In what is a recurring feature, Finopotamus spotlights innovative women who are positively impacting technology applications in the credit union industry, and beyond.
For this issue, we spent time with Temenos' Chief Operating Officer, Alexa Guenoun. The Geneva, Switzerland headquartered company, with a strong presence throughout the U.S., specializes in enterprise software for financial institutions.
By W.B. King
In the mid-1990s, Alexa Guenoun was happily working at a private bank in Luxembourg as an internal auditor when she received a cold call from a recruiter regarding a technology position.
“My view at the time was that I was not a programmer or an engineer so this was not for me,” Guenoun recalled. “He insisted so I was intrigued. It turned out to be the best possible career move. I’ve been in banking tech ever since!”
Prior to joining Temenos in 2006 as a program manager, Guenoun held a number of leading positions at Misys Wholesale Banking Systems, which later merged with D+H to form Finastra.
Born in France and fluent in French, English and Spanish, she earned a bachelor’s degree in marketing and finance from the American BBA INSEEC in Paris. And over the last 20-plus years, she has honed her banking tech skills working all over the world, including posts in Hong Kong, Singapore and New York.
“I am very proud to have built an international career spanning from Europe to Asia and now to the Americas,” she said. “I believe that this has allowed me to understand diverse cultures and business practices. The open mindedness is something I truly cherish.”
Since beginning her career, noticeable changes have occurred in the industry, she noted, including a shift in the percentage of women in technology and senior management positions. And while she doesn’t always like making gender distinctions in the workplace, the changes are welcome.
“It is true that [today] I see more women in our clients’ technology departments as well as within IT at large,” she said. “Technology companies are making more of an effort to be inclusive, and society, in general, I think is more encouraging of girls to show an interest in STEM in school, and grow into women who go into STEM careers. As a result, I am less often the only woman in the room, so there is a change. We are still outnumbered, especially as you go higher through the ranks, but it is getting better.”
Leaders Needs Champions
Every professional can usually point to one person who served as a mentor and champion. For Guenoun that person is Temenos’ former chief operating officer and member of the Executive Committee, Jean-Michel Hilsenkopf.
“No matter the job, you need somebody who’s been there before you to guide you and I was lucky enough to find that person in Jean-Michel. He has always encouraged me and valued my input even when I was starting as a project manager,” Guenoun noted. “You need somebody in your corner that is able to see beyond your responsibilities. Somebody who can see what else you can do. I truly believe that I would not be where I am today without his support. To this day, I reach out to him if I need help figuring out how to overcome a challenge, or simply need someone to bounce ideas off of.”
While Guenoun is unsure if she has had the same impact on those coming up the ranks behind her, on a daily basis she employs a philosophy that has long informed her approach to relationship building.
“I am not sure that I consciously build a network, but I like people. I believe that by being gracious to everybody, not taking yourself too seriously and leading by example, you get people to rally around you,” she said. “You naturally build the relationships that will help you and help them. This is what I sought to create in each of the companies I worked for.”
What gives her great satisfaction is seeing Temenos’ clients achieving respective goals and building new business models.
“This is the benefit of being in the business of selling software; I can see the results in action,” she said. “Knowing that today 1.2 billion people rely on Temenos to help them fulfill their banking needs — from a farmer in a developing country to a billionaire managing his money — is very satisfying.”
Demographics in Technology
As a tech company, Guenoun considers the approximate 7,500 employees at Temenos to all be technology focused, including those working in marketing, sales and human resources.
“They still need an understanding of the business, industry and what our technology does,” she said. “The majority of our employees work with Temenos technology in their day-to-day.”
In terms of a demographic breakdown, Guenoun explained that the average age of an employee is 36, which she noted was “quite young.” Over a third (36%) of the company’s employees are under the age of 30 (Gen Z), while more than half (55%) are 30 to 50 (Gen X, Gen Y and millennials). The remaining nine percent are 50 and above (Baby Boomers).
When asked about gender breakdowns, she said that roughly one-third of Temenos employees, both in the U.S. and globally, are female. She noted that this statistic is approximately eight percent higher than the IT industry average.
“For those under 30, they are roughly 50-50 male-female, which shows that the societal effort to get more girls and women interested in STEM careers and balance out historically male-dominated industries seems to be paying off,” she said.
Technologies Boosted by the Pandemic
Guenoun believes in the premise that it takes 21 days to form a habit and 90 days to form a lifestyle. So being a year into the pandemic presents the assumption that learned consumer behavior resulting from COVID-19 likely won’t reverse.
“Digital, cloud, AI, working from home — these trends are here to stay. Financial services executives agree with that. In a report from The Economist earlier this year, two-thirds of banking executives said new technologies, such as AI and cloud will continue to drive the global banking sphere for the next five years.”
She is also keeping a keen eye on neobanks entering the space. This trend, she noted, was occurring in Europe, but last year the San Francisco-based Varo Bank became the first fintech to gain a national banking charter.
“We’ve seen a variety of acquisitions of fintechs buying financial institutions and vice versa. There is a real challenge to the status quo happening, and everyone is examining what it means to bank,” said Guenoun. “It’s clear now more than ever that consumers don’t see banking as something they do, they see it as embedded into the things they are trying to do. For instance, purchasing a car or home, rather than looking for a loan. We will see more banks and credit unions looking at how they can become embedded in the daily lives of their account holders.”
With over 600 credit union clients, Guenoun said Temenos has gained valuable insights from the pandemic, including the importance of using technology to communicate with all banking demographics, especially younger generations.
“The goal is not technology itself, but rather developing community relationships, providing personalized service and supporting members in need,” she said. “We saw that in powerful force with the pandemic, as credit unions moved quickly to offer skip-a-pay and fee waiver options for members, helped small businesses navigate how to stay afloat when operations were limited and supported the economy as a whole.”
Focusing on the User Experience
Temenos’ long history of investing in digital and cloud on behalf of its clients proved instrumental throughout the pandemic. Guenoun said that COVID-19 “hit the fast forward button” on digital and that the need for “agility and a seamless user experience” is more imperative than ever.
“We’ve also seen financial institutions really step up to support their account holders, like PSECU, which offers automated decision rates of up to 70% for online lending and account opening applications to speed up access to funds,” she noted. “Atlantic Union Bank supported SMEs with 10,000 loans totaling over $1.7 billion through the Paycheck Protection Program.”
Moving forward, Guenoun said next steps for Temenos and its customers will include expanding on how the company will deliver the “human connection” over digital channels. The latter will be especially important, she noted, with collections on the rise in the wake of the pandemic, layoffs and the recession.
“Everyone understands the need for digital access now, but how do you maintain loyalty? How do you increase member satisfaction? How do you support members in rural communities who already struggled with lack of access to financial services?” She questioned. “There needs to be more investment in chat, AI and delivering not just an omnichannel experience, but a multi-experience strategy across digital touchpoints from mobile to wearables to web browsers.”
To ensure that the aforementioned questions are addressed, she said Temenos will take a customer-first approach and work backwards.
“Figure out what problem our customers are trying to solve and then figure out how our products can help them solve it,” she said. “When our customers are successful, that is the greatest success.”