The fintech diversity promise
an interview with Susanne Hannestad
Fintech will play a central role in the post-COVID economy in expanding access to financial services, to support those most affected in society and to create a more diverse and sustainable marketplace, with financial products that cater for all demographics, everywhere.
To realise the promise of fintech, we need data that is relevant, up to date and validated, combined with a transparent way in which to measure and monitor success.
We’re setting out to build the findexable Fintech Diversity Radar, launching in 2021, the world’s first global platform gathering progressive data on women in fintech to understand their impact and contribution to the digital economy.
We could not do this on our own, so we have gathered a powerful group of fintech and diversity experts to support us and lend their voice to our call for inclusion.
The first voice is that of Susanne Hannestad, CEO of Fintech Mundi and findexable’s Ambassador for the Nordics and Baltics who has shared her story and her thoughts on why diversity in fintech matters with Chisom Ezeilo, findexable’s Diversity and Inclusion Analyst.
CE: Tell us a bit about yourself and how you found yourself in fintech.
SH: I have worked at the intersection of technology, business development, and commercialization throughout my career. I love scaling companies for the global market. I started in fintech as Chair of Zwipe – a Norwegian start-up which launched the world’s first contactless fingerprint authenticated technology in 2014. Zwipe is now listed on the Oslo Stock Exchange with operations globally. I have worked with fintechs for the last 10 years.
I have been an executive and board director in various sectors: financial services, financial technology, financial inclusion, cards, payments and insurance. Prior to joining Fintech Mundi, I was Director at Nordea Finance and Head of Cards at Nordea, expanding the business across the Nordic and the Baltic regions.
CE: How has your experience been so far working in the industry? Has it been affected by the fact that the industry is male dominated?
SH: Throughout my career, from Business School to executive and board positions, the industry has been male dominated. This has not affected me so much – I did see it as a challenge to overcome. Personally, I have always recruited close to 50-50 for gender diversity and paid extra attention to female founders. In the boardroom I promote balance for executive management and make sure there are female programmers in fintech companies.
CE: What is your take on the current state of diversity and women in fintech? Is it a problem? Why or why not?
SH: By numbers alone, across many advanced markets, women are now better represented in financial services firms than ever – making up half, or more, of all financial services staff, in the Nordic region in particular.
However, there is still a long way to go. In 2018, in the top 20 global financial services firms, women accounted for only 18% of executive committees. It is an improvement on the 13% they represented in 2014. And yet, for every 5 male banking leaders there’s only 1 woman at the top. Among fintech founders, only 12% are female.
CE: From your own experience and background, do you think there are any particular reasons why women shy away from this industry?
SH: If things are changing, most women, from different ethnicities, aren’t feeling the benefits. In a survey by one of our partners, 59% of respondents felt the industry doesn’t do enough to tackle gender inequality in pay and opportunities. Women were also twice as likely as men to have had direct experience of some form of discrimination.
CE: Research shows that women more often than not occupy roles that are expendable. Do you think this is true? If yes, why?
SH: Yes, traditionally this has been the case. It is vital for women to build on their experience by taking on responsibility in financial management such as profit and loss, and to get involved in business development, sales, and C-level positions in order to excel.
CE: What challenges do you think women face that deters them from becoming founders or executives of fintech organizations?
SH: Women need to work twice as hard, demonstrate achievement, and make themselves heard and seen.
CE: How do you think Covid-19 has impacted women in fintech? Do you have any examples you can share?
SH: Working with the Lighthouse MASSIV, a Mastercard initiative, and with Nordic fintech companies targeting emerging markets, I can see that women are deeply affected by Covid-19. An example comes from the Danish fintech Jamii.one, which provides digital savings for female founders to start small businesses. Jamii.one has found that female businesses have been most fundamentally affected by Covid-19.
CE: How do you think we can get more women involved; particularly given the reality the world has found itself in?
SH: By promoting female founders and executives who perform well and succeed. This raises confidence and lays the groundwork for further success.
CE: What advice do you have for any young woman who is looking to make a relevant change or build a career in fintech?
SH: Look for fintech companies you like for their vision, team, products, and markets. Reach out to the fintech companies and ask for a coffee meeting and introduce yourself. Be part of the fintech ecosystems in your region and be active to broaden your network.
CE: Any final word for people out there?
SH: Collaboration is the new innovation and women are great at collaborating.
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