Name: Natalya Thakur
Job / Title: Relationship Manager
Company: FutureAdvisor (subsidiary of BlackRock)
Industry: FinTech/Investment Management
Q: From your perspective, what are the most important trends that will take place in your industry in the next 10 years?
Natalya: The rise of fintech will lead to increased financial democratization and financial literacy if companies are held accountable to serving their clients’ best interests. This would include ensuring that more people know these products exist, and why or how to use them. I also believe that financial regulation will play a bigger role in the industry as financial markets and new products push orthodox boundaries.
My dream for the industry over the next 10 years would be to see more integration of fintech products in the education system (from elementary school to college) so that more people have the opportunity to develop their financial habits from a younger age. As an example, new technologies such as Pennybox are introducing finance to kids, but they are not yet formally integrated into the education system.
From my professional experience and community involvement I think it’s especially important that girls and women have a stronger platform to take more ownership of their financial health. Most women, regardless of their economic background, are less confident and well versed in financial literacy. As compared to men, we are also less likely to talk about personal finances and rarely take the time to seek out the appropriate financial resources.
Q: What tips do you have for other women just starting out in your profession?
Natalya: Having recently transitioned from a larger financial firm to a fintech start-up, I realized the value of being able to think critically about information that you are presented with. So often, if we are new to a job we might experience imposter syndrome or take what we are told at face value. Working at a start-up inherently means that there is a degree of chaos and sometimes things get lost in translation, especially when working with a technical product. To ask questions, dig deeper and think beyond what you’re being told can help reveal your value in an organization. Being able to do this in a tone and manner that is agreeable with different types of leaders/colleagues will also help you go far.
Q: What have been the hallmarks of your success?
Natalya: I think some people may disagree with me on this one, but rather than competing with others, I would say stay competitive with yourself. This gives you room to be genuinely happy for others’ accomplishments and to learn from them, while confidently pushing your own boundaries. In today’s society (with the advent of technology and social media) it is so easy to compare ourselves to others, but this could be harmful to how we think about our own futures. Other people have completely different paths and personal experiences, most of the time we aren’t even comparable so why go crazy over it? Focus on what you truly want to achieve rather than what you think you want to achieve based on trends within your inner circle or online. Those that are younger in their career sometimes make the mistake of thinking they want what someone else has because it is an attractive “shiny” option. In the long run, this detracts from figuring out what your true passions and dreams are.
Q: What role has mentorship played in your career?
Natalya: Mentorship has allowed me to develop an inner compass that I can trust with increasingly more complex career and personal decisions. I always ask my mentors how they would think about a situation that I request them to evaluate (i.e. handling different leadership styles in the workplace, making an ask of someone more senior than me etc.). My goal is to understand their thought process in order for me to differentiate between what I want to adopt and what I choose to leave behind. I never ask them to give me an answer to a problem so that I can regurgitate it. Over time this has allowed me to develop stronger self-trust and an ability to think through decisions ranging from job transitions, negotiation, prioritizing my time, exploring projects outside of my day job, etc.
Q: What are ways that you have balanced career, personal, and other interests?
Natalya: I believe that humans are meant to exercise different intellectual and exploratory muscles. Given that we each have so many diverse interests and passions, I believe that a career is not just what you accomplish in the office, but how you develop your story inside and outside of your day job. I identify my passions and then get involved with, or create, activities that allow me to exercise those muscles. Personally, my current passions include financial democratization, women’s leadership and design thinking. Through my professional experience in finance and fintech I have become a stronger advisory board member to Stanford’s financial literacy program. My passion for women’s leadership is demonstrated through my involvement with the CLUB and teaching women’s leadership workshops using design thinking and improv methodology. In addition, innovation practices continue to breathe new life into my work; I currently run the Design Thinking Program at my company and also teach design thinking workshops for other organizations looking to adopt new ways to problem solve. I’ve noticed that my passions are blending together in new and interesting ways, which is exciting and makes me feel more fulfilled by the things I choose to pursue.
Q: Tell us something about yourself that is a fun fact.
Natalya: I’ve had lunch with Oprah before!
Q: What do you like to do to unwind?
Natalya: I really enjoy hitting golf balls at the range or getting out on the course. There is actually a virtual golf course near where I work, and it is my haven for getting some alone time, or just taking a break during the day.