Fintech

The need to tackle the FinTech bias

Gemma Young, founder of DiversiTech Hub

FinTech“You are not investable”. That’s the argument I heard as a mum of four kids looking for funding for a Fintech, despite having 17 years of experience in IT banking.

I am not the first person who will be denied funding or a promotion because I don’t fit the stereotype and I will not be the last. Unfortunately, the FinTech industry is suffering from a big problem, bias.

The bias heritage of FinTech 

Albeit a relatively new sector, FinTech has its heritage in two industries: finance and tech. As one of the fastest-growing industries in the UK, it has managed to gather some of the best features in both - deploying AI to simplify what was bureaucratic and impersonal in traditional banking, for instance - but it also inherited the lack of diversity. Tech is slowly making progress in its efforts to rectify the lack of equality, but is nowhere near close to parity. Financial services face similar issues. Although there might be a lack of it, no one disputes it’s importance, 80% of CEOs interviewed by PwC recognize diversity as a key factor in new hires, to enhance business performance and strengthen brand and reputation.

In regards to where FinTechs stand, according to the 2019 edition of the EY UK FinTech Census, only 25% of businesses have at least one female co-founder, and the gender ratio is 70.5% male to 29.5% female employees. Compared to the first edition, from 2017, these numbers have barely changed. The issue is clear.

Bias is everywhere 

Bias isn’t just something that lives in boardrooms, it is now permeating the technology the industry uses. As financial services become increasingly digital, AI is opening doors we never thought possible. FinTechs investing in artificial intelligence are able to eliminate human error in banking procedures and understand and adapt to customer demands in unique ways. This rapid transformation also brought a new concern to the market: could the AI we deploy also be biased? When it involves personal data such as credit and payments history, decisions misguided by AI bias can be especially damaging. A FinTech that preaches diversity and financial inclusion could deny services to minority groups or have systems that favour the privileged without ever realising.

As a McKinsey study points out, AI can help reduce human bias, but it can also bake in and scale the bias we have. Unconscious bias is especially hard to identify once it affects artificial intelligence because leaders can spend their entire careers without ever realising they are making decisions based on them. When it comes to diversity, organisations must first tackle their own unconscious behaviours and patterns.

Take action, don’t just talk about it

Everyone is well versed in talking the talk, but if the sector wants to embrace diversity and inclusion for good, and stop AI from perpetuating decades-old bias, businesses need to walk the walk. The path towards more diversity is easier than you think, and its benefits go far beyond brand recognition. Gender and ethnic diversity in the workplace have proven to be correlated with profitability, especially when it reaches executive roles.

Business leaders in FinTech need to start hiring and promoting minority executives so that junior employees have mentors to encourage them, and supporting STEM programmes to bring new, more diverse talent to FinTechs. Even smaller steps, like showcasing an organisation’s support of inclusion in job opening websites can help encourage diversity in applications for FinTech roles.

Tackling the FinTech diversity bias will be critical not just for the social impact, but for the sustainable growth of the entire sector - and the time to make it a priority and act is now.

Gemma Young About the author

Gemma Young is the founder of DiversiTech Hub, a network of FinTech organisations promoting diversity and inclusion in the FinTech industry. Learn more about the Hub at https://www.diversitech-hub.com/.


Gemma Young

Gemma Young | @womenoffintech

Gemma Young

I have worked in the FinTech industry for 17 years. I started in recruitment for IT Banking and then quickly moved into Business Development.

I help companies to expand into new regions and grow, through strategic business development plans and marketing campaigns.
I am a diversity and inclusion pioneer in the FinTech industry.

Why? I am also the mum of four young children and have seen first hand, the struggle as a young woman in a male dominated industry, a woman looking for a job when newly married and seen as a ticking time bomb about to have a child / take maternity leave, a woman returning to work after a career break (motherhood) and as a woman wanting to work flexi-hours instead of taking maternity leave.

I am passionate about making the work place inclusive for everyone. Some of the best things I have been taught in my career, have been from people who may not have had a voice at other companies. I truly believe that asking, and more importantly listening, to EVERYONE in your company and valuing their opinions, is how disruption and innovation are so successfully shaking up the industry.


Gemma Young featured

Inspirational Woman: Gemma Young | CEO & Co-Founder, Settled

 

Gemma Young, Settled

Gemma is passionate about technology's potential to radically improve people’s lives.

She’s on a mission to erase the anxieties that overshadow the joy of buying and selling a home. For well over a decade, Gemma’s been immersed in the online world, with experience that includes one of the UK’s first digital agencies and - back in its early days - Google. During her time at Google, Gemma worked across Silicon Valley, Europe and Africa.

With her experience both on the front line of digital, and previously as an estate agent, she’s leveraged some the most innovative technological advances in her drive to reshape the home buying and selling experience, creating Settled.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I have been involved with Internet businesses for well over a decade and am passionate about improving people’s everyday lives through technology. After graduating, I ventured into the world of estate agents, where I spent some time before moving to work for one of the UK’s first digital agencies. I subsequently joined what was (back then) a ‘start-up’; Google, where I stayed for many years working across Silicon Valley, Europe and Africa.

Having been on the front line of industries being transformed by the Internet, and having seen the shortcomings of the estate agency model, I saw the opportunity to leverage technology to reshape the home buying and selling experience and, together with my Co-Founder and brother Paul Young, I created property transaction platform Settled with the dream of making moving a home easier for everyone.

What inspired you to start Settled?

I spent time working in estate agents in my early career, so I’d seen ‘under the hood’ of the model. I understood processes and how things fit together and I’d always paid close attention to the industry - kind of waiting for someone to come in and truly improve it. But, years on, the fall through rates were the same (1 in 3 homes which go under offer don’t end up selling) and, with all the advances in technology - I could see the solution.

I thought about this for some time and then, one day a friend of mine turned up at my house in tears. She’d lost out on the house of her dreams after battling legal and financial processes for months. At that moment, I decided I was going to go for it. I left my job at Google and started building what today is Settled.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

As individuals, unless you know what you want - your career progression becomes a set of steps you take which hopefully get you closer to your true character and values, and that was certainly the case for me.

My journey took me through roles in real estate, digital technology and when I was at Google, I got really close to how technology could be used to solve big problems - I loved its potential.

Alongside all this, increasingly I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur and I’d always been drawn to businesses where consumers, rather than businesses, call the shots. I do feel truly grateful I’ve taken risks and followed this passion. It’s not been easy, but I’m so excited that Settled can continue to play a part in the digital transformation of what is considered to be one of the most stressful times in our lives and, that hopefully, one day people will feel moving home is purely joyful, not stressful - that it’s just Settled.

Have you faced any challenges along the way and if so, how did you deal with them?

One of the most important things I have learnt is resilience. Over time, setting up a business is hugely challenging. But it’s truly the belief in what’s possible, in the mission and purpose of what myself and my team come into work for everyday that keeps us going.

On a typical workday, how does you start your day and how does it end?

I wake up around 7am - hit the snooze button so I can give myself 10 minutes to go through new emails and to check up on the day’s plans. On my commute in, I’ll either listen to a business book on Audible or write emails and respond to questions. Then it’s normally either a coffee at my favourite café across the road from my office or a breakfast meeting to start the day.

My evenings are normally dinners with friends, industry events and, of course, nights in switching off to everything with something trashy on Netflix.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you ever had a mentor or do you mentor anyone?

I love spending time with techies or people who get excited about the future - how the world will change through technology and pushing the boundaries on innovation.

I’m lucky enough to, overtime, have come into contact with other entrepreneurs, some of whom have become dear friends. Their support, experience and openness to glasses of wine and sharing ideas is something I’m deeply grateful for.

I often reflect and wish I’d had more people around me in my very early journey so now, I do make the time to spend with early startup founders. I can often relate to their challenges and, I hope, through sharing my experiences, I can help them to avoid or cope with some of those challenges.

If you could change one thing for women in the workplace, what would it be?

The world and its workplace have evolved over the years; its structures have equally developed meaning that, naturally, certain values and expected behaviours have evolved.

I’m less interested in looking back at the reasons why - I believe more progress comes from looking forward. We’re at a time where we should understand and unpick these things more deeply across race, sexual preference, gender and many other facets.

From a gender perspective - women aren’t under represented at board level just because they’re not as capable. There are multi-faceted and deeply structural reasons for this - such as women having the biological responsibility of child birth and subsequently, being the most likely party to have the onus placed on them for childcare. We need to think about how do we work with this and understand these differences? Because, more understanding of these pressures will benefit businesses and society in the long run.

What advice do you have for an future or budding entrepreneurs?

Solving a problem that’s really meaningful to you, that other people need the solution to and that’s close to your individual values and strengths.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

Since our launch, we’ve worked hard to develop a technology and service that feels quite different to conventional methods in real estate. We’ve empowered customers and it’s been hugely rewarding to see how this, along with the technology and applications we’re building, has had a direct impact on how successful a transaction is. We’ve already cut the time it takes to buy or sell in half and we’ve vastly reduced the likelihood of a home falling through.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

I believe moving home shouldn’t be one of the most stressful things we do in our lives. I want people to be able to move around the world more easily and I plan to make sure Settled becomes synonymous with the perfect home move for buyers and sellers.