FinTech Should be Leading the Way for Gender Equality
Since beginning my career in the financial services industry thirty years ago, I have witnessed an evolution in the representation of women within the sector, with far more rising to senior positions. At the start of my career at the bank branch level, there wasn’t a single female branch manager. I’m glad to say this isn’t the case anymore.
However, despite the great leaps forward, a significant disparity exists between the number of men and women welcomed into the industry. As a young woman who had left school after A levels, it was challenging to progress in a very ‘traditional banking’ environment. I was fortunate to be accepted onto an accelerated management development programme in the first couple of years, but then it was down to me, and it took a lot of hard work to get to where I am today. It is incredibly important to talk about the challenges that continue to face women so that we can push forward equality and representation, create even more opportunities for talented women across all levels, and ultimately serve our customers better.
Currently, the top five gender pay gaps by sector are all within financial services, with the average pay gap within the industry being 26.6%. That’s well above the 12.1% documented across the broader UK market. This needs to be prioritised by decision-makers to balance the opportunities and provide space for new talent and perspectives to enter the market – something greatly needed during real financial uncertainty.
I recently read Christine Lagarde’s experience of being surrounded by men throughout her career, including in her current role as the head of the European Central Bank. While I can relate to how she feels, I am grateful to have had Ana Botin as a role model for me during my time at Santander. She was admired by many at the organisation, and I learned many positive lessons from my time there.
Unfortunately, my experience of having strong women in senior positions is still rare. In 2021, the proportion of women in leadership roles within financial services organisations was 24% with the projection that this would grow to 28% by 2030. This shouldn’t be acceptable and shows we must do more to ensure we move from conversations about increasing equality to material action.
The UK Government has recognised change is needed and has been running the HM Treasury Women in Finance Charter since March 2016 to improve gender balance in senior management. The charter now has over 400 signatories with 950,000 employees across the sector. 97% of these signatories have also said their agenda to improve representation has improved since the inception of the charter.
Unfortunately, my experience of having strong women in senior positions is still rare. In 2021, the proportion of women in leadership roles within financial services organisations was 24% with the projection that this would grow to 28% by 2030.
In their five-year report, the charter documented that there has been a rise from 14% to 22% on average for women in executive committees since 2016. And women board members have also risen from 23% to 31%. While there is still work to do, these are encouraging figures and show what can be done when government and industry take action. We must continue to track data, hire, promote and train women to drive future improvements and provide positive environments that allow both women and men to thrive in their careers.
FinTech is a disruptive force across the financial services and banking industry as it continues to challenge the status quo by incorporating new problem-solving technology, ultimately making life easier for those interacting with it. Often, as is the case with challenger banks, disruption takes the form of going against the traditional banking model and paving the way for adaptation. I’ve found this refreshing since joining Kroo because building a bank from scratch allows you to start with a blank canvas and strips back the traditional processes and bureaucracy associated with legacy banking.
Due to its disruptive nature, the FinTech industry has an opportunity to lead the way in providing opportunities to women and other minority groups ignored by the sector. It is well-positioned to bring equality to the financial services sector by providing opportunities to develop a stronger team that better represents and serves its customer base.
However, old banking values are infiltrating this new and exciting space as only 1.5% of global FinTech firms are founded solely by women and receive just 1% of total FinTech funding. As well as this, just 5.6% of global FinTech CEOs are women, and less than 4% hold the title.
Overcoming barriers and producing real change
Highlighting and raising awareness of the stigma that persists against women in financial services and leaders in other corporate environments plays a crucial role in driving change. All organisations should keep this in mind if they want to help address the gender inequality problem moving forward.
At Kroo, I am proud to say that we are very focused on creating initiatives to help more women progress into leadership roles. I mentor several women on our team, having known the benefits of this for my career progression. We are also partnering with organisations to help drive progression for women in technology and product roles. We are very focused on initiatives such as the gender pay gap, which for neo-banks is better than some of the more traditional organisations but still has improvements to make.
We all know that change will not happen overnight, and it will take time and effort to address the inequality throughout the financial services sector. Still, the current wave of challenger banks and a generation that wants to do banking differently has a golden opportunity to produce change. Within my role at Kroo, I am committed to championing diversity and ensuring equal opportunities within my team and for women within the sector. Equal representation of women within the financial services sector might still not be a reality, but together we can make it happen.
 PwC, Gender Pay Gap reporting in the Financial Services sector in 2020/2021  Deloitte, Leadership, Representation and Gender Equity in Financial Services  HM Treasury Women in Finance Charter: Five Year Review  Findexable, Fintech Diversity Radar