Embracing the power of partnerships is key to transforming fintech and payments. This was the resounding advice from a panel at TechCrunch Disrupt 2023, where female fintech leaders shared invaluable insights and guidance for women aspiring to excel in this dynamic industry.
TechCrunch Disrupt 2023, held in San Francisco this September, brought together fintech innovation, collaboration, and visionary leadership on a grand scale. One standout session delved into the transformative potential of the payments ecosystem with a focus on women in fintech and the importance of fostering a more inclusive and innovative industry.
The ‘Women in Fintech: The Power of Partnership’ breakout session, sponsored by global payments brand Discover® Global Network, took place on day two of the three-day event and showcased female leaders in fintech and payments.
Led by Miladys Felix, senior principal sales executive at Discover Global Network, the session included Lacey Frenzl, vice president of customer experience at SaaS payment platform ISVPay alongside Fonta Gilliam, CEO of Welthi, a fintech that builds social banking software for banks, credit unions and affinity groups, who together served up insights on the challenges and opportunities for women in the fintech industry.
The discussion began with insights into the origin stories of the female fintech leaders, showcasing their entrepreneurial spirit and innovative ideas. Together, the trio shared pivotal experiences that shaped their leadership, emphasising resilience and adaptability as vital traits in the rapidly evolving fintech landscape.
Gilliam, who was an American diplomat for the first 10 years of her career, set up Wellthi to make banking apps more accessible to the next generation and she outlined the challenge of mainstreaming a concept like social finance.
“My job was to work with foreign banks and governments and design innovative access to capital programs that can really empower people economically,” explained Gilliam. “That’s where I was first exposed to this concept of social finance and community savings, and a lot of the traditions that exist in emerging markets and American immigrant communities, around how people save, spend, and invest together to do amazing things outside the formal banking system.
“I got really fascinated by it. It was one of the few things that works but was really being ignored by the financial services industry. I remember thinking, what if we could take this concept of social saving and social finance and couple it with the best-in-class fintech payments and that’s really how Welthi came to be.”
Frenzl then delved into her experience and knowledge in integrated payments enablement and commercialisation, as well as her passion for developing innovative products and services.
“ISVPay is focused on independent software vendors (ISVs) by helping them provide the solutions and products that they need to not only expand their current product offering but expand their reach and do that all while creating additional revenue and expanding their brand,” said Frenzl.
“We love having conversations about software, understanding ISVs goals and needs. We’re not limited to our current product offering. In fact, when an ISV approached us with a unique need we hadn’t encountered before, we leveraged our industry relationships to collaborate with Discover Global Network and provide a solution that worked for them and met their needs. Instead of pushing our existing products, we’re about the solutions and take a very consultative approach.”
A candid exploration of the unique challenges faced by women in fintech also led to a collective call for greater inclusivity in the industry. They offered practical advice for aspiring women in fintech, emphasised the importance of male advocacy and support along with seizing opportunities to build confidence in this dynamic field.
Power of partnerships
It’s no secret that startups and established players can create a fintech powerhouse when they join forces. In fact, a recent study, the Fintech State of the Union by 451 Research (part of S&P Global Market Intelligence) in collaboration with Discover Global Network, revealed that a huge 98 per cent of fintechs are eyeing partnership opportunities, with payments networks topping their wish lists.
During their TechCrunch discussion, Gilliam, Frenzl and Felix highlighted the meaningful contributions of their respective businesses to the fintech sector, improving financial products and experiences, while underscoring the transformative power of partnerships, emphasising how startups and larger corporations can mutually benefit from collaboration.
This engaging conversation dove into how startups can derive immense value from partnering with established industry players and, conversely, how larger corporations can benefit from the agility and innovation that startups bring to the table.
Gilliam said: “When I started out, I didn’t have a strong background in payments and I came into a market that oftentimes had never heard of this concept of social finance, or community savings. What I found really quickly is that I had to focus on partnerships, finding likeminded people in companies that were very serious and interested in kind of this concept of economic empowerment, thinking differently about how people save and build wealth and pay make payments. My journey wouldn’t have been possible without establishing a robust partner ecosystem and carefully selecting who I collaborate with.”
While Frenzl added: “There’s a difference between productisation and commercialisation. Larger experienced organisations do a really good job of productising and explaining the features and how to use them in those industries that would be most beneficial. But when it comes to commercialising, I think a younger, smaller organisation can really understand and pinpoint some of those emerging markets that maybe haven’t been quite competitive.
“Discover Global Network has connected us with partners that have aligned goals and expectations and it is through those partnerships that we can take a complete product to market, quicker and with reduced costs.”
Following the session, Felix, senior principal sales executive at Discover Global Network, told The Fintech Times: “I was honoured to participate in a women-led panel at Tech Crunch Disrupt with our fintech partners ISVPay and Wellthi.
“This panel was a great opportunity to showcase women leaders who are making an impact in the fintech and payments ecosystem. Through their career paths, challenges, and advice, the experiences shared will undoubtedly form a positive influence on the future of the payments industry. It’s incredibly important to listen to the issues that women face in the fintech space.”
Elsewhere at TechCrunch Disrupt 2023
Beyond the ‘Women in Fintech: The Power of Partnership’ session, TechCrunch Disrupt 2023 was swarming with compelling discussions and notable events. Throughout the three-day extravaganza, which hosted more than 12,000 participants from all over the world, fintech innovators and leaders had the opportunity to delve into various facets of the industry.
Sessions covering topics like AI, SaaS, fintech security, sustainability, and space exploration showcased the breadth of innovation within fintech.
The event also hosted luminaries including Shaquille O’Neal, the NBA Hall of Famer, Kevin Systrom, the co-founder of Instagram, and Michelle Zatlyn, the co-founder, president and COO of Cloudflare.