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Making her mark in financial technology

Archana Manjunatha’s career in financial technology took her to the trading floors in India, where she learned the ropes of futures and options trading and the back offices of some of the world’s largest banks

As a young girl, Archana Manjunatha was always surrounded by people in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) professions. Her mother had a PhD in solid-state physics, and she was fundamentally good in math and science at school.

After graduating in 2001 with a degree in computer science, Manjunatha landed her first job as a software programmer at Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), the first hop for most IT engineers in the early 2000s.

At TCS, she was one of the first engineers to work on a project by India’s National Stock Exchange to introduce futures and options trading to the local market.

“I found myself in an environment where people were speaking about bonds, stocks and equities,” she said. “I was on a futures and options trading floor, and I had absolutely no exposure to these instruments.”

But that did not deter Manjunatha, who has a knack for working with traders and clients to understand their requirements and fix problems with their trading systems.

“I recall once, there was something wrong with the trade capture system and traders weren’t able to book their positions,” she said. “As a tech analyst, that was my first experience in being a hands-on technologist solving problems for the business.”

Building on that experience, she went on to join Citi as an analyst at the bank’s credit default swaps trading desk after completing her master’s degree at the London School of Economics in the UK.

Not too longer after that, her interactions with end-users made her realise that she was better off in a more client-facing role rather than just coding as an individual contributor. She then moved on to become a trade systems analyst, building up her experience in portfolio management and product delivery.

Manjunatha’s longest stint was at Barclays, where she worked in the back office on derivatives trading platforms. She also did some wealth management work before joining JP Morgan to take up a role in corporate banking technology.

All of that experience then took her to Singapore’s DBS Bank, where she was the first engineer to be hired to build the bank’s NAV planner financial planning tool. After building up her team, which has been a poster child for agility at DBS, she wanted to take things forward.

Today, Manjunatha heads up DBS’s platform transformation for consumer banking, taking a strategic and operational view of the business to improve its processes, tools and ways of working to build better-quality products more quickly and cheaply. That entails working closely with platform and site reliability engineering (SRE) heads as well as agile coaches to address problems that the bank and its customers are facing.

There’s a lot of self-limiting and self-deselection which leads to fewer women going into coding
Archana Manjunatha, DBS Bank

Manjunatha and other agile coaches recently conducted a workshop for DBS’s technology team in India to get them to think more like product teams that focus on building minimum viable products, as opposed to having a project-oriented mindset.

Getting heard

Throughout her career, Manjunatha has not experienced discrimination in a male-dominated field, and a large part of that has to do with making herself heard.

“You have to be fearless,” she said. “I’ve only ever had male managers in my entire career, and they have never made me feel that, as a woman, my opinion was not important.”

Having a good handle on her subject matter and appearing confident is just as important, she added. “When you provide your subject matter expertise, the gender is invisible, and most people will listen to you and give you credit for that.

“I would consider myself extremely privileged and fortunate, but I think I’ve also played a very strong role in portraying myself as an individual who has an opinion and wants to be heard.”

On what it takes to get more women to take up coding, Manjunatha said there is a need to address talent pipeline issues.

“There is a lot of self-limiting and self-deselection, which leads to fewer women going into coding,” she said. “Even if you look at the universities, there isn’t a 50-50 gender balance, so unless the pipeline issue is resolved, it will continue to remain a problem for organisations to hire women into technology roles.”

To that end, she said DBS works with United Women Singapore, a local non-profit organisation that advances women’s empowerment and gender equality, to run coding workshops to interest girls in tech careers.

“You’re making them realise that a role in technology is a possibility and there is no reason why anyone should feel otherwise because technology doesn’t have a gender to it,” said Manjunatha.

She also called for women who are already in the industry to step up and become role models for the next generation of female coders, in order to shed the image of the male engineer.

“The only way to remove that bias is to introduce more females as role models, so the more images you see of female data engineers, data scientists and solution architects, the more the next generation of women will be convinced that this is the norm and not an exception any more,” she said.

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