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At NDB, women leaders are leaders first


Women have made significant headway in fintech, an industry that sits at the intersection of the traditionally male-dominated fields of finance and technology. Today, they are rising through the ranks of leadership in fintech organizations, including in BBVA’s New Digital Businesses unit.
Bea Giménez, head of NDB’s new business pillar, is one of those women in senior management within the group; Carmela Gómez, chief operating officer of NDB, is another.

Giménez has seen an encouraging trend of more women rising through the ranks at the companies in the NDB portfolio, including Susan French, head of product for BBVA Open Platform; Pauline Lee, who leads Upturn’s business operations and partnerships; Cameron Peake, co-founder and CEO of Azlo; and Elina Räsänen, Holvi’s vice president of marketing and communications.

“The women I see in leadership in our companies are really bringing their own personalities into decision making,” Giménez said.  “Once upon a time, I would go to a meeting and everyone would assume I was an assistant.”

In a recent Pew Research study on gender in leadership, respondents said female leaders were more likely than men to be compassionate, organized, and honest — as well as equally innovative. (They also said women leaders are better at providing guidance and mentorship to young employees.)

What sets the women leaders at NDB and its companies apart is about far more than checking the “female” box.  

Skills first: filling a need

When Elina Räsänen sent an open application in 2014 to Holvi, then a fledgling fintech startup with just 12 employees, she knew her skills were a perfect fit for the company’s needs.

She was right — and she started her new job five days later. Though Räsänen was the only woman on her team, gender was the furthest thing from her mind when she set to her work.

Her first role within Holvi was a combination of marketing, PR, and customer success — and helping the company to expand outside of Finland within Europe. BBVA acquired Holvi just two years later, and the company has now grown to more than 100 people.

Räsänen now manages a team of over 15 marketers across Helsinki and Berlin.

“I lead with rationality and data, but also with intuition and personality and heart,” Räsänen said. “I try to lead by example: I’m truthful and honest about who I am; I show my personality; I can be all the things that I am and still be a confident manager. This creates an environment where my team feels comfortable being who they are.”

Today, Holvi’s workforce is 35 percent female, and while Räsänen enthusiastically supports the advancement of other women within the company, she’s invested in the overall success of all the men and women she works with every day.

She’s looking forward to a day when gender is irrelevant where workplace roles are concerned.

“I don’t want a title like ‘boss lady’ — ”boss” is enough,” Räsänen said. “If we as women constantly underline our gender, everyone else is going to look at us as women first. We need a silent revolution where we showcase all types of people in positions of power, without underlining what physical qualities set them apart.”

Mission-driven: striving for more

Cameron Peake, who co-founded Azlo with Brian Hamilton after 2017, served as the startup’s VP of business and operations then COO before stepping into the CEO role. She’s been part of the company’s growth from ideas on a whiteboard to a fully-funded startup with tens of thousands of customers.

She, like Räsänen and Giménez, wants to be recognized not as a female leader, but as a leader — full stop.

“For any role, we should be hiring the most qualified person,” Peake said. “In this case, I happen to be a woman. But I’d like to think that I’m the best person for the job.”

In her role, Peake is focused on refining Azlo’s vision and goals.

“We’re enabling companies to be successful and democratizing access to markets,” Peake said. “We want tech founders of all backgrounds to get the banking services, networking opportunities, and educational modules they need to be successful. The better they do, the better we do.”

Working alongside Peake to realize these higher-impact goals is a diverse team of men and women who are equally mission-driven.

“Having a broader mission that’s bigger than your bottom line is broadly recognized as important today,” she said. “Every good leader should strive for that.”

Representation matters

Despite all their desires to be recognized, Räsänen and Peake both recognize the role they can play in inspiring young women to pursue careers in fintech.

“It’s important to have women represented in senior management and in public,”  Räsänen said. “If we see only certain types of people in positions of power, it’s easy to think that climbing up the career ladder isn’t possible for everyone. I want other women to look at companies and career paths they’re interested in and see figures they can relate to.”

Ian Ormerod, head of NDB, notes that BBVA has made strides toward equality, but there is always more work to be done.

“We must keep working toward greater gender parity — not because we have a ‘quota’ of women to fill but because there are so many skilled, talented women out there who can bring unique perspectives to our businesses,” said Ormerod.

Peake sees an up-and-coming cohort of professional women that’s more comfortable leaning into their ambitions and stepping up for new challenges — in part because they’re seeing reflections of themselves represented in more areas of the workplace.

She’s eager to encourage this new generation of women to do amazing things — in fintech and beyond — from her seat in the C-suite.

“We should be writing about awesome women because they’re accomplishing great things, not because they overcame adversity as women,” Peake said. “The struggle is not the story.”

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