The female fintech gold rush

hishersThis week, along with some Tyro colleagues, I attended a SheSay’s event in Sydney titled ‘The Business of Negotiation’. It was a great night, with plenty of free flowing sparkling wine, convivial conversation and delicious, complimetary canapés, the latter a very welcome relief after a day of missed breakfast and no lunch (money saving tip #1, network more).

As you may have guessed gauging by the name of the host, the event was populated almost entirely by women, keen to get the inside scoop from the panel on how to master the dreaded annual pay-rise conversation with their manager. The event was over-subscribed, by around a hundred, and prior to kicking off we were informed by the organiser that SheSays would, as a result, be looking at hosting more negotiation workshops in the coming year. The room murmured their clear appreciation. After the event I couldn’t help thinking – are women and financial literacy the next fintech gold rush?

The feminisation of financial literacy

Plenty will argue the gold rush is already in full swing. In Australia there are already at least two excellent female-first literacy programs that are gaining serious ground, Ten Thousand Girls being one and MoneyBrilliant the other.

The incumbents aren’t far behind either. Lately I’ve been subjected to some questionable television advertisements from major bank ANZ, one in particular offering ‘free’ superannuation (retirement fund) advice for women with balances under $50,000.  A quick check on the ANZ website shows that without defining my gender, I can already access a complimentary in-branch review of my finances, no doubt touching on superannuation products. I’ll let you be the judge on that one.

What about the men?

While I strongly believe there is a place for female-first productisation of financial services, given there remain significant challenges for women in bridging pay inequality and gender stereotypes, I do sometimes feel a bit sorry for the men. Women really can get away with a lot when it comes to building communities and hubs that openly exclude the less fairer sex. Take The Ventura, for example, a startup hub in Sydney that is only open to women. If men did something similar, there would be a national outrage! While initiatives like this are surely well intentioned, I sometimes wonder, don’t we need more collaboration and shared understanding between genders, not less?

Femtech in fintech

More collaboration and diversity in business and management teams would certainly be a start. On the way to the event, I was fortunate to have the chance to chat with a veteran of the investment banking scene here in Sydney, Jodie Baker, a mentor up in the Tyro Fintech Hub, and an individual who clearly has a significant amount of wisdom to offer budding startups.

We touched on the topic of women who hold seats on boards – according to a 2014 Catalyst Census of women who hold directorships, Australia sits in 10th place in the developed world, at 19.2%. It’s a far cry from 50% – will it even happen in my lifetime (insert despairing emoticon)? I certainly hope so, but not without some serious commitment from a generation of senior executives who, let’s face it, have been blind to this very problem for most of their working lives.

When a vacancy does arise on a board, these days (thankfully) the natural tendency is to fill it with a female candidate. The only trouble is, she usually has to fulfil an impossible wish-list of criteria – entrepreneur, digitally savvy, board experience, well connected – the list goes on. One wonders whether if the same yardstick were held up to existing male board-members, would they pass the sniff test?

50:50 from day 1

About a year and a half ago, an ex-colleague of mine and I found ourselves in a position where we were faced with building a sales team incredibly quickly. Thanks mainly to her foresight, we were quick off the mark to make it clear to our recruiter that we wanted an even distribution of candidates being supplied for the roles. While both relatively senior ourselves, inattention to gender when it had come to hiring had seen the male salesforce quotient below us rise dramatically.

It certainly hadn’t been intended that way, it had just happened. And that’s usually how we get ourselves into these situations – by not thinking, rather than any form of anti-female conspiracy. She, and then subsequently I, realised how critical it was to get young women in at entry level positions, so they could grow through the organisation. A mantra I repeat to any startup founder now, who will listen.

It’s certainly a philosophy I hope this post inspires other fintech founders to consider. I know that if I were starting my own business tomorrow, it would be the one of the most important strategic decisions I would make. Diversity in gender, leads to diversity in thought, which leads to a diverse and often winning approach to the market. It’s a competitive advantage you can build far faster than many others.

Whatever you do, please don’t make it pink

So where does that leave us? Well, I’m in no doubt that there is a burgeoning female market out there, ready to take advantage of any leg-up they can get when it comes to improving their relative financial position. That means opportunity for fintech startups who are clever enough to work out how to tap into this segment, without alienating them with pink apps and fluffy bunnies.

But more importantly, to succeed in this market, you’ll need to be able to think like women, or, work with people who do. So if you’re mainly seeing the products of X and Y chromosomes as you look around the office, it might be time to invest in some more XX. Trust me, we’re out there.

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