Starting her career at age 8 on a market stall with her mother, Samantha Fogerty has used her skills in business development to build a successful career in fintech.
Now in the role of COO of Payl8r, a responsibly driven BNPL provider, Fogerty speaks to us about her journey so far, which has taken her from the market stall to the boardroom.
Can you tell us a little about yourself and your career so far?
It always surprises people that when I was younger, maths was probably my least favourite subject. It’s an unexpected backdrop for a COO of a fintech business, but my career journey has never been conventional.
Growing up, I worked with my mum on her market stall, learning everything from salesmanship to customer relations. This was where my entrepreneurial spirit grew from and it laid the groundwork for my understanding of commerce.
I’m living proof that there isn’t a ‘one-size-fits-all’ route into the finance industry. I went from university into teaching, then into recruitment, realising pretty quickly these weren’t the right paths for me. My background before Payl8r was in business development, something that comes naturally to me after my teenage years on the market stall.
My best piece of advice for someone starting a business is never to swim in shark infested waters. Build a business in an area without lots of competition. This is what we did with Payl8r. There weren’t any lenders operating in the 18-30 year old market and we looked at niche industries to provide our products to. This is what spurred my decision to take the plunge into this new start up.
How did you enter Payl8r and what are your favourite aspects of the role?
Payl8r’s CEO and founder, Louis Alexander, was a good friend of mine and already had this concept and had started the ball rolling. He asked me to come and join what was a start up with a really small team in Payl8r’s early stages of life. At the time, the company was known as The Student Finance Company, we’ve come a long way since then.
It was in 2015 Louis came to me with the idea for a new millennial finance project and asked if I wanted to drive it. After some consideration, I was sold on the idea of being my own boss. I was motivated to become a driver for the business, and I was also sold on the excitement of being part of something I knew would be special.
The nature of leading a start up means you have to wear all of the hats. While this comes with its challenges, living and breathing the business means you learn the company and industry from the ground up. I became well versed in the company’s collections, marketing, sales, underwriting and compliance.
Now, my favourite aspect of my role and the business as a whole is using new technologies and innovating to provide access to credit to more people. I also really admire how Payl8r is taking a more responsible approach which no other lending company is attempting. The aim has always been to revolutionise and transform the way we view credit and the way we get credit – making it much more transparent. The business centres on challenging the traditional norms of lending and fostering transparency, making lending much more accessible.
What have been your biggest career challenges and how have you shown resilience?
Throughout my life, I have grappled with dyslexia and maths challenges, so I think I became resilient from a young age. In the early days of my career in finance, coming into the industry with an unconventional background and then being senior to people who were a lot older than me was definitely tough to navigate. I had to be a strong character and have a large voice especially.
Now further on into my journey at Payl8r, the real test in my role is mastering the art of leading from above the fray—working on the business while keeping the day-to-day operations humming along. It’s like being an expert juggler with a dozen balls in the air, each one as crucial as the next and a lot of eyes on you waiting to see if you’re going to drop one.
Delegation is no small feat and I’ve had to learn to let go, to trust my team to handle tasks that I would normally take on. It’s tempting to want to be omnipresent, especially after wearing all the hats in the early years, but growth truly comes from entrusting your team and stepping back to see the bigger picture.
Have you had any positive speaking opportunities and what fears have you had to overcome?
I learned from my mother at an early age to face challenges head on, not to indulge in self-pity and to approach the unknown with grit and grace. While the occasional wave of imposter syndrome is unavoidable, particularly when I’m out of my comfort zone, I think it’s important to face your fears. This has always been my approach to public speaking.
I recently took part in a webinar hosted by AltFi, which was part of its Open Banking Forum 2022 on the subject “Can Open Banking save BNPL”. While I was initially nervous, once I got into the flow of speaking about open banking, those nerves faded. And there’s nothing better than the feeling afterwards of knowing you’ve put yourself out there and it was received with positivity. Having a great team around me also helps with this, they help me to feel empowered, as I hope I do for them.
Any advice for women in the industry who want to get into fintech, and how they can succeed?
There is so much I can say to this. For women looking to venture into the fintech industry, the path can be challenging but it’s equally rewarding. Never let the fear of making mistakes put you off taking risks – I wouldn’t be where I am today if I had.
When you find your passion, never stop learning about it. There are so many resources out there to support you with this, networking being one of them which also provides a great way to find a break in the industry.
Resilience, charisma and authenticity are three qualities that will help you stand out in an industry with just 17% of senior positions filled by women. Understanding the current landscape is crucial. Prepare to navigate a sector where the gender pay gap is a significant 26%. But remember, your individuality is your power, use your unique strengths to form your own distinct voice. It’s an industry in transition, and women are steadily forging paths to leadership.
The climb to the top may require personal sacrifices, particularly in balancing family life with professional ambitions. In my experience, returning to work shortly after childbirth was a tough but necessary decision to maintain career momentum. It’s a stark reality that may contribute to the fact that only 6% of finance CEOs globally are women. I hope that as the industry develops, these inequalities will be reduced so that the roles for women become more accessible.