For Onyinye Olisah, with over a decade of experience in the financial sector under her belt, switching to fintech was a no-brainer. She has already cut her teeth in the traditional financial institution, first as a teller and later as a sales marketer, before finally leaving the traditional banking sector as a branch manager.
She went first to Interswitch and later to a new fintech company, Budpay, as vice-president sales.
In this week’s women in a tech interview, I share the report of a candid conversation I had with Onyinye Olisah about her journey to fintech, memorable movements, challenges and her new role as VP at Budpay.
Onyinye Olisah studied at the University of Nigeria Nsukka where she bagged a degree in English Language and later an MSc in International and public administration. She later got a diploma in project management from Irving university, California.
Starting in financial institutions when the systems were very analogue and everything down to sorting checks in the bank and the CBN was done manually, Onyinye Olisah cut her teeth in the banking industry from the defunct Intercontinental Bank. She moved on to become a bank teller then later a sales representative and later a branch manager.
Despite the successes she has achieved in the course of her career, Onyinye tells me starting off at a traditional financial institution was rigorous at the time because everything was been done manually. But after getting to the position of a branch manager, she was ready for a new challenge and branched out to fintech. landing her first tech role at Interswitch
“I got my first bank job in 2007 first as a teller at Intercontinental bank but when they phased out using degree holders as tellers I had to move to sales marketing. In those days in. In the banking sector, things were done manually even down to sorting checks. I once drove from Oba Akran Ikeja to Marina, we would carry cashboxes to Marina, take a number and wait our turn.
The checks were sorted manually, everything was done by hand it was very time consuming and extremely stressful. I once got back to my branch by 1 am because it rained and I was stuck in traffic and I still made it back to the office by 7 am that morning. Thankfully, Fintech companies are here to simplify these processes which is really welcome development.”
She tells me that moving to fintech was a deliberate move for her as she was ready for something more challenging. In her words,
“Moving from intercontinental to the standard chartered bank was a game changer as the job made me become a financial adviser. Moving to providus bank, I was supposed to replicate that but since the bank was a start-up at the time we first had to build our deposit base first which means I had to go back to generating deposits which I was honestly tired of and needed a change. So I thought the fintech industry was booming and I needed a new challenge, so I made the decision to move from core financial services to digitising finances which are financial technology.”
Despite having worked in core financial services for over 10 years before making the switch, Onyinye reveals it wasn’t at an easy experience as she had to begin to learn the new methods and how things are done in fintech, although it was very challenging, it was just the challenge and new learning curve she needed
“Making the move from traditional banking to fintech wasn’t easy at all, I left provides bank as a branch manager so learning everything afresh was quite tough, learning new industry, new products, everything was just new to me and getting to grasp what the industry is about, their value proposition, the target market was where the challenge lay for me but having to learn all these at Interswitch made it easier for me as it is a great place to learn, “ Onyinye says.
In the time that Onyinye spent at Interswitch, she served first as Team lead Lagos region, sales, and after 3 years plus she moved to group head service management, industry ecosystems before making the move to Budpay where she is currently the Vice President, sales.
Moving to Budpay
Onyinye tells me that her decision to join a new startup like Budpay (which began operations less than a year ago) was because she wanted to be part of the team that built something from scratch. According to her, the years of experience at Interswitch and experience in traditional banking, she felt she was at the right level to increase her capacity by being part of the building team at Buddy
“I had learnt so much at Interswitch and moving to Buddy gave me the opportunity to head growth across, Nigeria, Africa, US, UK and China and it was an opportunity to not only build from scratch but to be able to say that you were part of moulding something, to be able to know that you are part of the ownership structure of a fintech.
The experience to play at this level, the setup of processes, the responsibility of people management, responsibility for the budget and income expenditure, it’s a lot and I felt that after all, I have learnt at Interswitch, I was at the place in my career where I was ready to take a risk and challenge myself and that would form the basis of making that decision”
Speaking on if making the move to Budpay has been everything she hoped it would be so far, Onyinye is refreshingly candid and tells me that while working at Interswitch greatly prepared her for her role at Budpay, working at such a fresh fintech for lack of a better description can be fun but also a challenging rollercoaster. As she tells it;
“ Truth is somedays it is all I hoped it would be, other days I’m thinking what have I done? Why did I leave my comfort zone? The truth is working at a start-up can be a rollercoaster of emotions, as you are in a place where there are no structures and you, are part of building those structures and crafting the process as you go. As challenging as it is, I honestly wouldn’t exchange it for anything. I know I have grown immensely as a person, I have increased in capacity and have developed a tolerance for many things that I previously didn’t have, all thanks to Budpay” she says.
Onyinye doesn’t mince words when she talks about the many challenges women face not just in the tech space but generally in professional settings. She tells me that being a woman in a leadership position the bar is set higher for women and that the avenues and processes for getting positions are different for women
“ Women have to be twice as assertive when speaking else your voice will not be heard in the workplace. Anytime you see a woman in a leadership position, just know that woman is very sound intellectually cos what usually happens is that men get opportunities from other men maybe when hanging out or a game, they can just say oh you should handle this to a fellow man, I think you can do this but it isn’t that way for women.
For women when your name comes up, it is first met with doubt, like can she handle this? When you are given the opportunity to speak, you have to blow everyone out of the water so they do. To have any choice but to give it to you. For women there are so many hurdles to cross to attain a position and even when you attain, you are expected to constantly keep bettering yourself”.
Bettering yourself isn’t bad but constantly having to prove yourself Onyinye believes puts women on edge and makes them begin to take on masculine traits in a bid to survive a highly masculine work environment. This she tells me leads to another challenge most women in leadership face at home which is knowing when to switch away from that masculine energy which is not needed at home to the famine nurturing side. So being able to find that balance can be a bit of a challenge sometimes” Onyinye reveals.
While she has never faced gender-based discrimination in her time as a woman in tech, she, however, admits to the need to constantly be at the top of her game and also needing to be more assertive than her male colleagues just to ensure she keeps her space while also dealing with how you interact with colleagues.
As a core salesperson, Onyinye tells me that most of her memorable moments revolve around meeting and surpassing her targets and being recognized for it. She tells me that being recognized alongside her team as the best sales team was one of her most memorable adding that salespeople love that as they work hard for it.
She reveals that her most memorable moments have to be when she has been commended for doing very well in sales, she admits to being lucky to have every manager she has worked with has had cause to commend her for being an exceptional salesperson worthy of mention was when she and her team were recognized as best salespeople at Interswitch. This she adds is asides from getting promoted at work and hitting other milestones.
She currently manages a team of highly skilled individuals in the delivery of digital financial solutions to a plethora of organizations including microfinance banks, government parastatals, airlines, gaming institutions, and telecommunications organizations amongst other B2B clientele in a bid to meet her fintech’s revenue target for the financial year in these sectors.
Advice for women in tech
Onyinye Olisah has this piece of advice for women looking to pivot into tech, she says to them
“ Depending on their age I would advise that they start with learning how to code. Learn how it works because when you do, you basically own yourself and know what I know now if I had the knack for it and was younger, I would have started there because organizations place a premium on them as they build the engine room on which organizations run. So if you are young enough, articulate enough and willing to put your head down to learn then start from there. she advises.
To those who may not be so young or do not fall into the above category she gives this advice;
“ Everything in tech is not coding or fintech, if you are smart, look for everyday problems that you can use technology to solve. There is a lot to be done in Nigeria so if you are looking to make the switch to tech, now is a good time as any.”
“Nigeria is not as advanced technologically as we think, Kenya has mono we do not, and the US has Venmo and cash app, and we are not even there yet. This shows that there is still a lot of catching up for us to do, so if you are a woman going into tech, rather than just join the bandwagon of processing payments, ask yourself what everyday problem can I solve?”
For people like her who want to continue in their career path in tech, she advises them to keep their heads down and keep at it. while admitting that coming across industries can be a daunting challenge and seem like an uphill task, she advises them to keep at it until they gain mastery in their new industry.
For Onyinye Olisah the next 5 to 10 years she tells me would be moving gradually towards consulting on sales for organizations and creating a masterclass to teach people about sales with the aim of debunking the false notion that sales or selling is one of the hardest things to do.
She also reveals that she had plans in top gear to provide a digitized solution to a problem she has observed mostly affects working-class people but mostly women in the Nigerian professional space.
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