Rajka Stjepanovic is an expert in finance from Serbia, who has been with Youpal Group for the past two years. She shares her experience on working in start-up environments, as opposed to large corporations where the energy can at times be less dynamic. She also believes that fintech has a lot of good to offer the world, especially as many people try and earn a living online following the loss of jobs due to the pandemic. But regarding cryptocurrency… she doesn’t feel it’s all it seems.
Q: What does your position mean for the group, as it restructures itself? How are you tackling this position?
This is basically a new title for the position. I’ve been with Youpal for two years and my job is to completely handle and monitor financial transactions for Youpal Group. So, let’s say the group is setting up a company in another country, my job is to investigate accounting procedures and regulations in that region. I basically oversee the administration of the finances of the group.
Although it is a one-woman job at present, there are some agencies operating in different countries on behalf of Youpal. For instance, in Hungary, there is a local representative, as only a national of that country with the corresponding documentation can undertake some of the required transactions. For example, whatever documentation and reporting are required by the government can only be submitted by some who holds a local ID.
We have an accounting team in Spain. We also have some financial support in the Middle East, in Dubai in particular. So, the work isn’t too complicated. The company is growing, so the load we have is still manageable. As an IT company, what we have to see to is our monthly obligations so that is the core of my work.
Q: So, you’re from Serbia. Tell us about yourself prior to coming to Youpal.
I live in a beautiful country in Eastern Europe. I have a background in finance and accounting, but also as a developer and consultant of ERPs. I completed my MBA in Corporate Finance 10 years ago. Since then, I’ve had various positions. I was CFO for Samsung in the East Balkans, then for another very large group in Serbia, which operated in the production and distribution of electricity. I worked in the food industry, in gas and oil… and for various countries including in the region such as Bosnia Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Kosovo and Croatia. But I also worked on projects with a more international reach, spanning some 50 countries at least.
The experience was enriching in all of these companies. One of the drawbacks is that things tend to move slower. There is a lot of red-tape and a lot of levels, the larger the companies are. I, therefore, felt it was time for a change.
Q: Tell us about the change.
I have been working mostly remotely since 2013. In the beginning, I was handling finance for an oil and gas company in the Middle East and North Africa. I was a controller in refinery projects. I took part in this project from the very start. It took a few years to be completed.
The change for me was to start-ups. I see myself in start-ups and dynamic environments where you can learn something new every day and bring some value to grow alongside the company. That was the most drastic change for me. If I have to choose again, I would always rather choose to work for a start-up than in a large multinational or corporation.
Q: Why do you like start-ups so much?
I personally like the adrenaline. I like adrenaline in sports, like parachuting, kayaking etc. I also like the adrenaline at work and there’s a lot of that in start-ups. There’s always something new. Every day there is a surprise, something unexpected. You can’t expect to work the way you planned. It’s also not your standard 9 to 5 working hours. You tend to have to be available 24 hours.
For instance, I often meet with the CEO of Youpal at about 8 p.m. Our conversations last for a while and we’re always discussing various issues. I find that we have to work around a lot of things and make them work in our favour. Whether it’s the challenge of finding contractors or banks or dealing with clients and other companies. It’s a very dynamic environment.
In this remote position, you don’t have to drive to work. It’s quite different… and I like it!
Q: How cool is it that when the whole world started to work from home, you were already doing that. That’s quite visionary. What do you think of that?
It is very visionary. And the coronavirus gave us the opportunity to sit at the table and think of doing things in an even more novel way. We had to rethink ourselves, rethink how we work, how to grow and develop ourselves.
There have been a lot of issues due to the pandemic. There have been problems in trading, in logistics, in markets, in finance and so on. That also meant a lot of IT companies could step in and propose their solutions. They were able to talk about what they can offer to the market to help them.
Q: One of the things we talk a lot about in Uteckie is fintech and cryptocurrency. It’s a hot topic for tech media every week. What are your views about the craze around cryptocurrency?
I like Fintech, but it’s very wide. There are a lot of things inside the finance industry. I support many things in this field, just not cryptocurrency.
When they started with Bitcoin a few years ago, I believed that is a huge hoax. That’s my opinion. There’s no real value behind cryptocurrency.
I see that people believe they will earn a huge amount in a short time when they invest in cryptocurrency. I don’t believe in that. I think it’s basically showing people how to invest their money in the market and make it grow into returns. But the fluctuations in these currencies show that there is some manipulation. What happens is people follow the trends and invest when there are these sharp peaks… but then are disappointed when it swings the other way.
That’s precisely the problem. Behind these currencies, there is no real value. There is nothing. For me, I am expecting a serious problem to arise as I don’t think it’s something sustainable in the long term.
EU regulators – the European Central Bank and other European financial controlling bodies – are trying to set up regulations for this industry.
China, for example, has their own cryptocurrency. But they already have a lot of restrictions. They tightly control that market.
There are a lot of fears of cryptocurrency being used for criminal activities. In Serbia, we had the case of cartels using cryptocurrencies to secure transactions between different unlawful groups. It’s not easy to trace the ownership of these currencies, nor the precise nature of the activities they are being used in.
The other issue is taxation. Who is paying taxes in the financial transactions, in which country? This is not something that I can support personally, nor where I see myself being involved.
There are many other fintech products that help improve people’s lives, however. During the pandemic, a lot of companies shut down. A lot of people had to find new sources of finance and ways to survive. So online commerce has become another opportunity. These solutions have more regulations and the users can be protected from criminal activities.
Q: With what’s currently happening in the world, do you think it’s a good time to begin something for yourself? Is the market propitious for people who want to go into entrepreneurship? Can the world market support so many people wanting to start something on their own at the same time?
It’s easier to work for somebody else, who will give you the resources, the clients and everything else you need to get the work done. What is important to entrepreneurship is strong mental health. Entrepreneurship is completely different. You must be strong and be ready to fall 10-15 times.
Let’s look at Jack Ma, for instance. It took him many years to become successful. Let’s look at Star Wars. It took them more than a decade to be able to finance that film project. But now it’s an entire franchise and the ‘episodes’ keep coming.
So, you must be prepared to wait for your moment and try to see opportunities on the market. You have to find a problem and propose a product that will solve that problem. Then you need to convince your market they need your product.
You must be prepared … as it will not happen overnight, it’s not possible. Self-confidence and good mental health are important and being ready for the time it will take. There are billions of start-ups every day, but only 1-3% of them survive… so it’s very challenging. And it will take a strong mind to succeed.