Women in Financial Services Blog

Inspiring Women - Olga Stepien. The bumps along the way are what make the journey so amazing

Inspiring Women - Olga Stepien. The bumps along the way are what make the journey so amazing

Mark Freed / 31 Oct 2018

My journey hasn't always been easy or simple, and some of the choices I've made have left me vulnerable. 

I'm often asked how a girl from a village in Belarus progressed to being a successful KYC/AML Specialist in London. Each time I tell my story I realise how proud I am, not only of what I've achieved so far, but of the way I've faced each obstacle along the way with courage and determination. The path hasn't always been straight, but when life takes an unexpected detour, my philosophy is to embrace the fear and keep moving forward regardless.

I come from a small town in the Grodno region called Bolshaya Berestovitsa (Belarus), where both of my parents are teachers. My professional journey started at the age of sixteen, with a dream to study in Poland. Over the following year, I sacrificed all my time and energy in pursuit of this goal. I learned the language and prepared for the university entrance exams, all while completing my secondary school studies. I knew that the program for foreign students offered only twenty places with full financial assistance. In the end, I placed twenty-first.

Nevertheless, I gladly accepted my university place. My family is not wealthy and I knew it would be very difficult without financial support, but I followed my dream. I studied hard, worked as a waitress to support myself, and soon received financing in recognition of my academic success.

After graduating with a Masters degree in economics, I went to work as a data analyst for Thomson Reuters in Gdynia. It was an excellent start to my career, but after almost two years, I was longing for a change. Again, I decided to take a risk and moved to Moscow, where I spent four years gaining experience in the property development business. It was the best time of my life. I grew in confidence, and I wasn't afraid to ask for a promotion when I knew I deserved it, which is how I went from Personal Assistant to the CFO, to a role as Credit Analyst. I worked sixteen hour days, and I loved it!

By 2012, my personal circumstances had changed and I moved again - this time to London. It was like starting from scratch. Everything I had built up was discounted by potential employers, who were looking only for UK experience. I found myself starting as an intern. After closing billion dollar deals, I ended up filing paperwork.

However, once again, determination won out. I was so proactive in my new role, so energetic in my willingness to do whatever it took to achieve more, that I was offered a new opportunity to learn KYC, which led to a permanent position within the bank. I spent four years there before deciding to move on. Today, I'm with Commerzbank, and have been recently promoted to Senior Reviewer as a permanent employee.

My journey hasn't always been easy or simple, and some of the choices I've made have left me vulnerable. I've been told along the way that I shouldn't trust in people, and warned that I'll end up getting hurt. And it's true: I have been hurt many times. However, the same courage that took me from a small town in Belarus to a financial career in London allows me to embrace my vulnerability and use it as a strength. Without it, I honestly don't think I would be where I am today.

Of course I am still afraid, because when you take risks and open yourself up to people and new experiences and opportunities, you will inevitably meet with some disappointment. It can feel like leaping out of a plane without a parachute. But what I have learned is that the bumps along the way are what make the journey so amazing. I may not know what is next, but above all, I trust myself to live courageously; to step into the unknown, feel the inevitable fear, and do it anyway.

Read other stories in the Inspiring Women Series 

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