have my own blog as, at some point as well. And, and now that you’re calling me you’re kind of putting limelight on this. I’m a little bit embarrassed. I haven’t kept up with that. So I need to so I think deep thinking and writing is something that I truly enjoy and contributing to sort of the strategy pieces is something I enjoy greatly it’s nourishing for my soul. And then some things that I have sort of put in practice and feel very proud of is the hiring framework and the hiring practices that I’ve built for my team. And I cling onto those things, like a little spider who just can’t give up on their spider web. And I’m so glad that I’m still involved in some of those things even though I don’t need to be but truly enjoy sort of the strategic writing, thinking as well as the hiring pieces of my job. And won’t give it up.