Growing up in India and moving to the U.S. with her family in the mid-1990s, Uma’s story is all about embracing change and taking on new challenges. She earned degrees in history and computer science at the University of Madras in Tamil Nadu, India and found her way into banking in Denver, Colorado working as a consultant for product development.

After four years in Denver, she moved to Kansas City where she landed a leadership role as a product management officer and eventually found her way to UMB. For 15 years at UMB, she has led a team of banking professionals in an ever-evolving digital landscape.

Industry recognition

In 2019, she was named one of the most powerful women in banking by American Banker, a prestigious recognition for women who have made significant accomplishments in the banking industry and are poised to continue growing their leadership, influence and impact in the years to come.

In 2020, Uma was named in The Most Influential Women in Payments, a program by American Banker that honors 26 women from across the globe and in all aspects of the payments industry.

In 2022, Uma was named in Kansas City Business Journal’s Women Who Mean Business, which recognizes professional women who are making significant strides in their business or industry and in the community.

We sat down to speak with Uma about her career path, learning experiences and leadership strategies.

What about your past shaped who you are today?

I immigrated to the United States in my early 20s. Coming from a different country with a different culture, I faced headwinds in my experience right away. How you interact with people in the U.S. is much different than what I was accustomed to., which impacted my confidence. In my mind, I thought, “I look different. I sound different. I have an accent. Do people understand me? Will they appreciate what I have to say in a meeting?” Much of these early challenges were more about inner fears and my interactions with others.

Through this experience, I learned I had to be fearless. I changed my thoughts to say, “I am different, but this is who I am. Don’t be apologetic. People do accept who you are.” Several great leaders helped me find that inner power and overcome obstacles. I absolutely leaned on them and asked them for their feedback and advice on reaching my career goals.

Tell us your journey into the banking industry.

In the beginning, I never thought I’d be a banker, but I was given the opportunity to work on a project years ago on the banking side and fell in love with the industry. I’ve now been in banking for 25 years, 15 of which have been with UMB. I’m grateful for the opportunity and can’t imagine being anywhere else other than UMB in my role today.

Why did you choose UMB? ‎

Looking back, I’m glad UMB gave me an opportunity to join. The world we live in is a small community. Throughout my career, I’ve always been impressed by the level of commitment, expertise and passion shown by those I’ve met at UMB. This is a primary driver for my commitment to our company. ‎

What were the challenges and tough choices you had to make along the way?

The success in my career didn’t come from a magic book full of secrets. A big reason for my success is that I was never afraid to take on a challenge or to jump into something that I’m not extremely familiar with. Being an immigrant from India and a minority, I have always found that I need to be more deliberate and focused on the things I want to do and accomplish.

The day you think you’ve maximized your knowledge in a position  means you’re not learning anymore.

Any individual, when you stop learning, you’re no longer growing to your maximum potential. You need to take on new challenges. My habits and my determination have helped me earn trust and respect from my associates and peers. I have put in the work to become an expert and a leader in my industry.

What does your team do differently?

Teamwork is a large part of our success. We like to bring a high level of collaboration and build on each other’s strengths. Product managers and technology members typically work in silos given the nature of the product and solutions/system they own.

Our team, however, makes time to learn from each other and assist one another to drive results. I’m a very open person, and there are many times that I’m  direct in explaining my vision and agenda for our team. At the same time, though, I value the opinions of and feedback from my team. They make me a better leader every day.

Why is it important for women to have leadership positions?

Diversity in any industry or work environment is important. It’s crucial that you are bringing an array of perspectives and ideas to everything that you do; otherwise, experiences and outputs are going to be boring and likely lacking critical insights. Having people who can challenge the status quo makes for the best results in any situation.

What would you say to teenage girls and women interested in a career in banking and how to progress higher on the corporate ladder into leadership?

The first thing I would say is that bankers are fun! Many people think the industry is dull but our industry and other professional services industries like engineering and accounting are growing and becoming more popular among women, which is fantastic to see.

The second is that you have to be passionate about your role and find a career that fuels that passion. Keep your options open—find something you love and stick with it.

Lastly, don’t let your negative inner voice get to you, such as worrying that some person doesn’t like you or that you are going to be treated differently. Stay focused. Be fearless. You don’t have to be confrontational. But people need to know if you felt like you were not given the right opportunity or if you were not given space to share your opinion and thoughts.

Give people the benefit of doubt. You don’t know what’s going on in their life. You don’t always have to think that there’s an agenda or that somebody’s trying to sabotage you.

How do you like to get involved with your industry and give back to your communities?

I’m involved in several associations where I hold board positions to represent UMB including The Family Conservancy, the Federal Reserve’s 10J Payment Advisory Group, the VISA Senior Client Council, Mastercard Treasury Management Advisory Board and the Bottomline Technologies Strategic Advisory Board.

It’s an exciting time to be in the industry associations where you are driving changes and introducing rules that drive payments growth and strategy. My next goal is to get involved in the civic side of the community to give back. Specifically, I would like to spend time with organizations focused on poverty and education to make a difference in our community.

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