The banking sector is an ever-evolving landscape, and keeping up with the changes, many women leaders are making a lasting impression by infusing innovation into their leadership styles. These trailblazers are not only redefining the industry’s dynamics but also challenging conventions with fresh perspectives.
Their innovative approaches encompass everything from digitization strategies to customer-centric solutions, and their influence extends far beyond the confines of traditional banking.
Featuring for CIO Women Magazine’s this issue of The Most Inspiring Women Leaders To Watch In 2023 is the story of Prema Varadhan, a leader disrupting the banking software industry.
In this exclusive interview with her, let us dive into her journey and innovative leadership style.
What are your responsibilities at the helm of the company?
I am responsible for leading the product and technology organisations at Temenos to bring the innovation of the Temenos open banking platform to our global customer base, working directly with customers to identify their challenges and matching our product roadmap to market demands.
Alongside this, I lead the company’s global services and SaaS Engineering organisations, leading delivery across product development, SaaS engineering and implementation, which is a pre-requisite for customer success in the SaaS world.
I also work with our largest client’s C-suite teams, delivering technology expertise to support their complex sales campaigns and new product offerings underpinned by Temenos technology.
Your Role as a Female Leader
As a female leader, have you ever confronted any gender-related barriers and how have you dealt with these?
I’ve been very well supported at Temenos, but as a woman you do come across unconscious biases every now and then. For me, it’s important to always have clarity around what I want to achieve and how that relates to the business goals. Consistent and clear communication during challenging situations, and allowing and managing conflicting views in a constructive way during decision-making, is key. It is my strong belief that any conflicting situation can be managed if we apply a business, client and people focus.
How do you think your industry can benefit from having prominent female leaders?
I think one of the most interesting developments in a post-pandemic world where we had to go fully digital is a re-centering on humanness. Consumers want to buy from small businesses that they know and support. Financial institutions want vendors who will be true strategic partners that they can trust rather than solely technology providers – partners who they can trust for their business ethics and their technology in terms of security, governance and compliance practices. Employees want leaders who are empathetic, understanding, and with strong communication skills.
These are qualities that are cultivated in women from a young age, based on social norms, and are increasingly being cultivated in young men. So, I think the future looks bright for a world where men, women, and non-binary people can come together to overcome any challenges the future may hold.
How do you ensure female inclusion and empowerment in your organization?
At Temenos we are committed to diversity, equality, and inclusion, and that’s reflected in our culture and in programs we’ve set up to support people from all backgrounds and raise awareness. For instance, we have an ongoing CSR program to invest in Adopt-IT, which focuses on inclusive education for high school girls and support for young women pursuing studies in STEM. We also have internal programs for mentoring, monthly fireside chats, awareness programs, and inclusive hiring procedures.
Thanks to these and other initiatives, Temenos has been recognized for the second year running in Bloomberg’s Gender Equality Index with a 100% disclosure score. At Temenos our focus is on meritocracy and that provides a level playing-field for everyone.
What more can companies do to improve opportunities for women?
The financial industry and tech industry have both historically been “male-dominated” – most tech companies have a ratio of 20-25% women to 75-80% men. But we have seen a shift over the years as girls are being encouraged more at a young age to consider pursuing careers in STEM fields. In the past couple of years our hiring rate for employees under 30 has been roughly 50-50 so there’s definitely an appetite there.
I think that more companies need to take a proactive stance on equality and diversity – impacting change requires focused action. We need to challenge our unconscious biases, re-evaluate the systems we have in place, and make our workplaces comfortable and safe to have open and honest conversations. And we should provide opportunities based on meritocracy – whether you are a man, woman, or non-binary person you should be recognized and rewarded for your hard work. Ultimately, everyone wins – the more diversity of backgrounds we have, the more diverse ideas we can bring to the table to look at challenges differently, solve problems, and innovate.
How do you ensure a good work-life balance?
Without the need to be in an office from 9 to 5, we now can choose working hours that fit our needs. If I choose to spend an hour or so away from my desk during the week, I can make up that time when it’s more convenient to me. Also, it may be unconventional for people who manage big teams to say this out loud, but I don’t like to fill in my entire calendar with meetings. This does make me more efficient as I switch between meetings and calming time to think and respond.
Away from work, cooking, and exercising are my go-to relaxation options. I enjoy cooking every day and always manage to get 45 mins at least to do this. Apart from that, three things I practise to keep my sanity – delegation, patience to support people when they make mistakes, and stop worrying about what I cannot control but making sure we always progress.
What would be your advice to aspiring female leaders?
The first thing I would say is you have to aim high, because everyone has got potential. Secondly, you must fail fast – try new things that you have not necessarily tried before. The third thing is to work smart, not hard. For women I think it’s even more important to break the bias.
Please tell us a bit about your company.
Temenos is the world’s leading open platform for composable banking, creating opportunities for over 1.2 billion people around the world every day.
We’ve always been about delivering tangible business value to our clients, today and in the future. We help them build new banking services and state-of-the art customer experiences, we offer business agility to go faster to market with new products and cross-sell and we help them scale their business.
And by delivering value we have become Everyone’s Banking Platform. We have the broadest and deepest banking capabilities servicing 3000 customers, traditional and non-incumbents in over 150 countries, from the largest to the smallest including challengers and community banks.
We have a dynamic ecosystem of over 200 partners and together, we help our top-performing clients achieve return on equity three times the industry average and cost-to-income ratios half the industry average.
What are you doing to adapt to changing customer demands?
Consumer behaviour has changed drastically over the past few years, which is leading banks to change their business models and the way that they consume software. Banking services are increasingly embedded in people’s everyday lives – banking itself is becoming a journey and an experience. Meanwhile, ESG concerns are becoming an increasingly important issue for banks, and their regulators.
Banks are therefore increasingly moving to software-as-a-service (SaaS), which allows them to elastically scale, offer packaged banking services for fast time to market, and provide open technology that can connect to a wider ecosystem.
Temenos Banking Cloud, our SaaS offering, delivers the benefits of the cloud while enabling banks to focus on customer-centric innovation and take advantage of new opportunities like Banking- as- a -Service, on a continuously updated, secure, and trusted service. At the same time, it allows banks to benefit from more than 95% lower carbon emissions over traditional on-premise applications, and helps them to measure, improve and report on their carbon footprint of their operations.
Building on our strong SaaS credentials, we do not only offer the software but also the service, and this will increasingly drive Temenos’ growth in the future. We now have over 700 clients live on Temenos Banking Cloud across five continents, covering over 30 regulatory jurisdictions, and a new bank is going live on our SaaS platform on average every 10 days.We recently earned the Trusted Cloud Provider trustmark from the Cloud Security Alliance (CSA), the global leading cloud security organization, becoming one of only 30 technology providers globally to date with such an attestation.
How are you incorporating new technology in your offering?
One important area of investment is in artificial intelligence. AI is set to transform our future, impacting all industries, but it is banks and other financial businesses that arguably have the most to gain. The enormous quantities of data they process, and the increasing demand from customers for faster, more personalized services, provides the perfect climate for AI to provide competitive advantages.
Temenos has embedded AI into many of our services, from credit scoring to fraud detection to customer engagement, and we’re the first to bring transparency and explainability of AI automated decision-making to the banking industry. Our patented Explainable AI is embedded in the Temenos platform and available with all Temenos software through an easy-to-use interface or APIs. This ensures banks and their customers can understand, and have trust in, the models being used, while helping to meet stringent regulatory requirements.
With Temenos’ AI-powered technology, banks can innovate faster, create new business models and future-proof their business. Atradius, one of the largest trade credit insurance providers in the world, won the IBS Intelligence Global Fintech Innovation award for its innovative use of AI and machine learning using Temenos Explainable AI to reduce risk and improve the customer experience.
How is Temenos technology supporting banks to modernise?
We have clients across retail, corporate and wealth and we boast the most impressive references in the industry. With our banking platform we help clients innovate, gain business agility, and sustainably grow their business.
As an example, a global payments provider used us to launch its BNPL service and has now reached 30 million BNPL consumers, which equates to 200 million loans; this was the fastest start to any product launch in the company’s history.
Commerce Bank, one of the largest in the US and recognized by Forbes as one of the world’s best banks, approached Temenos with a major project to transform their Deposits platform. They’ve gone live and we are now expanding our partnership to lending and Payments.
Another example is Al Rajhi the world’s largest Islamic bank, which has extended its relationship with Temenos. The bank has already gone live on our platform for its lending business and is embarking on progressive modernization of its legacy systems to support its expansion and growth now and in the future.