Kiwibank FinTech Accelerator 2017 kristen lunman


In homage to International Women’s Day last week we take a look at the ladies making fintech fabulous.

By Kristen Lunman

It’s no secret that there’s a shortage of women in tech, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the FinTech sector has the same problem. Only 7% of the world’s fintech companies employ female executives, which is very similar to how traditional finance organisations are run.

The Kiwibank FinTech Accelerator is proud to have 3 teams with women involved: Sharesies, Wicket, and Accounting Pod. This might not seem like a lot compared to the many men on our teams, but we feel we’re pushing for more diversity in New Zealand fintech. Let’s take a look at the barriers faced and the solutions needed to get more women in fintech.

Where my ladies at?

Women have an amazing array of talents that enable them to lead, think and work in alternative ways that inspire innovation and change. We’re naturally empathetic, strategic, and collaborative. If this is true, why are the numbers of women in fintech so low globally? The problem may be that CEOs have never realised that this lack of diversity is a problem at all. Tech, in general, is very male-dominated and fintech founders often come from male-dominated backgrounds. Unfortunately, there’s a misconception that exists about women in fintech. Women are seen as unsuited to the demands of entrepreneurship because they are perceived as slow and steady when it comes to providing financial returns. In 2014, Harvard, MIT and Wharton universities did a study on the disparities of pitching success between men and women. The study found that men are 60% more likely to succeed than women when pitching to investors, who are also predominantly men.

Diversity is key to success

Study after study has shown that companies benefit from having larger numbers of women in decision-making roles. The greater gender diversity in management results in an improved corporate financial performance leading to higher stock market valuations.

But I won’t base everything I have to say on this issue on research. I do believe that the entire FinTech sector loses out when we deny women access due to outdated stereotypes and assumptions. We’ll miss out on greater innovations, and our investors will miss out on returns.

So, if we know that diverse teams tend to get better results, how do we drive more women to the sector? One way would be to understand that diversifying teams is not just a human resource issue. Diversity and inclusion are market opportunities, but too many companies have a long way to go toward representation. And yet it seems like such an obvious solution: for a modern company to succeed and thrive, it needs to understand its customers. If you don’t have women on your team, you’re simply not representing half of the market.

Controversial quotas and targets might indeed be an early catalyst for achieving true meritocracy. Longer term solutions should also look to pipeline development from the bottom up and ensuring that processes and cultural decisions are designed to be inclusive from the beginning.

To be frank: cutting women out of the fintech equation is just bad business. And entirely fixable. All you need to do is hire women. When it comes to retaining women employees, it’s a company’s responsibility to create a culture that’s friendly to all team members, and this is often expressed in more ways than just generous maternity leave policies or flexible working hours.

We can do better than this. We should do better.

Five leading women in fintech

Despite the gender gap in fintech, there are some incredible women doing some great work in the industry. Here are my top five from around the world as proof, that even despite the barriers women face in the FinTech industry, many of us continue to rise to the challenge to much success!

1.Lucy Peng, Ant Financial (AliPay)

A former economics teacher who shuns the spotlight, Lucy Peng has two very important roles with China’s e-commerce giant Alibaba. She is a Chief People Officer overseeing the 35,000 people working for the company. She is also CEO of Ant Financial, an outgrowth of Alipay that she has since expanded into a full-scale financial services firm.

Number 35 in Forbes’ 100 World’s Most Powerful Women and just 44 years old, Peng’s company Ant Financial is valued at $45 billion dollars. Not too shabby.

2. Melinda Gates, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

Yup, she’s married to Bill, but Melinda Gates is a big deal in philanthropy and global development, dropping a whopping $3.9 billion in charity in 2014 and more than $33 billion in grant payments through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation she founded with her husband in 2002. Her passion is in championing investments into financial inclusion such as supporting mobile wallets like M-Pesa and B-Cash across Africa and Asia. She’s also a huge supporter of women and girls around the world. Pure class.

3. Anna Polishchuk, AllSet

Anna is the COO of San-Francisco based venture AllSet, a very clever company dedicated to getting busy business people to have lunch in local restaurants without the wait.  Allset allows people to book, order, and pay for their meals before they arrive, allowing them to take a real lunch break, enjoy the full restaurant experience, and always be on time to get back to work. Allset is available at restaurants in San Francisco, New York City, Chicago, and Boston. I’d love to see it hit Wellington! Or perhaps a Kiwi fintech firm can come up with an even better solution?! Hint, hint.

4. Alexa von Tobel, LearnVest

Alexa von Tobel, a business school dropout, sold LearnVest to Northwestern Mutual for more than $250 million. She launched the New York-based company in 2009, and originally targeted women: she wanted to help them better understand and manage their finances. We’re all excited to see what she gets up to next. Her book Financially Fearless is a must-read

5. Jessica Mah, inDinero

At 12, Mah started her first tech business. By 19, she founded inDinero and at 21 she crashed it, in a good way and made the cover of Inc.’s 5000 issue for outstanding revenue growth (FYI: more than 2,500 per cent). InDinero hired more than 100 employees in 2015 and is planning to double its staff this year. As CEO, she empowers other startups and small businesses with outsourced accounting and tax services. And she’s only 27. Damn, girl.

And this is just a taste of what women can do in fintech. I’m so excited to see what the women in our cohort do with this opportunity.

Kristen Lunman is the Programme Director of Kiwibank FinTech Accelerator. Follow her on Twitter. To find out more about the KFA programme, get in touch.

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