Interview with Humera Afzal
Date: 3rd July 2020
“Good evening, Humera. Thank you for joining us today. Can we begin with your background - how did you develop your interest in Finance?
What motivated you to apply for an MBA at The Wharton School - University of Pennsylvania?”
Around the time I was graduating from Imperial College, I wasn’t entirely sure what career path I wanted to pursue. I had applied for a range of roles including engineering, as well as financial services. I eventually decided to pursue an ACA at PwC for a number of reasons. Firstly, the engineering roles were all based in locations I didn’t really want to live in. Secondly, the accountancy qualification seemed like an opportunity to obtain a new skill set, at the same time as giving me time to think about what I could do with a combination of engineering and finance qualifications.
After qualifying with PwC, I have transitioned between a number of financial service orientated roles, including M&A / structured finance (BNP Paribas), commodity trading, Capital Markets, Finance Consulting, culminating in my latest role as CFO at Backed LLP, a seed-stage Venture Capital Fund.
My key motivators for switching roles within the finance industry are to constantly be learning new skills, embracing different ways of thinking, as well as evolving as a person. It was this drive to learn that also led me to pursue an MBA at The Wharton School. I thought an MBA would be a useful way of gaining exposure to different geographies and possible new career pathways. I was keen to experience life in the US, so the MBA at Wharton was a stepping stone for me to work in New York for a while. Overall, it was a tremendous experience, both in gaining new professional experiences, but also for personal growth.
“Are there any resources that you would recommend to prepare for a career in the financial industry?”
In my opinion, the best way to develop a genuine interest in the finance industry is to be on top of current affairs through reading publications, e.g. the Economist, FT, Wall Street Journal. You will start to become familiar with the vocabulary and you will be able to talk confidently about what companies are doing, particularly in the context of macro economic circumstances that dictate their performance to a large extent.
“Could you tell us more about your work at Backed VC?”
My role involves 4 key areas.
1) Firstly, managing the fund management vehicle, which includes budgeting, forecasting, cash flow management and performance measurement.
2) Investor management. Managing the relationship with existing investors, e.g. responding to information requests, providing fund performance analysis etc.. For new Investors, this involves presenting the fund returns, fund strategy, talking about the market, future plans, etc.
3) Supporting the portfolio companies that we have invested in.
4) I work with the investment team to assess investment opportunities and make recommendations about investment propositions.
“What about Backed VC captured your interest for you to pursue a career there?”
Backed VC is unique in its focus on human centricity. Instead of focusing solely on business / financial performance, Backed is really focused on what support a founder needs as an individual to be the best version of themselves, for their teams and their businesses.
“What steps are you planning to take to develop further in your career?”
I want to expand our team so that we can focus on innovation within the finance function. Having a larger team will help me step away from the day-to-day details so I can focus on what will drive improvements in the function, e.g. best-in-class investor reporting, real-time reporting, etc.
“What are some common mistakes that you see students and professionals make that could be prevented?”
Please don’t network for the sake of it. Instead, think about nurturing genuine friendships and relationships with people that you worked with along the way or people you admire, not necessarily expecting anything out of it. Sometimes some relationships lead nowhere (at least from a professional perspective), and that is fine. Enjoy them for what they are. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t attend networking events, but when you are having a conversation, make it human and interesting, so something about you personally sparks interest and someone genuinely wants to keep in touch with you.
“What advice would you give to young women, aspiring to enter the industry?”
Don’t be afraid to try new things. Take on new challenges, even if you’re not sure you are up to the task. Always ask questions, keep learning and be curious.