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March 5, 2021updated 08 Mar 2021 2:09pm

Gender equality: how to make finance more inclusive

By Evie Rusman

The finance world is still heavily dominated by men, with only a small proportion of women in senior roles. To add to this, there is even a gender gap when it comes to accessing basic financial services. Evie Rusman speaks to leading women in fintech about making financial services inclusive for everyone

A research note, written by the FCA in 2019, showed that gender diversity has remained consistently low at senior levels in UK financial services – approximately 17%.

It also outlined that, for a sample of 94 major institutions, the typical share of female senior managers has grown relatively rapidly since 2005 (by 9pp), but only from a low base (9%), bringing them as a group in line with the still low industry average.

Furthermore, research from Retail Banker International showed that across the top five banks in the UK only 37.9% of directors were female in 2020.  These figures are disappointing and paint a negative picture of the financial world.

However, all is not lost – speaking to EPI, Vicki Gladstone, CEO and director of payments fintech Moorwand, discusses how fintech is opening up more opportunities for women.

“Traditionally, finance was a male dominated industry,” she says. “But fintech disrupted this tradition, making banking more accessible to women. As the fintech industry has grown, so has the variety of roles.

“Although we have a long way to go, there’s been a sea change with regards to the space becoming more open and inclusive at all levels. Women’s voices are being heard. And more females are pursuing traditionally male dominated roles in areas such as data analytics, operations, sales and tech.”

Vicki Gladstone encourages women to create an ideal career path

Starting out in fintech

Entering the fintech industry as a female can be challenging, and it can often be difficult to know where to start.

Gladstone has two pieces of advice for women looking to take the plunge. Firstly, she encourages women to stop limiting themselves by seeing their role, and impact, as temporary. She recommends that women create an ideal career path, one that compliments their ambitions and talents.

“After that, go for it,” Gladstone says. “The beauty of working with technology means that as new tech is created, so are new roles. And you are just as entitled to those opportunities as your male counterparts.”

Secondly, Gladstone emphasises the idea that if women want to be leaders, they shouldn’t lose themselves to “fit in”.

“The qualities that made you a good leader initially are crucial to you remaining the best person for the job,” she says. “It’s important to be respected but you achieve respect by being credible. Work hard, set expectations and don’t be afraid to put yourself out there.”

Access to financial services

Gender equality is not just a problem when it comes to senior finance roles, it is also an issue on a broader level. Across the world, 35% of women do not have access to basic banking services, in comparison to 28% of men.

Financial exclusion is mainly a problem in low-income countries and can push women into poverty. Rossana Thomas, VP of product management at Fiserv, has experience working with institutions in these countries to help improve financial access.

She says: “Several years ago, I experienced first-hand the real difference access to banking services can have in low-income economies. My husband and I were part of a group of independent contractors working with the Central Bank of Bangladesh to help with image exchange cheque clearance and to get their Electronic Funds Transfer system up and running.

“At the time, the country’s payments clearing platform was completely manual. After two and a half years of working with several stakeholders, the country (and its entire population) had working cheque imaging and ACH. You could really see the difference electronic payments can make.”

Not having access to banking services can be dangerous for women and can leave them vulnerable. In addition, if the money is controlled by their husbands, women may start to feel supressed because they are continually asking for permission to access cash.

“It’s vitally important that women in low-income countries have access to banking services,” Thomson says. “It empowers them to manage and move their money, when and how they want and need to.

“It could be to buy essentials, or make small savings, safely and securely. Financial inclusion, giving all people access to high-quality financial services, enables a country’s development from the heart, having a knock-on positive effect on economic growth, promoting business evolution, and reducing inequality.”

Rossana Thomson helped to improve Bangladesh’s electronic payment system

Solutions

It is obvious that things need to change when it comes to financial access. Gladstone argues that financial education is one of the best ways to lift women out of poverty and help them manage money.

“Education is at the crux of a more financially inclusive world. Introducing people of all ages and genders to new financial products is a key priority for the whole industry, and clearly there is a lot more work to be done,” she says.

Gladstone also argues that banks need to think more about creating products that are tailored to women.

“It is the responsibility of the sector to encourage the creation of more gender-inclusive products that are promoted to the women who need them the most,” she adds. “We need founders to push beyond gender-neutrality and design with women in mind.”

Data shows that women can have different needs to men. Gladstone says that forward-thinking financial institutions are beginning to recognise the potential of the women’s market, rather than just seeing it as a corporate social responsibility initiative.

Adding to this, Thomson says that central banks and market infrastructures need to work together, responsibly, to ensure men and women from all parts of society have access to affordable and useful financial products and services.

“It is only when a country moves forward that its people can move forward too,” she says.

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