“To celebrate International Woman’s Day, I was invited to speak in London at Innovate Finance’s Women in FinTech Event on March 8th on how FinTech is changing the world, and what this means for women in the industry. I want to share my thoughts with you all.”
-Viola Llewellyn, COO Ovamba Solutions
I am excited to be a woman today because in this era the promise of FinTech gives us all an opportunity to come out from behind the curtain and make our mark on the world. Money is an important resource, and FinTech is tackling two key problems people face when accessing money. Firstly, it is providing us with the ability to use technology to solve problems. These are problems that sit within the province of some of the most disenfranchised individuals – people who need to find a way to be noticed in the general populous, a general populous that requires you to have money in order to have a voice. However, and this is the second problem, these decisions are often being taken in a location and in a building where the individuals who are in charge don’t look like me or you, and frequently don’t look like a lot of the women that have a brilliant idea. FinTech brings these two things together in order to create a bridge. They said that the revolution would not be televised: I’m here to tell you the revolution is on an app!
FinTech is changing the world: it is bringing efficiency and transparency to markets in an unprecedented manner. Take a company like Ovamba which was created to solve a problem: 1.1 billion Africans for whom 84% will never be able to get access to the credit or finance needed to make any of their ideas work. Africa has no central databases so it is very difficult to be able to collect all the information about the 84% of individuals that need capital. It’s because of FinTech that Ovamba has been able to take the algorithm that we created, that uses ethnic, cultural and tribal data, and allow our people to go into the market and start building these databases so that finally we can tell you what an African SME looks like, what they do, what they need, and what we can do through capital finance to help them? The FinTech landscape for Africa is mind-blowing and that’s because finally we will have a tool that will not be subject, as in the western world, to being disrupted by regulation and legislation – if anything it is FinTech that is the disruptor.
FinTech has become the greatest enabler of our times. This industry has created an ability for companies to apply for money based on objective data, not subjective interviews, thereby cutting out unconscious bias. Furthermore, FinTech is improving the level of financial services across the board. The economist in 2015 said that “the FinTech revolution is forcing flabby incumbents to cut costs and improve the quality of their service “. Indeed, these incumbents have been running a slow easy race, only to realize that the new kid on the block – Fintech – has sped right past him and is likely to be wearing a t-shirt saying ‘girls can code’ and wearing Christian Louboutin shoes.
However, Fintech has some serious problems that are reflected in the traditional banking world and world of finance in that women are not represented in the boardroom in the ways that they should. Women are very much at the thin end of the wedge: in a sector that has grown by 136% since 2014, representing $623m in year on year raise, only 5 % of top 50 European FinTech companies are led by women. What does that say about our world, when the individuals that are supposed to be leading the revolution for gender inclusion and using FinTech to reach those often neglected segments of society, don’t look like any of us? There is a representation issue that needs to be corrected.
It is incredibly difficult without changing the status quo to realize a future where young girls can hopefully find themselves with a new curriculum that teaches them to be comfortable with money. In order for our ideas to be represented and accepted in this world of FinTech we need more women who can say “yes it’s okay” and understand that when mistakes happen we’re failing forward. Technology by its very essence is an experimentation in ideas. It’s an experimentation in the delivery of solutions – for problems that are constantly changing.
Everybody needs money and it’s not just money, it’s that financial services aspect of it. Fintech is a promise, it is a bridge – it enables, it connects, and it gives us all an opportunity to be a lot more than we are. Unfortunately though, women are still an island and we need to either get off the island or bring the bridge in closer. And when we do, when we connect to our ambitions and sit at the table alongside men, something else incredible happens. The Kauffman Foundation found that women-led private technology companies are more capital-efficient, achieving 35% higher ROI and, when venture backed, bringing in 12% higher revenue than male-owned tech companies.
My hope for the future, is that young girls grow up not asking themselves what they want to be, but what problem do they want to solve? How much does that problem cost, how much money will you make when you fix that problem and what are you going to do when you have all that money in your hands? I want to see a smaller gap in their ideas and their sense of what is achievable.
In the last revolution in finance in the 1980s it involved large shoulder pads and everyone elbowing each other out of the way because we all believed there was no space at the top. Things have changed: there is space. Ladies, you can create the space – the world is virtual – the room is as big or as small as you say it is, but first you have to step up to the table, put on your shoes and get your hands on the money.