Women In Fintech: Reshaping The Industry For The Underrepresented – Forbes


While there has been a marked change in the number of women working in the fintech industry over the past decade, more needs to be done to ensure they are given the opportunity to rise through the ranks, lead teams, develop company and industry policy as well as invest in the companies and the people that they believe in. I asked the women listed below questions about their experience working in the fintech industry, gender-related obstacles and their role models. These exceptional women are also part of the 2018 Innovate Finance Women in Fintech Powerlist Standout35.

Melike Belli, Market Development Manager, Cybertonica

Diana Biggs, Head of Digital Innovation, UK & Europe, HSBC

Lauren Capelin, Head of Venture Community, Reinventure Group

Sophie Guibaud, Managing Director Europe, Fidor Group

Viola Llewellyn, Co-Founder & President, Ovamba Solutions

Valentina Kristensen, Director, Growth & Communications, Oaknorth

Vica Manos, VC, Anthemis Group

Rosita Najmi, Senior Program Officer, Financial Services for the Poor

Juliette Souliman, Fintech VC Investor, Octopus Ventures

Catherine Wines, Director & Co-Founder, WorldRemit

Eva Wong, Co-Founder & COO, Borrowell

How would you define your role in fintech?

Melike Belli, Market Development Manager, Cybertonica

Within fintech, I wear multiple hats to use my knowledge and skills to contribute to the sustainable growth of the sector. I work at the award-winning fintech startup Cybertonica, and with my extremely talented colleagues, we use AI and machine learning to protect e-businesses from fraudsters and build their customers’ trust. I also volunteer at European Women Payments Network with a group of passionate professionals championing diversity and inclusion in fintech, and regularly author publications to educate stakeholders on digital transformation in financial services.

Diana Biggs, Head of Digital Innovation, UK & Europe, HSBC

These days, I am predominantly a fintech partner: my team at HSBC actively engages with the global fintech ecosystem, looking for potential synergies and opportunities for collaboration. One recent example of this is our partnership and recent investment in Bud, a U.K. open banking fintech. On a personal level, I am a mentor and advocate for the role of fintech in promoting financial inclusion, financial wellness and the democratization of financial services overall.

Lauren Capelin, Head of Venture Community, Reinventure Group

Working with Australia’s largest fintech-focused venture capital fund, from a day-to-day perspective my role is about supporting both our portfolio of ventures as well as the development of the wider fintech ecosystem. However, inherent in that role is a responsibility to ensure the future of financial services is being shaped in an inclusive way and with diverse perspectives, which means constantly advocating to have more women at the table across the board – from our pipeline to within our portfolio companies to startup boards to the broader investment landscape – and creating initiatives that help to move the needle.

Sophie Guibaud, Managing Director Europe, Fidor Group

My career so far has been a mix between finance and startups. Joining the fintech space came quite naturally eight years ago, after six years in finance and a passion in helping startups grow. In the fintech space, I have specialized in launching new B2C and B2B services across Europe both at Bankable and at Fidor. I am passionate about helping organizations roll-out new propositions as an intrapreneur. Additionally, I am involved in quite a few fintech companies as an advisor, supporting them in their growth strategy and challenges. I really like to support such companies as it not only allows to keep pace with the new trends in the industry but is also a great way to actually work on new challenges and give back to the community in my own way. Last, I have been a speaker around fintech topics, advocating collaborations between Fintech and banks, why open banking is not only an opportunity for consumers but also for banks themselves to actually drive customer engagement and find new revenue sources, and how leveraging banking as a service can help organizations with large audiences drive customer engagement. I believe we are at a truly exciting turn point in the industry in which what has been served to customers for decades is not enough and the future is totally open for both fintech and banks.

Viola Llewellyn, Co-Founder & President, Ovamba Solutions

I am a co-founder, a pioneer, an influencer and a determined woman who believes that fintech can democratize finance and open up opportunity. My role in this sector is to ensure that we innovate the very best solutions in an industry that has suffered from aged rigidity.

Valentina Kristensen, Director, Growth & Communications, Oaknorth

A marketer, spokesperson, network/community-builder, and business developer.

Vica Manos, VC, Anthemis Group

I act as a catalyst. As an early-stage investor, I naturally work mostly with startups. My mission is to find the most transformative ideas and invest in the companies that are re-imagining financial services. I then nurture those portfolio companies, providing as much support as needed, allowing them do what they do best: innovate. In the meantime, I also work to build an ecosystem of incumbent financial institutions, co-investors, regulators and other influencers to collaboratively shape the industry for the digital age.

Rosita Najmi, Senior Program Officer, Financial Services for the Poor

Advocate for digital financial services for the poor – through investments and advocacy, I seek to advance funding, policy, and regulations that will support the use of fintech for safe, affordable, and high quality financial services and delivery channels for those living under $2/day.

Juliette Souliman, Fintech VC Investor, Octopus Ventures

I am an early-stage VC investor at Octopus Ventures investing in fintech, insurtech and blockchain startups for investment between £500,000 to £25 million.

Catherine Wines, Director & Co-Founder, WorldRemit

I co-founded WorldRemit in 2010 to disrupt a $700 billion industry which had previously underserved millions of migrants across the globe by bringing it online. I believed strongly in fintech as a tool to advance financial inclusion around the world, and have leveraged my experience building one of the leading digital money transfer platforms to work with regulators to shape digital policy in developed and emerging markets. With my experience founding and scaling one of the fastest growing fintech companies in Europe, I also invest time mentoring aspiring females and other underrepresented groups in technology. One of the most fundamental ways to overcome challenges breaking into the industry is to serve as a role model – to actively demonstrate to women of every age that barriers can be overcome. Role models are incredibly important for women to redefine the image of what a ‘fintech professional’ looks like.

Eva Wong, Co-Founder & COO, Borrowell

I’m one of the co-founders and the Chief Operating Officer of Borrowell. Our mission is to help consumers make great decisions about credit. As someone without a background in financial services, technology, or startups, I hope that my story encourages other women to consider working in fintech. People’s personal financial situations have such an impact on their lives, and the lives of their families – being able to move the needle on that is very rewarding.

How does the diversity in fintech compare to other sectors you’ve worked in?

Melike Belli, Market Development Manager, Cybertonica

I’ve worked in banking, non-profit and retail sectors and mostly didn’t feel the diversity gap as I witness in fintech. However, the positive thing is that industry players are working collaboratively to address the issue, raise awareness and initiate conversations on how to improve the situation. Thanks to the initiatives such as Women in Finance Charter and European Women Payments Network etc. and the power of social media, companies are becoming more transparent and encouraged to create policies and cultures embracing diversity in all aspects. Since companies with diverse teams create greater economic value, business leaders need to consider it as business priority rather than only a social issue.

Diana Biggs, Head of Digital Innovation, UK & Europe, HSBC

The majority of my career has been in the financial services and technology sectors, both sectors with well-documented to be lacking in diversity. When I look its beginnings, fintech almost seems to be the worst of both worlds. I see this starting to shift across each of these sectors. I can’t be sure that isn’t my own confirmation bias, as the diversity of teams and founders is something that I notice. Still, with an increasing number of studies highlighting the business benefits of diversity, for teams, leadership, boards, I’m optimistic that improving diversity in fintech is starting to get some genuine focus, rather than just lip service.

Lauren Capelin, Head of Venture Community, Reinventure Group

Having been involved in the startup ecosystem both in Australia and globally for the last eight years, there have been diversity issues apparent throughout that time, however fintech tends to exacerbate this given that financial services is as equally dominated by men as the general technology industry. The women leading fintech startups right now are exceptional at their work, but we need to see and hear more of them.

Sophie Guibaud, Managing Director Europe, Fidor Group

The sector I worked in previously was finance which is not a very diversified sector. Fintech is definitely more diversified than the financial industry itself. However, quite a lot can and needs to be done on that front, not only at the company level to actually attract, promote and retain the right people, irrelevant of gender, color or personal situations but also much more upfront, early on during education with initiatives such as the Charity I Can Be, bringing little girls into the “world of work”, supported by fintech icon Louise Beaumont.

Viola Llewellyn, Co-Founder & President, Ovamba Solutions

We have seen disruption in travel, broadcast, healthcare, communications and even transportation. I have worked in some of these sectors. In comparison, fintech is one of the hardest within which to establish clear diversity. We are talking about long standing traditions that male dominated banks have held in their grip for so long. The lack of diversity in finance is actually at the heart of some of the algorithms and the profit models! Diversity of gender, color, age, and geographic region all stand to be slighted and excluded for reasons that are institutional and easy to enforce, justify and uphold. Fintech demands a focused acknowledgment of this challenge and a creative effort to satisfy customer demand and curate the best technologies and models to provide a customer experience that is positive and monetizable. Without this all who are excluded and underserved could very well stay in that condition.

Valentina Kristensen, Director, Growth & Communications, Oaknorth

In terms of ethnic diversity, it tends to be better. In terms of gender diversity, it tends to be worse.

Vica Manos, VC, Anthemis Group

Coming for an investment banking background, I’d have to say that the issues around diversity are generally the same. However, investment banking is at a later stage of maturity as a field and, therefore, has had more time to deliberately come up with strategies around diversity in recruitment, compensation, promotions, and overall talent retention.The UK Government’s requirement to report on equal pay, I believe, has played a crucial role in further promoting measures that foster diversity. There’s a conscious effort to eliminate unconscious bias. However, at a systemic level it remains challenging to appoint women to senior positions simply because by that point in time they have left to other industries, mostly because of work-life balance considerations. Still, the progress made to date, however modest, remains notable in my view.

Rosita Najmi, Senior Program Officer, Financial Services for the Poor

I have been very lucky to work at international development organizations that attract employees from different cultures, countries, political affiliations, and religions. Nevertheless, what stands out to me in both the fintech and international development communities is how much room there is to increase diversity in executive and other decision-making roles.

Juliette Souliman, Fintech VC Investor, Octopus Ventures

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Prior to joining Octopus I worked in early stage tech ventures – while generally speaking the tech/start-up world is lacking diversity – I feel that fintech is one of the worst performers in term of gender balance and inclusive representation. When already taking the poor number of the wider industry –of the £5.6bn invested by venture capitalists in the UK in 2017, 89 percent of it went to all-male founding teams. I believe those numbers would be even worse considering only fintech sector investment.

Catherine Wines, Director & Co-Founder, WorldRemit

The financial services industry has long been dominated by men. When I first embarked on my career over forty years ago, it was rare to find women in key positions in technology or finance. Rarer still is it to find women founders or co-founders. Today, there is an imbalance within the fintech industry that is even more pronounced than in technology and financial services alone. Within fintech specifically, a report conducted from EY found that the gender split of employees within the UK is 71 percent male and 29 percent female. At WorldRemit, we are committed to closing the gender gap and now over 40 percent of our employees are women.

Eva Wong, Co-Founder & COO, Borrowell

Frankly, it’s terrible – even compared to other male-dominated industries I worked in as a management consultant, including a utility company and a railroad. I first realized how bad it was at my first fintech conference, where I didn’t meet any other female founders. At another fintech conference, I attended a session where there was a male moderator, an all-male panel, and I was the only woman in the audience of about 50 men.

Do you think there is a common misconception on the roles women play in shaping the fintech space?

Melike Belli, Market Development Manager, Cybertonica

There is a fact that technical roles are mostly dominated by men in fintech as in many industries. The big misconception is that women are not suited for technical and analytical roles due their “nature and skills” – a reason given by the closed minds ignoring gender equality in every aspect of life. Organizations campaigning to change the ratio in technical and engineering roles and raise highly skilled female talent and role models such as Code First: Girls prove every single day that women are indeed very well suited for these positions and should be inspired and encouraged more on pursuing a career in these areas.

Diana Biggs, Head of Digital Innovation, UK & Europe, HSBC

I think the “pipeline” problem is something of a misconception. I don’t believe that low numbers of women is due to the fact that there aren’t plenty of incredibly skilled and capable women out there: rather, hiring managers and investors need to examine both their candidate sourcing practices, as well as their internal working cultures. Are they putting the effort into sourcing diverse talent pools? Have they considered implicit bias in their job descriptions, interviews, and candidate evaluations? Are they creating a working environment where women would actually want to work?

Lauren Capelin, Head of Venture Community, Reinventure Group

We’re seeing some subsets of the fintech landscape emerging as strongholds for women, from regtech to AI to wealthtech and in some cases blockchain technology, which is helping to shift any misconceptions. However when we look at individual companies we still see overrepresentation of women in HR, Marketing, Operations and Administrative roles compared to Sales, Product and Engineering. In Australia, (and consistently around the world) more than 80 percent of fintechs have founding teams comprised of all men. We do need to bring more women into fintech at all levels, not just as founders, but as executive team members, investors and into the technology functions specifically.

Viola Llewellyn, Co-Founder & President, Ovamba Solutions

Actually, before you get to misconception, you need to acknowledge that we play a role! There are still some factions and areas where the role of women in fintech is marginalized. I am speaking specifically about VC and investors who pay lip service to women who are in our sector. Until we see more narrative on the successful fintech companies women build and the post-startup report of earnings of those companies in series B and C that women-led, we will still have misconceptions.  Women themselves will and should also be comfortable taking the reins, making decisions, not holding themselves to impossible standards etc. Male co-founders should make space for women to do more than the “soft” areas of leadership (marketing, admin etc.) As more women get comfortable and celebrated for coding, the sciences, the product design and innovation, we will have less misconception.

Valentina Kristensen, Director, Growth & Communications, Oaknorth

I don’t think there’s a misconception about the role they play as in my experience, people tend to agree that women have a very important role to play. I think the common misconception is that not many women want those roles – e.g. because they plan on having children one day so don’t want the added pressure / responsibility that comes with a C-suite position. In my experience, this is simply not the case – I have met numerous women (and I’m one myself) who plan to have kids one day but are also extremely ambitious and want to continue climbing the corporate ladder as high as it goes.

Vica Manos, VC, Anthemis Group

Yes, I believe that there is a common misconception that fintech is gendered. Post hoc ergo propter hoc: “after this, therefore because of it”. This is how misconceptions are created. Someone notices something and concludes it is a universal truth. Fintech is not gendered. While it is (painfully) evident that females are significantly under-represented, I do not believe it is because women are better at “softer” sectors. Financial services are deeply embedded into everyone’s lives, regardless of gender. Lack of parity in the space is not driven by lack of aptitude or skill amongst women. It is, rather, the result of structural issues, such as work-life balance. Moreover, the curious fact that less women choose STEM curricula likely plays a role, despite the fact that generally girls do better than boys at school.

Rosita Najmi, Senior Program Officer, Financial Services for the Poor

Yes, but not exactly limited or unique to fintech space. Some seem to think women are best placed in COO/implementation/detail management roles as opposed to birthing the innovation or big idea, leading strategy, or being the technical expert. But when I see leading development organizations (World Bank, OECD, IMF) with women chief economists and hear their leaders, like Christine Lagarde and Kristalina Georgieva, advocate for the potential of fintech for development, I have hope that we’re turning a page.

Juliette Souliman, Fintech VC Investor, Octopus Ventures

Definitely a lack of representation and visibility.

Catherine Wines, Director & Co-Founder, WorldRemit

Earlier this year, a study commissioned by the UK Treasury found 75 percent of pitches to VC firms in the UK are made by all-male teams. But there should be greater effort expended to bring more women to the deal table because while women only attract a small percentage of VC funding, and yet they often earn a higher return on investment than their male counterparts. A recent study by the Boston Consulting Group found women raised less than half as much money as male founders, yet earned 78 cents per dollar that was invested compared to 31 cents for the men. We need to challenge these misconceptions in the media, as well as in the private sector so those female entrepreneurs are seen and celebrated. There are so many examples of great female entrepreneurs – we need to do a better job in promoting them.

Eva Wong, Co-Founder & COO, Borrowell

I don’t think people know enough about women in fintech to have misconceptions. I think a major misconception could be that fintech is completely male-dominated, but there are now lots of women doing great things in fintech.

What do you think are the biggest issues for women in the workplace?

Melike Belli, Market Development Manager, Cybertonica

Considering the discussions we as women have at meetups and conferences, I would say gender pay gap (making women less powerful and independent and worry for their future), work – life balance (trying hard to be considered as “here to stay” rather than “likely to leave” or “waste of investment”), being their voices heard and listened by their male colleagues (companies with boys’ club cultures), conscious and unconscious bias towards women from all levels.

Diana Biggs, Head of Digital Innovation, UK & Europe, HSBC

Focusing on one which women can proactively address, I think imposter syndrome is a common one, and this have numerous roll-on effects across areas which can be challenging in any context, including securing investment, voicing their views, balancing family and career, and moving up in the career ladder. This requires both individual tenacity as well as organizational change and support. Coaching and internal sponsorship from leadership (both men and women) can go a long way and truly change someone’s life.

Lauren Capelin, Head of Venture Community, Reinventure Group

We still start from a place of disadvantage in technology and startups, given the dominance of men in previous generations of the startup scene, so we are naturally underrepresented and in some cases lacking the right experience to compete on the same playing field. Getting this first or next chance to prove ourselves is critical to increasing representation across the sector, but a related challenge is that we are often more reluctant to advocate for ourselves and push for these opportunities. While women can do more to back themselves, I think there are times we need someone to pull us up to show us what we’re capable of.

Viola Llewellyn, Co-Founder & President, Ovamba Solutions

Getting respect. Other women mistakenly thinking there are not enough “slots at the top” for all of us.  Not having role models as “North Stars” to follow.

Valentina Kristensen, Director, Growth & Communications, Oaknorth

A lack of self-belief / self-confidence and an unwillingness to step up, lean in, whatever you want to call it for fear of being judged. I completely empathise why some women might be fearful of taking advantage of certain opportunities, especially if they’ve had negative experiences in the past, but if they don’t do this, things will never change. For example, I have recommended numerous women to speak at events who I know are brilliant, but so many decline because they’re too nervous, don’t feel they have enough to bring to the table, etc.  

Vica Manos, VC, Anthemis Group

The issues women face in the industry cannot be and should not be attributed to lack of skill, aptitude and ambition. Let’s make that clear. Instead, I believe women in the workplace struggle with lack of mentors, lower propensity to self-promote and take career risks and higher likelihood of competing priorities. Furthermore, unconscious bias and common misconceptions are even trickier to overcome, in my view, as they are based on perceptions rather than structural issues that can be resolved with a plan. For example, if a line manager feels that a woman will be less aggressive (and therefore less effective) in sales, they are more likely to send her to meetings with a male colleague who will take over. She is unlikely to be assigned the big accounts, and less likely to get promoted. That’s how the vicious cycle gets perpetuated, and eventually turns into common misconceptions (such as “women are not as good in sales as their male counterparts”).

Rosita Najmi, Senior Program Officer, Financial Services for the Poor

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Equal pay, parental Leave, child and elder care.

Catherine Wines, Director & Co-Founder, WorldRemit

Removing biases against women in the workplace is an ethical and commercial imperative. Businesses need talent that reflects the diversity of their customers. Technology isn’t just about disrupting an industry but also disrupting biases ingrained in our culture. It starts at home first with parents ensuring they encourage their children whatever their gender but the key next step is with education. A recent study from Microsoft found that girls don’t start off disliking STEM subjects but around the age of 15, interest begins to wade. I believe this is largely affected by a lack of female role models who pursue technical careers represented in school, media and culture. The importance of seeing diversity reflected in the sector cannot be underestimated as implicit gender bias must be challenged to encourage more young women to pursue these professions.

Eva Wong, Co-Founder & COO, Borrowell

There are systemic biases and stereotypes against women that are really concerning, especially because it’s not just men who believe them – it’s women as well. One example is that men’s voices are perceived, by both men and women, to be more authoritative and persuasive than women’s voices. Becoming aware of these biases is the first step, but it goes to show that women have more to overcome than men.

Are women underrepresented at the top of corporations?

Melike Belli, Market Development Manager, Cybertonica

Yes – we have seen multiple researches and company announcements highlighting this fact, such as the tech giant Apple having a leadership team with more than 80 percent white and male. This underrepresentation means decisions affecting women as company’s customers, stakeholders, investors, employees etc. are made mostly by men. It also contributes to higher pay gap and diversity and inclusion gap, and means having less female leaders as role models for the current and future generations.

Diana Biggs, Head of Digital Innovation, UK & Europe, HSBC

There is a fair bit of research that suggests so. If we are to ever change that, we – as individuals and as an industry – need to advocate for and prioritize building diverse organisations across all levels.  

Lauren Capelin, Head of Venture Community, Reinventure Group

Absolutely, no question. The kind of future we want to be working towards can not be achieved with such a severe lack of representation in the companies that are pushing us the fastest towards that future.

Sophie Guibaud, Managing Director Europe, Fidor Group

Multiple studies show it is indeed the fact. A range of initiatives are run to bring more women to these top levels and to the boardrooms. The companies that will win in the future are the ones that are embracing diversity not for the sake of look or regulation, but because they truly believe in the value it brings to their company, not only culturally but economically. A good parallel here would be how to train AI powered chatbot: if you only have them train by the same type of people (say white males who experience specific types of problems), how do you expect them to actually serve well and answer the needs all other categories of customers who are experiencing other types of problems? While large organizations need to show example, smallers ones, more agile and whose leadership is currently being established are the ones able to lead the way.

Viola Llewellyn, Co-Founder & President, Ovamba Solutions

YES.

Valentina Kristensen, Director, Growth & Communications, Oaknorth

Most corporations, yes.

Vica Manos, VC, Anthemis Group

Yes, this is a well-documented fact. While corporations have had more time to develop and execute their diversity plans, there is still a lot of work to be done. Generally, the issues women face in the workplace might be expressed differently depending on the sector, but their nature and genesis remains the same.

Rosita Najmi, Senior Program Officer, Financial Services for the Poor

YES. And yes. And yes. Diversity, equity, and inclusion gaps are often at all levels of an institution, and in some industries, the underrepresentation is greater as you move closer to the top, particularly for women.

Juliette Souliman, Fintech VC Investor, Octopus Ventures

Yes, massively.

Catherine Wines, Director & Co-Founder, WorldRemit

Today, while there are more success stories that are celebrated, women in leadership are still under-represented: just 14 percent of executive committee members across the UK financial service sector are female. But recruitment is only one side of the equation – retention is critically important through a focus on ongoing support once women enter the company. This means creating the right culture for women to want to develop their career in technology by ensuring women are represented in leadership and creating policies that support women at every stage of their lives. WorldRemit’s Chief Product Officer, who leads the vision of the engineering and product teams, for example, is a woman and we recently increased our maternity leave and childcare benefits to support more of our employees who are also parents.

Eva Wong, Co-Founder & COO, Borrowell

Unequivocally, yes. Fewer than 5 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are women – and that number is down 25 percent from the year before. What’s even more disappointing is that the number isn’t any better with startups. Female-led startups received only 2.2 percent of venture funding in the U.S. last year.

Have you faced any gender-related obstacles in your career?

Melike Belli, Market Development Manager, Cybertonica

I did – indeed both from senior men and women due to their competitive drive. There is a belief that men showcase and own their success well – as well as sometimes promoting the knowledge they actually don’t have, while women mostly don’t since they may be considered as arrogant or aggressive. I struggled from this at an earlier stage in my career and the lesson I learnt is to own and showcase your success, and not let others steal your work and get credit for it. This will prevent having someone else receive the recognition and rewards you deserve and contribute to a better career progression and growth in self-confidence.

Diana Biggs, Head of Digital Innovation, UK & Europe, HSBC

Yes. I would say this has been both self-imposed, as well as a result of external factors – be it individual people and even organizational norms. For example, women are more likely to not apply for a role if they don’t tick every single box, or not ask for higher pay because they don’t want to come across as pushy. For more on this topic, I would recommend the book Brave, Not Perfect by Reshma Saujani, Founder and CEO of Girls Who Code. I have also come across outright gender bias and discrimination. I think a certain bravery that comes with age and experience, as well as the increasing public awareness around these issues has helped me better address them head on.

Lauren Capelin, Head of Venture Community, Reinventure Group

Despite an incredibly supportive and flexible work environment, and executive sponsorship in spades, I have still faced the challenges that come along with taking maternity leave, then trying to resume my career, wanting to participate the same way I always had. I don’t believe my opportunities have been reduced or my capability throttled but it is so much harder. In a world where we do still need to advocate for ourselves and create our own pathways for success, the mere thought of needing to that along with everything else that comes with growing a family can be crippling, but speaking up about these challenges is the first step to a better working environment for everyone.

Sophie Guibaud, Managing Director Europe, Fidor Group

I believe all women in business have all a range of stories related to any gender-related obstacles. I do too. However, I consider myself very lucky to have reported to bosses, all males so far coincidentally, that have treated me no different from male team members and taken at heart my personal growth.

Viola Llewellyn, Co-Founder & President, Ovamba Solutions

Many. Especially in Africa where gender has not yet come under the scrutiny of policy makers and culture can make it hard for a woman to forge ahead. I have actually seen it worse for black women as a whole, especially in the United States where there are reportedly less than 35 women to have raised more than $1m for a tech company and the subset is less for fintech.

Valentina Kristensen, Director, Growth & Communications, Oaknorth

No, quite the opposite – I’ve found that being a millennial woman who’s interested in fintech has actually opened a lot of doors for me.

Vica Manos, VC, Anthemis Group

I started my career in the Financial Sponsors group in the investment banking division at a large European bank. It was right before the 2007 financial crisis and given the incredible hype of leveraged buyouts at the time, that group was the most coveted – and competitive – in our analyst class. Suffice it to say that most my colleagues were male and adrenaline ran high on a continuous basis. I was young and bold and crazy enough not to notice, or not to care, so I never let it be an obstacle. Fast forward to today, I am lucky enough to work at Anthemis where diversity is a core value. We have organically built a team that is 55% female, represented by people from 17 nationalities, not to mention diverse backgrounds and idiosyncrasies. So, I was lucky to not have faced significant gender-related hurdles in my career. Like all women, however, I continue to deal with gender-specific microaggressions in the workplace. It is usually driven by unconscious bias during meetings when people look at my male colleagues even when answering my questions, or shake their hands first despite me being the most senior person in the room. For some reason, it is still easier to be interrupted as a women. Our only weapon is to work a little harder, a little longer, and a little smarter. It would be truly wonderful to finally have an even playing field.  

Rosita Najmi, Senior Program Officer, Financial Services for the Poor

Very early in my career, I had prepared a capacity building program for a South East Asian government. After months of work, I was told at the last minute I would not be the presenter because I did not have three things: a beard, grey hair, and Y chromosome. This was among my first professional experiences with the limits of cultural and social norms.

Juliette Souliman, Fintech VC Investor, Octopus Ventures

I think building credibility and strong relationship is a tough one. That said, I am also young in the industry and my age might also be a bias. Generally speaking, building a trusting and robust relationship with the typical 50 year old white male fintech entrepreneurs is definitely something that is challenging. But I am optimist and think that the industry is shifting and there is a real willingness to make it more inclusive.

Catherine Wines, Director & Co-Founder, WorldRemit

When I first entered the world of finance and studying to be an accountant, my first boss told me that he didn’t think women make good accountants and therefore was not prepared to support my studies. Needless to say I voted with my feet and looked for another company which was more enlightened!

Eva Wong, Co-Founder & COO, Borrowell

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I’m sure I have, but at this point, I can’t remember any. I’m fortunate that I haven’t faced overt sexism, at least not that I’ve been aware of.

What is the one piece of advice you would give women wishing to work in fintech?

Melike Belli, Market Development Manager, Cybertonica

Fintech is a very exciting industry with full of opportunities to grow professionally and personally, launch innovative ideas and collaborate with the community. My advice for the women wishing to work in fintech would be to attend fintech events or conferences in your town, if not use social media platforms efficiently, to meet people from the industry, hear their experiences and learn from them to understand what the industry can offer to you and if it is attractive to you. The power of interacting and networking with the industry professionals is very strong, and most of them tend to connect you with the right people who can broaden your horizons.

Diana Biggs, Head of Digital Innovation, UK & Europe, HSBC

To absolutely go for it. And if you don’t see what you want in the space currently, build it.

Lauren Capelin, Head of Venture Community, Reinventure Group

Don’t let a perceived lack of knowledge or experience prevent you from stepping up and building or joining one of the companies of the future. Lean into what you do know, and surround yourself with both women and men who can fill those gaps. We need different perspectives and solutions to solve our current problems, and that requires different backgrounds, skill sets and values – yours!

Sophie Guibaud, Managing Director Europe, Fidor Group

Choose your boss wisely, help colleagues and mentees, be kind and humble, fight like a lion for things that are worthy, including yourselves. Dream big, go against your fears, ask for what you deserve and believe in yourselves. Accompany yourself with the best team members, treat them well, empower them, fight for them, share success with them.

Viola Llewellyn, Co-Founder & President, Ovamba Solutions

Do it. Get in. Hone your craft. Partner with other smart human beings – especially women. Do not attempt to be perfect. Develop swagger and get comfortable being uncomfortable. Develop a style and brand of leadership that has you completely immune to the emotional cringing associated with making mistakes. Promise yourself that you will have at least one uncomfortable conversation a day. Do not lean in. Step forward and take stuff. Don’t apologize. Confront bias – do not be conciliatory. And in complete opposition to everything I just said, feel free to be ‘super nice’ whenever you want to.  Basically – be authentic and of the moment.

Valentina Kristensen, Director, Growth & Communications, Oaknorth

My advice isn’t really women specific, as I think it’s relevant for anyone starting their career in the industry – take every opportunity to learn and meet new people. There are loads of free industry events that are great for doing this such as: the Monzo open office days or Fintech Insider After Dark Live. Also, make sure you subscribe to relevant podcasts as they’re a great way to get to grips with all the different parts of the industry and discover which one excites you most – some I listen to are: Fintech Insider from 11:FS, Rebank: Banking the Future, and Breaking Banks.

Vica Manos, VC, Anthemis Group

In terms of structural issues such as work-life balance and maternity leave, I would advise every woman to become an advocate for herself and, by extension, all of us. In terms of biases and misconceptions, I would advise women entering the industry to just talk to your colleagues, managers and even clients. More often than not they are not aware they’re doing something discriminatory or wrong. Sometimes overthinking it and victimising oneself has the opposite effect. We want women in finance to be empowered. In terms of the field itself, I say just go for it! It is wonderfully exciting, with so much happening to reshape financial systems in a meaningful and lasting way. There are mountains of opportunity and we need more of the female perspective in the market. It is no wonder that globally the most prominent customer segment in areas like banking, savings and micro-lending is 28-35 year-old women.

Rosita Najmi, Senior Program Officer, Financial Services for the Poor

Developing the technology is sometimes the easy part. The changes in behavior, business and financial models, policy, and regulations necessary for fintech to reach its full potential requires adroit skills in change management, human centered design, data literacy, advocacy, and problem solving, among others.

Juliette Souliman, Fintech VC Investor, Octopus Ventures

Go for it! Leverage your network, find a mentor and just go for it! It is a truly exciting industry to be in!

Catherine Wines, Director & Co-Founder, WorldRemit

Believe in yourself and go for it. It doesn’t matter if you are a woman or a man, as long as you have the right skills and ambition, you should go for it and build your support network to help you achieve your dreams.

Eva Wong, Co-Founder & COO, Borrowell

Just do it! You don’t need any special background or training to be a successful founder. For whatever reason, we think it’s totally reasonable that a male college dropout could be a successful entrepreneur. I’d argue the same is true for women. We need more women starting businesses and shaping the world we live in.

Who is your fintech role model?

Melike Belli, Market Development Manager, Cybertonica

Since I joined this industry, I have identified not just one but number of women and men as role models, including startup founders, incumbent leaders, ecosystem builders, tech professionals and diversity champions. The most important common traits they have are being humble, sincere and approachable regardless of the experience and positions they have. Their ambition to build real businesses that actually transforms the existing models and passion to share their knowledge and vision with the various stakeholders for creating a sustainable ecosystem also inspires me. Lastly, they promote diversity and inclusion not for PR or marketing purposes but because they believe in it.

Diana Biggs, Head of Digital Innovation, UK & Europe, HSBC

There are so many, it’s tricky to pin down a single one! I think we’re really lucky in London to have such an active and collaborative fintech ecosystem who have been really supportive of building a diverse and vibrant sector. Shout out here to Ghela Boskovich, who founded FemTechGlobal, Claire Calmejane, Chief Innovation Officer at SocGen, Liz Lumley and Lisa Moyle who are doing great work promoting diversity in the sector via FinTECHTalents, David Birch, Global Ambassador for Consult Hyperion, who is an active supporter of women in fintech and digital identity, and the team at Innovate Finance, amongst others.

Lauren Capelin, Head of Venture Community, Reinventure Group

Sallie Krawcheck, founder of Ellevest. She worked her way up in a completely male-dominated field, which has given her the credibility and experience to tackle a complex space, but has an inherent understanding and confidence in the need to design products and services that address a real problem for women – lack of confidence in investing, combined with a materially different earning potential (for now) and predicted lifespan. So few products are truly designed with women in mind and this can have huge, generational impact.

Sophie Guibaud, Managing Director Europe, Fidor Group

Claire Calmejane has been amazing in leading the transformation of innovation at Lloyds Bank for which it certainly took a fair amount of courage and determination. She is also a strong advocate of women in the industry. She absolutely deserves to be where she is now as Chief Digital Officer at Societe Generale and I believe they couldn’t have picked better to actually bring their innovation strategy into practice.

Viola Llewellyn, Co-Founder & President, Ovamba Solutions

I actually don’t have one.  But I do admire Elizabeth Rosiello of BitPesa more than anyone.

Valentina Kristensen, Director, Growth & Communications, Oaknorth

Just one?! It has to be Liz Lumley because she continues to open doors for so many people in the industry, isn’t afraid to say what everyone else is thinking, and despite having worked in the industry since it began, still puts so much energy and drive into everything she does.

Vica Manos, VC, Anthemis Group

I couldn’t possibly pick one. I have met, or read about, so many people who I admire because of different facets of their lives, personalities or achievements. I don’t like to deal in absolutes, so it’s difficult for me to single anyone out, but I do have certain traits that I respect, seek in others, and want to emulate. Grit: Picking one’s battles is invaluable not only in knowing when to retreat, but also in knowing when -politely, but unapologetically- not to back down. Integrity: No matter how romantic it may sound; I am a true believer in staying true to one’s values. If we each do some good in the world, the world will be a better place. Boldness: The courage to take real risk, fail fast, learn and create something valuable and new is simply commendable.

Rosita Najmi, Senior Program Officer, Financial Services for the Poor

Pia Bernadette Roman Tayag from the Central Bank of the Philippines. As the Director of Inclusive Finance Advocacy and co-head of the Financial Consumer Protection Department, Pia is a policy innovator and global visionary in the digital financial inclusion ecosystem. She is a leader among her peers in envisioning and preparing for the needs of the central bank of the future, including exploring how financial regulators can harness fintech for day-to-day financial supervision, managing AML-CFT risks, and upholding consumer protection.

Juliette Souliman, Fintech VC Investor, Octopus Ventures

I have many but to name only 3 –  I think that Anne Boden (Starling), Catherine Wines (WorldRemit) and Sherry Coutu are true rock stars!

Catherine Wines, Director & Co-Founder, WorldRemit

When I founded WorldRemit, fintech was a very new space and as one of the few women in the early stages of the industry in the UK, I wasn’t t fortunate enough to have many female role-models. However, I have always been inspired by our female customers who courageously leave their country to build better lives for their families. Mwikali, one of our Kenyan customers, is just one such example. She left Kenya in 2005 to work as a nanny in the UK, leaving behind her entire family, including her daughter, Winnie, who was only six at the time. For the past 13 years, she has sent money back home to pay for her daughter’s school fees. Now Winnie is 18 and is in about to graduate secondary school and apply to university. That’s just one example of how our customers are paying it forward, and a reminder of the important role fintech plays in people’s everyday lives.

Eva Wong, Co-Founder & COO, Borrowell

I’m especially impressed by a number of women leading Chinese fintech companies, as the scale of what they’re doing is tremendous. Two people who come to mind are Yihan Fang, CEO of  Yirendai, and Lucy Peng, one of the co-founders of the Alibaba Group and co-founder of its online finance arm, Ant Financial.



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