On children

I was driving back home. It had been one of those days which make you long for the nights. 

Down the street, a traffic light turning green. And a pedestrian deciding it was about time to cross.

Photo by Jan Kopriva

As I got closer, I took a silent stab at him. I was not impressed. He was overweight, shabby clothes, tired eyes. And crossing when and where he should not.

As most drivers would, I did not wish him many nice things. I was deep into this rather universal game where you are in the driver seat one day, silently cursing at pedestrians, and the other day a pedestrian, silently cursing at drivers.

And then, for some reason I cannot explain, my kids came to my mind. A boy, 20 months old, his two sisters, 5 and 7 years old, the joys of our life. And I thought, well, this man was once a kid. Someone’s kid. Someone’s joy. There were parents, people, who would have done anything to give him the best they could. His eyes must have been full of joy, full of life. And then, life took its toll. As it does on all of us, as it did on me. 

30 or 35 years ago, my eyes would have noticed completely different things about him: that he had blue eyes which would have reminded me of my uncles whom I looked up to when I was a kid (and still do). That he was tall like my dad, whom I have not seen for so long because a distance of thousands of kilometers made out of a part of Europe, the Mediterranean sea and a Covid outbreak separate us. That he was wearing moccasins, which were my favorite type of shoes back then (a bit less now). 

And overweight? Little did I know at the time that I too will become overweight at some point in my life, because life can do that to you sometimes. Many times…

All these thoughts crossed my mind in a fraction of a second. By the time he was on the other side, I was already seeing him with different eyes. The child he had once been was in front of me and the man himself had waned. 

It has only been a week or so since that day, and although “ever since” would sound like a lot of time right now, still, “ever since” that day, I try to see the child they once were in the folks I meet, especially the challenging ones. The child they no longer are for reasons I can only try to imagine, or the one they might still be if you only scratch the surface. 

No easy task, especially over skype, but once you nail it down, if you nail it down, it makes things a little easier on you. A different perspective.

This quest for a long gone childhood makes me miss my children, wanting to rush whatever that is I am doing just to be with them a little earlier. I miss them right now actually, even though they are downstairs playing. Man are they loud. I can hear them now and so can my client, an investment bank in the United Kingdom…

But hey, children playing in the background have become the norm in business meetings in 2021, and I have grown wise enough these last two years to find it very fortunate. It brings a touch of poetry into an otherwise relatively grey activity. 

And I bet my client in the UK would not disagree. So, dear client, let me know what you think…

Let the board sound


On FinTech and people

Or how it looks from the inside.

Every experience is unique and different people can have different accounts on a career in FinTech. Here’s mine.

I got in FinTech by chance. I received a call I was not expecting. Until that moment, finance did not ring a bell. Trading floors seemed like movie stuff. The Wolf of Wall Street was not out yet so none of the people I knew whom had embraced this career could explain it to me with a simple example. But it struck some strings: the job required extensive travel and I would be expected to become autonomous fairly quick. I was in for both.

I had to learn quite a few things in little time, and this was a major motivator. Learning how a financial platform is operated, learning the operating model of investment banks, funds and treasuries. Learning finance. Bonds, foreign exchange, rates, equities, derivatives, valuation models. Learning how an operations department works, how a front office desk operates, how risk is managed and what is risk for a financial institution. I am still learning 15 years later.

I started on support but was soon entrusted with high stakes decisions and started looking after much larger accounts. I worked on delivery projects around the world. I got to manage senior and less senior people and I thrived to give them opportunities to grow and that place in the sun at which everyone deserves a shot. That was probably the most rewarding part of the ride.

Although many in the field usually come from engineering, computer science or finance backgrounds, I found out later that many of the fintech professionals I would meet, and not the least impressive ones, came from backgrounds as far from banks and finance as can be. I met business architects who graduated with a BA in geography. Traders who studied history. A project manager who was a commissioned officer in a previous life, honorably discharged after having served his country well and lead battalions on many theaters of operations. Another one who was in the navy and an expert on submarine propulsion. And a legendary developer, trained in chemical engineering and a collector of rare minerals.

I also got to work with people from all around the world. French, Italians, Germans, Spanish, English, Welsh, Scots, Icelanders, Swedes, Americans, Brazilians, Lebanese, Syrians, Emirati, Indians, Iranians, Australians, Romanians, Russians, Pakistani, Egyptians, Jordanians, Iraqi, Algerians, Moroccans, Tunisians, Senegalese, South Africans, Ivorians, Belgians, Chinese, Pilipino, Indonesians, Malaysians, Japanese, Singaporeans, Kazakh, Turkish, Greeks, Canadians, Polish, Irish, Omani, Kuwaiti, Palestinians, Columbians, Czech, Dutch, and Bulgarians, to name a few. I faced cultural challenges at times, but it was an enriching experience every time.

I got to travel a lot. There were years I would spend most of my time on business trips, in between the airplane, the hotel and the trading floor. Projects took me to the UK, Italy, Spain, Germany, Sweden, Poland, Iceland, The Netherlands, The United Arab Emirates, Hong Kong, Russia and Turkey, many times over, and I have more stories of nearly missed planes and last minute miracles, of 2AM naps on a random couch on a trading floor somewhere in the world and all night celebrations when the fight is finally over, of epic fails and even more epic successes than I can count.

I have had Borscht in Moscow, duck tongues in Hong Kong and donkey meat in Milan. I have been challenged to the hottest curries by Indian colleagues and to the most treacherous vodkas by Polish ones. I have laughed my head out countless times cracking jokes around a beer with the same clients who had cornered me in a workshop earlier in the day.

I’ve lost many hours of sleep across the globe but won so many good memories along the way. I also gained a few friends for life. Folks, I hope you are reading this, you will recognize yourselves.

Make no mistake, the job is not for the faint hearted. The pressure is tremendous, the working hours long and the clients very demanding. Nerve wrecking situations are the norm, especially if you work in delivery. You get humbled quite a few times, but on the bright side, you are surrounded by extremely bright people and the rewards are at the level of the challenge.

I hope my colleagues and fellow professionals will recognize themselves in these stories, that it will bring a smile on their faces in these dire times and wish that readers see the job for what it really is, a people job. And no amount of Work from Home will change that.

Let the board sound