Head of Customer Success at Auka
Question 1: Who is Maria Akkuratnova?
MA: Maria is Head of Customer Success at Auka
Before joining Auka in 2015 Maria worked as a Customer Relations Director at Nasdaq, focusing on the global financial markets within commodities. At Auka, Maria has held various roles within business development and product management. She is currently Head of Customer Success.
Alongside her role at Auka, Maria is a co-founder of Mattekrets, a technology academy for children with focus on future skills, robotics and electronics.
Maria holds a MSc in Financial Economics from the BI Norwegian Business School in Oslo.
Question 2. What do you enjoy most about your job and what do you find most difficult?
MA: I love working with customers, finding ways for their business to grow in a rapidly changing space and solving problems by providing solutions that can help with the first part!
The most difficult aspect is my whole-hearted belief in our product and company. What I mean by this is that sometimes it can be frustrating when a client doesn’t always get the transformational power of mobile payments. It can be hard to stay patient when you know you’re right 😉 But luckily most of our customer relationships are centred around positive dialogues and working together to come to a common understanding.
Question 3. As a female (young) leader or a woman working in the financial sector, what has been the most significant barrier in your career so far?
MA:There is still too little representation of women in senior management. This leads to not enough female role models who can advise and push you to overcome doubt and insecurity. This is changing though.
Question 4. What is the best piece of advice given to you? Who gave you that advice?
MA:“Done is better than perfect”
Many people have said this to me, but the first time I truly understood the meaning and embraced the importance of it is when I joined a startup 😛
Question 5. Who inspired/inspires (role model) you and why?
MA: Self-made people and those who do not play by the rules. I am from a family of very strong women but still don’t consider myself brave enough to jump on the most craziest of ideas that pop into my head. So I admire people whose passion lets them act like there is no tomorrow. Coco Chanel was one of those people.
Question 6.When you began your career (many) years ago, did you ever imagine that you would be a (young) leader in a male-dominated profession?
MA: I hadn’t specifically planned it that way, but studying finance and then starting my career within financial technology has brought me right in the heart of a male-dominant sector. Although in Norway we work harder to identify inequalities or hidden discrimination and overcome them. I definitely feel it more acutely while working with clients in other countries. But the sad fact is that even in Norway the inequality exists. You just have to look at the higher level – senior management and the boards of most companies in finance/tech are still mostly represented by men only.
Question 7. What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership especially in the financial sector?
MA: The financial sector has for a long time been one of the most traditional sectors, where established companies with clear hierarchy (i.e. banks and financial institutions) dominate. I think with a wave of innovation reaching this sector in the next few years, it will become more open to alternative, more open-minded cultures.
Question 8. What advice would you give to the next generation of female leaders in financial sector? And what do you think will be the biggest challenge for the generation of women behind you?
MA: As I see it, our generation has made huge progress in identifying the importance and raising awareness around gender inequalities. This has so far been driven by women who support other women. The next step is to make sure men are equally involved in pushing this progress further. Without men supporting and actively participating in this development it’s doomed to take too long. So, the challenge for the next generation is to inspire men to work for equality as hard as women have been doing.
Question 9. Mentorship? What is your opinion about it? Is it necessary? Does it make a difference? Did you have a mentor when you started your career? Do you think it would have made a difference if you did?
MA: I entered a mentorship program last year with no expectations whatsoever – it has however affected me in so many ways that I only wish I could have done it sooner!
Having someone who you respect to allocate time to you every month is valuable not only in terms of the advice you receive, but also (which for me was equally important) by making you find time for self-assessment and self-reflection.
I became more disciplined in spending time regularly on setting my goals and assessing the progress. This goes for both personal and career development. In my opinion, having a mentor is so valuable that everyone should have one. And we definitely need more men mentoring women.
Question 10. When it comes to gender pay gap, diversity and inclusion in financial sector: are we progressing, moving backwards or stagnated? Why?
MA: Statistically speaking, we are definitely progressing, but not at a pace we could and should be. During the last decade or so we have seen an exponential growth in development of so many economical and social/cultural areas (for example, lowering thresholds for economical independence for women in less developed regions, focusing on motivating girls to choose typically male-dominated professions, addressing the misconception that girls are weaker in math/technology related subjects, etc.) but still issues around gender inequality require louder voices in order to be heard and dealt with appropriately.
Question 11. What is some of the advice you can share with (young) women entering a male-dominated profession such as tech or finance?
MA: Be aware of the hidden discrimination and stereotyping that still exists even in the most gender balanced cultures. Educate yourself on how to address this (read “Lean In”, it’s a classic and full of valuable advice). Speak up/act when you see inequalities – not only for yourself but for the benefit of others around you
Question 12. If you could do it all again, what would you do differently?
MA: Find a mentor and join a startup earlier 🙂