Women Talk Tech – Episode 2: Sonal Lakhani, Barclays

By Anais Masetti - 27 February 2020

As part of our Women Talk Tech series, we reached out to leading female voices from different areas of the UK tech ecosystem and gathered their insights into tech trends, gender diversity and more. In this episode, we speak to Sonal Lakhani from Barclays.

In the past decade, Sonal Lakhani has built a successful career in finance, one of the most male-dominated industries there is, and has been playing an active role in fostering open innovation involving both banks and fintech startups.

We were delighted to have the chance to catch up with Lakhani during our Women Talk Tech event and hear her thoughts on startup-corporation collaboration, fan experience in fintech and female role models.

Openness and respect, the keys to a successful collaboration

If there is one person who knows how to bring together startups and large companies, it’s definitely Lakhani. Indeed, in her role as a partnership and programme manager at Barclays, she interacts continuously with startups who are looking to bring their innovation or co-develop solutions for the bank.

When asked what were the keys to making those collaborations work, being open and respectful was her first response. Entrepreneurs typically live and breathe their business so corporations have to be willing to hear out new ideas and provide support in a timely manner. 

Given the complexity of the banking world, Lakhani also thinks banks such as Barclays need to help entrepreneurs better understand the regulatory environment that they are faced with as large institutions, versus what startups have to comply to.

Sonal Lakhani was part of a panel during the EM Pitching Women Talk Tech event organised by Early Metrics in London in February 2020.

Julie Chakraverty, an inspiration for women in tech

Encouraging women to pursue a career in the tech industry comes hand in hand with promoting female role models. To Lakhani, the founder of mentoring app Rungway is among these leading women to look up to.

Previously a director at Aberdeen Asset Management and Santander, Julie Chakraverty founded Rungway to facilitate knowledge sharing between senior and junior employees. As Lakhani points out, there aren’t many senior women in corporations and “they don’t have the time to take 100 coffees a day with the more junior people”. So the app allows them to have more flexibility in their mentoring efforts and to help out more young women – and men!

Lakhani says she is particularly inspired by the way Chakraverty made a point of hiring female “techies”. Even when others told her she wouldn’t find any suitable female candidates, she made sure she proved them wrong and built a diverse and successful team.

Fan experience will permeate the financial sector

Similarly to Adele Every from Capgemini, Lakhani is most excited by the possibilities of mixing new technologies together. In particular, she noted that an emerging topic in fintech is that of the fan experience, meant as an experience created thanks to the combination of various techs. “I think we’re going to start seeing lots of different types of technologies merge together to create an experience,” she explained.

For instance, the combination of AR, AI and biometric payment has the potential to dramatically improve the purchasing process and make for memorable or positive experiences which in turn increase customer loyalty. This could manifest itself in ecommerce and social selling but also in physical events such as concerts and festivals.

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