Fintechs are often the vanguard of the financial services industry, boldly going where no banks, insurers and asset managers have gone before and smashing barriers as they do so.
Gender barriers, however, are a different matter.
There have been several breakthroughs for women on Wall Street over the past few weeks, with Citigroup teeing up Jane Fraser to become the first female chief executive of a major bank, while JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs both made important female promotions.
Meanwhile in Fintechland, a new report from Deloitte shows the share of funding going to female-founded ventures is tiny — and falling.
Women-led fintechs attracted just 1.3 per cent of the $40bn invested in the sector last year, Deloitte found, compared with the 87.4 per cent hoovered up by male-founded ventures (the remainder went to fintechs with co-founders of both genders).
That’s a deterioration, albeit a slight one, on the 1.43 per cent of the investor pie that women-led fintechs attracted in 2018.
If you were after a silver lining you could point out — as the authors at Deloitte did — that the share of investment won by female founders is up over a five-year period, since it was just 0.43 per cent back in 2015. Or that the share of fintechs founded by women is increasing, which should in time lead to women-founded fintechs winning a bigger share of the bounty.
But while there are prominent female founders in the sector — such as Anne Boden at Starling and Jessica Holzbach at Penta — there’s no escaping the fact that fintech remains a very male-dominated industry.
“When you step back and you say, OK, last year we’re still looking at 3 per cent [of fintechs founded by women] and . . . we’re still seeing just over 1 per cent of funding going to women, [that] is probably more of a shock than we had anticipated,” says Alaina Sparks, one of the authors of the Deloitte report.
Ms Sparks, nonetheless, describes herself as an “optimist” about the future.
In the report, Deloitte argues that investors, particularly venture capital firms, can make “meaningful change” by being consciously gender blind when they assess companies, and by having more women on their own teams, since female investors tend to be better disposed to female-led firms. Financial institutions can also be catalysts for change, including pledging to support “gender diverse companies” as Goldman Sachs did with a $500m fund a few years ago.
While much has been written about the pandemic hurting progress on gender equality as women disproportionately absorb childcare responsibilities, Deloitte argues that the Covid-19 environment could actually help female fintech founders.
“As companies aim to recover from the financial impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, they will need to run a tight ship while exploring all viable options for growth,” Deloitte wrote. “This should include investing in women entrepreneurs, who have proven themselves to be as capital-efficient and capable of generating high returns as are men, if not more so.”
In a commentary with the report, Carole Crawford, chair of 100WFinTech Committee, an initiative to raise the profile of women in fintech, argues that “the pandemic can be an opportunity for change and catalyst for growth for women in fintech.”
“Female fintech founders have excelled during this crisis, in part because of their ability to handle uncertainty, collaborate with others . . . and home in on the needs of the customer,” she added.
The early Covid-era signs are not encouraging. In the first six months of the year, female founded start-ups attracted just under 1.1 per cent of the $12.9bn invested in fintechs, a slight deterioration from their 1.3 per cent share in 2019.
Traditional finance looks set to hold on to its diversity crown for quite some time, relatively at least.
Quick Fire Q&A
Company name: Laybuy
When founded: 2017
Where based: Auckland, New Zealand
CEO: Gary Rohloff
What do you sell, and who do you sell it to: Laybuy is a “buy now, pay later” provider allowing customers to pay for goods in six weekly instalments, interest-free.
How did you get started: A family conversation about buying a pair of jeans and why there wasn’t an alternative to credit cards.
Amount of money raised so far: The recent IPO in Australia has resulted in raising $A80m to fund growth in the UK.
Valuation at latest fundraising: At listing, valued at $A246m
Major shareholders: Gary and Robyn Rohloff and Pioneer Capital
There are lots of fintechs out there — what makes you so special: We’re a rapidly growing company with a commitment to being the most responsible and trustworthy provider in our sector.
Further fintech fascination
Dealmakers: UK funding platforms Crowdcube and Seedrs are to merge, reports Sifted. Crowdcube shareholders will own 60 per cent of the combined business. Since 2011, the two companies have raised over £2bn for 1,500 companies. However Seedrs has said that funding on its platform fell earlier this year because of the pandemic.
Dealmakers (2): Italian payments companies Nexi and Sia will merge in a €15bn deal that has been under negotiation for two years, says the Financial Times. The new group will be Europe’s largest payments provider in terms of merchant servicing. The company will have combined revenues of almost €2bn.
Wirecard fallout: A whistleblower at EY warned the firm four years ago about potential fraud at Wirecard, reports the Financial Times. EY audited the company for more than a decade and provided unqualified audits until 2018. Meanwhile, the authorities in Singapore have told Wirecard to stop providing payment services in the city state.
Trendwatch: Sifted sat down with Eileen O’Mara, co-head of Stripe’s European business, to ask her about the US payment specialist’s growth plans and its reaction to the pandemic. She also spoke about open banking, the potential for acquisitions and the tech scene in Europe more broadly.
Follow the money: French start-up October has raised $300m, which it will use to invest in small- and medium-sized companies on its lending platform, reports TechCrunch. The money will be deployed over the next few years. The company works with businesses in France, Spain, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands.
AOB: Kazakh fintech Kaspi has revived plans for a London IPO, says the Financial Times; National Australia Bank has taken a stake in UK fintech Pollinate, according to Finextra; Lloyd’s of London has launched Parametrix, a policy that pays out automatically if IT services are disrupted, reports Reinsurance News; Japan’s NEC has bought Avaloq, a Swiss provider of software for banks, reports the Financial Times.
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