Each month we have the honor of interviewing Women Who Inspire Us. This month we talked to Tatjana Schäfer who is a Director and Global Treasury Solutions Lead at KPMG in Zurich. Financial consulting is more and more connected to tech topics such as cybersecurity, AI, virtual reality, digital currencies, and so on. In her career, Tatjana had to learn many new things regarding technology. Today, she knows that you don’t have to be an expert in everything, but you have to surround yourself with smart people that you can learn from and sponsors that enable you to grow.
Tell us a bit about yourself, your background and your current position.
My educational background is in Economics and Finance. I started my career in Treasury, working first for a family owned company in Germany and then for a listed company in Japan. This was very interesting from a cultural perspective, especially in regards to gender differences. In Japan, you very quickly hit the glass ceiling as a woman.
When women turn 30, they are expected to focus on having a family rather than on their career. Japanese families are still very traditional in that sense. Also, in traditional Japanese companies, climbing the ladder happens over time: the longer you work, the higher up you’ll be. So, after 10 years you’re becoming a manager, there are no shortcuts. It’s a “waiting game”.
After realizing this, I was not really seeing myself working in such an environment for the next years. So, I went into consulting. What I love about consulting is that you can see various industries in a very short time. In consulting, I was able to combine the tech perspective with my financial background.
Today, 100% all of our projects in finance are connected to technology. You cannot write a proposal or a target operating model for a client if you don’t understand the technology that will be used. The strategy is always connected with the underlying system architecture. You can see how the profile of a typical treasurer has changed drastically over the last years.
Did you ever plan your career? If yes, when and how? If not, how did you achieve your current position?
Officially my career was all planned, I knew that I wanted to be a treasurer already when I was young (laughs). Jokes aside, unofficially, I always liked to take on exciting opportunities. For me it was often about being at the right time at the right place.
I majored in finance, as I like that industry, but I was always interested in consulting and curious about working abroad. I am also a big fan of networking. People know you for what you’re good at, and that’s how you create opportunities. This was also the story of how I got my job in Switzerland and also my job at KPMG in Hong Kong. I knew someone who suggested that I apply or I was considered for the job..
I believe that you learn what you like when you try it, and then you slowly start to develop in a certain direction. I do however have my master plan of what I want to achieve by the age of 50. I broke it down into individual parts, but I also need to stay flexible. I am a fan of setting milestones to stay on track, but I also think we need to stay agile with ourselves.
What is the most exciting thing in your professional life right now?
In my job, you never know what your day will look like. There’s always a client that has unexpected questions. I like working with different industries and colleagues from different countries. Our team is very international. I get exposed to various perspectives and opinions that make the solutions better.
I currently have one project where we work with 20 different countries to improve the treasury set-up from a strategy, regulatory, tax and system perspective. We are in discussions with payment service providers, treasury management system providers and banking partners. We are literally putting their treasury department upside down with an international team, bringing all the information together.
We have also developed a crypto and digital payments training which has been released in Switzerland, Hong Kong and Singapore a few weeks ago. This will help Finance and Treasury professionals to understand the new technology and its potential to drive company wide strategic discussions. To make that happen we are meeting in virtual reality.
You absolutely need sponsors. Without sponsors you have to work double or triple as hard to get where you want to be.
What has been your toughest challenge you faced while working in tech? What did you learn from it?
What I learned about consulting is that you can only do it when you really enjoy it, because you spend so much time on the job. It’s a constant balance between making employees and clients happy, to find that sweet spot. This is sometimes a struggle. Also to find a healthy balance between private and professional life.
I only recently moved to Switzerland but I noticed that it is very traditional. I don’t exactly fit into people’s expectations in my role and it’s also quite male dominant. I like to earn people’s respect by showing them that I am good at what I am doing.
Cultural differences working in teams can be challenging. Sometimes you are saying the same thing but you don’t mean the same thing. There are sometimes misunderstandings, we have to navigate through, and I always aim to bring the different angles together to show where we might think differently.
I was recently invited to speak on a panel as the only woman. It’s quite state of the art to have at least one woman on a panel, but if I am the only one, I might address it. So on this particular one I mentioned that it’s good that I am here otherwise there would be no woman at all.
It’s about creating awareness, and supporting other women. I have just successfully hired two women into my team. I have no interest in being a quota woman on a panel or on a board. I want to be there because I have the knowledge and experience, not because I am a woman.
Is there anything you wish you had known earlier or would advise your younger self?
You absolutely need sponsors. Without sponsors you have to work double or triple as hard to get where you want to be. Another one is the importance of networking. Both can be accelerators in your career.
I was recently invited to speak on a panel as the only woman. I mentioned that it’s good that I am here otherwise there would be no woman at all.
What advice would you give other women in tech?
Stand up for yourself, and never undersell your abilities. When I compare women and men in the hiring process, it happens a lot that women undersell themselves. Be authentic, and don’t try to copy male behavior. Just keep going, nobody knows everything starting from day one. If you want to do it, you can do it.
In today’s world, everything is connected to tech. Have a look at all the tech topics you already know about. Finance and tech skills can be combined quite easily. Tech can be applied to any finance topic. Try to learn from others, and attend workshops. It’s never been so easy to learn something new than today with online learning.
Also, you don’t need to be an expert in everything, but you should ask the experts about what they know. Learn the smart way and surround yourself with people that are there where you would like to be. The five people you spend the most time with, that’s how you will likely develop in the future. Find role models and sponsors. Make use of platforms and networks. Your environment is important.
Thank you Tatjana for your time and for sharing your story with us, we feel energized by your determination and drive. Thank you for being a woman who inspires us! 💛
Author: Lisa Stähli