Making a move to a fintech as the first legal hire
Estimated reading time: 4 minutes
Taylor Root Director, Asha Morzaria recently spoke with Anastasia Demetriou, General Counsel and Company Secretary at IFX Payments. They discussed topics around her career, moving in-house, what challenges she’s faced in the market, advice she would give to those looking to move into a high growth environment and the particular attributes she looks for when recruiting into a legal team.
What were the motivations behind moving in-house to IFX?
Whilst my practice was broad and I was exposed to a varied diet of work, there was something missing for me. I wanted to play a role in the decision making when it came to strategic vision and lead on achieving strategic objectives. Whilst in private practice there was ample opportunity to support clients in achieving their goals, this was often project based and it was clear to me that I wanted to be part of the discussions long before instructing external counsel for legal advice. I also found that I had enjoyed (and excelled) when it came to the advisory nature of the legal role.
Having spent time in-house on secondment during my training contract, I knew that an in-house role could offer me this, along with the best parts of my role in private practice. I didn’t want to compromise on the dynamic and fast-paced environment I enjoyed as a corporate Lawyer and I wanted my new role to be equally as challenging. I joined IFX as sole counsel, with opportunity to establish and build out a legal function. It offered me an innovative and dynamic environment, being a lean organisation where I could implement change quickly and grow. I haven’t looked back.
What do you enjoy most about your role, and why?
A huge part of my enjoyment is derived from the sector I work in. The fintech industry has revolutionised financial behaviour and it has so much more to give. At IFX we’re discussing projects with scope to further disrupt the sector; the opportunity to nurture ideas in their infancy with a view to bringing these innovations to market is energising. I’m learning every single day; not only about risk management/regulation etc. but harbouring and nurturing a genuine understanding of our business and an in-depth awareness of the market in which we operate.
Whilst you’ve only been General Counsel for a year, what have been the biggest challenges you’ve face in your role?
Deciding how to allocate my time. In a fast-paced, agile organisation like IFX, we are running multiple projects of equal importance. I wish I could be in every room, all the time, soaking up the information and contributing my expertise. Unfortunately, that’s not possible. Thankfully, I have a wonderful (very commercial) team who can support. I’m a firm believer that it always helps to have a legal mind in the room, as long as they are open-minded and receptive to new ideas. One has to be careful that the legal function does not stifle innovation and creativity but can be there to identify risks/challenges early on.
I have had to train myself out of being a perfectionist (there is no time/scope for that in a small and fast-paced in-house legal team in a fintech) – “don’t let perfect get in the way of done”.
Looking back, is there anything you would change about your career journey?
I would spend more time earlier in my career procuring knowledge on sectors I’m interested in. That’s difficult as an ambitious junior lawyer; when you’re so focussed on the next transaction and progressing your career. I wish I had found the time!
What personality attributes do you look for when recruiting into your legal team?
Resilient, flexible, open to change and a good sense of humour.
What would your advice be to those seeking to move into a start-up/high growth environment?
Try to get some exposure to the environment. For those coming out of private practice it is very different; be sure that the dynamic is right for you. There are plenty of sector-specific groups/communities out there. Reach out for a chat as most people are more than happy to dedicate some time to discuss their experiences. I certainly am for those who are interested in the fintech industry.
If you have any further questions or would like to discuss your career, please reach out to Asha.