The future of FinTech...

DiversiTech Hub speak to Tara Waters about everything from non-traditional career paths, her passion for technology and the future of FinTech...

Tara is a partner in Ashurst's Corporate team and Co-CEO of Ashurst Digital Ventures. She advises on US and UK law for a wide range of corporate and financing transactions, including mergers and acquisitions, joint ventures, high growth & VC financings, listed company transactions and debt and equity capital markets transactions.

DiversiTech Hub: What can you tell us about your business and its views on equality?

Ashurst's vision is to be the most progressive global law firm. Ensuring and promoting equality has been and continues to be an essential component of our strategy.

This year, we reached the impressive milestone of having over 100 women in our partnership, with the newest partner cohort being 52% female. We believe this is a testament to the importance we place on equality and diversity, and that by focusing on promotion of equality it is possible to effect real change.


DiversiTech Hub: What has been your own journey to current position?

I have taken a very non-traditional path to being a partner at a global law firm.

My first career was in the technology sector in NYC, where I spent seven years doing web-based development work. During this period (the early 2000s), the world had just started grappling with the challenges of new technologies like peer-to-peer file sharing and digital rights management software. A nascent industry started growing at the intersection between technology and the law, and I gravitated towards this.

After 4 years of law school (3 in NYC and 1 in Paris), I had the opportunity to move to London and join another large international firm as a US lawyer. I jumped at the chance to experience a new environment. Over time, I expanded my area of practice to include both US and UK corporate and finance law, while also plugging myself into the London tech ecosystem.

By the time I joined Ashurst, I was able to differentiate myself as a lawyer who truly understood technology and who had a strong network in the local tech sector. As digitalisation and disruption across our clients industries continued to rise, the need for a partner with a deep knowledge of technology became clear—and I was more than happy to fill that role!

DiversiTech Hub: What interested you in this space?

I have a genuine passion for technology, and I feel truly lucky to have made my passion my career. I get a huge amount of inspiration and energy from meeting and working with people and businesses that are changing the way we do things. What's really special about my position is that I have been able to bring all of that insight and knowledge back into Ashurst to help drive our own digitalisation and transformation strategy.

DiversiTech Hub: Did you find it difficult to break into this area as a female?

I don't necessarily think it was difficult to "break in" – in fact statistically in the UK there are more female lawyers than male in the early years of practice.

However, there is a real issue with attrition of female lawyers as they reach more senior levels within a law firm. I've personally not felt that being female made things more difficult for me, although I think that to combat this issue we need to specifically focus on retaining female talent. I am very lucky to have a strong female sponsor who continues to support and promote me.

Despite this, I am still, more often than not, one of very few females (if not the only one) in meetings.

DiversiTech Hub: How have you settled into the business?

It took a little time to settle in and find my place—and part of this was also working within the firm to create a place for me. I brought a different set of skills and experiences to Ashurst, as well as an ambition to do something a little bit different from the norm.

Ashurst gave me the space to build my practice in my own way and, as I became able to demonstrate the value in what I was doing, has recognised that as well.

DiversiTech Hub: How have you seen the landscape change in FinTech in terms of equality?

From my perspective, I have seen a top-down industry approach to promoting equality. I know of many VCs and investors who have made a conscious effort to ensure their portfolios are diverse on multiple levels. There has also been a rise of equality-focused funds and events. However, the statistics show there is still a lot more work to be done.

DiversiTech Hub: What do you think are the reasons for this change?

The data doesn't lie. Diversity makes for better businesses and better returns.

DiversiTech Hub: How does your company differentiate itself from its competitors from an equality perspective?

We have built equality into our firm strategy, with clear stated targets set for achieving true change.

DiversiTech Hub: Where do you see the future of the market heading?

I think the future of law is going to be underpinned by connectivity and partnership. Better connectivity between each other and our clients with make for a better and more seamless service. And I don't think we are going to be able to achieve perfect connectivity on our own—we are going to need partners to do this.

DiversiTech Hub: What do you feel are the biggest obstacles facing minorities in the industry?

At present, I think it is access to opportunities and overcoming mindsets.

DiversiTech Hub: How do you plan to overcome those obstacles in your company?

I am lucky to be a part of the change engine within Ashurst, which means that I play a key role in ensuring that we don't just pay lip service to change but that we actually achieve it.

This includes helping others to recognise that diversity of experience and thinking is essential to effecting real change.

My elevation to partner and Co-CEO of Ashurst Digital Ventures, our newest innovation-focused business unit, exemplifies Ashurst's recognition that thinking differently is valued and valuable. I am working hard alongside others to help to shift mindsets and turn problems into opportunities.

DiversiTech Hub: What makes your company an employer of choice?

We have strong leadership who are very forward-thinking and great, engaged people.

DiversiTech Hub: What would you like to see change in FinTech as an industry?

I'd like to see the continued rise of social impact focused fintech businesses.

DiversiTech Hub: Why do you think finance/banking/FinTech have been male dominated industries in the past?

Like attracts like, and like often hires like.

DiversiTech Hub: What is the most exciting thing about FinTech for you personally?

I have found the social impact focused businesses that I have come across or worked with recently particularly exciting and inspiring, because they are not only using technology in really innovative ways but they are bringing about real change in people's lives.

DiversiTech Hub: To date, in your view, what disruptors have caused the most innovation in the industry?

This may be a little bit controversial, but I think that bitcoin has been an important and influential disruptor in the sense that it has created a very interesting discourse around topics like monetary policy, censorship and regulation, has caused many to try to re-think access to finance, resulted in the creation of new asset classes, and spawned both new business as well as adjacent industries.

DiversiTech Hub: What do you look forward to for the industry in 2020?

Continued evolution and revolution. The pace of change is dizzying but exhilarating and I'm looking forward to seeing the directions that change will take us.

A little bit more about Tara...

Tara leads Ashurst's high growth & VC team in London and is a key member of the firm's fintech and distributed ledger technology & crypto asset practices. She has written several articles and speaks regularly at industry events on these topics.

In her role as Co-CEO of Ashurst Digital Ventures, Tara is responsible for the firm's in-house development and investment arm of Ashurst Advance, providing innovative technology-led solutions to clients.

Tara is a technology specialist having spent seven years architecting and developing web-based platforms for businesses in the new media and technology industries in NYC prior to moving to London as a lawyer. 

She was named on Innovate Finance's Women in FinTech Power List 2017 and is shortlisted for Legal Innovator of the Year at the 2019 FT Innovative Lawyers Awards. She is also a mentor for the Barclays Techstars FinTech accelerator programme.

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