Meet this weeks Unstoppable Woman of FinTech, Mary Wisniewski, Banking Editor & FinTech Features Reporter at Bankrate.com. Read more below on Mary’s journey in becoming a leading lady in the banking and fintech realms and more on her inspiring advice that has helped her in getting where she is today.
Q: How did you end up as a leader in the ((FinTech)) Industry? Briefly, what has your career journey looked like?
A: Total chance. I was covering jewelry trends for about nine months when my position got cut. It was right around the start of the financial crisis. So I took the first job offered to me. I was in shock — it meant covering technologies that debt collectors used to collect arrears and I literally had a debt notice on my apartment door the first week I started the gig (not for me, but it sure made me feel like an imposter).
I would go onto blogging for Bank Innovation at the same media firm and haven’t quit fintech since then. It’s been 10+ years! I covered fintech for American Banker and now write on fintech trends for Bankrate (and edit there). I’ve been in bank innovation labs. I’ve shadowed a video teller. I’ve been at all kinds of fintech gatherings and parties and conferences and even rode a mechanical pig. I often speak at fintech events and occasionally judge contests, too.
Q: Who // what inspires you most? Is there a quote you “live by”? Are there any mentors that have helped you get where you are today?
A: Talented writers who write on anything counterintuitive and people who really embrace unconventional behavior inspire me. Gidget, the real one, is among my favorite humans and always gets me thinking about possibilities — no rule gets in her way. I’m also really inspired by all of my friends and family. I know a lot of wonderful people and I feel impossibly lucky about that. Especially my mom and dad. Stay tuned to them and their future podcast with a tagline I dreamt up: “Where all mysteries go unsolved.” And Laura Roby, my only friend who has known me for my whole life. Ask us about Sailor Moon. Or don’t.
A quote that I have loved for many years is from Dr. Seuss: “We are all a little weird and life’s a little weird, and when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall in mutual weirdness and call it love.”
Q: What is an accomplishment you are most proud of?
A: Learning the fintech beat by forcing my way into all kinds of conversations with older men is something I feel really good about. I started the beat in my early 20s — I did not fit in. (“Who are you?” was a direct quote from a man at one of my early networking events. I also showed up to a bank credit crisis meeting in flip flops and a sundress when I had to sub in for someone last minute). Until I did. In my own way.
I’m also proud of myself for learning new things often. Most recently, it’s meant learning to dance on roller skates.
Q: What advice would you give to young women looking to start a career in the industry? What skills do you find most helpful in this career?
A: Don’t let yourself get too intimidated. People may seem very smart. But it’s often just from them having spent years working in the business. Ten years from now, you might look back and think they should have been even smarter.
Also reach out to people. Fintech is a very chatty crew — with all kinds of people eager to dish.
The most important skill you need for a career in fintech is curiosity. I suspect that’s true for most careers.
Q: What does digital transformation mean to you and/ or your organization? What advances or trends in technology are you most excited about? Is there one piece of technology you can’t live without?
A: Digital transformation means doing something that the branch doesn’t do. It also includes rethinking old business models (I mean you, overdraft fees).
I’m most excited about open banking’s possibilities in helping to make fintech apps just work better, and ideally, open the door for more creativity that leads to better outcomes for consumers. I also really like newer challenger banks solving for nuanced problems, such as what Stretch is doing for the formerly incarcerated.
I’m a cliché. My iPhone is essential to me.
Q: What do you see as the biggest, most pressing issue for women in our industry? How can women (or allies) help other women advance within our industry?
A: Networking can still feel like an old-school dudes’ club — golf outings and the like. And men making more for the same role is a tired storyline by now but it still very much happens.
One easier lift is to recommend women for panels who have the expertise in the subject because the exposure is good for their careers. I’d also advise companies to provide excellent paternal leave— it needs to be good for all kinds of reasons, including helping women.
Q: What are some of your favorite ways to spend your time outside of work? Any tips for relaxation and destressing?
A: I find joy in all kinds of things. You can often see me hiking, paddle boarding, zumba dancing or roller skating. You could also see me reading or drinking a martini. If it wasn’t a pandemic, you’d see me chatting to almost anyone on the street.
When I’m super stressed, I like to walk. It helps me groove into my thoughts. I also recommend silencing Slack messages.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to share?
A: Fintech is fun! There’s so much wonder in it. I don’t plan to quit it. And find me on Twitter @marymwisniewski.