Career progression is seldom linear. JUMO’s General Counsel, Vasanthi Smedley reflects on how and why she came to join a fintech business with a massive transformative purpose.
‘Reflecting on my career to date, I’ve been incredibly lucky to work with great teams, have brilliant mentors and find myself working in a space which is fast-paced and rewarding on so many levels. JUMO has been a wonderful extension to that journey, allowing me to combine a career with a development cause that has always been close to my heart.
I’ve been shaped by my very international upbringing as the child of immigrant Sri Lankan parents, born in Australia, high schooled in Indonesia at an American International School – via a short stint in Bahrain – and now living and raising my own international family in England.
From an early age, I was acutely conscious of the challenges to social mobility arising from economic disparity and financial exclusion.
As a teenager in Jakarta, I recall the strange feeling of living in a walled compound, while next door a community of thousands lived in a shanty town covering the same area. I graduated high school early, on the day the 1998 Jakarta riots started. The riots were triggered by massive currency devaluation that disproportionately impacted the less fortunate, causing food shortages and mass unemployment. This was exacerbated by corruption and other underlying economic problems.
Anyone who went to high school or university with me knew me to be an exuberant (badge and briefcase carrying!) participant in Model United Nations. I was certain I wanted to build a career as a diplomat or development worker.
Fast forward 20 years, and life took a different path to the one my youthful self envisaged.
In fact, I trained as a corporate lawyer at one of Australia’s top law firms, specialising in mergers and acquisitions and public capital markets. This set me up to enjoy a career comprising a diverse array of experiences. I’ve worked on ASX, LSE and NASDAQ listings, debt and equity financings, bespoke structured products and more M&A than you can shake a stick at.
I’ve also built and managed legal, compliance, regulatory and risk functions in the financial services sector and helped businesses handle material changes in the legislative space including the introduction of MiFID 2, AIFMD, GDPR and Brexit. My mentors and colleagues continued to support me, including when I ran a bespoke consultancy practice helping businesses navigate some of their most difficult challenges and strategic opportunities. It’s been an exhilarating career and I count myself lucky to do work that I love.
Through all of this, I did not lose touch with my youthful ambitions. I remained interested in social mobility and development. As an avid reader, I’ve filled my bookshelves with literature on these topics. Some of the books that have most strongly resonated with me remain The Mystery of Capital by Hernando de Soto and Poor Economics by the Nobel Prize winning economists, Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo. My family and friends will attest that I am not shy to call out and debate these topics passionately!
Along this life journey I was drawn to working with technology start-ups. I’m fascinated by their unique approach to work, innovation, hierarchy and culture. Their attitudes and behaviours frequently resonate with my own beliefs on how to attain the best outcomes from teams of people. And of course, the journey of a high-growth business is an exhilarating thing to be part of.
I was already in the fintech start-up space when, out of the blue, I had a reach out on LinkedIn from Amanda Bullmore, one of the amazing recruiters here at JUMO. I hadn’t heard of JUMO at the time, but Amanda’s description of the business triggered a rush of excitement when I saw the opportunity to marry a long-held personal passion, centered on financial inclusion and social mobility, with my unique skill-set and liking for the high-growth tech company environment.
In getting to know the business I met the team who are now my fellow executive committee members – an impressive group who are the best at what they do; yet low on ego, collaborative and, frankly, just good fun to work with. As JUMO’s General Counsel, I manage a group of dedicated legal, risk, compliance, regulatory and company secretary professionals who inspire me with their passion and regularly bring a smile to my face. I’ve been given the freedom and resources to build a function that can support JUMO in its next phase of growth. Each day I feel privileged to be able to combine a rewarding career with making a contribution to an important development goal – a goal which really matters.’