Back in 2016, we wrote that the fintech industry had the opportunity to be a force for change on gender balance. We hoped that by starting with a blank slate, with the ability to channel the disruption mindset to rethink legacy approaches, fintech firms would move the needle toward gender balance. After all, why wouldn’t disruptors challenge convention not just in what they do, but also how they do it?
Fast forward to 2020 and it seems that gender balance is as thorny an issue for fintechs as it is for the big banks, if not more so. There is a confluence of factors at play – not just the lack of women in financial services, but also the scarcity of women across the tech sector, the barriers that women entrepreneurs face obtaining venture funding, wage inequality across the board, and toxic frat house behavior that has been widely reported. None of the issues is new or surprising, but the case for change has not been made strongly enough.
Diversity is good for business
Tackling gender balance is not just the right thing to do. Clearly, diversity is good for business: It improves the diversity of thought and, as a result, increases stability during volatility and times of crisis. And stability – or at least, letting ‘cooler heads prevail’ – is critical during the roller coaster start-up journey. But on top of this, as we’ve detailed in our Women in Financial Services 2020 report, there is a substantial unmet opportunity to serve the needs of women as customers – at least $700 billion in foregone revenue each year.
“There is a massive opportunity for fintechs to take learnings from the traditional financial services industry, as well as what we’re seeing in tech. There has been a lot of talk about women in fintech over the last few years. This is a complex issue and judging by the little change we’ve witnessed, more work still needs to be done to change the status quo.” – Diana Biggs, Global Head of Innovation, HSBC Private Banking
Why can’t tech, which has been deft in benefiting from disruptive industry and customer trends, be a leader in applying disruptive energy to address the gender imbalance in the workplace and the customer base?
There are a number of outstanding women leading the way in the Swiss fintech industry. But the overall representation of women remains low at the leadership level. Women represent just 6% of fintech boards – far below the Swiss banking sector, which reached 17% in 2019. Likewise, the share of women in Fintechs’ management teams is low with 10%. 82% of fintechs in our sample did not have a single woman on their board and 72% did not have a single woman on their management team.(1)
A missed revenue opportunity
Most fintechs are not seizing the opportunity to fill the gap left by the incumbent banking sector in meeting the needs of women as customers, despite this being a real revenue opportunity.
Oliver Wyman’s survey of more than 5,000 individuals in Europe found that women feel worse than men when thinking about how to manage their finances with traditional banks. But the story is no better for fintechs – they have failed to close the gap.
“The fintech industry has not capitalized on understanding the opportunity. Most build products for broad audiences, and in doing so do not overtly consider the needs of women as customers. It’s not about building products solely for women, but about considering the delivery, the messaging and fundamentally understanding underlying needs.” – Kevin Moss, Advisor and Former board member in the fintech lending and banking space
Better long-term stability
During the last financial crisis, the male-dominated business model adopted by incumbent banks proved unsustainable. By achieving better gender balance, fintechs can increase their resilience and chances of survival, emerging as leaders in the event of future economic turbulence.
Many entrepreneurs today believe the purpose of companies is no longer just about creating value for shareholders, but about an obligation to better the communities and societies in which they operate. By representing and serving women, fintechs have the opportunity to bridge the gender gap in investment, retirement, and economic status.
What can fintechs do differently?
The case for change is clear, but gender imbalance in fintech is stark. It’s well past time for the industry to pull together and seize the opportunity to change. And instead of being a laggard, fintechs can lead the way and become a beacon of accomplishment for other organizations, from startups to multibillion-dollar organizations, in financial services and beyond. For those willing to do so, there are three clear actions to take:
1. Make internal diversity a priority – no matter your size
It has taken more than a decade of hard work and attention for incumbent financial institutions to start to embed inclusion and diversity in recruitment policies. Fintechs can learn from this playbook to jump-start the change – from proactively seeking at least two women candidates on recruitment lists, scrutinizing the impact of interview processes, creating flexible family policies, and setting explicit targets and measuring against them. In small and rapidly growing companies, it is essential that this is established as a priority – not left to best efforts or, worse still, only considered retrospectively.
“The lack of female founders in Switzerland is due to the insufficient daycare structure for kids, low levels of partially working men and lack of parental leave” – Yvonne Feri, SP National Council and “Start-up-Frauen”(2)
2. Shift the culture
As new firms are built and grow, so do new cultures. From the outset, there is an opportunity to create an inclusive culture that is open and respectful, and that values diversity. This needs to come from the leadership, with a clear tone from the top and expectations set around accepted behaviors. For the more established fintechs, this means taking the time to really understand the culture and subcultures in the organization by talking to colleagues, new hires, and missed hires. It is this insight that can be used to identify the problems and their root causes and start to shift the organization.
“Often digitalization is only viewed from the technology perspective, but it takes more than IT and codes, it really is about a cultural shift.” – Christina Kehl, member of the advisory committee on the digital transformation of the Swiss Bundesrat (3)
3. Innovate with a ‘Customer First’ mindset
Look at gender-disaggregated data and talk to customers to understand the unmet needs of women. Doing so will uncover a real commercial opportunity. This insight can be used to fuel innovation and customer-led design to create a proposition that not only disrupts the incumbent market but delivers better for all of your customers.
“Gender equality is not only a fundamental human right but also a great investment opportunity for men and women. We believe in the potential of women and want to provide our clients with the opportunity to successfully participate in this potential with a balanced gender mix.” – Dr. Tillmann Lang, CEO of Yova (4)
Rick Chavez, New York
Rick is a partner at Oliver Wyman. He is an innovator with two decades’ experience at the forefront of the digital revolution. His experience spans a wide range of organizations – from pure start-up ventures through to $80 BN global corporations – as a senior executive, advisor and board member.
Jessica Clempner, London
Jessica is a principal at Oliver Wyman with over 10 years’ experience in Financial Services. She works with Retail and Business banking businesses, advising senior clients on commercial strategy, customer proposition, and pricing. Jess is the lead author for Oliver Wyman’s report: Women in Financial Services 2020.
Kolja Dutkowski, Zurich
Kolja is a principal at Oliver Wyman with over 10 years’ experience in Financial Services. He works with financial institutions across Switzerland and Europe, advising senior clients on digital strategy, technology transformation and efficiency topics.
(1) Based on 132 Fintechs headquartered in Switzerland
(2) Mentioned on www.watson.ch, August 2018
(3) Mentioned in “Punkt – Das Wirtschaftsmagazin”, November 2017
(4) Mentioned on www.startupticker.ch, November 2019