#FPD: From language teacher to fintech product maven with Mariana Bulic of Zumo
In this edition of #FintechProductDiaries, we chatted with Mariana Bulic, Product Owner at the leading Scottish crypto solutions provider Zumo. Founded in 2017 by Nick Jones and Paul Roach, Zumo Money has made significant strides as a fully decentralised mobile wallet and payments platform. A cornerstone of their success has been their unwavering commitment to aligning with regulatory standards from the very beginning, ensuring trust and reliability in an industry often fraught with uncertainties.
Mariana’s professional journey so far is nothing short of fascinating. From her early days imparting knowledge as a language teacher to her current role shaping the future of decentralised payments, her career progression is a testament to the power of adaptability, continuous learning, and passion. Her multifaceted experiences have not only honed her skills but have also imbued her with a unique viewpoint, making her an invaluable asset to the Zumo team.
In this exclusive Q&A, we pull back the curtain on Mariana’s world as she shares insights into her career transitions, the challenges and exhilarations of working in the fintech space, and the paramount importance of placing customers at the heart of product innovation.
Join us as we delve into Mariana’s experiences, exploring the nuances of fintech product management and the future of decentralised payment platforms.
Tell us a bit about your career journey so far. How did you end up in fintech product management?
My career journey has been quite diverse going from teaching to customer support to product management. It all started with my passion for languages and communication as I began my professional career as an English and Spanish teacher. The teaching experience served as the foundation for the communication and soft skills which would prove incredibly important in my later customer support and product management roles.
Next, I transitioned into the field of customer service where I quickly came to understand the impact of empathy, patience, and active listening on the cultivation of strong customer relationships; and that customer engagement and retention are impossible if we are not creating memorable experiences for customers and solving real problems.
Finally, my journey into product began with Zumo. I joined the company as part of the customer support team, where I developed a deep appreciation for our product. And it was mainly due to curiosity and mentorship that I discovered the intricacies of the product development cycle, igniting a newfound passion for product management. My commitment to learning and personal growth opened my eyes to the numerous opportunities for progression within this exciting, dynamic, and demanding field.
I soon realised a product manager role would be the next thing for me. Not long after, I became the Product Owner for our consumer mobile application, and I have recently assumed the role of Product Owner for Zumo Enterprise, our crypto-as-a-service platform.
Before moving to product, you specialised in customer support. Why did you make the move and how did your previous experience help you in the transition?
Lacking a fintech background when I joined Zumo, I encountered the same challenges that many newcomers to the crypto and blockchain space face when engaging with fintech products for the first time. Being at the front line and interacting with customers daily allowed me to understand their pain points and needs and identify the actual problems they were trying to solve. Access to direct customer insight is invaluable for any product manager. It certainly had a major influence on my approach as a product manager later on.
My journey into product was organic; I started dipping my toes into this space by leading projects that had a product dimension, which allowed me to rapidly acquire a deep understanding of the peculiarities of product development. Moving to the PO role a few months after made me realise that product was the domain I was truly passionate about.
What is your role at Zumo all about?
In a nutshell, I work alongside a great team of engineers to bring the best product to banks and fintechs who are looking to embed tried, tested, and fully regulated crypto solutions into their existing offerings. My focus is to identify opportunities that allow us to augment our already established and validated solution and continue to innovate with a focus on compliance and sustainability to empower our clients to offer their consumers the tools of the future simply and securely.
Our team has been focused on delivering Zumo’s full compliance with the Financial Promotion regime, which is a set of requirements all firms offering crypto to customers in the UK must comply with. Zumo is on the UK Financial Conduct Authority’s crypto asset register looking to help other crypto firms who are not on the register to be compliant to provide a service to their customers in the UK via our API.
We are also continuously working to further develop a pioneering solution we unveiled in June 2023 called Oxygen, an enterprise service to help environmentally conscious organisations decarbonise their digital asset activities — and prove it.
What are some of the key traits a product manager should possess to succeed in the fintech space?
I believe that successful product managers, first and foremost, possess a clear product vision, which is 100% aligned with the business goals.
Secondly, they must have a customer-centric mindset and should devote time to carry out customer research and behavioural analysis to make data-driven decisions. Being flexible, versatile, and open to change is key, as change is an inevitable part of product development.
Finally, having strong communication skills and building great cross-functional relationships will help a product manager create both vertical and horizontal alignment foster collaboration, and ultimately succeed.
What are some of the challenges you and your team face on a daily basis? And how do you tackle them?
I think that one of the challenges is to find the balance between successful product delivery and future planning. The goal is always to have continuous releases to serve customer’s fast-changing needs while reducing the tech debt to the minimum so that we can better plan for the future.
In this day and age, there is also a huge opportunity to innovate within a culture of compliance. In the UK, the FCA is making great strides in creating regulatory measures to protect customers, which we at Zumo are thrilled about. The challenge lies in how best to implement these directives and continue to offer a product that is easy to use and plug into.
To address these and other challenges, and succeed as a product manager in fintech, collaboration is key. Building strong relationships with cross-functional teams, including engineers, designers, and compliance experts, is crucial.
What advice would you give to anyone considering pursuing a product career in fintech?
Well, I would say that pursuing a career in fintech can be a rewarding but complex journey. The fintech space is constantly evolving, which makes it challenging to stay ahead of the game, but it certainly offers immense opportunities for change and innovation, which is exhilarating.
My advice to anyone considering a product career in fintech, or in any field for that matter, is to be a continuous learner. Fintech is a dynamic field, and keeping up with the latest trends, technologies, and regulatory changes is a must.
I would also encourage them to talk to their customers, and understand their needs, and pain points. Fintech is all about solving real-world financial problems, and the best products are born from a deep understanding of customer needs. Do your research to help you design solutions that truly make customers’ lives easier.
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