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These Women Broke Down Barriers in Fintech – And They’re Not Done

March 8, 2021

International Woman Day

Estimated Reading Time: 7 minutes

It’s a double whammy for women in tech–the industry doesn’t just have the problem of recruiting females, it also struggles with retaining them. One study reveals that women in technology leave the industry because they feel isolated and stalled, contrary to the popular belief that they exit primarily due to family concerns.

Therefore, mentorship and recognition of female role models could be part of the solution to greater gender equality. From Citigroup’s Jane Fraser being appointed the first CEO of a major Wall Street Bank, to Bumble CEO Whitney Wolfe Herd becoming one of the youngest women to take their company public, women are soaring above the proverbial glass ceiling. And in a world where Vice-President Kamala Harris has been sworn in as the first female, black and South-Asian person to hold her office, 2021 is set to become the year that proves female ambition is finally limitless.

“When women master technology they tend to rise to the top very quickly because they have greater empathy.” – Anne Boden, Founder of Starling Bank

In celebration of International Women’s Day, here’s a collection of different portraits of success in tech and finance:

Cristina Junqueira: The disruptor

When Nubank, a Sao Paulo-based challenger bank, received over USD $10 billion in valuation in 2018, it became the first company in its industry with a female at its helm to hit that milestone. In just five years, Cristina Junqueira, along with co-founders David Vélez and Edward Wible had reinvented Brazil’s banking system by allowing customers to apply for credit cards, personal loans, and savings accounts through a smartphone, instead of visiting their local bank or submitting physical documents. It undercut Brazil’s sky-high interest rates and banking costs, waving the flag for financial inclusion. Now, with a customer base of about 30 million in Brazil and Mexico, Nubank is one of the largest independent digital banks in the world. Last year, Junqueira became the first Brazilian to be selected by Fortune magazine as one of the top 40 under 40 global leaders that are transforming the world of business.

Nubank has been proactive about diversity and inclusion, launching programs like ‘Yes, She Codes!’ which is a recruitment process focused on female software developers. “One of our core values is that we build strong diverse teams. We have 40% of women at Nubank which is amazing. If you think about financial services and technology, it’s unheard of,” Junqueira tells Fortune, adding, “30% of our staff identifies as LGBT, which is also unheard of.” In a 2,000 employees strong company, women make up about 43% of the workforce.

Natasha Bansgopaul: The unicorn

“I represent a minority within a growing minority,” writes Natasha Bansgopaul, co-founder of DarcMatter, a firm focused on alternative investments. When she launched the global platform ten years ago, Bansgopaul knew that convincing customers to replace their existing systems wasn’t going to be easy. The bigger challenge was delivering her message as a “Fintech Black Unicorn.” She tells Thrive Global “Since a very young age, I knew that my career growth would depend on how successful I was in navigating obstacles as a person belonging to a double-minority. I thought that sharing my own personal story about becoming a leader could clarify the disparity women face when aspiring to reach leadership positions.”

Almost a decade into the industry, Bansgopaul and co-founder Sang Lee are making major strides in fintech. The young leader believes women are now taking charge of bringing changes to disparities against them. And she’s right. Women of color account for about 89% of new businesses that were opened in 2019 in the US.

“As a company with a black female founder with an MBA, a Korean-American co-founder, and a Ukrainian chief technology officer, our management team comes from culturally diverse upbringings,” she said upon receiving the 2018 Stevie Award in the ‘Female Entrepreneur of the Year’ category. Speaking about mentoring and supporting other females as they grow professionally, Bansgopaul says: “Be the person you needed when you were starting out.”

Anne Boden: The pioneer

Anne Boden hatched her plan to create a challenger bank whilst on a cruise around South Africa. Unhappy with Britain’s traditional banking system, a 54-year-old Boden decided to take matters into her own hands and set up a bank that ran the way she wanted it to. She quit her job and used her savings to launch Possible Financial Services in 2014 which eventually rebranded to Starling Bank. She is the only woman in Britain to have ever founded a bank.

It hasn’t been an easy ride for this fintech mogul. Boden was underestimated by investors in Silicon Valley. “It felt as though a lot of investors were only interested in backing white men in gilets which fit the startup stereotype,” she tells BBC. When she did land investment, it was far more than her initial ask for USD $4 million. As the founder of one of the most successful UK-based digital banks, Boden is setting a precedent of putting women in a position of power rather than just having them as “passengers.” Her company keeps a ratio of 50:50 gender diversity, with women representing 40% of the executive board. “When women master technology they tend to rise to the top very quickly because they have greater empathy,” she says.

Marcela Mandeville: The entrepreneur

 

“Growing up with a father from Salt River First Nation and a mother from Mexico City in a small francophone community, I learned to adapt quickly and live in a mixture of cultures and ideas where I believed anything was possible,” says Marcela Mandeville, CEO of Alberta Women Entrepreneurs (AWE). In her role, she leads the AWE team to achieve the organization’s goal of building stronger communities and economies through women’s participation in entrepreneurship. In its 25-year history, the organization has offered support to thousands of entrepreneurs through programs and services focused on connection, capacity-building, and capital. More than CAD $28.5 million in loans has been extended since AWE first opened its doors in 1995

She speaks from personal experience when she says that some women entrepreneurs don’t achieve the business success to which they aspire because they can’t connect to the capital they need. “In terms of access to resources for women, we need systemic change. At AWE, we help entrepreneurs navigate existing resources while working to create a new system,” she says. This has become even more important during a time like COVID-19 when companies are struggling to be sustainable. To help such businesses, AWE launched the Regional Relief and Recovery Fund (RRRF) that offers up to CAD $60,000 in loans to female businesses.

In their next phase, AWE is building programs emphasizing the value of digital transformation.
“Changes are taking place at a really rapid pace. AWE is here to help women entrepreneurs
make the most of opportunities to build and grow their businesses,” Mandeville says.

Catherine Dahl: The innovator

Catherine Dahl co-founded Beanworks, an accounts payable (AP) automation company that brings accountants to the forefront of using technology to drive financial business decisions. “Innovation is a necessary part of any industry, but some sectors are slower than others when it comes to embracing technological change. In recent decades, accounting has become one of the worst laggards,” she says. To solve the problem, Dahl launched Beanworks in 2012 and moved AP into the cloud. Less than a decade later, our CEO, recognized as Canada’s regional champion, is being summoned to present her disruptive technology in Silicon Valley and compete with 60+ nations on the 2021 Startup World Cup stage.

As a female co-founder, Dahl well understands the roadblocks in the industry.  It’s why she’s made a conscious effort to support female career development in the fintech sector. “Our team is nearly 50/50 men and women, with the lion’s share of our operations team being female,” Dahl says. “I want to see the makeup of the tech industry change: to gender parity, like most other industries I have worked in, with highly qualified and inspirational women and men working for a better future. I believe the only way to see this happen is by taking action.” Her advice? “Never, never, never, never give up.” That’s it. Why is it relevant? Because it’s the only reason why we’re still here: I refused to give up.”

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