In 2020 diversity in fintech shouldn’t be a tick-box exercise

By Sophie Krishnan on Monday 9 March 2020

OpinionDigital Banking

The latest research suggests diverse teams make better decisions in half the time, who can argue with that? Asks Sophie Krishnan, WorldRemit's chief operations officer.

In 2020 diversity in fintech shouldn’t be a tick-box exercise
Image source: Pexels.

As a female executive in fintech, I’m very aware of a range of ways in which the industry needs to up its diversity game, from the boardroom to the recruitment of the youngest intake.

Our industry is quite woeful on this front—on gender diversity, figures show women account for just 29.5 per cent of the fintech employee base in the UK.

It's not easy to build diverse teams. But there is a way to unlock some common barriers by starting with the customer: connecting closely with a diverse customer base is an effective trigger.

Homogenous teams will naturally design and problem solve in a way most helpful to users and customers who look, sound and behave like the team members themselves. There’s a wealth of evidence to back this up—the gender and racial bias we already see with many artificial intelligence products, for example, a huge problem for the tech industry to solve.

Companies based in Europe or the US also find it easy to miss out on what’s going on in fintech across really dynamic and exciting markets like the Indian subcontinent, China, Latin America or Africa—take Brazil’s NuBank, which reached 15m customers in October last year. And they may find it hard to understand the cultural and social differences which make certain payment solutions a breakthrough success in some markets, yet unpopular and poorly designed for other markets.

We are seeing more and more UK-based fintechs seeking to expand and build larger customer bases abroad. In this rush to capture the business of the desirable, usually young, metropolitan early adopter, fintech companies run the risk of reverting to type.

In the international payments space, the customers are inherently incredibly diverse, and a significant number are migrants who send money around the world. To serve those customers well, fintechs with global ambitions must build teams that represent a similar degree of diversity.

Mainstream logic goes: “hire diverse teams so you can understand your customer better.” That doesn’t happen by accident—it is incumbent on all of us in leadership positions in our industry to actively recruit teams which reflect the rich diversity of the customers we seek to serve. But it's hard to do because fast-growing businesses need to recruit quickly, and it’s often easier to find, attract and retain talent that mirrors that of the initial teams.

Instead of forcing diverse hires through quotas and rules, there’s another way. It starts with the customers.

Bring in and deeply listen to customers who are from more diverse walks of life than your initial base. Bring them into your customer panels, your research labs, make them meet your product managers, your brand experts, your treasury specialists. Spend time with them. See where they live, where they shop, where they travel.

Homogeneous teams will soon realise that they have a hard time connecting easily with those customers who are different. So to grow the business they will seek to be part of teams that can understand those differences. They will naturally better value, recruit, promote and listen to colleagues from underrepresented backgrounds.

In my world of international payments it’s incredible how many nationalities represented in one office can bring different insights and approaches, reaching solutions to incredibly complex and varied business challenges. These teams are motivated by their connections to our customers and their families back home. One study found that diverse teams and inclusive decision making resulted in better business decisions 87 per cent of the time, and drove decision making to be twice as fast with half the meetings—who can argue with that?

For businesses which want to grow worldwide, diversity shouldn’t be a tick-box exercise but part of the plan for growth. All over the world, fast-growing fintech businesses are striving to create new and better financial services. Starting with the customer is a fantastic way to naturally bring more diversity in a business, it'll accelerate growth and serve our world better.

Sophie Krishnan is the chief operations officer of WorldRemit. The views and opinions expressed are not necessarily those of AltFi.

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