Payment Expert’s ID Check: Payments Professionals offers insight from industry leaders and experts on how they got their start in the financial industry, from their early years in education, to how they have been able to climb the corporate ladder. 

This week, Keren Ben Zvi, Chief Data Analyst at PayU GPO, details why the fintech sector was so appealing to her after extensive years in the tech space and revealed the keys to transitioning into the sector. 

What impact did your university course have on your current journey?

I attended Ben-Gurion University of the Negev from 2005 to 2009 and achieved a B.A. in Information System Engineering. 

This provided me with a strong foundation in data management and analysis and equipped me with the much-needed technical skills and critical thinking abilities necessary for navigating the complexities of the payment industry.

Keren Ben Zvi, Chief Data Analyst, PayU

Were you part of any sports clubs or societies at university and has this influenced your educational and professional development?

As a university student, I was involved with ISEF (Israel Scholarship Education Foundation), an organisation dedicated to nurturing and empowering the most promising young minds from underprivileged backgrounds. 

Our mission was to help these students reach their full potential and foster positive change within Israeli society. To do this, we adopted a holistic, transformative approach to nurturing the best of Israel’s youth. 

Working with ISEF was a truly enriching experience that enhanced my university experience and career. I gained a plethora of essential skills such as teamwork, leadership and a holistic approach to problem-solving. Furthermore, the valuable insights and diverse perspectives I was exposed to through involvement in this program have continued to shape my professional development to this day. 

Did you have any jobs outside of the industry before making your start in it and was this experience a motivation to get into the industry you aspired to be in?

My tech journey began back in 2006 while still a university student. I started as a Student Software Engineer intern at Comverse Technology, where I continued to work until I graduated in 2009. 

I then moved to eBay, working in Product Customer Operations where I designed and developed machine learning algorithms using Java and talent ETL tools, including writing complex queries using PL/SQL over Oracle to sample data and integrate new categories into the global site. 

As my career progressed, I delved deeper into the realms of business analytics, machine learning, and data architecture, leading teams across a diverse range of fields and establishing myself as an esteemed advisor on all matters pertaining to data. 

Fintech was always something that interested me, but before entering the industry, I was unsure how I could contribute as a facilitator of data in the payments space. The prospect of being part of the merchant journey and ensuring the seamless execution of transaction processes was always an exciting thought, so when the opportunity came up to join PayU GPO and explore the cross-section between fintech and data, I jumped at it.

The fintech industry is constantly evolving – just look at the advancements in payment methods, machine learning and AI. Innovation will always be present, and I find that thrilling. This was my biggest motivation for joining the fintech and payments space. 

What was the first job you had in the industry and are there any lessons from this you still draw on?

My first job as a Student Software Engineer intern at Comverse Technology was where my passion for data really started. The two years I spent working there was the first time I ever got to delve into data, an opportunity that has led me to where I am now. 

What intrigued me most was the unique ability of data to unveil insights that would otherwise remain hidden. I found myself interested in the process of formulating the right questions, knowing that the answers derived from the data could be as expected or a complete surprise. Not truly knowing the revelations that await until the data is collected and analysed has been a constant source of excitement throughout my career.

Who was your biggest role model outside of the payments industry who continues to inspire you in your current career?

Beyond the realm of the tech industry, my biggest inspiration is Sheryl Sandberg. Her relentless advocacy for gender equality, business leadership, and dedication to empowering women through initiatives like Lean In, a global community dedicated to making the working world a better place for women, deeply resonates with me. 

Sheryl’s commitment to fostering inclusive workplaces and her resilience in the face of personal and professional challenges inspire me to pursue excellence in all my endeavours. Her work encourages me to advocate for equal opportunities, support the advancement of women in various fields, and strive to create environments where everyone can thrive.

When was your first big break in the payments industry? Why was this such a significant moment for you?

PayU GPO was my first foray into the fintech ecosystem, after years of working in information technology and the solutions services industry, and what an experience it has been! 

As Chief Data Officer, I have the privilege of delving deep into the intricacies of user experience, drawing invaluable insights from our data to understand and improve user retention. I enjoy leveraging the intelligence derived from our data to help develop innovative products that directly address the evolving needs of our merchant customers – and their customers!

Throughout my career, I have been driven by a desire to have a tangible impact on people’s lives and my current role at PayU GPO has granted me the opportunity to use data as a powerful tool for positive change. 

Was there a moment you faced in the industry that really challenged you? How did you overcome this?

I enjoy thinking of ways to overcome challenges, particularly in the fintech industry where maintaining the integrity of data, while ensuring it is organised, accurate, and collected in real time, is crucial as new payment methods emerge. 

I embrace finding innovative ways to make data work with our payment needs. Demonstrating data’s practical value and potential to drive business growth has been an ongoing challenge throughout my career, but one I truly enjoy overcoming. Data’s value is always proven in the end. 

Lastly, what is some advice you would give to an aspiring person looking to get a start in your respective industry?

The best advice I can give is for people not to be afraid to step out of their comfort zone. It’s important to do the leg work when applying for roles – learn all you can about the company, research the areas they focus on, and investigate the type of work they usually do. 

Your sector expertise is only part of what makes you employable. While you should look to become an expert in your field, you will always have important transferable business skills, and you must show them off.