Ellie Hewitt currently works as the Head of Product Strategy for Open Banking & Real Time Payments at Visa in the United Kingdom. Since leaving College Ellie worked in several different roles at KPMG before moving over to Visa. In 2020 she was awarded the UK Women in Payments ‘Rising Star’ Award. Ellie spoke with us about Payments, shared advice for those looking to enter the financial sector and talked about memories from her time at College.
Please tell us a bit more about yourself – where are you originally from and where did you grow up?
I am a true blue Novocastrian, and grew up spending most days surfing at Bar Beach or playing rugby (or just wrestling) with my brother in the back yard. I was really involved in Cooks Hill Surf Club, firstly as a nipper, and then patrolling the beach for many years. Like many other Androvians, I went to Newcastle Grammar School, and spent a lot of time in the sports department, training for the rowing and netball teams.
What were your favourite memories and what parts of College life were you involved in?
I always tried to get involved in as many areas of college life as possible – I represented Drew’s in the Rosebowl Rowing and Basketball teams, organised Drewtopia, Highland Ball and Father’s Day dinners, and also made sure to participate in every dance floor going in The Highlander (with questionable levels of style or success). But the best moments were actually the everyday – lounging in The Glen or in the Dining Hall debating topics ranging from the most mundane and frivolous to solving the world’s problems. All of the best friends I made at College are still most of my best friends today, and we still spend our time together these days doing much of the same (although with slightly more sophisticated drinks than the $4 rum and coke on tap from The Grose).
How did you see the College change for women whilst you were there? And have you noticed any changes since?
I will be the first to admit that I did not appreciate the gender imbalance at College – and equally in society at large – when I was at Drew’s. I went to a co-educational school, grew up in a household where my brother and I were both encouraged to do and be anything we wanted, and then lived in the co-educational environment of St Andrew’s (where everyone was confident, successful and had a voice to be heard!). But once I joined the workforce, watched the style of male vs female partners at KPMG, became responsible for managing junior female vs male staff, and had friends becoming mothers and fathers, I began to better understand the nuances of sexism and gender imbalance. In college life, as in the wider world, still too many roles are influenced by age-old societal biases that shape women as polite, compliant and detailed (or bossy and aggressive if they step over the line) and men as bolder, louder and stronger. These predispositions are often invisible to those they do not directly impact. But with greater awareness and understanding of the need to solve underlying structures, this is starting to change.
Equal recognition for and respect of achievement is one of the first steps towards balance and equality. And this was starting to get there when I was at Drew’s – the success of the Women’s Rosebowl teams, academic accolades and musical / cultural achievements was becoming as important as our male counterparts. One of the proudest moments I had was when three girlfriends and I were the first group of women to compete in the Bachelor of Initiation. Some might think it sounds silly to be really proud of smashing a whole load of beers – but at the time it did seem like a really big deal for a group of girls to actually complete the BI, and not just be runners. I think to this day I have my BI certificate framed at my parents’ house, and my actual Honours Degree is still rolled up in a cardboard tube somewhere…
After leaving College you have worked in a number of different positions in the financial sector including in Management Consulting at KPMG to your current role as Head of Product Strategy at Visa. Could you describe your career path to date?
I started my career in Sydney, as part of KPMG’s Management Consulting team. As a bright eyed graduate, I was lucky enough to get involved in the New Payments Platform project. The NPP is the real time payments infrastructure in Australia that was launched in February 2018 (whenever you make an Osko payment or send money to someone’s PayID – that’s the NPP). This was probably the largest systems upgrade and technology implementation in Australian financial services history, and really was a once in a lifetime programme to be a part of. I was so lucky to have such a rewarding experience so early on in my career, and this really kick-started my passion for payments.
I moved to London with KPMG four years ago, mainly working on payments innovation programmes at the big banks, and it was really fascinating to see the differences in priorities and capabilities of UK banks compared with the Australian banks.
Just over two years ago, I was approached to join Visa’s brand-new open banking and real time payments team. As a company traditionally in the cards space, this was an opportunity to build an internal start up or a challenger company within the financial security blanket of one of the biggest companies in the world. This was my bread and butter, and it turned out to be the right time to make the jump from consulting into industry. I now lead Product Strategy for Visa’s open banking propositions across Europe, thinking about where Visa wants to be in this space 5-10 years from now, and what products and technology we need to build to make that vision a reality.
What does a typical day in your current position look like?
Step 1 is always exercise and coffee – and always from one of the many Aussie coffee shops that are springing up around London. Even if my morning exercise is just a 15 minute walk, getting some fresh air to clear my head is a non-negotiable to start the workday in the right frame of mind. Once in the office (or home office) my day usually looks something like:
- Spending time with my team around a white board ideating what other new and innovative features we can incorporate into the product we’re designing.
- Attending an executive governance meeting to showcase the results of a recent proof of concept my team has built around distributed ledger technology and ask for additional investment to take this to the next stage of development
- Having 1:1 check ins with colleagues that work in other parts of the Visa organisation – sharing ideas and meeting new people
- Attending a status update on a programme to pilot a new bill payments solution with a large telco provider
- Presenting Visa’s strategy and propositions to a large European bank. Then preparing for the next client meeting, thinking about how Visa’s products and solutions can be best deployed to solve their problems around customer retention, data analytics or cross-border payments.
Finally, I do a final check in with everyone in the team, final scan of my inbox, before meeting some girlfriends or my partner James for drinks and dinner.
You currently live over in the United Kingdom. What has it been like adjusting to living on the other side of the world?
While moving to the other side of the world is incredibly exciting, it was also a little bit daunting. The route between London and Sydney is a very well-trodden path, and I went into the move fairly confidently – I was moving with a secure job transfer with KPMG, and I had a lot of college friends who had also made the move. At the end of the day, the culture and humour in the UK is really similar to Australia, which makes building friendships much easier. The opportunity to travel to so many amazing places across Europe at the drop of a hat also makes life in London pretty awesome!
Congratulations on receiving the UK Women in Payments ‘Rising Star’ Award in 2020. Could you tell us what is involved to be eligible to receive this award and what it meant to you to be recognised this way?
Women in Payments is a global network for women, striving to break down gender barriers in the payments and fintech Industry. The global awards programme celebrates women making waves in the global payments ecosystem, and it was an absolute privilege to be presented the ‘Rising Star’ award in 2020.
You recently got involved in College again as part of the new St Andrew’s Cross-Disciplinary Problem Solving Course. What are your thoughts on St Andrew’s branching out into the micro-credential space?
There are a lot of skills that I gained through my varied experiences at College that I only realised subsequently. Enabling students to explicitly understand their capabilities, strengths and skills from the outset of their career will be hugely advantageous. These micro-credentials will give Androvian’s the soft, transferrable skills – like problem solving or stakeholder management – that will be relevant regardless of what career path they choose.
What do you like to do outside of work?
I am a huge rugby fan, so try to get to as many games as possible, otherwise I spend far too much time and money exploring the best new bars and restaurants in London.
Do you have any advice for young Androvians looking to enter the financial services sector?
It’s totally fine not to have a set career plan. Instead, the best approach is just to ‘say yes’ to everything and grasp any opportunities you’re given with both hands. Until I got allocated onto a payments project in my time with KPMG’s financial services consulting team, I had no idea what payments was… and now I have built a whole career around being a payments expert, and absolutely love it!
My second piece of advice is to read, read and read some more (or listen to podcasts). The industry is changing at such a dynamic pace that even veterans of the industry can struggle to keep up. If you can understand (and have an opinion on!) the latest trends, start-up players or regulations, you’ll be valuable to any firm. 11:FS or McKinsey’s reports are a good place to start.
Anyone who is interested in entering the payments industry, or moving to London, please reach out, and I’d love to meet you over a coffee or beer.