CEOs / Founders / Interviews

Balancing the Grind with Debbie Watkins, CEO & Co-Founder at Lucy

Debbie Watkins is the CEO & Co-Founder at Lucy, a mobile financial services app designed from the ground up to provide entrepreneurial women everywhere with the tools they need to take control of their financial future, realise their potential, and to grow and thrive.

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1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?

I had an unprivileged start in life – I grew up in a council housing estate in the UK, and left school at 16 to work at a provincial branch of a high street bank.

I became the first woman in the bank manager’s memory to leave the bank for another role (“every other woman that has worked here left to have a baby”) and progressed through increasing levels of seniority in business and financial IT solutions providers until the start of the new millennium – when everything changed.

An unexpected redundancy gave me the chance to re-evaluate what I wanted from life, and I took a year out and travelled to Cambodia to do voluntary work.

The destination actually became the starting point. I first founded two award-winning social enterprises that provided jobs for local people, and then started providing technology strategy consulting to micro-finance companies.

This evolved into managing large complex inclusive finance projects and global teams, working in 35+ countries across Asia and Africa – and I saw that there was so much that could be done to improve access to finance for women and small businesses, but no-one was really doing it. And so in early 2020 – just before the pandemic – I and two co-founders decided that we’d change that, and we started Lucy – which is a neobank for entrepreneurial women. 

We launched in Singapore late last year, and provide fee-free accounts with a debit Mastercard, named savings pockets with goals, earned wage access and low-cost remittances.

We also have Singapore’s first pay-it-forward card rewards program, which enables you to earn points just by using your card for day-to-day purchases and redeem them to buy much-needed items for underprivileged women. Over the coming few months we’ll be adding in business growth tools, and then taking Lucy to other countries in the region and beyond.

2) What does a day in your life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

Running a fast-moving startup means that no two days are the same! I manage a small cross-functional team in Singapore – covering everything from marketing to customer service to software development – and there are a lot of moving parts.

So a day can switch from planning an out-of-home marketing campaign, to mapping out new functionality for our app, to engaging with potential partners in Singapore and the region. 

3) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?

 Compartmentalisation is my mantra. I’ve trained myself to be able to switch things on and off in my head, and I find that balance can only really be achieved by being present in whatever you’re doing.

Taking in your surroundings when you’re going for a walk in the countryside. Savouring your food when you’re eating. Reading something entertaining or challenging on your morning or evening commute. I have a number of small sayings that I quote from time to time, and one of my favourites is “be quiet and ordered in your life so you can be violent and original in your work”.

Perhaps I don’t follow this to the letter – my life isn’t always that quiet and ordered, that would be a bit too boring, and being too violent or original at work would be counterproductive – but I do find that consciously switching my brain away from work does result in better ideas when I switch it back again.

4) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life?

My youngest son headed off to university last summer, and my husband and I decided to downsize and move to a completely different part of Singaporea few months ago.

Singapore is a small island and we probably only moved around 20km, but it is almost like another country and I can honestly say that it has made a huge difference to my life. Our routines and habits have changed a lot as we’re now “empty nesters”- from what we eat to how we spend our weekends!

5) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?

I’m a voracious reader – I have the Kindle app on my phone – but I tend to randomly pick books that are free with my Kindle subscription (with random results!), and these are generally all by new authors. My physical book collection is mainly those which I re-read every couple of years – Salman Rushdie’s “the ground beneath her feet” is a favourite.

Podcasts have never really been my thing – I’m more of a visual person, and often distracted by what I’m seeing if I’m listening to something.

6) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?

No single person in particular, but I am always in awe of people who deal with or witness other people’s physical or mental trauma on a daily basis, and then have to go home and somehow “be normal”.

A number of years ago I used to practise Tae Kwon-Do (a Korean martial art) and one of my fellow students was an ambulance man. The types of things he experienced and had to cope with every single day. He found martial arts to some degree helped him release the tension he felt when something especially bad had happened.

And so I feel that understanding and learning from “regular people doing extraordinary things” – all those unsung heroes out there – is possibly more valuable than learning about some celebrity or multimillionaire businessperson.

7) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

My husband is a life and corporate coach, and one of the areas that he works with people on is helping them to find their ‘Ikigai’ – the Japanese concept of having a ‘reason for being’.

The Westernised version, when applied to work, says that your dream career combines what you love, what you’re good at, what you can be paid for and what the world needs.

I personally made the switch in 2000 from being purely focused on career and money, to doing something that made a positive impact on society, and I’ve never looked back. Work feels less like work when you feel you’re somehow making the world a better place, even if it’s only in a small way.

The travel writer Bruce Chatwin believed that humans are by nature nomadic, and feel happier wandering than sitting still. I for one have been enriched by the places I have been, and the people I have spoken to, and continue to learn from these experiences.

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About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.