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Women Must Choose to Rise Up Despite Past, Current and Future Circumstances

Jackie Barwell ACI Worldwide

Money20/20, Europe’s biggest payments and fintech event, was recently held in Amsterdam and featured Rise Up Money20/20, a global program designed to address the gender imbalance in leadership positions within the financial services and fintech industries. A cohort of 30 female professionals was selected to take part in an exclusive curated agenda, complete with a series of bespoke content sessions, one-to-one mentoring and unique networking opportunities.

Jackie Barwell, ACI’s Director of Fraud and Risk Product Management, was picked to be part of Rise Up 2019. Here she talks with me about why she is excited to be part of Rise Up and why the Academy’s work is so important.

Nidhi Alberti: Congrats on your selection to the Rise Up program at Money 20/20 Europe. How did it feel to be among the few selected?

Jackie Barwell: Thanks! It was exciting to find out I had been selected. Looking back at a career in banking and fintech that spans over 30 years, I sometimes stop and wonder where I would have been had it not been for key mentors who believed in me and spurred me on to be the best version of myself. My career to date has flourished because of their guidance, encouragement and belief in me. So when I had an opportunity to become a mentor myself through Money20/20 Europe's Rise Up Academy 2019, and to share my story, I jumped at the chance and applied, and am proud to have been chosen to represent the Academy in Amsterdam.

NA: Tell me a bit about how you got started in your decades-long career in the financial services industry.

JB: My start in life wasn’t the kind that would be viewed as a firm foundation for a successful and purposeful future, as I found myself in foster care and children’s homes from the age of five for a number of years. But I had shown signs of academic potential and was encouraged by my junior school teachers to take the 11+ exams, which I passed, thus allowing me to attend a grammar school. I gained 8 ‘O’ levels, left school at 16, and pretty much grabbed the first job I could find!

I worked at a local newspaper as an office junior and I would order stationery, deliver mail, and operate the switchboard at lunch time. This was all a good starter for someone who had come right out of a straight-laced academic school. I also took the initiative of enrolling in a night school to learn the art of touch-typing – a skill that has held me in good stead ever since. That skill led me to being promoted to telesales within the newspaper, where, after a year, I found myself typing up a ‘situations vacant’ advertisement over the phone for someone at Clydesdale Bank. They were looking for an audio secretary for a post at their St James’s Street Branch in London. I cheekily asked that they interview me for the role, and if I turned out to be unsuitable, they were still in time for the upcoming week’s newspaper. Well, they interviewed me and I got the job! That was the start of a 30-year career within the banking and fintech world.

NA: That’s an inspiring story! Talk to me about your career path—from Clydesdale Bank to ACI?

JB: I stayed with Clydesdale Bank in a variety of roles, moved on to Bank of America, and then went on to spend 10 years at Citigroup – specializing in and focusing on the prevention side of managing fraud risk across all businesses. I eventually became SVP and global head of fraud prevention at Citibank and created a network of almost 300 Business Unit Fraud Managers, whose task was to understand fraud, and take their new knowledge back into the business.

Now, at ACI, I make sure our highly sophisticated fraud prevention solution performs at a competitively high level, and our merchants are sufficiently protected against exposure to fraud risk.

NA: How do you promote your career as a woman in the payments industry?

JB: I get asked that a lot. It’s an interesting question, as I never thought that my gender has held me back at any stage of my career. However, when I think about some of the things I used to do (and to a degree still do) and when I put those in the context of gender, I do believe there are some interesting lessons to be learnt.

For one, we need to be aware of unconscious bias – this isn’t necessarily only gender-related, but could be bias related to age, education or even your personal situation. Despite open debates in the UK about gender pay gaps and creating equal opportunities for men and women in the workplace, men are still miles ahead when it comes to senior and leadership positions in technology and fintech.

Unconscious bias is often the point where challenges start, but as society changes and is becoming more aware of such biases, and as we debate these issues more honestly and openly, these barriers of bias will shift and, hopefully, cease to exist.  Another area of importance for women is networking. There was a time in my career where being a woman in the world of fraud investigation was considered a rarity. Back then, at most financial institutions, the investigative workforce was almost exclusively made up of ex-law enforcement officers on second careers and typically, they were men.  As I progressed through my career, slowly but surely I came into contact with other women in similar roles to mine, and we created an informal regular meeting of the minds (in person) to discuss issues of the day and other elements of fraud prevention, away from the very ‘closed’ fraud communication forums that unfortunately at the time viewed women as misplaced in their midst. This started with just two of us but quickly grew to double figures – and soon the Fraud Women’s Network was born. I was a founding member as well as their first treasurer and membership secretary.  This network has now been going for 12 years and still has a strong membership in the hundreds.

NA: How valuable is it for women to network amongst other women in particular?

JB: Women supporting and encouraging each other, talking to each other about their experiences on their own career paths, is probably the most valuable thing we can do for ourselves. It’s surprising how many individuals have had similar experiences where their gender has been almost a hindrance or an invisible barrier to progress, or have experienced unconscious bias of some kind – but have taken steps to overcome the negative effects of those experiences. I also think that it is inspiring to hear the stories of individuals who have almost stumbled into the successful career path for little more reason than being mentored at key points in their careers by individuals who ‘saw something’ in them, guided them and encouraged them to believe in themselves. And step through that door to grab an opportunity and run with it. Sometimes that’s all that’s needed to give them the push they need to soar!  

NA: What’s your advice to young women out there looking to get into the payments industry?

JB: My final message, linked to my experience, is that I had little to no encouragement in my early years that told me “you can do it – you really can.” If anything, I was standing out for all the wrong reasons – such as being a child in care, or always in the ‘free school dinners’ queue, or the fact I was sent off on my first day at a posh Grammar School in my junior school uniform. I could so easily have decided to hide away in the shadows or take the wrong path in life. But there were those key individuals, starting with my junior school teacher, who said I could achieve more, and then two successive managers who pushed me through that door of opportunity. I trusted their judgement and took the courage to give it a go. Recognize those situations because they will be there one day and you must be ready to grab it – anything is possible if you want it enough.

 

Check out the Money20/20 Europe Class of 2019 'Rise Up' Academy members.

Read about Rawan Shawar’s experience at Rise Up Money20/20 Asia earlier this year.