As The Fintech Times looks to showcase the amazing things women are doing in fintech, one has to take a step back to appreciate the determination of these women to achieve what they have. They have been able to prove to others that a board of middle-aged white men is not necessary in order to have a successful business, and that in fact, opening up executive positions to minority groups can only lead to more innovative ideas.
Christer Holloman is an experienced public speaker in the UK and European fintech scene. An openly gay man, Holloman is a significant vocal activist for diversity and inclusion. In 2020 he founded ‘Fintech Finishers’ which was set-up to raise awareness, inspire action and introduce accountability for more diversity, inclusion, and equality in the fintech industry.
He is the founder and previous CEO of Divido, a BNPL white label platform enabling retailers and partners to deliver and scale their retail finance programme.
Speaking to The Fintech Times, Holloman looked to the future explaining how the fintech industry can lead the way when it comes to diversity, despite both female and minority group representation being relatively low:
There are many who are keen to point out the lack of diversity and inclusion across great swathes of the UK. This is perhaps most keenly felt at work, where there remains a worrying lack of representation at the upper echelons of business for those of LGBT and ethnic minority backgrounds. Though it is an improving picture, even the lack of women on the board of many companies highlights just how far we have to go.
I truly believe, however, that the fintech sector can lead the way and act as a beacon for other industries.
As a fintech founder, entrepreneur and openly gay man, I thought I would be the one to set the diversity agenda. But as I looked at the board that I had assembled at Divido, the last company I founded, I couldn’t help but realise that it was a room full of middle-aged, white men. Perhaps I wasn’t as good at inclusion as I thought I was. Worse, it wasn’t representative of the wonderful, diverse workforce we had. That clearly had to change.
Learning lessons from fintechs
During my career, I have had the pleasure of meeting more than a hundred banks: big and small, new and old, from east to west. One thing that has always fascinated me is how banks innovate – and I wanted to learn directly from those responsible for enacting change at some of the largest, most cumbersome institutions out there.
It has been a fascinating journey, but one thing it showed me is just how the fintech industry can lead the way in terms of diversity. New companies have the ability to bake in diversity initiatives from the very start. It can feel inauthentic and even ‘box ticking’ to tack on an inclusion agenda after decades operating in a way that could be anything but. Fintechs however, launched with an open attitude, will be diverse and inclusive from the very outset.
This breeds authenticity and will therefore impact both current and future staff.
And banks, the biggest institutions in the world, are taking notice. Every day these huge institutions are engaging and interacting with fintechs that are built to be diverse by design. They are getting exposed to new ideas, new ways of thinking and new attitudes, which are then taken away and adopted by these much larger organisations. It is something I have witnessed myself.
This is a powerful thing. We all know that the UK is a hotbed of innovation, having a huge impact on many different sectors, but it is a cultural shift that they are also playing a huge role in accelerating. It is a wonderful thing. Fintechs may be volatile and fast moving, but they permeate so many areas of business and society that they can’t help but be noticed.
The importance of awareness
What this means, of course, is that awareness of diversity and inclusion within fintech firms is the key to success. I founded the Fintech Finishers initiative, challenging the leaders of such firms to complete endurance races together, raising awareness and money for more workplace diversity in fintech. I believe initiatives such as these are crucial if businesses and their leaders are to stand up and be counted when it comes to diversity. It isn’t just about empty promises, but action.
It should be said that diversity isn’t just about sexual orientation or race, but also aspects like supporting religious and lifestyle choices. For example, alcohol is a pretty common present to celebrate a milestone or success, but there are many out there who don’t drink. As we enter ‘Sober October’ businesses would do well to look at alcohol-free spirits, beers and wines, rather than the stock water or juices, to ensure everyone feels included.
To achieve this requires founders to look at themselves, admit their mistakes and make lasting changes. I understand and own the errors I made when founding my last company and will be adopting an entirely new approach in my next venture.
But one thing is for sure – I truly believe in the power of the fintech community to change not only their organisation, but those around them.