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Celebrating International Women’s Day in Fintech – #BreakTheBias

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March 7, 2022 | Jonathan Pryer

Financial Services Organizations Supporting Women – or Being Led by Them!

Tuesday March 8, 2022 is International Women’s Day – a day earmarked to celebrate the achievements of women globally, and draw attention to the persistent lack of equality around the world. Everyone wins when gender bias, stereotypes and discrimination are minimized, but it’s easy to pay lip-service to these sorts of holidays and much harder to actually do anything about it. The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is #BreakTheBias – something that we believe strongly in at Provenir.

Women frequently remain underserved by traditional financial services institutions, or unfairly scored when it comes to credit products. Even as recently as the 1960s in North America, unmarried women couldn’t get access to credit or a bank account (and married women needed their husband’s permission). Despite the strides the world has taken in gender equality, there’s still a large divide in terms of financial inclusion – with some reports claiming that the “gender gap remains unaltered since 2011.”

“In seeking mortgages, women are charged higher rates and denied more often, despite being more likely to repay their loans than men with the same FICO score, loan-to-value, and income. This means that for women, offering the same treatment for the same credit profile as a man is wrong, because the woman will actually default less. The issue is exacerbated by the fact that income is a key factor in mortgage rates, and women earn just $0.84 for every $1.00 earned by men.”

What impact does this economic divide really have? Research shows that eliminating the gender gap in financial inclusion would have continued positive effects on the economy – increasing its overall size, boosting consumption rates, lowering financial risks and facilitating new business opportunities. Closing the gap can help enable a nation’s overall “development, economic growth, inequality reduction, business evolution and social inclusion.”

How Can Technology Help Close the Gap?

There are numerous ways that fintechs and their use of cutting-edge technology (like machine learning, artificial intelligence, and alternative data) can be a catalyst for change – enabling a more even playing field for women and other underserved populations. The use of alternative data can supplement traditional credit scoring methods, ensuring inclusion for women who lack credit histories. AI and machine learning can integrate that alternative data more easily, deploy advanced models to manage bias and improve risk decisioning accuracy – encouraging financial inclusion as a result.

There’s still lots of work to be done and using this sort of technology requires intentionality and partnership with financial services providers and organizations that help ensure gender equality. But how can fintechs work to #BreakTheBias when so few of them have women in leadership positions? Only 12% of fintech founders or co-founders globally are women, and only 6% of fintechs have female CEOs. A startling lack of female representation in the fintech industry has a direct impact on the types of products and services the industry offers its consumers (of course, half of which could potentially be women). And to put it in terms of dollars and cents – “the lack of gender diversity in the industry decreases the organizational and financial performance of businesses.”

To further the cause of International Women’s Day and to help #BreakTheBias, we’re highlighting ten innovative organizations that are women-led fintechs or are using the power of fintech to ensure financial inclusion – and helping improve the lives of women and the economy along the way.

  • Tala: A global fintech with a mission to create the ‘world’s most accessible financial services,’ Tala aims to help underbanked consumers borrow, save and grow their money. With a modern credit infrastructure built in-house, the company uses advanced data science and machine learning to enable instant credit decisions for their consumers. Shivani Siroya is the female Founder & CEO of Tala, and the company boasts two more female C-Suite executives, Kelly Uphoff as CTO and Jen Loo as CFO.
  • Jefa: A challenger bank based in Latin America, this organization focuses on women without a traditional bank account, and aims to help them solve the problems faced when trying to open/manage an account. The all-digital bank targets women in emerging countries who may not have access to traditional banks (even physical access, like transportation to get to a branch), and requires no minimum balance. Future developments include a network of inclusive merchants and a credit building platform.
  • Sequin: While traditional debit cards don’t contribute to credit building, the Sequin card does. Aimed specifically at women, the card helps you build credit with each purchase, without requiring credit checks or imposing late fees. Highlighting the systemic bias sometimes reflected in traditional credit scoring algorithms, the Sequin card helps correct this by not reporting credit utilization to credit bureaus.
  • Kaleidofin: This India-based payment platform offers ‘doorstep service’ aimed at women, helping them build personal financial management plans and offering discretion and privacy to ensure safety for customers. For example, customers can check their balance via ‘missed calls’ and set up a proxy outside their household to receive messages about their accounts.
  • Pezesha: Founded by a woman and marketed at SMEs and individuals in Kenya, Pezesha focuses directly on informal savings groups and designs incentives around them, offering a credit-score-as-a-service product and financial education. Since its founding, more than 50% of women in the region have been included in their financial ecosystem.
  • Ellevest: Founded by Sallie Krawcheck, the former head of Bank of America’s Global Wealth and Investment Management division, U.S.-based investment firm Ellevest markets itself as a tool built by women, for women. The company’s proprietary investment algorithm and tailored advice considers specific women-focused issues, including career breaks for maternity leave or caregiving, longer average lifespans, unpaid female labor and pay gaps.
  • Oraan: To help combat the fact that 41% of women in Pakistan save money through informal groups/committees, Oraan (Pakistan’s first women-led fintech startup) offers financial products that provide women the opportunity to save and borrow money from outside of their immediate social and geographical networks. Using technology, data and a ‘human-centric’ design methodology to digitize financial offerings, the company aims to make saving money both simple and safe for women.
  • HerVest: This Nigerian investment firms aims to bring financial inclusion and empowerment to more African women, helping to bridge the economic gender gap and improving lives with greater access to financial services. With a specific focus in agriculture, HerVest provides female farmers growth opportunities relating to crops, grain banking and livestock.
  • Starling Bank – A digital challenger bank that remains one of the UKs fastest growing banks, Starling Bank has also been named Britian’s best four years in a row. CEO Anne Boden founded the company in 2014 at the age of 54 – and despite challenges and setbacks the bank has flourished under her leadership. In late 2020 Anne released a memoir outlining her struggles as a 50+ female trying to break down barriers in the male-dominated fintech world.
  • Borrowell – A Canadian fintech success story, Borrowell was the first in Canada to offer free access to credit scores and uses an AI-powered credit coach to help customers achieve their financial goals. Female Co-Founder and COO Eva Wong is an outspoken advocate for diversity and inclusion – and the organization’s commitment to the cause has it listed as one of the Best Workplaces for Women by Great Places to Work Canada.

While there is still plenty of work to be done to close the economic gender gap globally, it’s refreshing to see so many innovative fintechs discovering new and unique ways to empower women and encourage financial inclusion. And the more we choose to represent women in leadership/executive roles, the better!

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