It’s still very much a man’s world when it comes to fintech, but that’s not to say women aren’t out there. Despite often facing greater challenges than their male counterparts, many are making waves across the industry and we continue to highlight their success stories this month.
What unites them is a desire to make financial services more accessible to everyone – regardless of background. Key to achieving this is diversity and women have the power to disrupt the traditionally male-dominated financial space.
Here we meet the women making an impact in fintech and the wider financial services sector, and find out how they did it.
Lizzie Chapman, CEO and co-founder at ZestMoney
ZestMoney is the largest digital point of sale finance provider in India, where less than 30 million people out of a population of 1.4 billion use credit cards. “What we do is provide an alternative that we think is better, fairer, cheaper, more transparent, low and, quite frankly, a nicer experience,” says Lizzie Chapman, now living in Bangalore. Her interest in the Indian financial space started while working in finance for Goldman Sachs in London. She then became an investor and eventually moved out to India as country head for Wonga.com, where they created a bespoke PayLater product. When Wonga ended, Chapman and her colleagues spun out and created ZestMoney. “Anything in fintech is really satisfying and exciting because you’re basically designing the future,” she says. Something she is particularly proud of is that while less than 5% of credit cardholders in India are women, ZestMoney’s users are a near 50-50 split – meaning women can avail themselves of products and services that they otherwise would have limited access to.
Sara Koslinska, CEO and co-founder at Limitless
Sara Koslinska became fascinated with fintech having worked in a tech start-up in Tel Aviv, before going on to set up two companies offering services to corporates. “I was excited about the possibilities of creating new products for users in fintech, because back then, there weren’t that many solutions for bank customers,” she says. In 2015, she met her co-founder and Limitless – a financial wellbeing and micro-investment app licensed to corporations, banks and insurers – was born. Although clearly passionate about her work, Kolinska – who is based across London, Poland and Singapore – has faced challenges, particularly when working with banks. Much of this is to do with mindset and their perspective that they’re the ones who know best, as well as their focus on short-term results, Koslinska explains. But she also faces a lot of sexism. “A CEO of one of the European banks told me that if I don’t succeed in finance, I could go into modelling,” she says. “It’s hard to believe someone would say something like that in a corporate setting, but it does happen.”
Lebo Mokgabudi, South Africa country manager at Catalyst Fund
Catalyst Fund is an accelerator for inclusive fintech start-ups, working in its core markets of Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, India and Mexico. Leading operations in South Africa is Lebo Mokgabudi, who had a long history of working in mobile payments for emerging markets in Africa and Asia – “from Pakistan to Nigeria” – before going on to work with fintech start-ups, including a stint in Kenya. All that experience then culminated in her current role, where she helps fintech start-ups with partnerships and fundraising. Her passion is making what she calls a “social impact”. “How do we leverage technology – and digital technology specifically – for innovation to create solutions that enable underserved communities to get access and appropriate and relevant solutions?” she explains. When it comes to supporting women in fintech, Mokgabudi says: “We’re making a conscious effort to find female founders – because they are there somewhere – and support them.” Such support includes access to capital, venture building support and developing relationships with investors. “We need more women to operate and succeed in the fintech sector, a difficult and exciting sector to operate in.”
Ylva Oertengren, COO at Simply Asset Finance
Swedish Ylva Oertengren would never describe herself as working in fintech, but as COO for SME lending start-up Simply Asset Finance her experience is similar to that of many women working in the sector. A lawyer by trade followed by years working with large financial companies across the world before settling in London, she has seen first hand how technology debt and niching could hold back the customer experience. “The thing about Simply was an opportunity to build a finance company and get it right from the beginning, when it comes to technology,” Oertengren says of its launch three years ago, when she had a newborn. But what was as liberating as building a company from scratch, she adds, was being able to start with a blank piece of paper when it comes to defining culture and inclusivity. “We want to innovate and you can only innovate if you have a diversity of ideas, and one quick way of getting there is by having a diverse workforce.”
Laura Keturke, product manager at AAZZUR
Having started as an intern, Laura Keturke worked her way up to product manager at AAZZUR – a Berlin-based fintech company which aims to be the fastest and most personalised way to build or monetise banking services. She started out at Lithuania’s DNB Bustas – a real estate company owned by DNB Bank – before joining AAZZUR start-up bootcamp in Vienna, where her husband worked as a developer. Keturke soon became an invaluable member of the team herself – most notably as a point of contact between management, the software guys and the designers. She loves the diversity of the role – particularly travelling when she gets to represent the company at industry events. “But sometimes I get a weird feeling,” she says. “As the more conferences I go to – especially in the start-up community – I’m often the only woman in the room. That’s kind of crazy.”