Inspirational Woman: Helene Panzarino | Associate Director, Centre for Digital Banking and Finance, The London Institute of Banking & Finance

Helene Panzarino

Helene is a former banker turned entrepreneur, educator and investment readiness adviser in fintech.

She is a mentor and advisor who has helped over 15,000 of small to medium enterprises (SMEs) understand, prepare for, and access funding options at all stages of their business growth.

Helene is an adviser to a number of fintechs, including Yovo, a fourth generation utility token business, and Biid, a digital identity platform based in Spain.

In 2016, her book – Business Funding for Dummies – was published by Wiley and she was named a Top 10 Influencer in SME Funding in 2016. She has also contributed to The Entrepreneurs’ Network (TEN), The Parliamentary Rose Report on Female Funding in FinTech and The Scale Up Summit on Female Founders Raising Post-Seed Finance.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I started my career in correspondent banking in NYC in the German speaking team. Having studied International Politics and German at the University of Pennsylvania, I was going to be a lawyer – like many children of immigrant families, where certain careers are on the ‘approved’ list. However, I realised I was following my mother’s dream and not mine. Banking taught me all new skills, and it turns out, I am very adept at the finance.  When I came to London, I ran the overseas office of a US software house, so I am responsible for a lot of the Cobol programmers in bank legacy systems! I learned how to run a business and decided to try it for myself. Through a series of events, I started my first business, a language school, after spotting a financial loss at my then employer. I realised they were going to close and saw the opportunity to start up in the same field, with their blessing. I seized the moment and never looked back. Eventually I sold the business, but by then I had the taste for entrepreneurship and went on to found or co-found four other buinesses. I’m currently the MD for Rainmaking Colab FinTech, where I created the world-first scale up – corporate FinTech Programme in London and NY.  I’m also a Lead Fellow and course creator on the UCL FinTech Pathway on the Masters in Entrepreneurship, and an Associate Professor at The London Institute of Banking & Finance, where I’m working on their Digital Banking courses and qualifications.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Unfortunately, I did not in the early days. I was more utilitarian in my choices then. It wasn’t until much later that I connected my career search to my goals and ambitions and sought out people and places that could give me the best opportunity to be successful, to innovate and to learn.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

There have been a number of them.  Some were physical, others more unspoken. At one point I was told that I was dying from an undiagnosed condition, and my life was on hold. I eventually found a way through and used my experience to help other women (I have a female inherited condition) embrace their challenges and create something positive from them. There is a workplace challenge in being a woman in a financial or a consulting world, and oddly, I’ve felt this more in the past year and a half then ever before. I have also seen that experience is not necessarily valued by those just starting out, and the challenge is around respect and relevance.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

I think it’s been seeing the opportunity to create a business from scratch, selling it and surviving the earnout. I learned some tough lessons during the process and have gone on to help others anticipate and prepare for the pitfalls and opportunities.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

Self-belief.  If I have done my homework, weighed up the pros and cons, got my facts and figures in order, the naysayers are put in their place. There are all sorts of reasons people will try to deter you from achieving your dreams – some are well-meaning and others are not – so you need to honest and true to yourself.

How do you feel about mentoring?

Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee? I do mentor and have done so for over twenty years. When parameters are defined and both parties respect each other and the process, it can work very well. When it’s seen as an opportunity – and an unspoken right – to open someone’s black book, then I am not in favour of it.

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Parity, what would it be?

I’m sorry to say this, but I think it has to be introducing quotas. All the facts for parity are out there, and yet, targets are not being achieved. If self-policing isn’t working, then something has to be imposed.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

Make sure to find an advocate – not a mentor – in each phase of your career. Someone who recognises, respects, and values your strengths and actively introduces you to opportunities to grow and to shine.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

My next immediate challenge is the book I have just been commissioned to write – on Innovation in Financial Services. Very, very exciting! I am also now focusing on growing my community bank-fintech offering, Banking Lab London, which we are taking international.

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