For all the outstanding women leading the way in the fintech industry, overall female representation remains staggeringly low, at both a leadership and workforce level.
Despite representing 47% of the overall UK workforce, women make up just 14% of fintech boards, and 29% of wider fintech roles – a stark reminder of the gender imbalance that continues to blight the industry.
In this article, Terrie Smith, CEO and co-founder of award-winning wearable payments platform, DIGISEQ, examines the clear case for change and the numerous challenges women face across the board.
When I was 17, I worked at an insurance firm and experienced gender inequality first-hand. Being a tenacious young lady, or perhaps just a glutton for punishment, I hardened to this, left the company, and moved into the even more male-dominated environment of information technology.
Today, I’m a payment technology expert with over 20 years’ experience and a proven track record in product development and management. I managed the development of Mastercard’s MOTAPS solution, a pioneering Trusted Service Manager (TSM) solution, and was instrumental in shaping the Mastercard Digital Enable System (MDES), used to support Apple Pay. I’m proud to have been included in fundamental patents relating to provisioning and tokenisation, the technologies which are fuelling the explosive growth of contactless and mobile payments worldwide.
Despite these achievements and those accomplished by a growing number of women in leadership roles, I recognise that there is much work still to be done to level the playing field for women in fintech.
Over the years, I – alongside many others – have worked tirelessly to raise awareness of issues surrounding gender inequality. Sadly, however, despite such efforts, the fintech industry has witnessed little change.
There is a substantial gender disparity in both personal and business finance. Women are underrepresented in nearly all aspects of financial life, including account ownership, financial employment, and use of financial technology.
The Bank for International Settlements (BIS) recently published a working paper analysing gender disparities in the adoption of fintech solutions.
The research concluded that only 21% of women currently use fintech as compared to 29% of men, consistent with studies that show that the vast majority of fintech clients are male.
The clear case for change
Of course, championing women in fintech is more than just ticking a box for equality. Female representation is proven to not only help drive innovation but benefit the economy and wider society as a whole.
Evidence points to the fact that more creative and innovative environments are spawned when efforts are made to promote diversity and inclusion, and businesses with women in senior roles are more likely to outperform those without – both in terms of innovative solutions and in the bottom line.
Employing more female fintech leaders achieves more than just closing the gender gap. Women bring different social skills and fresh perspectives to the table, both of which can have a dramatic effect on increasing company ROI.
In fact, a McKinsey study found that companies with the greatest number of women in top management had a 41% higher return on equity than the average.
Breaking down barriers
A lack of self-belief, balancing childcare and family demands with work, and limited access to both funding and professional networks, are just some of the many significant hurdles to increasing female entrepreneurship.
To successfully combat these barriers to entry, a multifaceted approach is needed – starting with an emphasis on education.
Based on PWC research with over 2,000 A-Level and university students in the UK, the gender gap in STEM and tech starts at school and carries on through every stage of girls’ and women’s lives. Over a quarter of female students say they’ve been put off a career in technology as it’s too male-dominated, and 78% of students can’t name a famous female working in technology. This has to change.
If more women and girls are to explore fintech as a sector, continued encouragement and resources will be required to support female participation in the STEM fields.
Workplace training and development programmes, and fintech boot camps for school-age girls, are further examples of how educational resources can be implemented.
As well as exploring the barriers to entry, adopting programmes to educate men on the issue of gender bias within the industry, and their role in encouraging female representation in fintech will too be of utmost importance.
Encouraging more men to play an active role in supporting women in any sector is a key component when it comes to championing women in the workplace.
In a landscape that can be critical of female voices, evidence supports the perception that women are more harshly judged than their male counterparts. The presence and vocal, visible backing of male allies can help women feel truly supported, included, and heard.
The Alison Rose Review, a Treasury-commissioned independent review of female entrepreneurship, is an example of how lobbying can be used effectively to increase awareness, education, and initiatives.
The review, which shed renewed light on the barriers faced by women starting and growing businesses, helped identify means of unlocking this untapped talent.
In response, the government announced ambitions to increase the number of female entrepreneurs by half by 2030 – equivalent to nearly 600,000 additional female entrepreneurs.
The creation of a new code, “Investing in Women”, commits financial institutions to track the gender split of their funding, and sponsors an industry-led task force to drive change in the sector.
Lobbying of this nature can make a huge difference when it comes to tackling gender disparity and can play a key role in amplifying female voices within the fintech industry.
Through webinars, workshops, networking and public forums, women currently in fintech must do more to share their success stories, with the aim of creating supportive, professional networks that women in the sector so distinctively lack.
Only by doing so can we begin to conquer the subconscious bias that fintech is an industry “by men, for men”, deliver change, and truly reshape the landscape of the sector.
Since its inception, the fintech industry has been male-dominated, and subsequently, has failed to fully grasp the unmet needs of women. 73% of women are unhappy with their financial services.
Despite making or influencing 80% of household purchasing decisions globally, the way in which the financial world is structured means women are still not considered a target market when it comes to financial services.
Leading the charge
Female fintech leaders will have experienced these problems first-hand, and as such, bring a unique perspective to the fintech space when it comes to developing the right products for women.
For example, in the field of wearable technology, many manufacturers have made the mistake of simply launching unisex items, yet consumers – particularly women – are starting to demand more convenience, ease and variety of design in their products.
This one-size-fits-all approach to wearable tech has held back its adoption by women – women shouldn’t have to compromise on style just because they choose to pay with an object as a service. That’s why contactless passive wearables, meaning an item provisioned with a chip containing the user’s payment details, are proving so appealing to women, because they lend themselves to virtually any object that can be inserted with a chip.
The winning factor of passive wearable tech is its consumer-centric nature, empowering consumers to select their very own payment vessel – a watch, a wristband, a ring, a shirt – directly from any brand or retailer, and embedded with the design of the brand.
Helping to deepen the connection to their customer, DIGISEQ’s trailblazing Mobile Provisioning (Rcos™) technology gives brands the ability to personalise their wearable tech items in line with their customer’s needs – and give them control over which payment/ID functions are activated for maximum consumer convenience.
With innovations like these, I believe the wearable will eventually become a part-and-parcel, indispensable asset of consumer apparel; combining function, fashion, and convenience to make everyday transactions much more seamless. And with the input of women engaged in fintech, the range of items, services and usability can be extended even further, helping wearable tech to become mainstream in women’s everyday lives. But this change needs to be driven from the top down.
From start-ups to multibillion-dollar organisations, in financial services and beyond, it is now time to pull together, challenge the status quo, and seize the opportunity for change.
While the fintech industry has no financial interest in excluding women, the fact remains that they have failed to take sufficient steps to make women more comfortable with their propositions.
To do so, the industry must learn to understand the reasons that women are more reluctant to use their products and services and modify their offerings accordingly to address those concerns.
Achieve this, and I firmly believe that fintech can lead from the front of the diversity charge, becoming a revolutionary beacon for others to follow.