Online banking businessman using smartphone with credit card Fintech and Blockchain concept

How to get more women in FinTech

Online banking businessman using smartphone with credit card Fintech and Blockchain concept

Article by Nabilah Hussain, Head of FinCrime

FinTech has a gender problem.

The findings of Innovate Finance’s report, that women still account for less than 30% of the UK’s FinTech workforce, are sadly all too believable. Unlike in other sectors, such as engineering, where gender equality figures are slowly, but surely, moving in the right direction, in finance and technology they have stayed stubbornly low.

Having worked both in traditional retail banking and at FinTechs – my current role is Head of FinCrime at 3S Money – I know the industry is driven by the desire to enact real change and grasp the opportunities new technologies present. But to achieve this vision we need diversity of thought. In 2019, the financial services sector contributed £132 billion to the UK economy, 6.9% of total economic output. Imagine how much the industry could grow if we canvassed insight, experience and expertise from every part of society.

We need more people from different backgrounds, races and genders at all levels to create a financial ecosystem that is fair and works for everyone. The question is how do we make this happen?

Overhaul recruitment

First impressions are everything. And this goes for both candidates and companies. From job descriptions to the interview process itself and Glassdoor reviews, there are a number of factors that have been shown to actively put women off applying for roles.

In job descriptions, neutral language is so important. “Creative” titles like ‘guru’ or ‘ninja’ have been shown to inadvertently put women off from clicking on job adverts. And in many cases bely unconscious bias in the overall recruitment process. Condensing the list of ‘must haves’ and ‘nice to haves’ is another way of ensuring as an industry we avoid the social conditioning pitfall that sees women only apply for roles if they meet 100% of the criteria; compared to men who apply when they meet 60%.

While FinTech is genuinely one of the most exciting industries to work in, companies still need to sell themselves to candidates – it goes both ways. With CRO Magazine reporting 86% of US women wouldn’t join a company with a bad reputation, having positive posts on the likes of Glassdoor isn’t a nice to have, it’s a necessity.

Put culture-add over culture-fit

At 3S Money, we genuinely walk the walk on being an inclusive workplace focused on innovation. Nearly two thirds (61%) of our team is female and I’m one of five female heads of department. Culture-add always comes above culture-fit because we recognise the value in having different experiences and opinions around the table. It makes for more interesting discussions! This attitude is baked into our DNA and helps ensure we don’t drive away strong female and neurodiverse candidates.

Aiming for culture-fit tends to attract and hire more of the same, which won’t help anything change for the better. As an industry, we need to focus on bringing in people who can add value we don’t already see in the sector. This has to be the case for every department in FinTech companies – from product to operations, and sales and marketing.

Lead by example

It’s easy to say you want to improve gender equality in the workforce. But it starts at the top. If people don’t see themselves reflected in those leading the FinTech sector or see CEOs taking tangible action to make gender equality a reality, nothing will change. It’s the responsibility of leaders to educate, and explain the importance of diverse teams and how everyone benefits from learning from each other.

Challenge yourself to monitor the number of female hires in the company each quarter and watch the changes within those teams over time. By holding companies and the industry as a whole to account, we will watch positive change follow.

Nabilah HussainAbout the author

Nabilah Hussain, Head of FinCrime at 3S Money, is an experienced Financial Crime, Risk and Compliance Manager with a demonstrated history of working in the banking industry.

Nabilah has a Bachelor of Science (BSc) in Mathematics, Finance and Accounting from Queen Mary University and International AML Diploma from the ICA. Prior to 3S Money, Nabilah spent over 5 years at Metro Bank as its Risk & Compliance Manager, and BFC as Financial Crime Officer.

Inspirational Woman: Nabilah Hussain | Head of FinCrime, 3S Money

Nabilah HussainBeing raised along with my three sisters in a single-parent household by my mother, I always had a shining example of an independent and hardworking role model.

It was this support from my family that drove me to attend Queen Mary University, where I received a Bachelor of Science (BSc) in Mathematics, Finance and Accounting, and subsequently, an International Anti Money Laundering (AML) Diploma from the ICA. But like so many graduates, I graduated from university having little idea of where or how I wanted my career to progress.

One thing I did know is that I wanted to work with technology and to establish a career that I not only enjoyed, but that also constantly challenged me to learn and grow. So by chance – and walking past a high-street bank job advert – I fell into finance, which led me on my path to FinTech.

I spent nearly six years at Metro Bank, starting as a Customer Service Representative, working my way up to Risk & Compliance Manager. I later moved to BFC Bank where I was the Financial Crime Officer and I’m now Head of FinCrime at 3S Money. In my current role, I manage a team of Financial Crime and Compliance Officers and lead our efforts in tackling risk and compliance for client onboarding. I also work on consistently developing and enhancing our AML policies and procedures in line with regulatory changes and ever-evolving risk challenges in the FinTech space.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Absolutely! However, I’ve never been one to set very long-term goals. I find they can often become intimidating, overwhelming and most often unattainable.

Setting short-term, manageable goals allows me to plan more efficiently. I find these far more effective and achievable. I believe they give you a clearer sense of direction to help work out the steps needed to achieve desired outcomes.

I also like to use personal affirmations, focusing my energy on controllable aspects – such as my mindset. Given that we regularly encounter variable factors in our personal and professional lives that we can’t control, these help me remain grounded so that I can realign the best version of myself.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

Yes absolutely. It took going through lots of challenges, big and small, to help me find my niche. You have to be fluid and adaptable when moving through your career. For instance, if you try to rail against the challenges you’re facing too much, you’ll only crack and burn yourself out. By working with the challenges you face, and in many cases willingly put yourself in challenging situations, over time you become more resilient.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

My greatest achievement has to be finding my niche. As I mentioned, I came out of university with absolutely no idea what I wanted to do next. With no direction and little guidance, it would have been really easy for me to float around different industries, working in various roles before I found what I really wanted to do. I fell into finance almost by accident and from then on, having found my niche in compliance early on in my career, it’s really helped me focus my efforts.

Another achievement is that I’m now an advocate for female empowerment and leadership. I’ve experienced first-hand from my mother the positive influence strong female leaders can have on others. I channel these values in my professional career by sharing my experiences and helping my peers to grow.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in your achieving success?

Growing up, my mother always instilled in us the true value of working hard, and encouraged us to be ambitious, independent and dedicated from a young age. Her determination and ethos helped define how I work and interact with others today, and she’s played a huge role in my success. I wouldn’t be here without her. She is also part of the reason why I’m now a passionate advocate for female empowerment and leadership in the workplace.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

It’s really challenging to shadow people when working in a big corporate environment, and networking isn’t for everyone. I’d advise everyone to do their research online. The internet is an incredible resource and you can learn so much by researching about the broader industry and reading and listening to first-hand accounts from those on the front lines, so to speak. Getting a realistic sense of an area you want to work in and what that actually entails is invaluable, as then you can make informed career decisions at every stage.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

Perhaps because I entered the industry at a time when there was already a lot of positive change, I haven’t personally experienced any barriers as a woman in finance or fintech. I’m often told how lucky I am to have not experienced barriers in my career because of my gender.

Having said that, I’ve never worked for a company like 3S Money before. There is so much female empowerment and it’s actively encouraged by our CEO. Nearly two thirds (61%) of our team is female and I’m one of five female heads of department. We recognise the value in having different experiences and opinions in the workforce, which is why culture-add always comes above cultural fit.

I’ve also been appointed as a mentor in our internship programme at 3S Money and I’m currently offering coaching and training to a compliance intern in my team. I’m delighted to have been given the opportunity to influence a culture that tones from the top to create a skilled, inclusive, and friendly work environment.

What do you think companies can do to support the progress and careers of women working in technology?

We need to lead by example. After all, it’s our future leaders we need to worry about. We need to see CEO’s taking tangible action to make gender equality a reality. It’s critical they realise that it’s their own responsibility to educate and explain the importance of diverse teams and how everyone benefits from learning from each other. Otherwise, nothing will change. It all starts from the top.

What I want to see is CEO’s challenging themselves to monitor the number of female hires they make each quarter and watch the changes within those teams over time. It’s by holding our own companies and the broader industry accountable, that we will watch positive change follow.

There are currently only 17% of women working in tech. If you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

I’d increase the awareness of inequality in the midst of great change. As only by being aware of a problem can we all come together to enact change for good. I have an amazing team of women supporting me at 3S Money, there is a genuine sense of female empowerment, support and community.

Creating a top-down culture will also help accelerate the pace of change. Ivan, our CEO, is a true advocate of female empowerment and has created a culture where everyone is supported and all opinions are valued and respected. If we had more environments like this, we would see the pace of change skyrocket.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

EventBright is invaluable. For me personally, I knew I was interested in compliance so I wanted to find and attend all the compliance events I could. It helped me understand what the industry looks like and what working in compliance would actually entail. As well as what I needed to do to enter the industry. When I did eventually apply for a job in compliance, I not only had the knowledge I needed, but I also had a clear view of the current risk climate in Finance.