This October at The Fintech Times we are championing the fantastic females in the fintech industry. Around 30% of the fintech workforce are women, and we want to spotlight those who have not only made it to the top, but those who have overcome hurdles, bulldozing a path for the women to follow.
Here we hear from Natasha Dhar, Lisa Fischer, Kate Hao, Ilana Schonwetter and Francesca Hodgeson and Kristy Kim as they share their advice on managing financial goals and personal expectations.
Natasha Dhar, Director of Portfolio, Vanquis
“I was brought up in a traditional Indian family, where the men were entrepreneurs running their own businesses and the women took the role of homemakers. We faced a lot of financial ups and downs, with the women completely dependent on men for running the household.
“I am one of six siblings. My two eldest sisters followed our family traditions while I was young, but I knew I wanted to pursue a different direction and become financially independent. The odds were against me, but I did just that. I’m proud to be the first female in my family to step out of home and work in the corporate world. It inspired the younger females in my family to pursue their own dreams, and our family became very supportive. Most of them are now enjoying flourishing careers AND a happy family life!
“Because of my background, I’m cognizant of the financial inequality that lingers between men and women today. Although there’s been huge improvements, centuries of gender stereotyping still impact financial confidence and independence in women.
“When I married my husband, we both had outstanding debts. In the first few years we maintained a tight budget to pay off our loans and save for a house deposit. We had fun, but never lost sight of the purse strings. Our restraint paid off and now we have our own house and can afford to treat ourselves. I encourage every person, no matter gender, ethnicity, age or profession, to ensure they understand money and have the tools to be financially fit. You don’t need to earn lots to save – start by saving a penny from every pound you spend and seek advice from your bank, an independent advisor or even friends and family.
“My background has absolutely helped shape my career in financial services and at Vanquis. I’m a true advocate for our customers, who are excluded by mainstream lenders and have their own financial goals. My position as Portfolio Director means I have a responsibility to ensure our product offering is inclusive, suitable, and tailored for our customers.
“Financial services is still very male-dominated, with an underrepresentation of females and minority groups in leadership roles. I’m passionate about balancing this divide by supporting young talent and driving our D&I agenda in the workplace. I am fortunate to mentor females, spending time with them regularly to give advice and help build their confidence to become future leaders. I hope my learnings and experiences help them in their journeys, and they pay it forward to help other women.”
Lisa Ann Fischer Chief Growth and Lending Officer at Mission Lane
“When it comes to managing financial goals and overcoming educational barriers, my number one piece of advice is to ask as many questions as possible until you understand. Often times, women in particular will shy away from asking questions out of fear of appearing uninformed, but the consequences of not understanding your financial situation and options available are far greater. Several years ago, I went through a divorce, during which I found out that my husband hadn’t been upfront with me about the debt we were in, leaving me in a tough spot. Although you can’t always account for the actions of others, doing your best to increase your education and awareness of your finances is key to being independent, solving financial problems and taking control of your life.
“Another practice that I think is vital: writing everything down. There is a power in writing things down and holding yourself accountable for how you spend and save your money on a regular basis. I personally track this on a monthly basis, which is something I started when I was building myself out of debt following my divorce, and I’ve found it helpful to this day, even after my financial situation has improved. Tracking your finances on a regular basis to stay organised is essential to your financial wellbeing regardless of where you’re at in life. It is not limited to paying off debt or responding to a crisis.
“When deciding what tools to use to help you budget and keep track of things, the most important thing is to use a tool that works best for you and your individual situation. There are a number of tools available, but for me, I found that maintaining an Excel spreadsheet was easiest and allowed me to track what I would need to spend on my monthly bills and better understand my cash flow. This also enabled me to visualise areas for wants versus needs and identify where I was unconsciously spending. I began to set targets for myself to determine how much debt I wanted to pay off and by when, and I eventually began to surpass the milestones I had set for myself.
“When creating your financial plan, it may seem that savings is paramount – and it is! But many, especially those who are risk-averse, often tend to stick to savings accounts where their money isn’t doing any work for them. While savings accounts are excellent vehicles, be sure to take advantage of your 401K and other investment opportunities that can help money grow over time. While it may appear daunting to explore areas outside of your comfort zone, researching and connecting with an advisor to discuss other options for your finances can yield significant rewards.”
Kate Hao, Founder and CEO of Happy Mango
“Passion drives success: It’s never about the money. No founder of a successful venture ever started with accomplishing financial goals as the main objective. Entrepreneurs start with an idea to solve a problem. I had to take a financial loss when I left the financial services industry to start the company. Personally, the trade-off between financial reward and creative freedom was worth it. In the end, delivering value is always rewarded.
“Follow your curiosity: It’s about non-stop learning and pivoting. I worked in corporate finance at a global investment bank prior to starting Happy Mango. I thought I knew everything there is to know about finance. As I then learned after pitching to my first client that corporate finance and consumer finance are as different as night and day. It took a couple of years to understand the landscape of community banking and consumer financial services. Today, our clients are predominantly community banks, credit unions, and not-for-profit, community-based organisations.
“Aim high, work hard: Every overnight success takes 10 years. I started with a five-year growth projection chart when launching the company. I never stopped revising the plan. The reality is no one can predict the growth pattern for an early-stage company. Impactful ventures will eventually reach that high point level on the Y-axis. However, the line may travel along the X-Axis for a long time before reaching that point.
“It takes a team: Having strong support is vital. I am blessed to have a joyful and supportive network. My spouse encouraged the decision to leave my job and start the company. My oldest daughter came to my first pitch competition and cheered on from the audience. As I built Happy Mango, I actively looked to forge friendships with female industry leaders who became mentors that provided timely and insightful advice and counsel.”
Ilana Schonwetter, Investment Advisor, BlueShore Financial
“For me, listening is the first step to building a strong financial understanding and portfolio for my clients. It helps me understand their level of knowledge, experience, and comfort zone, so I know which areas to focus on with them. When it comes to determining financial goals, men and women often measure financial results through different lenses. I find that women are more focused on the future outcome, such as retirement savings, whereas men are more focused on the immediate performance of their investments.
“In order to start building your financial knowledge, I recommend finding some books that can help you understand the basic concepts of how money and investments works. I also suggest speaking with two or three financial advisors before choosing one to find someone who communicates in a clear way that you understand. Your advisor should make you feel empowered and help you reach your financial goals, rather than speak down to you or make you feel confused.
“In the beginning, women can choose to start with a very conservative, safe portfolio with some guaranteed investment contracts (GICs), and some stocks and bonds. As their level of knowledge grows and their appetite for risk increases, they can rebalance their portfolio to reflect new levels of comfort and understanding and include more equities or bond ETFs.
“In recent years, I have seen more women step up to develop a better level of understanding around finance and investments, such as asset classes, risk appetite and diversification. With the pandemic taking a toll on many, it’s important to educate and invest in helping women take a leadership role when it comes to handling finances –personal, business, inherited, or any other source. As a woman, the goal should be to be able to make informed financial decisions that help you feel empowered and confident, and financially secure.”
Francesca Hodgson, co-founder at Goodbox
“Running a start-up is exhilarating, but whilst exhausting it has never felt like ‘work’. It has certainly not always been a smooth road and if you, like me have a young family or other commitments that really can add to the challenge. However, the pros have always outweighed the cons in my journey. My personal advice is just to be a little prepared, talk or think things through, having a support network of friends and family really helped me and of course, make time for you!”
Kristy Kim, CEO and Co-Founder of TomoCredit
“When I came to the US from South Korea I was disappointed that my lack of credit history proved to be a key obstacle. I was considered cash flow positive but I couldn’t get approved for anything! It made me realise how difficult it is for immigrants to establish credit history since they don’t have ID, a social security number or any established credit in their new country despite having a strong credit score in their home country or a proven income.
“In my early 20s, I was rejected multiple times for an auto loan, and that was my why moment. It was then I knew it was time to determine how to bring financial inclusion to the personal credit industry both at home and abroad. My why was to create a solution to combat these financial inequities. When I started TomoCredit in the wake of my own pain point, I wanted the company to also teach responsibility.
“But TomoCredit wants to build customers credit for the long term, but then serve customers throughout their financial life and act as a financial steward in terms of responsibility and financial inclusion. Because Tomo automatically pays off debts every week – it teaches the importance of continuing to pay your bills and having the cash on hand to do so at the very outset. We are set out to be a long term companion to our customer and we mindfully built our product features to guide our users to build healthy financial habits and avoid overspending. Our ultimate goal is growing with our customers in the next 10-20 yrs.”