EXCLUSIVE: ‘Lessons learned from the edge of the world’ – Victoria Nicholson, Railsbank in ‘The Paytech Magazine’
High-risk, complex and high-profile expeditions. That could describe any number of fintech startups! In fact, they’re what Victoria Nicholson, New Countries Setup Specialist at banking-as-a-service platform Railsbank, has led for many years in some of the world’s most hostile environments. Her experiences, while extreme, have helped her to navigate equally testing conditions back home. Here, she shares what she’s learned with fellow fintech adventurers
As Founder of Chase Expeditions, I’m proud to have spent the last 12 years supporting the world’s most intrepid adventurers in pursuit of ambitious goals, often in largely uncharted territory and extreme climates. In addition to co ordinating these challenges, I’ve taken part myself, completing the notoriously-gruelling Marathon des Sables, which is six ultra-marathons in six days in the Saharan desert, as well as major expeditions on every continent.
I joined the Railsbank team because they saw how transferable my adventuring skills are to fintech – and the challenges associated with dynamic, fast-growth businesses. I must say, the adversity and isolation we’ve faced in the last 18 months as we adjusted to COVID-19 is as unnerving as any other unfamiliar landscape that I’ve faced. But there are some things I’ve learned in navigating the natural world that feel particularly relevant to that of fintech.
Share your vulnerabilities
I’ve frequently been the ultimate remote worker – tapping away on a laptop in a flapping tent in blizzard conditions on an icecap, or at a remote mountainous base camp, clinging to the wavering satellite signal to try to get news home. I’ve also often been in the relative comfort of my home, in charge of those undertaking remote expeditions themselves. They’re usually alone and worlds apart from their support team, any possible search-and-rescue capabilities and
They might be rowing an ocean, climbing K2 or dragging a sledge across the bitter Arctic tundra. In order to stay alive, they must be willing to be ‘connected’ and to be vulnerable. They must show their vulnerabilities, exposing how they’re really feeling. This connection requires blistering honesty – asking for help or admitting that you’re struggling is hard for anyone. In the male-dominated expedition world – and within the fast-paced fintech sector – this takes particular practice and bravery. In any walk of life, I’ve learned that sharing vulnerability is hugely empowering. I’d recommend checking out the author and speaker Brené Brown, who addresses why human interactions trump social media and how leaders can create more intimacy with their employees.
As with any rapidly-developing business environment, the fintech sector is populated with idea-rich, time-poor, highly driven entrepreneurs. In turn, this environment attracts a similarly-driven workforce. These people are often risk-takers and boundary-pushers, hellbent on achieving their goal. But this can often be to the detriment of those around them. There’s a clear parallel with the people I have worked with in my extreme expedition career. Focussed on audacious challenges and striving towards their goal is what enables them to battle against adversity when the chips are down. But it’s a fine line to tread – remaining focussed on the finish line must not come at a cost to the health of the company and its team.
In the expedition world, throwing everything at your dream with unwavering determination but disregarding required process, due diligence and the implications of risk, can be fatal. Known as ‘Summit Fever’, this term was originally coined to refer to climbers wishing to ‘bag’ their summit for their hero shot, but with disregard for the detail – often resulting in the individual or the team passing the point of no return with fatal consequences. It’s no different in our corporate sphere.
Turning back before the summit, recognising that there’s not adequate time to reach it and to make it back to base camp safely, is the mature decision. But this is one often beyond the grasp of participants. The summit will be there for another day. The team members who push too hard and ignore the warning signs might not be. Fintech companies need to realise the potential hazards of acting in this way, and avoid constantly putting the success of the venture above the health and wellbeing of their employees.
Find a release
One thing that’s become glaringly apparent is that, with more time at home, people are working more. Rather than spending three hours commuting, people are at their desks for longer. Desperately trying to make up for the time spent taking care of their children’s homework, employees are starting in the early hours of the morning, ahead of wake-up time, or working late into the night to catch up. This may be fantastic for productivity, but the balance will need to be redressed. I hope people are taking charge of their own balance and are introducing boundaries. Do what you can – but recognise that you can’t always do it all.
To maintain a positive outlook and my mental health, I run lots. The power of exercise and the links between increased exercise and improved (and maintained) positive mental health are irrefutable. You don’t need to be running marathons – a decent leg stretch in the fresh air, a yoga session at home, or a peloton class in your lunch break, all count. Make time for this in your schedule if you can – no one else will.
I hope the industry and its leaders have realised the resilience and drive that is inherent in each one of us. A friend remarked to me recently that ‘if you couldn’t hustle in 2020, you probably never had it in you’. We’ve all hustled in our own way. I think it’s important to remember that, while it can be tempting to think that our neighbour ‘hasn’t had it all that bad’, we might never know what path someone else is walking.
This article was published in The Paytech Magazine #09, Page 69-70
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