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Onyinye Olisah: Transitioning From Traditional Financial Services To Fintech 

Onyinye Olisah, VP Sales, Budpay
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By Onyinye Okonkwo

For Onyinye Olisah who has over a decade of experience in the traditional financial sector, making the decision of switching to fintech was a no-brainer as she already cut her teeth in various key traditional  financial institution – first as a teller and then as a sales marketer, before finally exiting the  traditional banking sector. She has since worked as a branch manager at Interswitch and is  currently vice-president, sales, at Budpay.  

In this candid conversation Onyinye Olisah shares about her journey to fintech, memorable  moments, challenges as a woman in tech.  

Education and early career 

Olisah studied at the University of Nigeria Nsukka where she bagged a degree in English  Language and later an MSc in International and public administration from Unilateral and a  diploma in project management from Irving University, California. Starting in financial  institutions when the systems were very analogue and everything down to sorting checks in the  bank and the CBN was done manually, was when Onyinye Olisah cut her teeth in the banking  industry in the defunct Intercontinental Bank. First, as a bank teller then later as a sales  representative first at the intercontinental bank and later at the standard chartered bank and  provides Bank where she grew to the position of branch manager.  

Despite the successes she has achieved in the course of her career, Onyinye tells me starting at a  traditional financial institution was rigorous at the time everything was been done manually but  after getting to the position of a branch manager, she was ready for a new challenge and  branched out to fintech. landing her first tech role at Intrerswitch 

” I got my first bank job in 2007 first as a teller at Intercontinental Bank but when they phased out  using degree holders as tellers I had to move to sales marketing. Those days, in the banking  sector things were done manually even down to sorting of checks, I once drove from Oba Akran  Ikeja to the marina, and we would carry cashboxes to Marina, take a number and wait our turn. 

The checks were sorted manually, everything was done by hand it was very time consuming and  extremely stressful. I once got back to my branch by 1 am because it rained and I was stuck in  traffic and I still made it back to the office by 7 am that morning. Thankfully, fintech is here to  simplify these processes which is a welcome development.” 

Making the decision to switch to fintech was a deliberate move for her as she was ready for  something more challenging Moving from Intercontinental to the standard chartered bank was  a game changer as the job made me become a financial adviser. Moving to providus bank, I was  supposed to replicate that but since the bank was a start-up at the time we first had to build our  deposit base which means I had to go back to generating deposits which I was honestly tired of  and needed a change. So I thought the fintech industry was booming and I needed a new  challenge, so I decided to move from core financial services to digitising finances which is  financial technology.” 

Despite having worked in core financial services for over 10 years before making the switch,  Onyinye reveals it wasnt an easy experience as she had to begin to learn the new methods and  how things are done in fintech, although it was very challenging, it was just the challenge and  new learning curve she needed, 

Making the move from traditional banking to fintech wasnt easy at all, I left providus bank as  a branch manager so learning everything afresh was quite tough, learning a new industry, and  new products, everything was just new to me and getting to grasp what the industry is about  their value proposition, the target market was where the challenge lay for me but having to learn  all these at Interswitch made it easier for me as it is a great place to learn, Onyinye says.  

In the time that Onyinye spent at Interswitch, she served first as Team lead Lagos region, sales,  and after 3 years plus she moved to group head service management, industry ecosystems before  making the move to Buddy where she is currently the Vice President, sales.  

Making boss moves 

Onyinye shares that her decision to join a new start-up like Budpay which began operations less  than a year ago was because she wanted to be part of the team that built something from scratch.  She tells me that after years of experience at Interswitch and experience in traditional banking,  she felt she was at the right level to increase her capacity by being part of the building team at Buddy.

I had learnt so much at Interswitch and moving to BudPay gave me the opportunity to head  growth across, Nigeria, Africa, the US, the UK and China and it was an opportunity to not only  build from scratch but to be able to say that you were part of moulding something, to be able to  know that you are part of the ownership structure of a fintech.

“The experience to play at this  level, the setup of processes, the responsibility of people management, responsibility for the  budget and income expenditure, its a lot and I felt that after all I have learnt at Interswitch, I  was at the place in my career where I was ready to take a risk and challenge myself and that  would form the basis of making that decision” 

Speaking on if making the move to Budpay has been everything she hoped it would be so far,  Onyinye is refreshingly candid and tells me that while working at Interswitch greatly prepared her  for her role at Budpay, working at such a fresh fintech for lack of a better description can be fun  but also a challenging rollercoaster. As she tells it; 

Truth is somedays it is all o hoped it would be, other days Im thinking what have I done?  Why did I leave my comfort zone? The truth is working at a start-up can be a rollercoaster of  emotions as you are in a place where there are no structures and you are part of building those  structures and crafting the process as you go. As challenging as it is, I honestly wouldnt  exchange it for anything. I know I have grown immensely as a person, I have increased in capacity  and have developed a tolerance for many things that I previously didnt have, all thanks to  Budpayshe says.  

When I asked Onyinye who recently clocked one year in her role at Budpay how the journey has  been so far, she says;  

My journey in fintech has been both challenging and interesting. Challenging having had to  relearn and remaster a new industry after over a decade in core finance but I couldnt have  chosen a better place to start my journey in fintech than Interswitch. It was fast-paced,  multi-dimensional, multi-products, different channels, transactional and enterprise sales, it was a  whole lot.

“I remember having a chat with Mitchell on my journey so far and I said to him that  time runs differently in Interswitch. There was no room for lethargy or redundancy, you had a set  task and a clear path and were enabled to run with your targets. My foundation was solid at best  and gave me the knowledge that has enabled me to thrive further. I am now in a space where I  am helping birth startups drive their transformation into unicorns and move from being a uni 

product organization to a multi-dimensional one. It hasnt been easy but it is worth it. I am  excited about the journey and cannot wait to see what the next chapter holds for meOnyinye  Olisah shared.  


Olisah doesnt mince words when she talks about the many challenges women face not just in  the tech space but generally in professional settings. She tells me that being a woman in a  leadership position the bar is set higher for women and that the avenues and processes for  getting positions are different for women 

Women have to be twice as assertive when speaking else their voice will not be heard in the  workplace. Anytime you see a woman in a leadership position, just know that woman is very  sound intellectually cos what usually happens is that men get opportunities from other men  maybe when hanging out or at a game, they can just say oh you should handle this to a fellow  man, I think you can do this but it isnt that way for women.

“For women when your name comes  up, it is first met with doubt, like can she handle this? When you are allowed to speak, you have  to blow everyone out of the water so they do. To have any choice but to give it to you. For  women there are so many hurdles to cross to attain a position and even when you attain, you are  expected to constantly keep bettering yourself

Bettering yourself isnt bad but constantly having to prove yourself Onyinye believes puts women  on edge and makes them begin to take on masculine traits in a bid to survive a highly masculine  work environment. This she tells me leads to another challenge most women in leadership face  at home which is knowing when to switch away from that masculine energy which is not needed  at home to the famine nurturing side. So being able to find that balance can be a bit of a  challenge sometimesOnyinye reveals.  

While she has never faced gender-based discrimination in her time as a woman in tech, she  however, admits to the need to constantly be at the top of her game and also needing to be more  assertive than her male colleagues just to ensure she keeps her space while also dealing with  how you interact with colleagues.


She reveals that her most memorable moments have to be when she has been commended for  doing very well in sales, she admits to being lucky to have every manager she has worked with  had cause to commend her for being an exceptional salesperson worthy of mention when she  and her team were recognized as best salespeople at Interswitch. This she adds is asides from  getting promoted at work and hitting other milestones. 

She currently manages a team of highly skilled individuals in the delivery of digital financial  solutions to a plethora of organizations including microfinance banks, government parastatals,  airlines, gaming institutions, and telecommunications organizations amongst other B2B clientele  in a bid to meet her fintech’s revenue target for the financial year in these sectors.  

Advice for women in tech  

Onyinye Olisah has this piece of advice for women looking to pivot into tech, she says to them  Depending on their age I would advise that they start with learning how to code. Learn how it  works because when you do, you own yourself and knowing what I know now if I had the knack  for it and was younger, I would have started there because organizations place a premium on  them as they build the engine room on which organizations run. So if you are young enough,  articulate enough and willing to put your head down to learn then start from there. she  advises. 

To those who may not be so young or do not fall into the above category she gives this advice;   Everything in tech is not coding or fintech, if you are smart, look for everyday problems that  you can use technology to solve. There is a lot to be done in Nigeria so if you are looking to make  the switch into tech, now is a good time as any. Nigeria is not as advanced technologically as we  think, Kenya has mono we do not, and the US has Venmo and a cash app, but we are not even 

there yet. This shows that there is still a lot of catching up for us to do, so if you are a woman  going into tech, rather than just join the bandwagon of processing payments, ask yourself what  everyday problem can I solve?” 

For people like her who want to continue in their career path in tech, she advises them to keep  their heads down and keep at it. while admitting that coming across industries can be a daunting  challenge and seem like an uphill task, she advises them to keep at it until they gain mastery in  their new industry.  

Future Plans 

For Onyinye Olisah the next 5 to 10 years she tells me would be moving gradually towards  consulting on sales for organizations and creating a masterclass to teach people about sales to  debunk the false notion that sales or selling is one of the hardest things to do.  

She also reveals that she had plans in top gear to provide a digitized solution to a problem she  has observed mostly affects working-class people but mostly women in the Nigerian professional  space. 

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