Sahar Salama, chief executive officer and founder of TPAY MOBILE, reflects on launching and leading her own fintech firm
After a successful career with technology and telecommunications companies, including Link Development, LinkdotNet, and Digitaltest, I decided it was time for a change; time to apply all my experience in digital transformation, platform, and product to my own venture.
In 2014, I founded TPAY MOBILE—a full-service mobile payments platform that gives local and global digital service providers access to consumers in the Middle East, Africa and Turkey. I believe in increasing access to digital goods and services to consumers that do not have access to traditional banking infrastructure. I also saw an opportunity to simplify the complex processes that underpin cross-border mobile payment acceptance across the region. The two married perfectly.
Seven years on, I’m extremely proud of what TPAY MOBILE has achieved. We currently enable 14 million monthly users to purchase digital goods and services without the need for a credit or debit card, by using their phone number as core. In addition, our cross-border mobile payment platform enables rapid business growth for merchants across the globe.
While I highly recommend a career in fintech to women, I am also very alert to the fact that women make up just 7% of fintech founders. This challenge isn’t only for senior leaders, either; we see this gender disparity at all levels of the fintech community. The European tech ecosystem does not provide equal opportunity for people of all demographics, backgrounds, and experiences—that’s the verdict of 86% of people surveyed for Atomico’s State of European Tech report in 2020.
Last year, Crunchbase reported that 20% of newly funded startups in 2019 had a female founder. While the proportion of female co-founded companies has doubled since 2009, when it stood at 10%, this does not signal a big enough shift in the sector.
So while there have been positive strides toward gender parity in fintech, it remains clear that, for women, and indeed for other overlooked groups, there are still huge inclusion gaps. How do we actively change this? How do we encourage a more diverse pool of talent into our industry? I argue that we should focus on attracting talent, and, crucially, retention strategies for diverse backgrounds. This includes promoting an inclusive work culture, ensuring there are equal promotion opportunities for both men and women, and offering mentoring and professional development.
My biggest piece of advice for women who, like me, want to lead their own fintech firm, is to have confidence. I come from Egypt, where there are many women working in tech and prominent female leaders across the political, social and business arenas. I owe much to their legacy of success, which laid the groundwork for me and always made me feel like I belonged in the tech sector.
When I began working with organisations across the globe, I became aware of how underrepresented women are in this industry. I’m incredibly grateful that I remained unaware of the gender imbalances in fintech in the early days of my education and career. It meant that when I did come to understand the scale of the issue, and in turn, how it might affect me, I already had a strong drive to succeed that was unaffected by others’ perceptions. Our aim should be for every young woman to grow up with that self-belief and drive.
There is still much progress to be made to solve the challenges of gender disparity in fintech. As we mark International Women’s Day, I can be optimistic about the future—provided the rest of the industry stands with me to enact positive change.