Industry Focus

5 in 5 series with Karla Day on leadership and technology in the financial services industry

Published on March 27, 2023

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Experteq values digital innovation, technology advancement and digital leadership. In our “5 in 5” series, we spend five minutes with inspiring leaders who are making a difference to achieve digital innovation, by asking five critical questions of the now.

While Karla Day is a veteran in the financial services industry with over 30 years of experience, she came from humble beginnings, performing basic administrative tasks before she moved into lending and branch management. As one of the few women in the industry at the time, she credits her executive leader for mentoring her throughout her expansive career and helping to nurture her keen interest in systems.

Her passion for IT, and foray into the mutual space and project management, enabled her to rise through the ranks, culminating in her recent appointment as Chief Information Officer at QBANK. She shares her experience getting started in IT and finance, along with leadership tips and what is on the horizon within the industry.

What initially inspired you about technology and how did this translate into a career in the financial services industry?

My dad sparked my interest in technology many years ago. While my parents ran a small family business and understood the importance of the customer experience and journey, my dad could see that computers and technology would be the way of the future and he encouraged me to understand as much as I could about how they worked. That led to my eventual interest in finding out how technology can be used for more important goals and how it can drive better business outcomes while improving our members’ journey and experience.

In the financial services industry, technology provides the medium that enables us to help our members while striving for growth and sustainability. By leveraging technology, we’re able to put ourselves in our members’ shoes and have a clear understanding of their needs and wants while providing trust, security, reliability and flexibility.

What are some challenges you have encountered in your career and how have you overcome them?

As a woman in this industry, we often feel a higher pressure to succeed and prove ourselves. I felt this strongly, especially with my recent appointment, and it took time and the help of my mentor to manage my imposter syndrome.

Although this pressure makes it difficult to accept failure in the course of our work, I’ve learned to see the positive side of it and have become more willing to face it by looking at the word “fail” to mean “First Attempt I Learn”. This allows me to adapt and improve myself to be better than I was.

This mindset has also helped me build up and nurture others in my team, transitioning from being a manager into a leader.

Is there anything you would like to share about how your leadership style has changed over time?

I like to surround myself with people that I believe are smarter than me so we can learn from each other. As a leader, I’d like to think the learning journey is a shared journey, and I want people to challenge my thinking. Some of the greatest solutions and results will be achieved by having challenging and robust conversations, so it’s important to foster a trusting environment where people feel confident and comfortable enough to engage with each other this way. While it does put people outside their comfort zone, being able to sit in a meeting and have that truly challenging conversation where everyone’s intent is genuine and respectful is invaluable. That’s what’s rewarding and that’s what I try to really foster in our team.

To add, I’m very passionate about recruiting for potential and aptitude as opposed to already developed skills. I think my success has been based on other people recognising that in me and recognising the potential and aptitude to grow. We’re not all in a box and we all have different skill sets, so I think building a diverse team is really important.

How do you see the financial services industry evolving over the next five years, especially in terms of technology? How do companies need to approach these changes to stay competitive?

The industry has faced, and will continue to face, disruption over time, and we’re moving from a “need” to a “want” environment where member-centricity is key to it all. To safely ride the wave, we need to ensure that everything we do is about our members, focusing on that experience and investing in the right areas. With the right initiatives in place aligned to our members’ needs, we gain the ability to grow even more.

Currently, we’re in the age of personalisation and prediction – members expect us to know what they want, before they know what it is themselves. But how do you do that with privacy requirements and strict regulations in place? We need to think about merging tangible innovation with regulation and where technology sits within this space. And while change is great, doing it just for the sake of change is not beneficial. Change needs to be purposeful and add value.

What advice would you give to someone who is either pursuing a career in financial services or in technology?

Understand the business you’re going into. Don’t try and run before you can walk. Only when you embed yourself in the business and understand it can you then apply your relevant skills to get the best possible outcomes.

In addition, ground yourself with reasonable expectations and be patient. When you start making plans and predictions about what to expect based on unrealistic expectations, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.

Importantly, you should also be very aware of your development needs and ask for feedback whenever possible. Feedback is important for helping you understand where your growth and focus areas should be.

Lastly, recognise and leverage other people’s skills. With their help, you’ll be able to build stronger relationships, help people grow, and drive the growth and capabilities that you seek for your business.

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Karla Day
Chief Information Officer, QBANK
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