Women in Fintech with Lena McDearmid on Humanizing AI for Better Lending

As part of our #WomeninFintech series, Finovate speaks to inspiring women about their career in financial services and technology, their unique insights into the challenges and solutions for the industry today, and their advice for the next generation of women leaders just starting out. Today, we join Lena McDearmid, COO at Artis Technologies, a provider of embedded financial services platforms for digital, point-of-need lending and payments. Lena helped launch the startup earlier this year with a mission to refine the consumer lending experience by merging the art of technology with the science of finance to create the best consumer experience possible.

What led you to fintech and specifically down a path toward acquiring the expertise you have now?

Lena McDearmid: It started with my mother responding to an ad in the paper looking for someone to manage short-term loans from retail locations. Here I, unfortunately, learned about the negative side of lending, but also how to build programs to help get people out of destructive cycles. This inspired me to move to Atlanta where I joined an online mortgage startup company.

However, in 2008, I could see a coming shift away from the trending jumbo hybrid real-estate loans into more stable and traditional loan types. With that foresight, I moved into conventional lending where I would diversify my underwriting experience with mortgage refinances, auto loans, personal credit cards as well as debt consolidation. I learned the importance of empathizing with customers’ needs and offering more customized products based on their unique loan usage.

From there, I went to a company that focused exclusively on underwriting auto loans, where I had my first realization of a “culture-first” experience proving that employees who are happy and positively impacted by their work culture are better able to focus on the customer’s experience. I believe completely that a customer’s experience is the most important part of business.

After my time there, I was then recruited to build out the credit department at GreenSky where, for the first time, I had direct contact with technology and could see what tech could do for my operations. I spent eight years going from credit operations, to project management, and finally to technical product ownership, before leaving to start Artis.

The journey of my career is one of constant learning and growth. I am a builder of companies, products, teams, and experience. Had I not had the good fortune to walk down so many different paths, there is no way that I would be here today having the confidence knowing that at Artis, we are building a company and products that are ultimately helping the consumer with more accessible financing, the most important part of business.

Where do you see the future of the fintech heading in the next 12 months?

McDearmid: Continually increasing reliance on big data and the ability to incorporate alternative data for better decision making, especially when it comes to credit. Stronger reliance on user experience and customizations per user. 

How can the financial services industry humanize AI and gain the trust of its customers? How is Artis Technologies helping?

McDearmid: It starts with the data scientists and the data. We have to know, throughout the design process, that there are humans analyzing this data. We also have to know what data elements are sensitive and understand how biases can get into the models so that we can design bias-free models and analytics. Finally, we must study the outputs and analyze their impacts on humans to ensure there are no adverse effects.

What does being one of the company’s women co-founders mean to you? And how does this set the example for other women looking to break into the field?

McDearmid: It means a great deal; most of the women in my family were entrepreneurs and as a co-founder, I now feel as if I am in their company. I imagine that the more women see other women as co-founders and leaders, this will encourage them to strive for these roles, as the women in my family inspired me. Each light on a path makes the path a little brighter and easier to follow.

How are you tackling the challenges and redefining the role of women at Artis?

McDearmid: One of the reasons I co-founded Artis was because I saw an opportunity to overcome the typical challenges women face in being heard and seen as leaders. Because Artis is a startup, it’s given me the opportunity to help define, not redefine, the importance of women and diversity at our company from the beginning. All of which are supported by my other like-minded male co-founders.

Why is it important to have multiple voices in the room, and hold each other accountable throughout the journey?

McDearmid: Diversity leads to quality. The ability to draw on multiple perspectives and experiences enriches discussions and solutions. And, without accountability, there can be no real growth, honesty, or radical transparency. Through accountability, we hold ourselves to our standards and continue our growth — regardless of gender.

What advice would you give to women starting out in fintech now?

McDearmid: Find a mentor and advocate. Believe in yourself and be assertive while learning as much as you can about all aspects of the business and industry.

What Ethnic Diversity Efforts Can Apply from the Women in Fintech Movement

I feel the need to start this piece with a disclaimer: Racial bias and gender bias are two completely different issues. Both women and people of color, however, face stereotypes and suffer from wage discrimination. And though the battles are different, some of the tools used in the fight are the same.

While both women in fintech and ethnic diversity in fintech efforts have been around for half a decade, the women in fintech crusade has managed to gain a fair amount of momentum. There are now hundreds of passionate activists that promote women in fintech.

Even though the tech industry as a whole has a long way to go to achieve gender equality, the truth is that we have even further to go until we reach parity for black and brown workers. The following graph from Information is Beautiful shows the employee breakdown by ethnicity and gender at top tech companies in 2017.

The message is that the technology community has a lot of work to do. Each of us– not only as companies, but also as individuals– has a responsibility to take concrete action to help elevate ethnic diversity within our industry.

The movement to promote women has already begun to successfully create change and growth in the fintech industry. Here are a few things that are working for gender diversity that we can use to further promote ethnic diversity.

  • Mentorship
  • Networking events
  • Organized member associations
  • School programs
  • Competitions

While it can be difficult to know where to start, perhaps begin with a simple action such as following more black and brown voices on social media to hear perspectives you might not otherwise hear. You can also become a member of an existing organization, such as Blacks in Technology, or simply donate to the cause. Small actions will add up and change begins with individuals.

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Fintech’s Latest Female CEO: Christine Ciriani Takes Top Spot at Finantix

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Wealth management technology provider Finantix announced today that it has appointed Christine Ciriani as its new CEO. Company co-founder and former CEO Ralf Emmerich will transition to the role of Executive Chairman.

“I am delighted to take up this leadership position at Finantix,” Ciriani said in a statement. She praised the company’s “award-winning” solutions for wealth managers, banks, and insurance companies, as well as Finantix’s “client-first culture” and strong teams. She pledged to continue working “to ensure that both our integrated and point solutions are rapidly adopted in the market to deliver the data-enabled, digitally-connected, and content-rich services today’s clients demand.”

Ciriani will continue to serve as the company’s Chief Commercial Officer, a position she has held since the fall of 2019. The wealth management and professional services veteran came to Finantix in February of that year, joining Finantix’s board of directors as a non-executive director as part of the Motive Partners investment in the company. During her time at Finantix, Ciriani has helped drive talent acquisition, commercial strategy, and market positioning, overseeing expansion in Switzerland, Japan, and Australia. She also has been praised for her role in the company’s acquisition of AI and data science-based solution provider InCube earlier this year.

“Under Christine’s leadership and working with our management team, we have successfully accelerated the process of expanding our extensive portfolio of innovative products,” Emmerich said. He added that the leadership shift would enable Finantix to maximize the next phase of its evolution as a leading provider of technology solutions for the wealth management, banking, and insurance industries.

“Now is the ideal time for me to hand over the reins to Christine so she can continue to build on the strong foundations we have created.” Emmerich said.

The C-suite news follows the launch of Finantix’s latest Digital Collaboration Hub. A client servicing solution, the Hub enables institutions to establish omni-device, multi-media collaboration channels with virtual private lounges that can be used to digitally enhance client interactions. Market updates and advisories, as well as onboarding and document exchange are among the client-oriented activities possible via the Hub. Banco Itaú International is one of the FIs that has deployed the technology, offering the Hub to its U.S. and Swiss clients.

A Finovate alum since 2011, when the company debuted at FinovateEurope, Finantix was founded in 1994 and is headquartered in Venezia, Vento, Italy. Acquired by Motive Partners in December 2018, Finantix won Best Front Office Solution at the WealthBriefing Swiss Awards 2020 in February.

BMO Harris Bank and 1871 Team Up to Launch Women’s Fintech Mentoring Project

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A collaboration between BMO Harris Bank and incubator 1871 has been launched to help empower the next generation of women-led fintech startups. The innovation lab sponsored by the two organizations is now accepting applications for its female-focused startup leadership mentoring program, WMN•FINtech.

“Women face unique challenges when running any business, especially startups,” BMO Harris Bank head of U.S. business banking Niamh Kristufek said. “We designed this year’s program to help women innovators and entrepreneurs overcome barriers and bring new ideas to market.”

As many as five startups will be selected for WMN•FINtech, which seeks to help close the sizable gender gap in the technology startup industry. In their program announcement, BMO and 1871 note that only 20% of startups that raised their first funding rounds last year were led by women. To this end, WMN•FINtech will give women entrepreneurs the guidance, working space, and networking opportunities that can enable them to develop their fintech innovations.

1871 CEO Betsy Ziegler called the initiative a “doubling down on women founders focused on solving the hardest finance problems.” The three-month program includes a four-month membership and access to working space at 1871. The program’s curriculum will emphasize key topics such as enterprise sales cycles, vendor management, information security, and regulatory compliance. Participating startups also will benefit from pitch opportunities with venture capital investors.

“The time is now and BMO Harris Bank is the perfect partner given their strength as a financial institution and their long-held mission to provide opportunities for women to come up and be powerful,” Ziegler said.

Program participants also will be eligible to access PYROS, a 13-week series of workshops, seminars, and one-on-one mentoring sessions. Developed specifically for founders, the new initiative from 1871 provides startups with a path to scale their fintech solution or service.

Applications for WMN•FINtech will be accepted through May 11. Eligible companies must have a woman as founder or co-founder and be based in the U.S.

Headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, 1871 is among the top private business incubators in the world. Founded in 2012, the non-profit organization has 350 mentors available to its members, as well as 100+ partner corporations, venture funds, accelerators, and educational institutions. More than 650 of 1871’s alumni companies are active; they have raised more than $1.5 billion in follow-on capital combined.

Technology, Financial Inclusion, and Banking in Frontier Markets

As the current COVID-19 pandemic reminds us, technology has a critical role in helping us respond to unforeseen events. Whether it is development of treatments and vaccines in the case of public health emergencies, or the ability to offer services and solutions to keep businesses running and workforces productive, technological innovation takes on an entirely different light at times of crisis.

One of the major themes of our FinovateEurope conference in February had to do with the ethical deployment of these financial technologies in areas like emerging markets and the frontier. These are regions where challenges from public health crisis to financial inequality can be all the more acute.

Mel Tsiaprazis, Group Chief Operating Officer at Crown Agents Bank, is one of the women who helped lead that conversation at our event in Berlin. A financial services specialist with international experience in markets such as Europe, Asia, and Oceania, Tsiaprazis believes that the combination of financial inclusion and financial education is key to ensuring financial wellness for future generations. Much of her support for diversity in financial services is revealed in the work she does as an angel investor and advisor for fintech startups.

We caught up with Ms. Tsiaprazis to discuss her work at Crown Agents Bank, the importance of ethics in fintech innovation, and the challenges of banking on the financial frontier.

Finovate: You are relatively new to the post of COO at the bank – What have been some of your early priorities?

Mel Tsiaprazis: It’s my nature to dive straight into a new challenge, so while it’s only been a year I feel like we’ve already made great progress. My priority when joining was to help drive the bank’s ambitious plans for digital transformation, so making sure we have the right infrastructure and passion to build on our technology focus has been really important. Joining at the same time as the Segovia acquisition was announced, then running with the integration, was really exciting. You can feel that becoming more technology-driven has helped keep us agile and pushing for more.

Finovate: Can you tell us a little about Crown Agents Bank and the markets it serves?

Tsiaprazis: In simple terms, Crown Agents Bank moves money to, from, and across developing, emerging, and frontier markets. We really pride ourselves on serving markets that most other players can’t. Many players don’t have the adaptability of a boutique bank like CAB or the unique relationships and expertise that we have built up over nearly two centuries, which is part of why it’s crucial we continue to serve these territories. For many countries, we provide vital access to the international market, by offering cross-border payments and FX solutions.

Our coverage spans the Caribbean, Central and South America, Asia Pacific, and our knowledge of Africa is particularly high. Within these regions, there are countries that are particularly vulnerable to natural disasters or political and economic volatility, so our services are often essential for enabling aid to reach the people who need it most.

Finovate: You participated in our FinovateEurope Power Panel on AI and Data Management in February. What were the key points you emphasized in that discussion?

Tsiaprazis: That was a really fantastic discussion! One of the key points I emphasized on the panel was how AI can help to solve societal challenges. A lot of governments worldwide are rushing to foster AI investment and develop formal AI frameworks to help spur economic and technological growth, and we need to pay close attention to the positive impact that this boom can have.

The other thing that I think is important in every AI discussion is to talk about how we can shift from fear to acceptance. What many people don’t realize is how ingrained AI already is in our daily lives – and how helpful it is – so as an industry we need to help people recognize the benefits of AI and build trust.

Finovate: You’ve spoken before about the challenges of developing or frontier markets when it comes to the lack of liquidity in local currency and the lack of financial services infrastructure. Are there ways that technology can respond to these concerns?

Tsiaprazis: Technology is an absolutely crucial part of the solution to these issues. Low liquidity and poor or absent financial infrastructure have been an issue in frontier markets for generations, but the strides we’ve made in technology over the last few years have and will be transformational.

For example, automation has already made a considerable difference in trading currencies in terms of reducing the time and cost of transactions. For markets where a large volume of cash inflow comes from remittance payments, minimizing the cost for the sender is really vital.

We’ve already seen how mobile wallets can transform access to financial services for a population. M-Pesa in Kenya is still a fantastic example of how technology leapfrogs a lack of infrastructure to reach consumers. Our payments gateway, powered by Segovia, enables International Development Organizations, for example, to reach individuals directly by allowing them to pay into mobile wallets.

Technology provides optionality in markets where financial infrastructure is considered to still be developing. We are proud to be able to offer FX to last mile delivery payment options from ACH to mobile transactions.

Finovate: One of the interesting things I’ve heard you discuss is the mutually-reinforcing relationship between financial inclusion and the need for better knowledge of local markets. Can you explain the importance of this mutually-reinforcing relationship?

Tsiaprazis: The lack of local knowledge of emerging and frontier markets can make it exceptionally difficult to serve those with limited infrastructure in the right way. A strong understanding of local financial processes and more complex environments are vital to providing financial services in hard-to-reach territories. It also helps to build trust and relationships with key organizations in that region.

Where the relationship becomes mutually reinforced is when financial inclusion increases and we get more data on people within the market. As we understand consumer behaviors and markets are better understood, more players are willing to serve them and we are able to reach more people with financial services. When the two complement each other well, we can make a real difference in improving access to these services.

Finovate: You champion gender diversity in the financial services industry through angel advice and investment in startups that support this cause. Who are some of these companies – especially in financial services? Why do you think it is an effective way to bring about the change you seek?

Tsiaprazis: Diversity is vital in all forms. It comes in numerous guises including but not limited to race, age, gender, and work experience. It is all important to the future profitability and health of an organization. Gender challenges more specifically though, within the world of startups are exacerbated. When looking for investments, I factor in BCG research which showed startups launched by women are significantly better financial investments. For every dollar of funding, startups launched by women generate 78 cents, while male-founded startups generate less than half of that at just 31 cents. Sadly, I am also very alert to the fact that only 3% of the total capital invested in 2018 in U.K. fintech companies went to firms with female founders. This challenge isn’t only in startups, we see this gender fragmentation in the top VC firms that invest in startups with only 7% of partners in the top 100 VC firms are women, according to research by Crunchbase.

While 72% of founders say that diversity in their startup is extremely or very important, only 12% of startups are diversity leaders in practice. With only 1 in 10 startups having diversity leaders, I place greater emphasis on this 10% portion not because of their background, but because startup track record shows these are sound investments. The question remains, how do we actively change the distribution of investment? How do we encourage a broader more diverse group of co-founders/startup colleagues? In my experience, the latter is answered by not only focusing on recruitment, but on retention strategies for diverse backgrounds (perhaps targeted at working/single parents, apprenticeship-like approach for high school leavers or non-degree colleagues). Encouraging a workforce reflective of your client base starts with recruitment but ends with retention.

There is no magic bullet to solve this challenge. My advice to those thinking of starting a startup is to remember you may be a superhero and a brilliant SME, but you can’t do it alone. Be wise on diversity recruitment, prioritize retention even more, and embrace lateral thinking that sets you apart.

Ocrolus’ Nicole Newlin On Digitization, Visualization, and the Age of Partnerships

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One of the clearest messages from our conversations with fintech analysts and observers this year has been the importance of RegTech. Whether the challenge is financial inclusion, open banking, or simply making ever-more complex business processes less cumbersome, less error-prone, and less expensive, RegTech is increasingly seen as a critical component of financial technology.

We caught up with Nicole Newlin, VP of Solutions for Ocrolus, to talk about how the company leverages artificial intelligence to automate critical business tasks like underwriting for lenders. Via a combination of patttern recognition, crowdsourced data verification, and fraud detection, Ocrolus’ technology brings both transparent analysis and rigorous documentation to the credit decisioning process.

We also thought this would be a great opportunity to revisit and wrap up our celebration of Women’s History Month. To this end, we asked Ms. Newlin about her work with NYC Fintech Women, as well as her thoughts on how women are faring in the world of fintech and financial services.

Finovate: I would be remiss not to ask how Ocrolus is coping with the current global crisis with regard to the COVID-19 outbreak. How has this affected the company and the work it does?

VP of Solutions for Ocrolus Nicole Newlin

Nicole Newlin: The COVID-19 outbreak has caused companies around the world to change the way that they do business, and prepare for the long-term. Planning for the unpredictable is an oxymoron, but we’re certainly seeing the difference between companies built for scalability – those able to flex up/down with demand – and those with a less agile workforce.  In volatile times like these, scalability is key to success.

We see digitization and virtualization particularly impacting the financial markets that Ocrolus serves. If we zoom in on the state of lending, it’s a historically low rate, quarantined world, with more than 3,000 borrowers per day seeking mortgages and refinancing online. In parallel, many lenders are more bandwidth-constrained than ever, creating a gap between rising demand and lenders’ ability to meet that demand.

A key factor in lender scalability is the elimination of data entry bottlenecks. Our customers don’t have underwriters keying in borrower information or performing “stare and compare” analysis of income, asset and identification documents. Instead, they are using document digitization services and data aggregators to provide underwriters with actionable data. Replacing manual data entry and review with API-called data connectivity enables our customers to accommodate fluctuating loan volume on-call rather than scrambling to add, subtract, or redeploy human resources.

For these reasons, our customers are better able to flex up/down with the markets.

We’re also seeing new customers expedite their Ocrolus integrations to lessen the gap between demand and their ability to meet demand without needing to bring on additional resources.

Finovate: And if I may ask, how has it affected you as a professional? Have you had to make dramatic changes to the way you work, or the way you work with your team?

Newlin: Moving to a fully remote workforce is a new muscle for most of us. Fortunately, Ocrolus has always embraced a flexible work from home policy, so our team is able to adapt to working remotely with relative ease.

That said, without the built-in face time of being in an office, communication is critical, so we’re relying heavily on Slack and Zoom video calls to ensure ongoing communication. We’re also spending more time clarifying objectives and expectations so that we can continue to work towards our shared goals remotely.

To maintain culture and morale, we’re experimenting with virtual events. Our first-ever Virtual Happy Hour was a big hit!

Finovate: Ocrolus finished 2019 with the introduction of a new extension to its platform. Ocrolus+, which offers advanced document-based data extraction. Can you tell us a little bit about this feature, perhaps by way of introducing the company to our readers?

Newlin: While Ocrolus transforms documents into actionable data with over 99% accuracy, Ocrolus+ is an advanced version of our fintech infrastructure platform for capturing financial information, validating the veracity of data, and performing cash flow analytics. Ocrolus+ is the first turnkey solution for ingesting documents and digital data streams through a single API. The platform enables lenders to corroborate data retrieved from submitted documents with source data from financial institutions through a partnership with Plaid. Moreover, our partnership with SentiLink enhances our fraud capabilities by enabling us to detect use of synthetic identities.

Finovate: What markets does Ocrolus serve primarily?

Newlin: Ocrolus primarily serves a broad array of lending businesses – including small business lenders, consumer lenders, and mortgage lenders – with some analyzing different sets of documents based on application requirements. Regardless of asset class, Ocrolus has become a critical part of the modern lending infrastructure.

Finovate: Ocrolus interestingly has partnered with a number of other Finovate alums like Plaid and BlueVine in recent years. In fact, you spent some time at Plaid/Quovo, if I read correctly. Why are partnerships important in your industry? What makes for a productive relationship between fintechs?

Newlin: We are in an age of partnerships and collaboration. With technology and market conditions changing  at such a fast pace, it’s virtually impossible to build everything internally. Competition is growing, and we’ve seen tech behemoths like Google, Amazon, and Apple making moves to break into financial services. Partnerships are key to staying ahead in a competitive market. By partnering with best of breed companies, you can save resources, accelerate time to market, and hijack otherwise steep learning curves. However, it’s important to note that partnerships must be aligned with the company’s strategy and values. And they should benefit both organizations in order to ensure long-term alignment.

Ocrolus Co-founder and CEO Sam Bobley and Director of Business Development Kevin Bailey demonstrating PerfectAudit at FinovateFall 2018.

Finovate: You came to Ocrolus after being a founder and president of a fintech/financial services consultancy. What drew you to Ocrolus? And now that you’re here, can you tell us a little about the work you do for the company as VP of Solutions?

Newlin: I was introduced to Ocrolus via a few current board members that had also supported my previous employer, Quovo (acquired by Plaid). Once I met with the leadership team and learned more about what Ocrolus offered, I was intrigued. The opportunity to work at a company that could cross many verticals with its offering was interesting to me, because that spoke to the flexibility and endless possibilities of staying nimble and being relevant. Of course, that has been proven out even faster than expected with COVID-19 as we see new opportunities in a challenging environment!

When I joined Ocrolus, my primary focus was to build out a strong Solutions team that would support all sales activities via sales engineering/implementation, which includes all aspects of client onboarding and API integrations. As I’ve built out the team and developed those functions, we also work closely with our Product/Operations team in piloting new verticals/services. Lastly, a big focus today is ensuring we promote strong client relationships via our account management and client success teams. In a nutshell, our team is the client-facing division of our firm in the entire customer lifecycle.

Finovate: You’ve recently joined the NYC Fintech Women’s Leadership team. Can you tell us about the organization and its goals? How did you come to the decision to work with them?

Newlin: NYC Fintech Women is a community of women fintech executives, founders, and engineers, who are opening the doors of Wall Street by facilitating access to education, community, and coaching. I want to contribute by supporting and mentoring these women. Additionally, given my path into fintech and the number of talented women transitioning from traditional firms, I feel a strong sense of duty to support their efforts.

Finovate: What are the two or three steps that would do the most good to promote women’s leadership in fintech and financial services in general? And what are the greatest challenges or obstacles to pursuing these steps?

Newlin: I think women have a hard time breaking into financial services because there have never been that many in the space. The reality is that there are still fewer women in tech positions, senior positions, on boards, etc. There isn’t a magic button to press for greater equality – we have to take the initiative to create diversity in the industry.

One of my favorite quotes is, “Ability is of little account without opportunity,” by Lucille Ball. In that spirit, here are three things we can do to promote women’s leadership in financial services:

  1. We must give women the chance to succeed. I look to leadership in all companies of all types to consider how they are offering opportunity across a wide and diverse employee and candidate pool. Look at your organization and consider who is the next to move forward in their career and how leadership must mentor their employees. Don’t let great team members slip away because they see no career path.
  2. Consider how diversity in hiring grows market share, promotes creativity and stimulates fresh ideas.
  3. Finally, think strategically about how you are building teams and providing thoughtful professional development.

Ocrolus was founded in 2014 and is headquartered in New York City. Sam Bobley is CEO and co-founder. With more than $33 million in funding, Ocrolus includes Oak HC/FT, Laconia, and Bullpen Capital among its investors.

Gender Diversity & Events Industry Insight

What does it take to create an event with true gender diversity? In this piece, Finovate Content and Strategy Director Adela Knox, who was recently named the Goodwill ambassador for the European Women Payments Network (EWPN), explains how she gets the balance right.

Finance leaders have predicted this year could mark a turning point for gender diversity in the banking and finance sector as pressure is mounting and gender pay gap reporting galvanizes efforts to promote more women.

The financial services industry is making progress on gender balance in the workforce. Mindsets are changing and, as a result of hard work and commitment, progress is starting to be reflected in the numbers. Finovate has always advocated for gender diversity at our events globally to support the overall industry change and market shift happening within the fintech sector. There is still a long way to go to create an environment in which women have equal access to opportunity and positive outcomes but we at Finovate are eager to support the industry change every step of a way.

Our team made a commitment to pledge to only run events with mixed-gender panels. As a result a considerable amount is being done to challenge the prevalent all-male conference panels. We provide women in fintech with an opportunity to bolster their profile and to be taken seriously. The gained visibility and platform become fundamental to getting women into the boardrooms and ultimately build their network and advance their careers.

We focus on an equal female-to-male ratio during our speaker acquisition phase and we also proactively support gender equality at our events while running Women in Fintech forums with the goal to empower women in financial services and technology.

The Women in Fintech forums are compiled of networking evenings, workshops, panel discussions, keynote presentations, and debates offering dialogue-driven sessions and initiatives to promote diversity and gender equality at the workplace and educate on why encouraging it matters. Topics include: What is diversity in the workplace? What are the benefits and challenges of diversity in the workplace? How can we manage diversity in the workplace? What should hiring, policies, & practices look like? How can we promote gender equality at workplace? etc.

We collaborate with various industry bodies and associations who strive to create more opportunities for women and minorities, as well as being a champion for a more diverse and inclusive industry for all. Some of the groups that we collaborate with include the European Women in Payments Network (EWPN), Women in Fintech NY, and Women in Fintech SF.
This is an ongoing effort and we at Finovate are passionate to constantly grow and elevate our initiatives globally.
Recently, i had an opportunity to interview Isil Ugurlu, the German Ambassador of EWPN, while running yet another Women in Fintech forum at the annual FinovateEurope 2020 in Berlin, about what it means for the organisation to collaborate with event organisaers like Finovate. You can watch the interview here:

To promote the gender goal of 50/50 diversity in financial services, women who register by this Friday, March 13, can purchase a ticket to any 2020 Finovate event at a 50% discount. Just enter the code EQUALITY on the booking form.

Celebrating #WomenInFintech

Celebrating #WomenInFintech

At the beginning of this week, Greg Palmer wrote,

In order for fintech to be for everyone, it needs to be from everyone.

It’s a line that will strike a chord with anyone, across industries, who find themselves in the minority within teams and businesses, or even the sole representative of a different background or perspective.

Addressing gender-gap challenges in the finance industry is on-going, and a key part of this is providing a platform for women to share their insights and vision for the future of fintech. As part of this endeavor, we brought together some of the leading women from FinovateEurope to share their thoughts not only on issues on diversity in the workplace, but also on the key pain points in their field and their ideas on how to overcome them.

First, here’s a look at an interview with Dr. Louise Beaumont, Tech U.K.’s Co-Chair of the Open Banking & Payments Working Group. Beaumont was the Chair of the Open Banking Industry Stage at FinovateEurope last month and spoke with Finovate Research Analyst David Penn on the future of open finance, why banks need to believe they are trusted, and creating a full data daisy.

Penn also interviewed Ghela Boskovich, Founder of FemTechGlobal and Chair of the Digital Future Industry Stage at FinovateEurope. In this conversation, Boskovich explores why culture is the cornerstone on which financial institutions built looks at and the need for more public education around data.

The next interview was with Theo Lau, Founder at Unconventional Ventures and Chair of FinovateEurope’s Future Tech Industry Stage. Lau explores the challenges AI presents to legacy businesses and gender diversity in fintech.

Finally, here’s a conversation with Simone Vroegop, Head of European Product Management of Financial Technology at Brown Brothers Harriman. Vroegop discusses why it is crucial to have an open mind and look to where value can be added to an asset manager’s operating system, and why she’s surprised that hasn’t been more disruption in the sector.

Watch all our interviews with #WomenInFintech now >>

To promote the gender goal of 50/50 diversity in financial services, women who register by this Friday, March 13, can purchase a ticket to any 2020 Finovate event at a 50% discount. Just enter the code EQUALITY on the booking form.

Nancy Giordano, Big Shifts, and How Exponential Technologies Will Change All

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African American comedian Richard Pryor joked after seeing the classic, 1976 movie Logan’s Run that the future didn’t look so bright to him. Why? Well, with no black people cast in the futuristic sci-fi flick, the legendary funny man surmised that, perhaps, “White folks ain’t planning on us being here.”

A similar thought comes to mind when anticipating the upcoming presentation by strategic futurist and TEDx Curator Nancy Giordano at FinovateSpring in May. In spite of the increasing evidence that the future belongs to women, the ranks of futurists – the people helping us understand, anticipate, and prepare for the world to come – tend to feature far fewer women than you might imagine.

This is just one of many reasons to look forward to Giordano’s keynote opening address “Navigating the Big Shift – How Exponential Technologies are Changing … Everything.”

A guest lecturer at Singularity University, and a ten-year TEDx curator, Giordano is recognized as one of the top female futurists in the world. A frequent panelist at South by Southwest, she has been on the board of the retail trade association, GMDC, and on the advisory council of both Retail Tomorrow and Future Frontiers, a fintech conference designed to help strengthen community banks. She also is a part of Austin, Texas-based, artificial intelligence services provider KUNGFU.AI.

And given her theme at FinovateSpring, of how big shifts change everything, it is easy to wonder how a shift in perspective on the future – from male-generated to female-generated – can fundamentally enhance our capacity to cope with technological change.

“You are also a human that is going through this. You are a parent, you are a son or daughter. You are part of a community that is wrestling with these questions,” she said in a compilation of remarks titled What Does the Future Expect from Us and How Do We Create that Future? “It’s hitting us personally, not just professionally.” She used the example of a group of women, all strangers, spontaneously consoling a young mother and her child at an airport as the model for the kind of take-action agency and humanistic focus she believes is required in order to build the future we need.

To this end, Giordano warns businesses to avoid the temptation to not make decisions. She uses the metaphor of training soldiers to act dynamically in the face of often existential uncertainty to explain why companies need to move beyond pining for “killer apps” or “the right time.” Often, she notes, by the time that’s happened, it’s often too late.”

Giordano’s futurism is a human-centered one. In response to an extended discourse from a cloud computing specialist who was extolling the virtues of the digital cloud during a conference panel, Giordano asked, “what is the equivalent of the human cloud? What allows us to level up in that same way? And are social technologies keeping up with digital technologies?”

Again and again, Giordano emphasizes less the new gadgets and gizmos to come from exponential technology development and instead reinforces how these technological changes will require new behavior on our part. “This is not just about understanding the Shift,” she says of the “permanent state of ambiguity” that characterizes our technological – and social – present and future. “It calls to a different kind of leadership, or ‘leadering’, or posture, or approach.”

To promote the gender goal of 50/50 diversity in financial services, women who register by this Friday, March 13, can purchase a ticket to any 2020 Finovate event at a 50% discount. Just enter the code EQUALITY on the booking form.

Equality Starts with Us

As any woman working in fintech can tell you, we have a long road to equality. The good news is that equality starts with us.

And because we are responsible for exemplifying the change we want to see in the workforce, we are in control of how we inspire others and create solutions.

Today we bring you perspectives from two women working in the fintech field to get their take on what they are doing to be the change they want to see.

First up is Sophie Theen, Chief People Officer at Oakam, a U.K.-based fintech that helps underserved individuals build credit. Theen is passionate about recruitment, culture, diversity, and inclusion and has helped a number of tech startups with talent recruitment and HR strategy. She has received multiple industry awards, including being named a WeAreTheCity Rising Star Finalist in 2019.

In your professional life you help startups recruit talent. What is your strategy in promoting diversity?

Sophie Theen: Hiring for diversity to me is very simple. We don’t want to deliberately hire for diversity i.e., rejecting male candidates or promoting or writing an advert that only speaks to a woman. It’s about making it fair and equal to all candidates who are in the process and ensuring that the hiring managers and panel of interviewers are diverse, too (so no all male or female panel).

It’s also got a lot to do with the way we present ourselves as a company. If we want to be recognized as an inclusive employer, then we need to always remember to put effort in taking those baby steps.

Tell us how someone in the industry has helped empower you.

Theen: So I haven’t been in fintech for so long yet, and my first experience wasn’t all that amazing. I was new to the industry and had to learn to navigate through adversity in a heavily male-dominated environment, most of the time feeling quite lost and insecure.

This was the case until I joined 11:FS in 2017. The leadership there really changed my impression about the industry. My CEO then, David Brear, empowered me in every way you could imagine; that made me realize this is the industry I’m passionate about and this is where I want to make a change for the better.

How do you empower other women to achieve success of their own?

Theen: Simple, I give as much of my time as I can back to the women that I meet, cross paths with, and to those who reach out to me asking for support. Because if it wasn’t for my community and mentors around me, I wouldn’t have gotten the strength– let alone the confidence– to enjoy doing what I’m doing everyday.

The one most important thing I’ve learned from them was that I needed to believe in myself. So to anyone of you thinking you can’t– stop. We’re the only ones limiting ourselves!

Our next interview was with SVP of Product and Marketing at biometric authentication company iProov, Aarti Samani. After working for more than 10 years in the investment banking space, Samani transitioned to the tech sector and has since gained experience in banking, consumer technology, and healthcare.

Talk to us about efforts at iProov to promote diversity within the organization and in the tech community at large.

Aarti Samani: iProov is an inclusive and diverse organisation. We always look to hire the right person for a role based on their experience and skill set. Everyone gets a fair chance regardless of labels like race and gender. We actively promote a culture of inclusivity in the organization in a number of ways. Our flexible working policy encourages an inclusive workplace, as well as women centric comms channels to provide support. The diversity in demographics across the organization enables iProov to propel as a startup.

We celebrate the uniqueness of our people, and endeavour to inspire young people from all walks of life. For example, as part of International Day of Women and Girls in Science, iProov published a blog post showcasing the career trajectories and accomplishments of my colleagues and I. By demonstrating some of the exciting work that STEM skills can lead to, we hope to inspire young women to pursue STEM.

Despite a lot of progress, women are still highly underrepresented in technology – both as employees and as leaders. I take conscious responsibility to empower women and other minority groups around me.

Tell us about a way someone in the industry has helped empower you.

Samani: I have been incredibly fortunate to have had great mentors and sponsors who have both supported and guided me in my career.

According to research from the Center for Talent Innovation (CTI), 85% of women and 81% of multicultural professionals need navigational support to figure out how best to succeed in the workplace, but often don’t receive it with nearly the same regularity as men.

I would like to take this opportunity to call out Eric Collins, a former colleague, and now a dear friend. Eric not only helped me navigate a career transition from finance to technology, he was also a strong role model and an influential sponsor. His endorsement and guidance helped me to grow as a leader and helped advance my career in an otherwise male dominated environment.

Working with Eric was a very positive experience and has greatly shaped my approach to leadership, team-building and the impact I aspire to have on people I work with.

How do you empower other women to achieve success of their own?

Samani: As a leader, I mentor and coach members of my team and in the wider industry to help them develop their professional and people skills to help them succeed in their careers.

I am invested in the growth and well-being of my team so that they are able to be their best selves at work and in their personal lives. I am a big believer in celebrating each individual’s accomplishments and ensure that their work is recognized across the organization. This instills a sense of pride in their work and fuels a virtuous circle of increased confidence in their ability to deliver, which encourages people to aim higher and in turn accomplish more. To foster mental well-being and create space for the team to reconnect with themselves as well as each other, I make available weekly team meditation sessions. This, coupled with an emphasis on open, collaborative team culture means everyone leans in and acts as sponsors for their colleagues. This leads to lower stress levels overall, and promotes greater happiness in and out of work.

To promote the gender goal of 50/50 diversity in financial services, women who register by this Friday, March 13, can purchase a ticket to any 2020 Finovate event at a 50% discount. Just enter the code EQUALITY on the booking form.

Enveil and the Challenge of Securing Data In Use

Photo by Paul IJsendoorn from Pexels

When it comes to defending your data, Enveil’s speciality is helping prevent you from losing it while you’re using it. The company, which picked up $10 million in funding last month and made its Finovate debut at FinovateFall in 2017, enables businesses to securely perform analysis on encrypted data at scale.

“Over the past three years, we’ve successfully created a market, solidified customer use cases, executed enterprise deployments, and expanded our capabilities, for protecting data in use where it is and as it is today,” company CEO and founder Ellison Anne Williams explained when the company’s Series A round was announced. She added that the funding will help the company market its ZeroReveal product suite on a “global scale” and, indeed, the company announced just a few days later that it was opening a new office in London.

Enveil VP of Sales Craig Trautman referred to the London opening as “an important first step toward expanding our footprint in the regions most directly affected by evolving global regulatory standards.”

Founded in 2016, Williams launched Enveil after years of working with institutions like the National Security Agency – where she was a Senior Researcher for more than ten years – and Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab. She has leveraged this experience – and advanced degrees in mathematics (algebraic combinatorics and set theoretic topology) and computer science (machine learning) – into building one of the more innovative companies in the secure data collaboration / privacy enhancing technologies industry.

In a commentary for Dark Reading last month, Williams explained how a focus on securing data itself is one of the best ways for companies to negotiate an ever-shifting regulatory environment. To avoid the “hamster wheel of compliance,” she argued, businesses should learn how to secure data rather than the “networks, applications, and endpoints” that data uses.

The biggest challenge with securing data is that one of its most critical states – the state of being used – is also the most challenging state to secure. Compared to data that is not being used – data either at rest or in transit – data in use, according to Williams, represents the “point of least resistance” for the latest generation of cybercriminals. This is in large part because many of the technologies to secure data in use have historically not been “practical enough for commercial use.”

And this is where Enveil comes in. By discovering a way to apply technologies like homomorphic encryption, that are effective defenses for data in use, in a commercial context, Enveil offers businesses in verticals ranging from financial services and supply chain finance to cloud security and healthcare a way to securely work with secure data without having to decrypt it.

Enveil’s flagship solution, its ZeroReveal Compute Fabric, is a two-party platform of a ZeroReveal Client application which resides within the enterprise, and the ZeroReveal Server application, which is located where the data is kept. Via standard APIs, the technology works alongside the business’s current protections to provide security during the data processing lifecycle. Within this solution, Enveil offers functionality to power searches of secure data (ZeroReveal Search), conduct analytic investigations on encrypted data (ZeroReveal Analytics), and support the use of secured enclaves like Intel’s SGX (ZeroReveal Enclave).

In addition to expanding geographically, Enveil is also looking to add to its team. The company is specifically looking to bring on engineering talent to support new products, as well as additional sales and marketing team members to help drive Enveil’s efforts overseas.

“Enveil is stepping up to solve a fundamental security challenge: preserve privacy while ensuring that data remains usable,” C5 Capital Managing Partner Zulfe Ali said. “By empowering organizations to secure data throughout its lifecycle, Enveil’s contributions go beyond adding business value and ensuring compliance.”

What Leading Challenger Banks Learned While Building a Digital-Only Bank

As part of our ongoing #WomeninFintech series, and to celebrate International Womens’ Day, we sat down with several women leading the way in their sector and picked their brains on their role and the future of the industry. First up is Michal Kissos Hertzog, CEO of digital bank Pepper on the challenges of… challenger banking.

Finovate: What key lessons have challenger banks learned on their journey to be digital only?

Michal Hertzog: One key lesson businesses have learned is that you can’t just paste a “digital core” over an incumbent bank. They have to be truly digital or there will be limitations and barriers. The benefits of having a business model that is digital to its core is that banks can adapt quickly to constantly evolving customer demand, technology, and innovation. Incumbents with legacy systems need to adjust quickly or partner with tech and fintech companies, or innovation will always be slower.

Finovate: Why have we seen such a boom of “digital-only banks?” Do you think these challengers have the ability to take on the more entrenched players?

Hertzog: The profit and loss model no longer works. Unlike the incumbents, digital-only banks have the advantage of being able to utilize data to operate on customers first, profit second basis. Customer needs and demands are changing and they expect so much more from the companies they engage with on a daily basis. For example, Pepper’s research found that two thirds (67%) of Brits don’t feel well-equipped to make the best financial decisions for themselves, yet nearly half (47%) believe it’s a bank’s duty to help them make better financial decisions. This shows that banks need to do more in providing the necessary tools to help consumers make the best financial decisions.

This is something that many challengers have already achieved and are excelling at, so for the incumbents, it really is a question of adapt or die. Ultimately, this customer-first approach will benefit the bank, as their customers are more likely to opt for greater profit-producing solutions such as mortgages or investment products. For example, Pepper Invest provides customers with tips, guidance, and insights to break down the barriers to the investment market for all consumers, regardless of their financial ability.

Finovate: How do you ensure a great customer experience when you are a digital bank?

Unlike traditional banks who have implemented technology solutions to improve how they currently work, digital banks tend to do things differently. They work hard to identify customer pain points and then implement tech solutions to solve them.

Another way is by leveraging data. Digital banks might not have the long history of data that the incumbents do, but they are far better at utilizing it to adapt to consumer demand and offer personalized services. This typically creates a much better experience for the customer. For example, we know that debt is a huge problem for many people, so at Pepper, we use data to provide our customers with the necessary guidance before this happens, such as suggesting cheaper loan alternatives to an overdraft.

Finovate: How do you see fintech as a whole evolving over the next decade?

In the next decade, we can expect to see a lot more partnerships and collaborations – not just between banks and fintechs, but also fintech-to-fintech partnerships. Many successful businesses realize the importance of collaboration, so they can focus on what they do best and use other companies for the rest.

The other trend we can expect from fintech is increased personalization through the use of AI. At Pepper, we envisage a world where a consumer enters their favorite coffee shop, and we drop money into their account to pay for their coffee as a reward. This level of personalization and customer obsession will dramatically reform the banking industry in particular, as consumers opt for products that truly understand them and their needs.

To promote the gender goal of 50/50 diversity in financial services, women who register by this Friday, March 13, can purchase a ticket to any 2020 Finovate event at a 50% discount. Just enter the code EQUALITY on the booking form.