‘Any initiatives that encourage changes to the status quo are great’
By Tony Sanchez -
In our latest Women in Finance Interview, Tony Sanchez speaks to Valeria Quintana Barbella, Senior Underwriter at Fiduciam.
Valeria is an Excel enthusiast with over nine years of experience working in finance (which probably explains her love for Excel).
Before joining Fiduciam as a senior underwriter in November 2020, Valeria was a VP in VIPCapital, an investment banking boutique in Caracas, Venezuela.
She dealt with a myriad of different deal types from oil and gas, retail pharma, and, her favorite, the M&A of a regional restaurant group where, as part of the due diligence, she had to dine in all of the group’s restaurants.
Valeria has a BA in Banking and Finance, from the Universidad Metropolitana, a master’s degree in Finance from IESA in 2015, and a master’s degree in Business Analytics and Big Data from Politecnico di Milano.
In 2016, she represented Venezuela in the International Visitor Leadership Program of the US Department of State.
Between all that studying, Valeria has always found time to enjoy video games, play an occasional football match, and – her guilty pleasure – binge on Netflix series.
How did you get into the industry?
Ever since I graduated from university with a BA in Banking and Finance in 2012 – which feels like ages ago now – I worked at an investment banking boutique in Venezuela.
In my time in that firm, we worked to raise funds for our clients, including debt, which gave me a small taste of what my day-to-day at Fiduciam would be like.
I started at Fiduciam in November 2020, just 10 days after I had moved to London from Caracas, and right off the bat, I started working on deals in the UK and Spain.
Were there any barriers to entry you had to overcome?
In hindsight, everything was quite smooth. I was lucky enough to join a dynamic and young firm that made me feel as if I had been part of the team from the beginning.
Of course, I must admit that I faced a huge learning curve, but I was motivated by the challenge.
As you might imagine, Investment banking in Venezuela is very different from short-term and development lending in the UK and Spanish markets!
What is your biggest challenge in the industry right now?
Currently, there’s a lot of uncertainty regarding prices and the availability of construction materials.
This adds additional “complexities” to the whole loan-structuring process and is also deterring developers from pursuing new projects or being put into retrospective continuing with projects that are no longer as profitable (if profitable at all).
What do you think makes a successful leader? And in particular women leaders?
A successful leader embraces change, dares to be different, and is willing to put themselves at risk.
A successful leader is also someone that constantly pushes hard for higher standards and by doing so sets an example for others to follow.
In an industry where being cut-throat and aggressive is usually associated with leadership, women leaders should have not only a high IQ but also a high degree of emotional intelligence.
I admire women leaders when they show that they genuinely care about, appreciate, and respect the contributions of their team members and how committed they are to helping them maximize their potential.
If you could tell your younger self one thing you know about business now, what would it be?
I’ll borrow this one from an article I read on HBR. In that article, Robin Wright says “You’ll inevitably get scars from other people—because you’re young, naive, vulnerable.
So you have to know: What is your direction? What is your purpose? What do you want to do?”
I think this one would have saved me a lot of hardships growing up and sometimes nowadays.
When you’re clear on your goals and the path to reach them, which is not always the easiest of strolls and can sometimes get quite lonely, it makes you overcome hardships and remain focussed easier.
So, Claire Underwood’s advice is spot on for the younger (and not so young) Valeria! (the character played by Robin Wright on House of Cards is one of my favourite portrayals on tv.
Remember, my guilty pleasure is Netflix)
What’s your own personal mantra?
This mantra helps me make better use of time. If I have a deadline, if I have a lot of items on the to-do list, or even if I’m nervous and hesitating about something then just reminding myself to be efficient helps me to keep moving towards my goals.
Do you think there is still a glass ceiling?
Yes, I believe there is and that is because the problem is rooted in corporate culture and cultural changes take time.
This said I do believe management – in general – is promoting a true sense of equality within its employees but there is still some way to go.
The gender pay gap is only second worst to the construction industry. What can organisations do to address this?
Organisations should be more transparent on how pay and benefit structures are determined.
If everything is based on a formula – I did say I liked numbers – with measurable inputs of course, then there’s no space for further discrimination when it comes to salaries (and salary increases). Numbers are harder to contest than opinions.
Do you think women are still held back compared to men?
There’s the general perception that women are more devoted to their families than men.
Whereas I’m not sure if this is 100% true, what is true is that women are expected to take leaves, go part-time, or take a back seat role that’s not client-facing, while men are not, when it comes to family.
These times off surely derail women from their path to leadership positions.
Another thing that holds women back, and is kind of a vicious cycle, is that there are not enough women in leadership positions. It’s usually difficult to advance when there are no paths to follow.
How do we encourage more women into financial services?
I think women, particularly young women, need mentors. Others like them – or like what they strive to be – that show them that it can be done and share their experiences and insights.
Spaces like these where we can get to know each other helps a lot. Just while searching for inspiration for this piece I was amazed by reading my colleagues’ experiences.
What advice do you have for someone looking to enter the industry today?
Be motivated by the challenges you will face. Strive to learn and enjoy going through that learning curve, no matter how steep!
What are your thoughts on the Women in Finance Charter?
Any initiatives that encourage changes to the status quo are great. Women in Finance Charter is doing exactly so.
What do you love most about your job?
That it doesn’t feel repetitive. Every deal and every client is different, which opens opportunities to think outside the box and learn.
I’m a very curious person and I love that every day I learn something new.
Also working in a highly motivated and committed team – which includes those in management positions – is great because it resonates with my work ethos.