The necessity of diversity and inclusion within fintech has become a core element of the industry and is just as integral to the success of its leading players as any other form of innovation. In recognition of its increasing status in the recipe for success, this month, The Fintech Times will pioneer the topic through a month-long investigation into how equality is really being delivered.
The Fintech Times is dedicating the month of April to showcase the fintech industry’s brightest and boldest initiatives aimed at championing equality, diversity and inclusion for all.
To start our conversation, we’re joined by a variety of industry experts to discuss their examples of how diversity and inclusion can be successfully delivered through the power of fintech.
Inclusive lending with Pagaya
Pagaya‘s story began seven years ago when its co-founders came to understand just how vast the data well in the consumer credit space is, while also recognising just how little of it was actually being used in credit decisioning processes.
The Israeli software company rightly began to question the efficiency of this data, and how it could be better applied to source capital and facilitate lending to more qualified borrowers.
Ultimately, Pagaya’s founding is based on the pursuit of the better synthesis of data and in recognition of the impact this could achieve on not only the financially underserved, but also the entire financial ecosystem.
Speaking to Leslie Gillin, the company’s chief growth officer, she says that when viewed in its totality, the question of data synthesis becomes “really quite intriguing.”
Gillin admits that while other parts of the financial services industry have dramatically enhanced their digital offerings, approaches to underwriting and credit decision-making remained “outdated.”
This, she says, is widening “a persistent gap in people’s ability to obtain certain financial products because partners face challenges of working with siloed and limited data and tech infrastructure.”
In this, the company has recognised the flawed limitations of legacy underwriting systems and saw a massive opportunity to revolutionise risk assessment through the use of big data.
‘Reimagining traditional underwriting methods’
“At Pagaya,” continues Gillin, “we make it our goal to narrow that gap through data science and artificial intelligence, allowing more people to gain access to the financial opportunities that they deserve to improve their lives.”
“In reimagining traditional underwriting methods,” she confirms that the company has been able to deliver “more financial inclusion in this country.”
Gillin explains how Pagaya allows banks and other lenders to “think out-of-the-box” by tapping into its considerable AI and massive data network, ultimately pioneering the expansion and scope of its lending population.
“We’ve developed a unique AI-powered network, connecting our partners – financial services providers that originate assets with the assistance of our technology – to third-party asset investors, who gain access to those consumer credit assets via our network at scale,” she continues.
Gillin concludes by adding that “because of the massive network we’ve built, we are able to unlock and realise incredible cross-applicability of our AI, beyond consumer credit, to areas like real estate and beyond.”
Funds for everyone
Currently, only 1.3 per cent of the $69trillion in assets under management around the world are managed by women and people of colour funds.
However, it is companies like Illumen Capital that are actively trying to put the imbalance to rights. Speaking on how the US-based impact investor has found success in doing this is its CEO, Daryn Dodson.
Dodson explains how Illumen Captial advocates a “fund-to-funds strategy that invests in private markets including venture capital, private equity and growth funds,” with a focus on finding underestimated and overlooked fund managers.
More specifically, he identifies fund managers tackling “the world’s most challenging issues in education, health and wellness, financial inclusion, and climate and sustainability,” as its main target audience.
‘Illumen Capital exposed the systematic gap’
He points to the company’s groundbreaking research, produced in collaboration with Stanford SPARQ, which provides empirical evidence of bias that asset allocators demonstrate against high-performing black-led funds.
“In other words,” says Dodson, “Illumen Capital exposed the systematic gap in the analysis of the largest allocators in the world, who consistently overlook top-performing funds because of race or gender.”
“Subsequently, missing opportunities to create economic value for their investors,” he adds.
Upon the publication of the findings in 2021, Illumen Capital was eager to implement change, which Dodson confirms through its raising of funds alongside its educational programme for asset allocators to fully understand the biases present within their processes.
However, at the same time, he explains how “asset allocators are using the same lens to evaluate us.”
Dodson admits that “this was a challenge because we had to be careful not to spend too much time educating while also focusing time and energy on executing our thesis for those investors that wanted to be first movers in our unique differentiated strategy to reduce bias and unlock impact and economic value.”
Finance for the child-free
According to a recent study by Michigan State University, one in five adults is child-free, meaning that they don’t have children and don’t intend to start a family.
However, this is yet to be fully recognised by most financial systems, with rules and norms typically catering towards those who are not recognised by this figure.
With this in mind, Childfree Wealth forms an extraordinary addition to this conversation so far.
The US-based financial services company is dedicated to serving child-free and permanently childless people, serving a niche demographic that is both underrepresented and underserved in finance.
Speaking to Jay Zigmont, a certified financial planner and founder of Childfree Wealth, he explains that while both he and his wife are child-free, they needed to gather a better understanding of exactly what the missing financial needs of this demographic were.
To achieve this, the founders embarked on in-depth research including 299 surveys and 26 interviews to understand how being child-free impacts life and finances.
Zigmont explains how much of that research formed the foundation of the book ‘Portraits of Childfree Wealth’ and the company’s new self-directed financial planning product specifically for child-free people.
‘Being child-free changes just about everything’
This research, he explains, culminated in the creation of 15 courses and 100 videos about common questions and problems of child-free people, which are paired with either group or one-on-one support.
“What we found is that being child-free changes just about everything in your financial plan,” Zigmont confirms.
“It starts at the end, with most child-free people wanting to ‘die with zero’,” he continues. “Additionally, child-free people tend not to want to retire in the classic form and would prefer to live a life of FILE, or financial independence, live early. We are also acutely aware of the changes to our estate and long-term care plans.”
Despite the company’s evident success, Zigmont recognises how “serving the child-free market can be a challenge.”
“I have a collection of ‘mean tweets’ from people judging the fact that we are not having kids,” he reveals. “While some people are child-free by choice, many others are childless not by choice. In a post-Roe world, reproductive rights and privacy are key concerns.”
“We have had to go above and beyond to protect our clients. We are also working hard to ensure that our staff reflects the community they serve,” concludes Zigmont.
Putting money in the right places
Although the need to innovate will also remain a pride of place among those taking on the fintech industry, dreams can still be dampened when the reality of funding checks in.
Funding is becoming an increasingly pressing issue for all involved with the industry, being an especially prominent issue for founders from diverse and ethical backgrounds.
Yet it is those that actively recognise the importance of this topic that are ultimately creating the greatest change in the industry, which is why VamosVentures forms an excellent closure to this discussion.
The Los Angeles-based venture capital fund with an eye for investing in early-stage tech-enabled companies led by Latinx and diverse founders.
As its principal, Ashley Seda Aydin, puts it, the company retains a strong belief that “there are ample opportunities in the adoption and distribution of new fintech solutions for diverse communities.”
Its current focus within these communities includes trends like mobile wallet growth, improved awareness around financial education, and more individuals starting businesses and looking for financial tools to build and scale.
Aydin expresses pride in the company’s investments in diverse and impactful fintech companies, citing Suma Wealth and Ocho as key examples of its force for change.
‘Innovation can come from anywhere and anyone’
“Suma Wealth is on a mission to close the wealth gap and educate the Latinx community during all stages of their lives through toolkits and products around savings, life insurance, credit management and more,” she explains.
“Ocho is delivering credit-building auto insurance options with zero down payment for often overlooked and underserved customers,” continues Aydin.
With this, she explains how VamosVentures was founded to create more opportunities for diverse founders as “we believe innovation can come from anywhere and anyone.”
“We are at the tipping point of the golden age of entrepreneurial expression of diverse tech founders,” she continues. “Diverse teams are also more successful!”
She also points to a landmark McKinsey study as evidence of this, with the data confirming that diverse teams outperform.
“At VamosVentures, 100 per cent of our portfolio companies are diverse-led, 88 per cent of our portfolio companies are Latinx-led, 40 per cent of our portfolio companies are women-led, and 100% cent of the VamosVentures investment team is diverse,” concludes Aydin.