Why a Lack of Diversity in Fintech Poses an Existential Threat

The issue of diversity – in terms of gender and ethnicity – has become a central topic in boardrooms all over the world. How these conversations are translated into real-world challenges and real-world solutions will prove critical to our ability to reach the goals of greater representation and inclusion of marginalized groups.

To this end, we share a guest blog post from Philippa Ushio and Hal Bienstock of Prosek Partners, an international financial communications consultancy. Ushio and Bienstock discuss the importance of greater gender and ethnic diversity in the leadership ranks of both fintech companies and in the venture capitalist firms that fund them.

In an extremely uncertain business environment, there are two things that almost every expert agrees to be true:

  1. The most innovative companies are likely to come out ahead when the COVID-19 crisis comes to an end
  2. Diverse leadership teams are more innovative and generate better business results 

So, why is it that venture capitalists – the very people tasked with funding innovation – are so monolithic? According to a report from Richard Kerby of Equal Ventures, just three percent of VC employees in 2018 were Black and only one percent were Hispanic. Eighteen percent are women.

The numbers for fintechs tell a similar story. According to research from Oliver Wyman, women represent just 14% of fintech boards, compared with 23% in the banking sector. The consulting firm found that 39% of fintechs it studied had no women on their board at all. 

Now consider that McKinsey’s Delivering Through Diversity Report found that companies in the top-quartile for ethnic/cultural diversity on executive teams were 33% more likely to have industry-leading profitability. And research from Boston Consulting Group found that companies with more diverse management teams have 19% higher revenues due to innovation. Clearly, there’s a disconnect.

That said,  we can agree that not all talk about diversity and serving underserved populations is just lip service; many fintechs are in fact delivering on their missions. Facilitating access to PPP is a good example, with loan marketplaces like Lendio, Fundera and Nav having all been credited with reacting quickly to help small businesses during the first round of government support. And many neo-banks and earned wage access providers are helping low-income workers achieve financial wellness during a period of great economic uncertainty. Pandemic aside, there is no doubt that it is easier today than it was 10 years ago for businesses and individuals to get reasonably priced short-term credit, specialized financial advice, and avoid high percentage loans, among other things. Yet, for all the good fintechs are doing, it’s impossible not to think about the problems that founders haven’t begun to even consider – let alone solve – because they don’t have people on their teams who are actually living with these issues.

In addition to the disturbing lack of ethnic and gender diversity at VC firms, Richard Kerby found that 40% of VC employees went to one of just two schools – Stanford or Harvard. How many of them grew up unable to afford an unexpected $400 expense, like 40% of Americans? Or with parents running small businesses that lived or died based on what was in the cash register at the end of the day?

Over the past decade, fintechs have done a lot to help small and medium businesses. But there’s an opportunity to do so much more and there has never been a more important time than now as so many face the reality of shutting their doors in the wake of the pandemic. 

If founders and VC firms continue to ignore the benefits that diversity in leadership bring, it won’t be long before the disruptors find themselves disrupted by those who are more innovative, more thoughtful about the problems they are trying to solve, and more able to reach a customer base that consists of far more than just Harvard and Stanford grads. 

The good news is that things are changing. Many fintechs and VC firms put out strong statements of support following recent racial justice protests and committed themselves to taking measurable action to diversify. Only by living up to these ideals can the current fintech wave continue to build. Let’s watch this space.

Philippa Ushio is SVP at Prosek Partners where she leads teams in developing communications strategies and mounting multi-disciplinary campaigns to protect and enhance business value. Throughout her career, she has provided strategic counsel to clients facing a wide variety of complex issues, focusing particularly on their communications challenges. 

Hal Bienstock is a Managing Director at Prosek Partners. A fintech specialist, he has spent more than 20 years working as a brand strategist and corporate communications executive. He has extensive experience counseling C-suite leaders and developing integrated campaigns that change perceptions internally and externally. 

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon from Pexels

The post Why a Lack of Diversity in Fintech Poses an Existential Threat appeared first on Finovate.

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