Women have a big part to play in the future of the fintech industry

International Women’s Day sparks debate around the lack of females holding board-level positions in the fintech sector and elsewhere

This year's International Women’s Day sparked a debate at the Innovate Finance Global Summit around the lack of females holding board-level positions, both in the financial technology (fintech) sector and outside it.

One panellist claimed the number of CEOs named John is higher than the number of female CEOs overall.

But beside the obvious arguments surrounding equality, why is it so important for females to hold these positions?

Representation in business and products

“For fintech companies the reality is that the target market is far more skewed towards women,” said Nick Hungerford, CEO of Nutmeg. “It’s impractical for men to assume we can build businesses to meet the unmet needs of women without female input.”

Hungerford, along with several panellists at the event, said the next generation of banking will only succeed if traditional banks collaborate with the fintech sector to deliver the products customers want.

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TechCrunch editor Mike Butcher pointed out that this lack of female representation in products is a global issue. At a startup conference in Cairo, he discovered women in the Middle East are a huge part of the banking process because they run the household, but women as an audience are under-represented.

“Women will be the users of these products, and oftentimes the early adopters, so fintech products need to appeal to that 51% of the population,” said Claire Cockerton, CEO of Innovate Finance.

“Women make better investment decisions generally and will learn to adopt fintech or use fintech innovations in a really productive way. It’s essential that women are involved in the design, in the packaging, in the usability of fintech products,” she said.

But currently the people running these organisations are not reflective of the customers using their services.

Board-level diversity

The number of female entrepreneurs in the financial technology sector reaches approximately 17% each year, and the number of female CIOs has been around 14% per year for the past decade.

“I think we need to strive for more diversity on our boards of directors and in the c-suite because it draws better business performance,” said Cockerton. “Diverse boards, on average, perform 15% better than companies run by monotone individuals.”

Panellist Imogen Hatcher, president of S&P Capital IQ, pointed out that a recent look at the S&P 500 index found only 26 have female CEOs, while lower managerial positions such as vice-president, of which around 10,000 available roles exist, approximately 600 are filled by women.

“We need to expand the presence of women, as well as other minorities in our industry, to ensure that we have the appropriate skills to flourish and they can go on and lead organisations in the 21st century,” said Hatcher.

How can we achieve this?

Innovate Finance already hosts a number of coding clubs and events for young women to learn technical skills, promotes the non-traditional career paths available to graduates and tries to promote diversity throughout its events.

Cockerton explained there are many ways organisations could help to create a more diverse environment, including equalising maternity and paternity leave to reduce bias based on the potential risk an employee of a certain age might pose to an organisation.

“We need to develop very strong professional development programmes in large corporations and really elevate the women who sit in the managerial or head or director level up into leadership positions and decision-making positions,” she said.

“Flexible working has a lot to do with it. I think bringing women back into the industry after they have children is really important, and we need to encourage more women to return to their careers,” added Cockerton.

During the summit, Innovate UK released a list of 100 inspirational women in fintech to promote diversity in the industry and fuel necessary changes to attitude.

The panel discussions were evenly gender weighted. Elizabeth Lumley, multimedia and special projects editor for Finextra, pointed out that people are used to seeing an all-male panel, but an all-female panel would be likely to make the news.

“This industry is harping on about disruption. Get more female voices talking,” she said.

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