Legal identity and social exclusion

Christian Wenaweser, UN Ambassador, says that 1.5bn people do not have a legal identity, a pre-requisite for social inclusion. That means 1.5bn people have no access to social protections and benefits such as health and welfare, education, finance systems, voting rights. This leaves them completely exposed to exploitation, and wholly vulnerable. 

Sustainable development goal 16.9 and human trafficking

Sarah Mendelson, UN Ambassador, suggests that providing an identity to all will be a force in combatting human trafficking. 

In the fight against modern slavery, technology can be a double edged sword. 

The Internet can be used by traffickers to advertise the sale of humans, build networks, carry out transactions anonymously. 

Governments are turning the tables on the traffickers and using technology to fight human trafficking. Prevention can be achieved through technology, e.g. SMS alerts against trafficking, tracking payments etc. Sarah Mendelson implores technologists to design their products with survivors in mind. 

The plan is to get as many member states to demand more from their supply chains, and to ensure that modern day slavery is absent from their commodities.  The Digital Partnership launches in several weeks. 

The future of digital identity according to today’s UN summit ID2020

We are here at the UNHQ in New York, and as the summit room fills up it begs the question, why does this matter?

Around the world, a quarter of the population do not have an identity. No passport, no birth certificate. Can you image the implications? That excludes a quarter of the world from having a bank account, getting formal employment, and moving around the world. 

The UN has agreed sustainable development goals, one of which is a commitment to give a legal identity to every person. The impact will be multiplied. Today, the UN Summit is tasked with finding the solution. Stay tuned for live blog updates. 

The Remittance Problem and how FinTech startups are answering it

Imagine Maria, a Mexican immigrant settled in Florida, USA.  Maria regularly sends remittances to her children in Mexico, who are being raised by her parents.  Maria is a cleaner earning $8.22 per hour; the minimum wage which many of her counterparts are not entitled to as they do not have the right to work in the USA.  For every $100, Maria must work more than 12 hours.  In order to send this $100 to her children in Mexico, she relies on money transfer companies including Western Union.

Here is the problem: these companies cut off up to $13 in fees every time she makes a transfer, and may also remit at unfavourable forex rates.  That is nearly two hours of Maria’s back breaking working day.  The payment can then take several days; tortuous days where both receiver and sender agonise over the uncertainty of whether that payment is to arrive.

Put another way, India remits $9 billion per year.  At Western Union’s cheapest rate, that is $45 million taken in fees which could have been spent on healthcare, school fees or utility bills.

And consider the emergency that requires immediate funds.  Let’s say Maria’s son contracts an illness, and the rainy day money that Maria’s parents have been squirrelling away do not cover the hospital fees.  The family do not happen to have private healthcare, nor medical insurance.  They rely on an immediate cash injection from Maria, but at best, this will arrive in 5 working days.  What will happen?

A Mexican friend of mine told me of the heartache she endured during her first year of living in the USA.  She sent thousands of dollars to her mother in Mexico and it was delayed by a week. She endured hours of calls to the well known American bank to trace the payment and recover it.  She no longer uses these; the trust is gone.

Block chain technology and FinTech startups are working on the solution to the remittance problem.  Block chain seeks to cut out the middle man, make payments instantaneous, secure and recorded in distributed ledgers.  That would ensure that payments do not go astray, and the distributed nature of the ledger prevents fraudulent activity.

Of the FinTech startups, Singapore has several which are putting financial inclusion at the heart of its mission.  Take fastacash, which is a global social payment platform which allows payments to be sent via messaging platforms and social platforms.  If we consider that WeChat had 697 million users in 2015, the potential for this service to help the world’s 2 billion unbanked individuals is significant.

Then there is Numoni, which is targeting the unbanked and creating services including micro-remittances, as well as payments and loans.  This enables individuals to pay for their children’s school fees, or their household bills in a safe and secure way.  In a world of crony capitalism and corruption, this is a huge step forward for the little person.

These FinTech startups are making waves amongst the rich world also.  When I lived in the USA, I relied on Revolut.  This London-based startup enables app users to send money around the world, exchange currency and make payments using their mobile. The best bit – they do it at 0% commission and the same exchange rate as Google.

These companies recognise the exploitative nature of remittances, the proliferation of mobile technology and the need for financial inclusion.  They are helping the unbanked leapfrog traditional financial institutions, and offering the rich world options.

To top it off, they are offering these affordable services with an unmatched customer service.  When I was state-side I was so nervous about sending dollars back to the UK that I sent a barrage of questions to Revolut via their in-app customer service chat option.  I received a speedy, specific response from a human being.  I did not get an automated response directing me to an irrelevant FAQ page.  This is what the modern customer wants, and only FinTech companies are willing to deliver.




How block chain and the FinTech movement will transform everything for expats from the poor world

Moving from the poor to the rich world is an unrealised dream for millions. But my mother, in her determination, achieved the dream in the 1980s. 

She made the journey from her home in the Philippines, from her parents and six siblings to glorious London, England; land of plenty. She gained work, started a family and settled here. But her Filipino culture ingrained behaviours in her; responsibilities.

This series of blog posts explores the challenges she, and so many like her, face. It also explores the panacea that block chain offers by travelling through the Philippines, Brazil, India and beyond to unpick the transformative potential of this disruptive technology:

  1. Remittances;
  2. Forex;
  3. ID;
  4. Payments;
  5. Property;
  6. Women ans bank accounts;
  7. Loans;
  8. Business;
  9. Politicians;
  10. International aid. 

Start-up entrepreneurs offer advice on starting a business

Last night I offered business mentoring through PwC’s School for Social Entrepreneurs and it reminded me of some of the characters I met in San Francisco’s Bay Area. 

We take for granted the challenges facing these entrepreneurs; their barriers are more complex than one expects. Yesterday’s 90 minute mentoring session is great for brainstorming solutions, but only highlights how much resilience it takes to keep a business afloat. 

At one start-up event in San Francisco, I met Gabriel Ortiz, Founder of Nimblestack. He lives the life of jet setter, travelling from continent to continent with his dog. But his advice on founding a business was, quite simply, not to.  And perhaps this is a sobering perspective to offer, but Gabriel was realistic about the sacrifice that such an endeavour entails. It’s not as glamorous and financially rewarding as Richard Branson portrays. Yes, there are the lucky ones. For most, entrepreneurship is a long, hard slog and the rewards do not come to fruition for years, if at all. It seems to have worked out for Gabriel, and he clearly enjoys it. But he has a point in cautioning against it. 

There is also the commitment that you must make. I met another start-up founder who has a growing and talented body of staff, but keeps delegation to a minimum and has a pulse on everything that goes on in his organisation. Although prominent leaders advocate for delegation and empowerment of staff, micro-management is a common symptom for the leaders in young start-ups. It may be put down to leadership style, but many entrepreneurs see micro-management as a necessary evil for success. 

Another common problem for entrepreneurs is scaling up their business. They have a great idea, and a great business model that is bringing in a good revenue. But how do they boost that to ‘unicorn’ levels? One clean-tech founder is facing precisely this issue. Having identified a way to convert CO2 into commodities, the question she is now faced with is whether the technology can be expanded to put their start up on an exponential growth curve, and meet demand on a grander scale. 

My trip to San Jose has given me a new respect for Steve Jobs’ ‘crazy ones’, and I admire anyone with the guts to join their ranks. 

A PwC Manager’s Advice for a Meaningful Career

During my tour, I worked with Kai Pong, Manager at PwC San Jose.  Working with him was like having a coaching session every day because his wisdom and strategies are equivalent to some of the most successful people I have met and he has an innate sense for winning at the PwC ‘game’.

He attributes his disciplined work approach and resilience to the two years of compulsory military duty which he served in Singapore.    I learned a lot from Kai and these are my favourite lessons:

1.     Network strategically

Having contacts has little value unless you know how to leverage your network.  Being the person that gets the important phone call takes hard work.  The best way to stand out is to develop an area of expertise and let everyone know you how you can help in that area. 

I sat in a meeting with Kai and a sales director at one of our clients.  The sales director was buzzing from his previous meeting and he started talking about the year ahead, his new product and how it would change everything.  I found it amusing and heartening to see someone so passionate about their work (a common and contagious trait in San Jose).  Kai was happy to engage in the distraction and as I observed it I realized that, had I been alone, I would have followed my classroom training and steered the conversation back to the meeting agenda.  I would have missed an insight into my client’s plans.

Later, Kai emphasized the importance of listening to clients, and his willingness to allow the conversation to go astray.  This is your chance to understand the business and the issues they face.  It’s also a chance to share with them regulatory or other requirements that they may not be aware of.   When they come to realize this need, you will be the first person they approach for help, and that’s a great position to be in.  You will establish yourself as a trusted advisor and spread your reputation as the best person to help and deliver.

2.    Nurture and delegate

Whilst I was in San Jose, I was faced with an ever-growing workload.  Kai nudged me towards delegating downwards on several occasions and encouraged me to nurture my teams to take on harder tasks by investing my time in coaching them.  I interpreted this as a way to empower others, however Kai said that I was being far too noble.  This is important because ensuring your team is well equipped with the skills they need frees up your time to work on big impact tasks.  It also gears you up for success, as building a strong team that produces quality and performs highly reflects well on you.

Take care to develop trust in your teams also.  If you are working with new team members, don’t delegate blindly and hope for the best.  Stay close to them and guide them towards producing high quality work.

3.  Manage your workload

One day Kai asked me why I was working on so many clients.  I thought it was a trick question, but Kai enlightened me.  You always have a choice about your workload, and the most successful people are aware of when their plate is getting too full.  They can strike the balance between being a good team player and achieving what they want to.  

Additionally, taking on a manageable workload is powerful when you are able to deliver to a higher standard than expected of you.  This creates a stronger reputation than taking on an excessive, unmanageable workload.

Communication is key to managing your workload effectively.  Refusing to help may cause others to question your readiness for team work.  One tactic that Kai recommends is to share your challenges in bandwidth, and offer to help in any small, but manageable, way.  The asker will appreciate that, and may find your offer sufficient to meet their needs.

Kai’s investment into teaching me these lessons will pay off as I am inspired to give more to my teams and clients and I am aiming for a ripple effect.

Lessons from San Jose

Be positive

A few weeks into my secondment, the novelty of California’s beauty subsided and I had immersed myself in the US business culture. Recently, my manager told me that at that time I seemed “lost” and he was being polite! I was thrown in at the deep end on five client engagements in a regulated startup world that was new for me, I was trying to establish a support network and I was unfamiliar with the work culture. Every day was filled with problems that I had never seen in my four years at PwC and the key to solving these was simplicity and speed.


Silicon Valley has a reputation for dynamism and it didn’t disappoint. I helped one client that was transitioning from zero to full SOX compliance, and every day I arrived at their office I would brace myself for a raft of overnight changes. More than once, I celebrated getting my grasp on the client, only to find out it had significantly changed a few hours later. Having come from a market with mature clients and established, stable environments, I found the pace of change dizzying.

At first I tried to anticipate and keep up with the changes, but then I realized that a better approach is to simply allow the changes to come to me. I crossed every bridge as I got to it and stopped worrying, and I found that the changes became amusing, the pace addictive and the clients fascinating and unlike anything I had experienced in London. 

Recently, I talked to Tim Carey (Market Assurance Leader for PwC’s San Jose office) and he shared some lessons with me from his 24 year career at PwC:

Careers are made where there is disruption

Tim believes that the best opportunities lie within the industries and companies that are in turmoil and experiencing a period of change. This is not an easy career route to take and it will require your dedication and enthusiasm, but seeking these opportunities will propel you forward and boost your growth.

Tim uses Silicon Valley as an example. The Valley’s networks and ideas accelerate the products pioneered by those Steve Jobs considered the ‘crazy ones’, i.e. those people with the vision and skills to change the world. 

Do not oversteer your career

Tim’s career has taken him from Detroit to London, from Silicon Valley to Helsinki. As opportunities have been thrown his way, he embraced them and pursued them with enthusiasm. Had he created a strict career plan, he may have missed one of the opportunities that shaped his career. Also, he discovered that his family thrived by engaging with different cultures overseas, and he strongly recommends living overseas for at least three years because the experience is priceless. 

Find what makes you tick

Tim suggests investing time in the early days of your career to identify what motivates you. Within five minutes of meeting him, Tim talked to me about how great his day was going because he got to engage with his client that morning and help them. I could see that doing this brings him joy. Tim also suggested that when you find what makes you tick, you should focus on this and try to master it. He warns against becoming a ‘jack of all trades and master of none’.

Tim’s passion and positivity are common across those individuals I met in the Bay Area and it is the single greatest lesson of my time in Silicon Valley, which I will carry with me as my career unfolds.

Be brave

PwC SJ celebs Luke Jeater and Shakeel Khan

It is my second week at PwC San Jose and my secondment is well and truly underway.  If there is one thing that I have learnt in the past few days it is to be brave.  Two weeks ago, just after I wrote my last post, the fear hit me.  It dawned on me that I was going to a foreign country, a city I had never visited, a city where no one cares about me!  I was overcome with fear right up until I left London.  I had visions of becoming lost whilst driving to clients; I was scared of being lonely and I was worried about how I would get along with people here.

I arrived last week and it all started quite badly.  I had a mammoth wait at immigration in San Francisco Airport and when I arrived at my apartment, the security guard informed me that he had no record of my stay and no keys to give me.  Luckily enough, my driver from the airport to apartment was brilliant and gave me great tips of what to do and see in the US, and I used my powers of persuasion to wriggle my way into my apartment.  And it is amazing – there is an outdoor pool, a large gym and it is a brand new building!

On my first full day in the city, I met three other secondees (all from South Africa!) and we were given a tour and guided through the process of opening bank accounts, picking up rental cars and applying for social security numbers by a relocation consultant; a retired local.

My family and my other half are very pleased for me and cannot wait to come and visit.  Currently, my cousin from LA is in town to visit and give me a tour of nearby city, San Francisco.  I have a long list of places that I plan to visit including Yosemite Park, Lake Tahoe and Napa Valley (although the latter is currently on fire and I have been advised to stay away for now..!).

The experience brings me back to a conversation that I had with Asim Siddiqi, Director in Risk Assurance in the South East and St Albans, UK office.  Asim is infamous for his brutal honesty and it is a quality in him which I really do admire and value.  He has devoted time to talk me through my development and career often, offering candid and objective advice that is hard to come by.  Recently, Asim talked to me at length about the importance of trusting your gut.  This is a lesson that echoes advice I have received over the years.  Most memorably, Stan O’Neal, ex-CEO of Merrill Lynch, told me that when he is making a decision he “start[s] with my intuition or gut but always feel it important to test against hard analysis.”  Gut instinct is sited by Entrepreneurial StrengthsFinder as a key trait held by the rare entrepreneur; the Richard Bransons and Mark Zuckerbergs of the world.

When I asked Asim what lessons he would share with his younger self, he rolled off the following:

Knowledge is power

Or rather, understanding is.  Asim shared comical stories of attempts that others made to trick him in his early days at PwC, and his successes at tricking unsuspecting juniors.  These stories range from sending juniors to inconspicuous sheds in amongst the client site; sending juniors to obtain the revenue cut-off machine; asking first years to count retained earnings and finally to perform stock counts of steps on a staircase.  Asim avoided being fooled into ridiculous tasks by questioning absolutely EVERYTHING that didn’t make sense.  He relied on his gut and he strongly advises that if you don’t understand something, there is probably a good reason for it!

Success in unexpected places

The most striking lesson that Asim shared is that his own definition of success rests on making a difference in the lives of others; in helping those around him to achieve. I find this admirable, because our modern day markers for success point towards wealth and prestige.  Although these markers are certainly appealing, thinking beyond these imply that there is a more meaningful way to seek out contentment from our work!

Life is a pie

Asim once told me that we can think of our life as a pie.  Every person has the same number of slices: personal life or “me”, family, other half, work and friends.  It is up to the individual to determine how they dedicate their time to each slice of their pie i.e. how big each slice is and there is no right or wrong answer.  If the time that is being dedicated to each slice is out of balance, then that person will feel  unhappy.  This idea helped me immensely after the last busy season and changed my perspective on the ubiquitous concept of “work-life balance”.

Recently, I learned that Asim experienced a difficult episode when he was a manager, and professional psychiatrists taught him the pie analogy.  It helped Asim to realise that he had been sacrificing a lot of his personal “me” time to deal with pressures with his family and work pressures. Work seemed to be the only slice that was giving any tangible sense of accomplishment and so he took on increasing amounts of work and started to feel overwhelmed and unable to excel.  The only way to resolve the situation was to reach out and talk, acknowledge the slices that were out of sync and re-balance.  There will always be times where one of the slices will demand more of your time and the key is to not let things be out of kilter for too long. Mental health is hugely important, especially in this day and age where there are so many competing things for our attention.

This story resonates with me as I embark on my journey and consider how to slice up my pie in a new environment and far away from many of my most important slices.  I am very keen to hear how others have transitioned and redesigned their pie under new and uncertain circumstances so that I may draw on your lessons learned!

Please comment and share your advice below or tweet @jenniferychan.  

Offer, check; Visa, check; Flights, check!


I have my San Jose secondment offer in one hand, my plane tickets in the other and my US visa in the bag!  It is exciting to say that this is happening – I head to the US on 16th September.  I have counted and that is just 22 days away.  So I will close my eyes and imagine the very best version of myself possible; I will become her.

It is a strange feeling to be so excited about this opportunity; to live in one of the most desired and liveable countries of the world and yet to feel so sad that my long term partner cannot join me.  How different an experience it would be if he were by my side.

I can only hope that absence will make the heart grow fonder!