(Women on Top in Tech is a series about Women Founders, CEOs, and Leaders in technology. It aims to amplify and bring to the fore diversity in leadership in technology.)
Sonal Jain is the Chief Data Officer of Validus Capital. She brings over 14 years of experience in analytics and risk management in the payments and lending space, having previously held senior roles at Indifi and American Express across Asia-Pacific and Europe. These include in-market stints in the UK, Japan, Singapore, and India.
Sonal holds a Master of Arts in Economics from the Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi and a Bachelor of Economics (Honours) degree from Lady Shri Ram College, University of Delhi. She also has a Postgraduate Diploma in Marketing from the Chartered Institute of
Marketing, United Kingdom.
Validus is Singapore’s largest SME financing platform that connects growing SMEs to accredited and institutional investors for short-term financing.
What makes you do what you do?
In the early years of my career I got to experience first-hand, the inherent value that data analytics brings, enabling business decisions and driving change. Since then, I have pursued roles that are deeply rooted in analytics, which directly drive strategic business decision making, to tackle new challenges and pursue market opportunities.
How did you rise in the industry you are in?
When I first started my career, I had little idea of the vast and largely untapped potential that Data Science could offer businesses. I spent my years at American Express in various roles learning and honing my skills in data and analytics to drive better decision-making across the credit lifecycle, and to obtain business insights that weren’t possible before. A few years after, with that footing and the burgeoning Fintech industry, I felt the time was ripe to embark on a new learning journey. Fintech startups offered an exciting opportunity where I could continue to contribute whilst building new knowledge and expand my skill set. I joined a Fintech startup in the SME lending space, and I have not looked back since! I believe that having a clear goal and a sense of purpose is paramount to achieving meaningful results. My personal tip is to use roadmaps for planning purposes – it helps to keep the objective in mind and bring clarity to the often complex and experimental processes.
Why did you take on this role/start this startup, especially since this is perhaps a stretch or challenge for you?
I do not see the role as a stretch, it is like any other new role, so nothing unique about the stretches that it offers compared to any other job. For the past year, I have been heading the data and analytics functions at Validus Capital, working closely with my team on technologically driven financing needs for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in Singapore and the region. We strive to deliver best-in-class solutions for borrowers, who previously did not have access to traditional financing for business growth. With my previous experience using data to drive decision making across the credit lifecycle, I jumped at the opportunity to contribute towards the SME lending space. SMEs are the backbone of every country. Yet, they remain an underserved segment of economies. I am glad my work at Validus Capital can empower economic growth and spearhead financial inclusion across ASEAN. To overcome challenges, I work with roadmaps, which give clarity on where we want to be with our goal and take steps towards reaching it. This has helped us achieve meaningful results that make financing more accessible.
Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industries or did you look for one or how did that work?
I am grateful to have met different mentors throughout my career. They were mainly leaders from my previous workplaces, whom I had the privilege to work with.
How did you make a match if you did, and how did you end up being mentored by him/her?
These mentors were leaders whom I could draw inspiration from, and benefit from their guidance. It was serendipitous that they saw my strengths, took the time to groom my potential, and developed my career by helping me chart my growth path. They also supported my role changes, helped me navigate big organisations, and I could reach out to them in times of need for advice.
Now as a leader how do you spot, develop, keep, grow and support your talent?
As a leader, I try to create a team with complementary skills and strengths, emphasising on healthy team dynamics. I also empower my team to make decisions, always pushing for accountability. The candidate’s merits, skills and experience matter most. While looking for talent, I always try and see how the new person could add to the team and how we can create a growth path for the candidate. Both of these aspects need to work out to ensure a successful fit.
Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?
I strongly believe that diversity in the workplace is not only positive but highly important to any business, and that diversity needs to be tackled on multiple fronts. When you look at gender diversity in the workforce across most countries, it’s evidently consistent and concerning: There is massive under-representation of women in the workforce. The number gets worse when it comes to senior leadership roles. Additionally, just recruiting more women is not the answer. There is a long way to go for companies to be able to create a work environment where men and women can be equally successful considering the needs for each gender respectively at different life stages.
What is your take on what it takes to be a great leader in your industry and as a general rule of thumb?
To me, a people’s leader embodies trust and empathy. As a rule of thumb, if your team has trust in you as a leader, then nothing will catch you by surprise. It is also important to have a pulse of team members. More importantly, empathy is the most underrated trait of a great leader. Especially in a start-up culture, the team needs to feel comfortable taking risks and asking questions or offering new ideas. This creates an environment that is a key driver for breakthroughs.
Advice for others? (Please share here what you are up to next or where you want to focus people’s attention to)
If you get too comfortable with what you do, you need to challenge yourself and fully explore your potential. Go do something different, even if it is not within your current area of focus. In my experience, it is this growth that helps you moves forward in your career.
If you’d like to get in touch with Sonal Jain, please feel free to reach out to her at [email protected]