LEADING LADY IN FINTECH
What's your story? What drew you to FinTech?
Four years ago, I entered university to pursue a Bachelor's degree in Computer Science while tutoring math on the side. During my second year in university, I decided that an internship would be a good opportunity to apply my skills. Similar to many students out there, I sent my first applications to the biggest IT companies in Bulgaria but after a while I realized that I didn't feel like working at a big corporation and that I was more likely to go through a steep learning curve and have more responsibilities at a smaller place. This is when a friend of mine told me about a startup called Centroida which had just opened its first office in Sofia. I spoke with one of the founders and was immediately drawn to the company’s culture and team. As a result, I accepted Centroida’s offer and joined the company as a backend developer.
Having joined the company at such an early stage, I saw how Centroida quickly evolved into one of the top end-to-end product development companies in Bulgaria with a focus on AI and Blockchain solutions. My work was focused on Blockchain over time which is a technology that has the potential to solve some really interesting problems. This prompted me to dive deeper and deeper into that space which involved in-depth research into Hyperledger Fabric, a private blockchain technology. Eventually, I was given the opportunity to lead the development of a proof of concept as part of a product we were developing for a prominent South African client in the FinTech space.
What makes FinTech an exciting area to build your career in?
Fintech is a very exciting industry. On the one hand, it is very challenging from a technical standpoint, and on the other, it has great potential to add significant value to the lives of people globally. I truly believe that FinTech is an area which can have a tremendous impact on both developed and developing markets in terms of the level of convenience, accessibility and economic benefits.
What is the FinTech ecosystem in Bulgaria like?
The FinTech industry in Bulgaria is relatively young and quite exciting. However, the fact that we operate in a small market obligates us to look way beyond the borders of our country. Over the past year, people have become quite excited about blockchain projects because they recognize the tech potential and the scalability of such solutions. Bulgaria is the testing ground for many projects that are getting launched with little to no initial support. All of those aim to get an initial validation locally before they are exposed to foreign markets.
I feel that Bulgaria has become the tech hub of the Balkan peninsula and that is apparent not only in FinTech across the tech industry. This is largely enabled by the strong technical talent our nation produces. That being said, we continue to be challenged by the limited investor base and by the general lack of sales and marketing skills on the local market. Unfortunately, Eastern Europe is still seen as somewhat unknown, risky and secluded (as opposed to Western Europe), so we don't see the same flow of private and institutional capital as other EU countries, nor the level of sales/marketing expertise needed for effective business development and commercialization of nascent products.
Can you tell us a little bit more about your job function including any interesting projects you recently worked on?
I currently work as a blockchain developer at one of the products that we develop. The project is exceptionally interesting and I am quite excited about deploying it and following its commercial success. We are essentially developing a mobile financial platform for a South African client which enables cross-border remittances, bill payments and other financial services for people with limited access to core financial services.
I am responsible for developing, deploying and maintaining the blockchain network as well as for developing the smart contracts – the code that is to be executed on top of the ledger. I also have some project management and oversight responsibilities. It is a challenging role which I truly enjoy because on top of everything that I do, working in the FinTech industry has exposed me to security issues which I am laser-focused on.
What are some of the solutions that your company offers?
We are wrapping up a prototype of a proprietary Computer Vision solution which essentially harnesses the power of video synopsis and artificial intelligence to realize the hidden value in video surveillance. This is a proprietary AI-powered platform with core security features which would also be mining marketing-relevant dimensional data from CCTV feeds. We aim to inform business decisions related to optimal placement of outside advertising based on micro-segmentation of city or neighbourhood populations as well as integrate our models with digital advertising screens and be able to analyze human traffic in real-time, push proprietary marketing content and track level of engagement with those screens.
We also just released one of our FinTech solutions for a client called ORBISE. ORBISE is disrupting the financial services market by allowing faster consumer adoption of cryptocurrency related services like investment instruments, loans, deposits, remittances and other products, so that all consumers can leverage their digital assets and make them a part of their everyday financial life. The goal of the system is to redesign and optimize the full spectrum of traditional and digital financial products by leveraging Blockchain technology.
What do you think are some of the most exciting FinTech trends likely to influence the Financial Services industry?
I think FinTech opens up a vast amount of opportunities. We now have the ability to build applications which can essentially replace banking institutions and offer financial services which are faster, more secure, readily available and less expensive. Blockchain has the potential to bring banking services to billions of unbanked individuals who have had little to now access to those before.
What is essential to ensuring FinTech companies attain gender equality?
I think that gender equality in FinTech needs to be discussed in the context of general gender equality in the workplace. I am lucky to be a part of an extremely friendly working environment where I have never felt discriminated in any way. In my mind, providing equal opportunity to women is something all companies should strive to do simply because it’s the right thing to do and because it makes perfect business sense. A business can only benefit from having a balanced workforce that produces diverse ideas and opinions.
If you did not need to sleep, how would you spend the extra eight hours a day?
I believe that regardless of how much time we have, we will always find a way to fill it with activities. It is not the amount of time that matters but rather approaching it with a sense of purpose and a plan. I know it might sound impossible but what you can do in 16 hours can be done in 8 hours with the correct planning and attitude. Time is the most precious resource we have, so we better spend it right. However, if I had 8 extra hours, I would surely learn slackline (which I currently am trying to do, but don’t have enough time), learn to swim and spend more time with my pets and friends. I also have a list of books which I want to read but still can't get around to it.
In Milena Monova's own words, exclusively for LADIES iN FINTECH.
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