#CareerFocus With Nikki Kettles, Licences and Payments Regulation at Mukuru

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1. Tell us a bit about yourself.

I have been married to Greg for 31 years and have two daughters Killoran (a newly qualified doctor) and Ashley (an Occupational Therapist). My husband has always been supportive of my career, which is a blessing, and that has helped ensure we have a balance, so our children have had a loving, supportive childhood.

I am a qualified Civil Engineer and in 1983, the year I graduated, I was the only woman Civil Engineer at Wits. I quickly moved on to studying an MBA (Wits) part-time between 1987 and 1989. Both are amazingly fulfilling qualifications. I found working as a female civil engineer in the early 1980s quite challenging. I was fortunate to move into a business environment soon after completing my MBA and I loved it.

I started as a Project Manager investigating new opportunities and ways to link a security printing business to technology. In that role, I launched the first smart card in the Southern Hemisphere. I moved to various roles in the organisation and after a change in shareholder, was appointed Sales and Market Development Director of a fintech. That was 20 years ago; a very exciting space to work in.

After 17 years of working for a corporation, I took some time off to offer my services as a consultant to many corporates, focusing on new channels and products for the unbanked and underbanked on the African continent.

I spent nine years with a market facilitator, donor-funded, supporting financial inclusion and economic inclusivity in our region. This work is driven by people passionate about financial inclusion and alleviating poverty, so while it was very demanding, it was also particularly fulfilling.

2. What work do you do?

I am the executive for New Licences and Payments Regulation at Mukuru Financial Services. We have 48 licenses in 15 countries, which is an amazing feat.

The role, which includes managing the strategic relationship with the regulator – this is the Central Banks in the countries we operate in – is to support business from a strategic perspective to understand the licenses available and link them to the business strategy. The application process is time-consuming, which my team supports. The relationship with the regulations in each country is of paramount importance.

I also look after payment regulations for the group and relationships with institutions like the World Bank (I am a member of the Global Remittance working group) and the Bank for Internal Settlements Cross Border Payments working group.

3. How long have you been in the industry?

I have been working in the payments industry for over 30 years in various positions and types of businesses. From supplier to working in banks and in market facilitation where “making financial services for the poor” was our vision. And now Mukuru – a remittance-led digital payments platform provider serving the unbanked and underbanked.

4. Has your work always been your passion? Tell us why. Being a woman in the industry – what does it take?

My first passion is my family. My work is also my passion. I love our continent and feel privileged to support financial inclusivity in Africa. The small differences made by supporting financial inclusivity, improve lives on our continent. I have been privileged to meet amazing people who have become friends on my journey.

I also have worked for interesting companies with managers who understand the value of work-life balance for mothers. Twenty years ago, when my children were little, I was a director of a large fintech, and the CEO suggested I work in the office three and half days a week. His forward-thinking view was that output-based management was the most productive and you didn’t need to sit in an office to ensure output-based delivery. That taught me a lot and I apply this thinking to my teams. Being a woman requires discipline, confidence, and resilience. You need to want to be successful.

5. What has been the most difficult challenge of your career? What advice do you have for other women in your industry? Plans for the future?

Practicing as an engineer was very difficult. In 1984, it was male-dominated, and construction sites were tough. I worked on a mine for a while. On my first underground visit, I was given an overall that had more holes than fabric and put in the elevator cage by myself for the 1,2km trip underground. I held my head high. I was not going to give whoever planned this ‘test’ the satisfaction of seeing me decide not to go underground. When I left the industry, the learnings in engineering served as a good base for business.

The advice I’d give other women is to draw on your resilience and remember that:

  • You have as much right to succeed as anyone else, so don’t let negative pressure disempower you.
  • Your family is important and spending time with them does not mean you are not doing your job. ‘Output-based’ assumes you are delivering quality on time. It does not mean you sit in a chair in the office. Covid has of course changed the working environment – embrace this and become output based.
  • You need to give as good as you get but remain professional.
  • Believe in yourself.
  • And have a good support system.