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Women in fintech welcome Barclays initiative and demand more from the sector

Women in UK financial technology have welcomed bank’s new female-focused lab and funding initiative and call for more like it from the sector

Barclays Bank and US funding platform Anthemis are bringing a US initiative that invests in women in financial technology (fintech) to the UK and Europe.

The Female Innovators Lab, which was set up in the US in 2019, funds female-led fintechs from an early stage. In the UK, there will be a $30m fund and fintechs will receive support from the lab team and access to office space in London.

Women fintech entrepreneurs have struggled to get funding compared to men. According to figures from Pitchbook, in Europe, companies founded solely by women in 2020 received just 2.1% of the total capital invested in venture-backed startups.

Katie Palencsar, a venture capital investor at Anthemis, said that since the innovation lab was set up in the US, it has supported a number of female founders. “This plainly disproves the existence of a pipeline problem as the reason behind female founders’ negligible share of venture funding, and instead points to the vast untapped entrepreneurial potential that needs to be nurtured, networked and funded,” she said.

Three of the first companies to launch out of the lab are Swaypay, a social commerce startup, Nivelo, which is enabling faster payments with a new application programming interface (API) security layer, and First Boulevard, a digitally native challenger bank focused on supporting black America.

Women in the UK fintech sector have welcomed the announcement, but stress the need for many more initiatives to support female-run fintechs.

Dora Ziambra, COO at cross-border payments fintech Azimo, said the Barclays and Anthemis initiative to support women-led firms could help fix the imbalance that sees women founders receive only a fraction of venture capital funding. “We are nowhere near the critical mass needed in terms of gender equality in venture-backed businesses, but this is a step in the right direction,” she said.

Maria Scott, founder of fintech Tania, agreed that there is a lot of work to do to level things up, but said it is encouraging to see that awareness of the issue is increasing. “The key thing now is not to lose the momentum and to make sure it translates into real impact for female founders,” she added. “We need to keep working on this and keep attacking it on several fronts – role models, support structures of this type, continue to promote awareness and create new opportunities.”

Read more about women in fintech

The initiative by Barclays and Anthemis could not have come at a better time, according to Saima Naik, deputy general counsel at ethical investment fintech Wahed. She said Covid-19 not only shattered the world’s economies, but also created a disparity amongst demographic groups. “The shift in balancing ability and equality has now become a burgeoning need, and that shift can only be addressed by strategically recognising the potential of the diverse groups,” she said.

Jane Loginova, CEO of Radar Payments, said it is good to see big names such as Barclays and Anthemis championing women, but added that it is essential to have a leadership team driving the agenda of the organisation towards diversity. “We have seen traditional institutions that embrace diversity and inclusion and walk the talk,” she said. “And we see startup fintech firms that do not. So it’s really about the mindset of leaders and their capability to lead the organisation on the journey to acceptance and inclusion.”

Access to funding and support might be all women need to establish successful fintechs, said Lottie Wells, head of the women in crypto initiative at Wirex. “Sometimes, all these women need is a big break to get them started, and the opportunity at an early stage.”

Wells added that Barclays and Anthemis could help change perception towards women, “giving them exposure to showcase some of the incredible entrepreneurial ventures they have created”.

Welcoming the initiative, Georgia Hanias, founder of fintech advisory company Ecology Media, said mentorship programmes and returnships are vital, especially for women over 40 who have been out of the workforce for years because of family commitments and are trying to find a way to get their foot in the door.

“This older demographic is an untapped resource that will pay dividends for any tech company that is open enough to set aside its age bias and to look at what older women can bring to the table,” she said.

Sylvia Carrasco, CEO at gold trading fintech platform Goldex. said women still have more barriers than men when they set up their own companies,  and not just in the fintech space. "I always say that it is too late for us to try and attract women into finance when they leave school or universities. The top of the pyramid at that point is too thin so we must make the bottom larger.  How? Equality of opportunities must start being imprinted in childhood, at schools and by families.  It’s only then that more girls will choose financial studies which will then transpire into them joining financial corporations and fintechs as a professional career.  However, we also have to support the ones who have decided to follow that route later on in their journeys."

She added that initiatives like the Barclays/Anthemis Lab being launched "will have a significant snowball effect and they are a testament that large corporations are there to support this much needed change”.

Learn more about the Female Innovators Lab or apply.

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