“We must continue uplifting each other”: Interview with Vivienne Hsu, CMO at Sokin

It is a known fact that females are underrepresented in the overall fintech workforce. When we zoom in further and look at females in leadership positions in fintech, the numbers start to shrink further. Women make up 11% of all board members and 19% of company executives.

Everyone should have access to financial services, and we need a representative workforce to be able to build financial services for everyone. Having a more representative workforce in fintech can also help to address other diversity issues like the gender pay gap. We caught up with Vivienne Hsu, who is Chief Communications and Marketing Officer at Sokin, to learn more about solving diversity and inclusion in fintech and financial services. As a female minority with 18 years in the financial services industry in various senior positions, Vivienne sets an example for women that they too can smash through the glass ceiling.

Sokin is a payments platform where users can get unlimited global transfers and currency exchange with no hidden fees in 38 currencies to over 200 countries. Sokin is the world’s first subscription-based payments provider, which proudly puts people at the heart of its operation. The brand is passionate about tackling the boundaries people face when it comes to accessing their money. To date, Sokin has 120k account holders with a further 175k on its global waiting list.

Vivienne shared more about her career journey, advice for women progressing their career in fintech, her insight on diversity and inclusion in fintech and the metaverse, and about Sokin and they have embedded diversity and inclusion.

You have a very impressive CV, we would love to hear more about your career! Could you give us a brief overview of your career and how you got to where you are at today?

I started my career in Brand Marketing & Advertising almost 20 years ago, where I worked on brand strategy and then moved into the digital and social media space for several agencies. This was when social media was just starting out and people didn’t necessarily realise how transformational it was going to be, they thought it was a fad that would fade away. It was interesting to be part of that journey and momentum at such an early stage.

I then moved into consulting, specialising in marketing for finance and fintech with a company that specialised in B2B finance and technology. There was a real speed in the way technology was beginning to underpin everything that was happening in the finance industry. It was an incredible learning experience working during this time. It was here, I also became the youngest Managing Director in the company, and then I was promoted to the Chief Client Officer two years later.

After eight years, working across different markets, I left consultancy behind and joined Sokin as the CCMO where I have been for the last year. What I really enjoy about Sokin is the people. We have a near 50-50 gender split and have a truly global team. We have people building products in Australia, sales teams in North America, operational teams in India and customer service all over the world. There’s never a dull moment and it’s a very creative business to be in.

It has been a crazy adventure at Sokin. Given we are a startup, we are building from scratch, and it is all very new and exciting. It comes with its challenges but if you like to learn and problem solve, this is the place to be. We are doing things that haven’t been done before and everyone at Sokin knows that their ideas are having a real impact and are helping shape the growth of the company. At the heart of our business, we are creating a product that promotes greater access and can help people, and these values extend across the organisation. I wholeheartedly feel so passionately about what we do, and I have seen Sokin’s incredible trajectory over the last year. What’s even more thrilling is Sokin is still in its early stages, so being part of the upward momentum as it happens is wonderful.

What’s the best piece of advice you have received?

The best piece of advice I’ve received both personally and professionally is to be yourself and treat people with kindness. Allowing people to have different views and accepting that we all have our own boundaries has steered me to where I am today. Sticking to these values and having integrity is important to me. Life is not perfect, and you don’t get a chance to legislate for everything, but how you behave and how you react in situations is a huge reflection of who you are. So far, living by this advice has not led me wrong.

Unfortunately, it’s no secret that career progression for women in the financial services and fintech industry is more difficult than it is for men. Could you tell us more about how you overcame some challenges you faced in this realm?

I have been working in the finance and technology industry for more than ten years and I can say that I have seen progress when it comes to gender diversity and representation. However, there is still more to be done. There are a lot of existing biases and societal constructs that we cannot change overnight, which is an enormous challenge for women in our industry.

Finance, as it is such a traditional industry, has been dominated by a Western banking system, and therefore, has generally been very closed. This not only shut women out but others in regions who have not been able to easily access parts of the financial industry. This has started to change in the last generation. The impact technology has had on driving the speed of change in finance can be seen as a catalyst for driving a faster and greater need for change and diversity in the industry.

When I began working in the mid-2000s, there was still a huge percentage of men in very senior roles with PA and executive assistant positions typically filled by women. When I moved into finance and technology, I could see a high level of sexism and a lot of gender bias’. It was a traditional, very male-dominated environment, and many times I would be in a meeting where I would be the only woman in the room.

There is one scenario that has always stuck with me. In fact, it happened more than once… I would be in a meeting and would get asked, “Are you taking the notes?” It was quite shocking for me the first time it happened, but then I started to respond with “No, I’m running the meeting.” What I learnt is the importance of women finding their voice and standing up for themselves. We should be proud of the work we’re doing and the responsibilities we have. It was an important lesson for me, that as a young professional, I needed to speak up and challenge those assumptions. This didn’t mean I had to be rude or aggressive, I just needed to state the facts – I was there to run the meeting, I was not there to take notes. 

We all have defining moments, big or small. I’ve had my fair share of challenges, whether that’s people presuming you’re there to do a job that you’re not or you are a young woman who is in a senior role therefore must have got there in a way that wasn’t above board. These are all scenarios that have affected how I manage my own reputation. These are learnings but also where you realise it’s not an individual’s fault, it’s just the way that society, for so long, has had these constructs which lead to incorrect conclusions.

The biggest lesson I have learnt is that the more senior you become, the more people are looking to you to set a good example and to be a leader. If you don’t speak up, it doesn’t create a safe space for others to do so or it doesn’t foster an environment where others feel comfortable coming to you if they have an issue. This starts with charting your own path, being clear about your own values and what you represent as an individual, and what you are willing to stand for.

Another challenge women generally face is imposter syndrome, and not allowing ourselves to celebrate successes, which I have been guilty of in the past. We must continue uplifting each other and acknowledge our achievements to combat this.

What advice do you have for women who want to pursue a leadership position in fintech?

My advice for women who want to pursue leadership positions in fintech is that it is imperative you build confidence in who you are as a leader and the culture you want to cultivate. It is important to understand the role or career you want. The fintech sector is vast and growing at speed, so it is vital to understand as much of the industry as you can, what interests you and where you would like to go, before you take the steps to get there.

You also cannot underestimate the importance of networking. Within the fintech realm, there are many fantastic mentorship programmes, incubators, and accelerators, so the opportunities to lead and uplift young women are there whilst connecting with others and learning for yourself. Take every opportunity you can to widen your network and support others.

You’re personally passionate about “fintech for good.” Could you tell us more about what “fintech for good” means to you? Could you also share some of your insight on the future outlook for “fintech for good”?

“Fintech for good” is taking your knowledge and the huge scalability that comes with the finance and technology sectors and proliferating something that is both powerful and positive. It is the marriage between the finance and the technology industry, where the core objective is to create a better world and to help more people.

All in all, it is about accessibility, democratisation, and openness, whether that is education for financial literacy, mobility or inclusion. It is about trying to focus the scale and speed of the industry in a positive way, creating a more equal space for people to engage with it. It is the real-world benefit and upside that happens when technology acts as a platform to provide better access to financial services or products.

How is diversity and inclusion embedded at Sokin?

Sokin’s foundation has always been around accessibility and diversity. Because we are a minority-owned and led business, diversity is incredibly important, it’s in our DNA and has been built in from our company inception.

Diversity and inclusion are a massive part of what makes Sokin special, and I think it has elevated our team’s sense of belonging. Feeling like they’re part of something that is not just about the product but at its core is about accessibility. We also have an open culture where we want people to share their opinions, so we can collectively improve how we build the product and how we grow as a truly global business.

We have an entirely remote workforce which means we can choose talent that is based all over the world, making Sokin incredibly diverse. This helps us dispel a lot of assumptions that we have about different markets. If I’m sitting here in the UK, and I think an idea is going to work for the Indian market, having people in India that I can test those hypotheses with is the first step in trying to validate what we’re doing and try to understand how we do it better. That kind of diversity of thought and inclusiveness of talent across different departments and functions is unique.

Sokin has recently started to make strides into the metaverse with setting up the first e-commerce payments platform in the metaverse. How do you think diversity and inclusion is being adapted in the metaverse?

The metaverse is in its infancy, but what is interesting is the access that it creates for anyone in the world, anywhere, at any time, which inherently creates greater diversity. The fact that the metaverse is decentralised means that by nature, it should be more open and accessible, and many of the existing constructs that we have in the real world do not necessarily need to apply. If you can idealise the world you would like to live in, the metaverse gives you a potential space to make it possible, which I think is very exciting.

At Sokin, we are building the first singular metaverse world for ecommerce, allowing consumers to connect with some of the world’s most recognisable brands while facilitating the transfer of money in a safe, secure, and transparent way. Our metaverse community will enable customers to meet, communicate, transact, invest, and purchase in one all-encompassing ecosystem and virtual economy, and it’s made for everyone – businesses, retailers, sporting clubs and consumers of all shapes and sizes. The metaverse is ideal for those who still want human interaction and connection in a virtual setting.

Can you share your future outlook of diversity and inclusion in the fintech industry in the next few years?

The future of diversity and inclusion in the fintech industry is exciting. I believe it will be an area that companies continue to invest in both from a talent perspective and for their own business objectives.

I hope over the next few years organisations carry on prioritising hiring diverse talent but also investing in consistent education about the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion across the board.

The progress made so far is hugely positive, and we are all continuing to learn and grow. I’m greatly reassured that people are paying more attention to these issues and I hope for a day where we don’t even need to call it a ‘diversity and inclusion action’ because it’s just an organic part of how businesses run, rather than something that we make a conscious effort to include because there may be consequences if we don’t.