AHOGHILL woman Emma Pollock is the new chief of technology at regulatory tech firm, FinTrU.
And it has been a journey which took her from the family farm through the early days of the world wide web to the fast paced techno world we all live in today.
Emma, who continued her education at Cambridge House Grammar developed an early passion for physics, and it was that desire to learn more about science which defined her career choices.
“I was always really encouraged at Cambridge House, particularly by the physics teachers I had and that was not just in terms of studying but they encouraged me to enter things like the BT Young Scientist Competitions.
“Back then, in the 1990s, it was different. There weren't that many computers around and the one with the internet sat in the corner and you weren't allowed to touch it in case it broke.”
And so Emma got much of her hands-on experience at home where she would fix broken electrical devices and return them to their fully-functioning former glory.
“I remember my mum coming to my house and she couldn't believe I still had the once broken toaster and it was still working.”
Her passion for problem solving, electricity and logic drew her to a degree in Electrical Engineering at Queen's University Belfast. That was followed by a masters in the same subject.
Different modules widened her interests while Dragons Den-style events saw her pitch products and enjoy new experiences.
She also completed an exchange programme as part of the course, in Japan.
Emma now has over 16 years' experience in technology and leadership roles, spanning financial services, telecommunications and cloud storage domains.
Before joining FinTrU, she was global head of Communications Surveillance R&D and Head of Global Functions Technology at Citi Belfast.
She was responsible for a group of 200 people across technology and operations, supporting corporate functions such as compliance, HR and risk and finance in addition to delivery of a Big Data/Behavioural Analytics platform to perform surveillance across trade and communication data sources.
FinTrU was set up by Darragh McCarthy to meet demand from investment banks for resources to help them cope with the regulatory landscape.
In her new role, which she began in January, she leads technology strategy for FinTrU.
It was a bold move to make in the midst of a pandemic, but she says: “During the last recession I quit my job and travelled around Europe.
“It's just something I don't worry about but it took a lot to entice me out of my last role, especially during a global pandemic but I'm more motivated by opportunity. Some of the things about FinTrU that attracted me is how exciting the company is.
“It was only established in 2013 and today it has over 700 employees spread out across Belfast, Derry, London and New York.
“It has real success in solving problems in the regulatory space and for me, that problem space is where I've worked over the years and I'm massively passionate about it.
“Over the course of my career, I have worked in different domains, ITP, cloud storage, but I've worked in financial services three times. It's very complex, the data is complicated.
“And while it may be seen as a little bit boring, it's massively important,” she adds. “It protects individuals from the actions of Government and corporations and it's really interesting because regulations are consistently changing, and the tech around it is too.”
Emma cites regulations around crypto currency and the adoption of blockchain technology, a system of recording information in a way that makes it difficult or impossible to change, hack, or cheat the system, among the most interesting future problems she and her team will have to address.
“How are those going to be regulated?” she asks. “If you go to open to a bank account there is a customer process to prevent fraud and make sure you are who you say you are but how do those regulations move across to crypto currency?
“What's also fascinating is the rise of individual investors. Previously you would have to set up an account and someone traded on your behalf but now there is a prevalence of the individual investor versus the institutional investor.”
And with that growth in new regulations comes a need for new talent and that's something FinTrU is on the hunt for, Emma says.
“We will continue to grow our team. FinTrU had over 400 staff last year and now it sits at around 750. We expect that to grow to around 1,000 this year and there are lots of different opportunities open at the moment.
“One of the big things for me now is how to complement the great things we already have in place.
“I've been so impressed since I joined the organisation. All the cultural things in place, the support.
“I've been blown away by the experience.”
She says that even though working from home is the norm for the team, a return to the office is imminent, when permitted. Covid has really changed the world of work. We saw years and years worth of change in the first six weeks of lockdown last year and in my view, the world of work has fundamentally changed but I don't see everyone working remotely full time and that's definitely the case I get from our own feedback.
“Our team really does miss the connection but it's not about all being in the office all the time, or at home all the time, it's about a level of flexibility.
“What's been most interesting is that jobs people thought couldn't be done remotely were able to transition and keep going and one of the things that will be interesting to see is how the future of work impacts on regulations in the future.
“For example, some banking roles are now carried out at home. Will that be allowed to continue after the pandemic?
“For FinTrU, we will be looking at how we can support our people in the right working patterns to be successful.”
Emma is one of few females in a senior position in the tech sector here — but Emma isn't rushing to embrace role model status.
“I'm reluctant to accept that title as a role model but I am making a real point this year of using opportunities to share my story and if this is helpful to getting even one female into this sector then that's great,” she says.
“There are a lot of organisations working on attracting women into tech and I think this is an effort everyone must make, not just IT firms,” she adds. “I think if a pupil is sitting down with a careers teacher look at career options, is it fair to expect that teacher to understand all the options out there?
“There is a real responsibility for organisations to do some outreach programs and help academical institutions understand the sector.
“In IT, and all industries, we need to also look at all aspects of inclusion and diversity moving forward and that's important not just because it should be the case but because we need those voices heard in decision making processes,” she adds.
Original interview by Emma Deighan, Belfast Telegraph