Nina Mohanty graduated from CEMS in 2017. She studied at the London School of Economics, where she was President of the CEMS Club, and the Vienna School of Economics and Business. Upon graduation, Nina pursued the FinTech industry with the hope of driving social change through technology.
Awarded the 2019 CEMS Junior Alumna of the Year for upholding CEMS values in both her personal and professional life, Nina embodies what it means to be a CEMSie. The following interview outlines some of Nina’s experiences, and what she’s learned both throughout CEMS and her career thus far.
1. In what ways do you feel FinTech can influence or drive social change?
The reason I am so enamored with FinTech as an industry, is because I believe it sits at the intersection of two areas that together have a tremendous impact on people’s lives. Financial services, or the lack thereof, is a part of all of our lives. Whether or not we want it to be, the exchange of money is a constant in today’s world. That’s why applying technology to financial services is so exciting. By bringing these things together we can start to create solutions that rid the existing system of not just inefficiencies, but also historical biases.
Take, for example, the investment platform Ellevest. Ellevest, a US-based company, was founded to empower women through investment. We know in many developed countries, women have historically faced a wage gap (that still persists) which has also led to a savings, investment, and pension gap. Using technology, Ellevest has been able to write algorithms that are built specifically for a woman’s life that take into account factors like: the fact that she will likely take time off work for caretaking responsibilities, that she will live longer than her male counterparts, and that she’s still likely paid less.
Another example is Stripe, whose mission is to “increase the GDP of the internet.” By making payment processing easy and frictionless, they’ve empowered thousands upon thousands of businesses of all sizes to grow their presence (and revenue!) online. Money is deeply personal, emotional, powerful, and political and so using technology to address problems we see in today’s systems is why I wake up each day excited to go to work.
2. Describe the role that CEMS has played throughout your career thus far?
CEMS has been a wonderful part of my career so far in that it has brought me and taught me a lot about people. The most valuable thing about CEMS is without a doubt the friendships I made in my time studying. I am constantly blown away by their achievements: whether it is my friend Clara Villain, who just moved to Casablanca from Nairobi to share her knowledge and experience in energy access on the African continent; or my friend Laura di Santolo who is the co-founder and Managing Director of Forward Incubator, an organization that works with refugees in the Netherlands to incubate and grow their business ideas; or my friend Shin Szedlak who recently returned to Switzerland after a tour in Lebanon as a UN Peacekeeper.
The caliber of students I’ve had the honor of meeting and studying with is truly incredible. Beyond that, studying with and learning about different cultures and contexts has been incredibly helpful, especially as we live in a world where tech knows no borders. So for me, the ability to context switch according to culture has been a huge advantage in my career.
3. You also hold a position at the Joint Refugee Action Network. What motivated you to take this position in addition to your work in FinTech, and in which direction do you see your career moving towards?
Giving myself to the community, to the city, to the world in which I am so lucky and privileged to live has always been instilled in me from a young age. I was a Girl Scout growing up in California, but my parents also encouraged a very strong sense of moral and ethical duty to do good. I am forever indebted to them for providing me with this sense of duty.
I am extremely privileged and so it is always important to me to do everything I can to lend a helping hand or speak out for causes that are important to me. I am proud to sit on the Steering Committee of the Joint Refugee Action Network but also volunteer with the First Love Foundation, a food bank in east London and Migrant Action, a charity that connects new migrants to volunteers to practice their English and foster close relationships. It’s also important to me to use the voice I am so privileged to have for those who cannot be heard.
This is why it’s important to me to exercise my right to demonstrate or protest, whether that’s supporting the Women’s March or marching for Black lives. I believe we live in a time when business can no longer be divorced from wider sociopolitical movements. I also believe that having one’s own strong moral compass makes one a better businesswoman, friend, colleague, manager, and leader. I intend to let that compass guide me in my career.
4. There has been a recent push to improve the hard-skill and technical course selection within the CEMS program. What advice do you have for CEMS students interested in FinTech, that may not come from a quantitative-heavy background?
I suppose I’m the wrong person to ask as I am a non-technical person! While I think technical skills are undoubtedly important to the world today as tech becomes less of a “sector” and more of a part of all industries, I would say, learn it if you want to. But also bear in mind that like all things, technical skills will evolve. Coding languages change, core systems become legacy systems, code you wrote last year becomes technical debt.
What I believe is important is to mix this knowledge with foresight and the ability to anticipate change, but also cultivate the emotional intelligence to convince others that change is coming and that it is necessary to act.
Having worked with so many financial institutions, I see every day how easy it is to stick your head in the sand and hope that something is a trend and therefore passes. Some things will pass, sure, and some change will come so fast that the current will wash you away to sea. I assure you, you’ll want to be the one riding the wave and enjoying it.
5. What is your advice for women interested in working in FinTech? What is something they should know before pursuing the field?
This is a tough question to answer because I will start by saying that of course all women who want to work in FinTech should absolutely do so. There is room aplenty for all of us. But I will be honest - FinTech is still a very male-dominated space. It’s gotten better over the years and I have high hopes it will continue to improve.
Sometimes it’s easy to pretend to be “one of the guys.” And if you are one of the guys, by all means, carry on. But always remember that you are bringing something unique to the table as a woman. Your lived experience is valuable, the way you approach problem solving, the way you communicate are all valuable. Oh, and always stay curious! Always ask questions. There’s no such thing as a stupid question.
6. On a lighter note, what is your best CEMS memory and why?
Oh wow, there are too many to count. I often think back to one morning in Vienna when we had a birthday brunch for a friend at his flat. I can’t remember why, but he had a bunch of paint - like finger paints - so we all painted our hands different colors and left handprints on the wall. We talked about school, interviewing for jobs, our relationships. We poked fun at each other and just laughed. Even though it was during the day time, it makes me think of that song We Are Young by fun. That song was the epitome of my CEMS year, even though the song was years old by then.