The necessity of diversity and inclusion within fintech has become a core element of the industry and is just as integral to the success of its leading players as any other form of innovation. In recognition of its increasing status in the recipe for success, this month, The Fintech Times will pioneer the topic through a month-long investigation into how equality is really being delivered.
The Fintech Times is dedicating the month of April to showcase the fintech industry’s brightest and boldest initiatives aimed at championing equality, diversity and inclusion for all.
A world where such initiatives can be implemented with immediate success is a world we want to live in. However, with any level of innovation within the fintech industry, the path to delivery isn’t always a smooth one.
Having previously discussed some of our favourite success stories in pioneering such initiatives, now we’re flipping the coin to discuss and identify the challenges that often crop up along the way.
Fostering inclusion in real estate
There aren’t many areas of the financial industry that don’t struggle to foster inclusion. Indeed, it’s a problem that’s significantly and alarmingly widespread; particularly within the real estate industry.
Launching our investigation into this issue is SmallChange.co, the equity crowdfunding platform for equitable real estate development.
Speaking to the platform’s founder and CEO, Eve Picker, reveals just how widespread the problem is within this specific sector.
As a female real estate developer, Picker admits that she has faced “plenty of challenges” around the notion of achieving inclusion.
Pinpointing her unique position as “a lonely existence”, she affirms “exclusion from financing opportunities” is at the top of the list of challenges she faced.
This struggle however ultimately served as the catalyst for Picker to launch an equity crowdfunding platform squarely focused on including everyone.
“On my platform, SmallChange.co, anyone 18+ can invest. We embrace emerging developers and emerging neighbourhoods alike,” she explains.
However, Picker also admits that “the odds are against me,” adding that “statistics reflect the extent of the obstacles that I and many female and minority colleagues face.”
Currently, only 1.9 per cent of venture capital (VC) funds invested last year were invested in women-owned companies. Furthermore, only one per cent of the funds went to Black founders.
“Statistics on the commercial real estate industry are equally alarming,” Picker comments. “According to a new report, only 1.7 per cent of real estate companies in the US are Black-owned. And of the 383 real estate companies that make over $50million, not one is Black-owned. Only one is Latino-owned.”
‘The playground of the old boys’ network’
So how could this problem persist in such a prevalent industry? Well as Picker explains, “Commercial real estate has long been and remains, the playground of the old boys’ network.”
“Like any club, the members of the old boys’ club invest where they feel most comfortable – in the same people and the same projects over and over again,” she says.
With this, Picker advises that “We must break that cycle in order to raise more for each project listed on SmallChange.co and so that we can grow.”
Rest assured that change is coming. Picker emphasises how “We are slowly overcoming the odds, as are the projects listed on our platform to date, over 60 per of which are minority and/or women-owned.”
“We’ve grown steadily, adding in projects, account holders and investors on a daily basis. We’ve helped developers raise a significant amount of funding,” she continues. “Our project pipeline is big and we have a national presence and reputation.
“SmallChange.co is exactly what everyone is clamouring for – a place where the inequity of the real estate world does not exist,” concludes Picker.
When Kenya’s financial system met Sopra Banking Software
While achieving equity in inclusion might at first appear to benefit from a one-size fits all approach, as this next speaker perfectly demonstrates, it’s of the utmost importance to recognise the individual needs of those you’re seeking to include.
Sopra Banking Software is a global financial technology software company that’s reimagining the role of banks. Since 2012, Sopra Banking Software has worked with more than 1,500 financial institutions in 100+ countries to digitise their offerings and innovate the banking experience.
Through its platforms, the company is transforming how and where financial services are offered to customers, by extending banking services to traditional industries.
As the company’s renowned corporate responsibility and sustainability global director, Nelly Kambiwa works closely with Africa’s leading banks and fintechs to digitise their offerings and extend finance to a larger group of consumers.
Here she delves into the company’s extensive work with Kenya’s KCB Bank, which triggered a revolutionary wave of financial inclusion across Africa; identifying the various challenges to overcome in the process.
Banking the unbanked
“Sopra Banking Software began working with KCB Bank in 2017 when 75 per cent of the country was unbanked,” she explains.
“At the time, the local government was working to change this by making mobile loans more accessible to all citizens,” Kambiwa continues, going on to recognise how this necessity for change ultimately ended up creating a steep increase in loan requests that banks like KCB were struggling to keep up with.
As with others hoping for success in the financial field, KCB first had to transition its loan servicing operations into the digital era to accelerate its delivery of mobile loans and keep up with consumers’ growing demand.
But as Kambiwa explains, what was perhaps even more important was “KCB’s need to create an entirely new financial offering that catered to the majority of Kenyans who had never had a bank account before.”
“With this new financial offering,” she continues, “KCB had to address a wide variety of individuals, from those in busy cities where banks are a short drive away, to rural farmers that have to travel hours to visit their bank in person.”
Financial inclusion for everyone
“These individuals have very different loan needs as well. For example, a rural entrepreneur who needs a small, €10 to €20 mobile loan each week to purchase vegetables for their farmer’s market business has different needs than a young professional in Nairobi getting a larger, one-time loan for a new business venture. KCB needed to reach them both – quickly,” says Kambiwa.
In this, Sopra Banking Software ultimately helped KCB deliver a digital financial platform that not only improved its existing financial offerings but introduced a whole new set of banking, payments, savings and loan capabilities.
“These new offerings additionally allowed KCB to reach populations that banks couldn’t access before—and those who couldn’t previously access banks either,” explains Kambiwa.
“KCB has now distributed over 40 million loans to Kenyans, and helped the country grow access to financial services to more than 80 per cent of the population,” she concludes.
Holding out for a hero
So far, the narrative of this conversation has ascertained that the main challenge for delivering inclusion for all is to fully comprehend exactly what the needs of the target audience are.
As moderator of this discussion, it is our humble opinion that our next speaker excellently consolidates the opinions of his predecessors.
Mel Ochoa is a general partner at Landmark Ventures, which specialises in crafting authentic relationships that are built on trust.
Our readers would be right to assume that the company looks familiar, as it’s the creator of the highly-celebrated Social Innovation Summit, a two-day, purpose-driven gathering that brings together industry leaders to engage in thoughtful discussions on critical issues; including the challenges of fostering inclusion in fintech.
Ochoa is responsible for internal operations, talent initiatives and strategic projects at Landmark and serves as the industry lead on matters related to education technology and the social innovation sector (particularly in helping to produce the firm’s Social Innovation Summit).
As part of the executive management team, his role includes operations, HR, recruitment, shared strategic initiatives, talent development, executive team coordination, org-wide programming, brand management/PR, and corporate social responsibility initiatives.
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves
“When thinking about challenges or barriers to fostering inclusion in fintech, it would be easy to get ahead of ourselves and think about a ‘hero’ product for the underserved that will build equity and expand the middle class,” Ochoa explains.
However, as Ochoa sees it, a hero product won’t succeed until we address access and connectivity. Elaborating on this, he says “Without broadband and access points – such as a phone, library terminal, or other vessels – the opportunity gap is exponentially expanding and it is becoming harder to close.”
“Once that barrier is overcome, financial inclusion products should ‘meet communities where they are’. Often, this requires that developers start at square one. For example, fintech lending solutions are pointless when people don’t have credit scores or are unbanked,” he continues.
“Meeting communities where they are requires truly understanding what individuals need when they sit down at the kitchen table: Do they need access to a financial advisor? Do they need access to credit-building tools? Do they need access to a bank that is convenient for their lifestyle?
“As leaders in the finance industry, our challenge lies in taking those fintech products that work for the wealthy and adapting them for many different needs,” concludes Ochoa.