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Curve’s COO Nathalie Oestmann on fintech and taking the industry head-on

The operations chief talks plans for the future, expansion and what it’s like to work in a male-dominated industry.

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Curve’s COO Nathalie Oestmann

Nathalie Oestmann doesn’t like to describe herself as a finance industry veteran— but it’s hard to shy away from the fact that Curve’s chief operations officer is one of the few that can say they’ve really been here from the start.

Oestmann spent 15 years at American Express in the US, Europe and the UK in a variety of roles, then went on to head up operations at Samsung Pay, which put her right where she wanted to be—at the heart of fintech. 

But it was Curve’sShachar Bialick, who pursued Oestmann for over two years, that finally drew the exec away from established fintech companies and into the world of startups and scaleups.

AltFi caught up with Nathalie last Friday to discuss all things fintech and the latest developments at Curve, the all-your-cards-in-one fintech.

The birth of fintech

Oestmann smiles as she fondly recalls meeting a young and ambitious Tom Blomfield who approached her asking to add Monzo to the Samsung Pay Wallet, at a time when Monzo didn’t even have an Android app. 

Blomfield returned a couple of weeks later, this time, with an app: “And that's when I really understood, there's a nimbleness here,” Oestmann tells AltFi

“I think that kind of experience really stuck in my mind because this was something I hadn't seen in my previous incumbent environment, it would take years for us to get it 100% perfectly right.”

Oestmann says at that moment she recognised fintech was here to stay, and also spotted the one area that hadn’t really been touched on yet: Open Banking.

Disrupting the disruptors

Until Curve was founded in 2015, few platforms would let you see all your bank cards in the one place.

“People don't always have just have one bank and they want to interconnect with all their banks,” Oestmann remarks.

It was Shachar’s concept of Curve that finally made sense to Oestmann, and, after Curve’s$55m Series B funding round, she made the jump into the world of scaleups.

“I scaled up a lot at Samsung, but it was an already established business unit. So, this is my first real scaleup, it’s great to be able to put your stamp on something.”

Throughout her career, Oestmann admits that despite being part of more marketing-driven companies, she always found herself drawn towards the product-oriented and technology areas.

Wo(men) in fintech 

When asked about her experiences in the industry, particularly with sexism, Oestmann has nothing but good things to say, but she is acutely aware that it’s not always the case.

Oestmann attributes her attitude to surrounding herself with “amazing people, supportive family and supportive mentors, both male and female,” something that she admits she was very lucky to have.

“I probably am much more agnostic about what sex you are, I really don't care.”

Curve currently holds events geared towards creating a comfortable environment for people, particularly women, to discuss diversity in the fintech industry. 

The company also holds STEM events for young girls from diverse backgrounds who might be interested in coding, Oestmann remarks: “encouragement in the early years is really, really important”.

Ahead of the Curve?

A 2019 Deloitte study found that less than 30 per cent of the UK’s fintech workforce is female.

Curve is already ahead of the “curve” (pun intended) in this area as roughly 40 per cent of its employee base are women.

Curve also has several departments with more women than men, its legal department is 83 per cent female and 17 per cent male, similarly, the financial crime and brand communication teams are 67 per cent and 71 per cent female respectively.

Despite this, Curve’s engineering team is only 11 per cent female, and its product team is not far behind at 26 per cent. 

Oestmann says to fix this situation is to fix the pipeline itself: “We are creating incentives for employees to feed women into our funnel.”

She stressed that in no way does Curve have quotas, but she said: “I do believe in having a funnel that can more represent what the world looks like.”

Getting women into fintech and engineering is not the only diversity question Nathalie has on her mind, she wants to make Curve a diverse place to work in all areas.

Curve employees currently hail from 34 different countries: “I think the strength of our company is to be as diverse as possible, Shachar has built a diverse leadership team and has a diverse board.”

What’s around the bend for Curve?

Curve has set its sights on expanding its offerings across the globe, and at its last fundraise was valued at $250m after a successful Series B round.

Recently, the all-your-cards-in-one fintech opened an office in Brooklyn and appointed Amanda Orson as its VP head of North America, joining the ever-growing list of UK fintechs pursuing US domination.

The London-based fintech is also pursuing growth elsewhere, Nathalie said: “We’re doubling down on Europe and will be having more product features coming out imminently for our European customers.”

Last month Curve kicked off 2020 with the launch of Apple Pay, and the company now claims to have over 900,000 users who have signed up and spend more than £1.2bn via their Curve cards.

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