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Women in Tech: Reinventing Finance

Women in Tech: Reinventing Finance | Fintech Finance

by Siri G. Børsum, Global VP Finance Vertical – Eco-Development & Partnerships

Conversations about women in business are continuing to shape the tech industry. Progress in recent years means that lists like Norway’s top 50 leading women in tech – which I was proud to find myself on this year – are now more common. However, the figures and ‘most influential’ lists unsurprisingly indicate that there is still work to be done in achieving gender parity, both in the tech industry and more generally. In the 600 STOXX Europe companies only 27% of women are in general leadership functions, while on the Fortune 500 list there are only 41 female CEOs – or 8.2%. This may be a record, but the numbers make clear that there is still work to be done.

Working in the tech industry can be challenging but it is also full of opportunities if you keep your eyes open to them. I’m passionate about making women aware of the variety of roles available within FinTech that they can thrive in and reassuring them that they can come from any background – they don’t need to be traditionally academic to succeed.

School did not come easy to me, but I quickly learned that creative thinking, hard work and never giving up was my recipe for success– making mistakes or not solving or understanding something the first time round only made me try again and look for other ways to solve the problem. I learned to take chances whenever I saw opportunities, which was an important lesson that has continued to benefit me throughout my career, helping me to land exciting roles within the tech industry.

Creating solutions for consumers using technology is something which drives me and led me to work at Google for 12 years. I succeeded in obtaining a role at Google as Head of Industry, progressing to Leader for Travel & Finance before I become a Google Evangelist, helping businesses to understand the value of technology and the power of Google. Later, that led me to become Leader of Digital Transformation. I’ve since then progressed to the role of Global VP Finance Vertical – Eco-Development & Partnerships at Huawei, working on the AppGallery app marketplace, where I am building and leading a global team focusing on the Finance Service Industry, from the hub in Norway.

Over many years in the tech industry, it has become clear to me that digital innovation will always be at the forefront of disrupting various industries – especially finance.

Disrupting the finance sector

It’s been well documented that diversity directly drives innovation and profitability, yet sectors like financial technology (or ‘FinTech’) can be slow on the uptake, with only 14% of women estimated to be on the boards of FinTech banks as recently as 2019.

The finance sector in particular has traditionally been slow in terms of progressing gender parity – however as innovation is growing within the FinTech industry, we have an opportunity to take advantage of the widespread interest in and growth of the sector and do better.

FinTech has been growing in popularity in recent years, with Ernst and Young’s 2019 Global FinTech Adoption Index citing the adoption rate of FinTech as 64% globally. Consumers’ interest in FinTech has been accelerated by the pandemic – with people flocking to online shopping and choosing to experience services from the comfort of their homes, the opportunities for innovation in areas like spending, saving and banking are immense. This shift in consumer behaviour is continuing to encourage innovation in this ever-growing industry, meaning that we are ideally placed to open the industry up to everyone, regardless of gender, race, and general background.

One of the signs of progress is the strong female role models that are currently making waves in FinTech and helping Huawei realise its vision of empowering consumers to improve their financial health via AppGallery. It’s important to shine a light on these female innovators who are reinventing this industry and pioneering innovations such as QR code payments, open banking, NFC payment solutions, and more, to highlight the numerous benefits diverse thinking can bring companies.

For example, Anne Boden, who came from a banking background, is CEO and founder of Starling Bank, a digital challenger bank which disrupted traditional banking back when it launched in 2014 and continues to do so now. 42% of the executive team and 40% of board members at Starling are women, indicating Anne’s dedication to championing diversity of FinTech while delivering finance solutions that make consumers’ lives easier.

Starling’s #MakeMoneyEqual campaign saw them work with UK university researchers to analyse over 600 photographs used for articles about finance, discovering how men and women were depicted differently, with men shown as in control of their finances while women were depicted counting pennies. As a result, they created a new library of photographs to better represent women and money.

Then there’s Camilla Giesecke, Chief Expansion Officer at Klarna, the buy now, pay later app, who is now responsible for driving Klarna’s international expansion.

My own role at Huawei allows me to help give consumers more choice than ever before. I also hope to inspire women around the world by showing them the range of opportunities FinTech offers, from app development to managing partner relationships to educating wider audiences on the benefits of FinTech.

Another key female role model, closer to home in Norway, who is an inspiration to countless Nordic women, is Isabelle Ringnes. Aged just 32, Isabelle is Co-Founder and Chief Evangelist of Equality Check, an organisation which uses technology to help companies improve diversity and drive transparency and accountability in the workplace. Isabelle also founded TENK in 2014, a technology network for women in Norway, which aims to inspire girls to help shape the world’s future with technology. And these are just a few of her many impressive achievements!

These women are inspiring examples of what can be achieved if we can encourage more girls to raise their hand and not see their gender as a barrier to their career goals. Women and men are equally capable, so there is no reason why we should not have more women taking their rightful places at the boardroom table to increase their visibility in such an innovative sector. In recent years, countries across Europe including Norway, Spain and France have introduced quotas to have a certain percentage female boardroom representation, which has delivered proven benefits to date and is a great example of what can be achieved when levelling the playing field.

Lessons for the future

The famous adage goes ‘we can’t be what we can’t see’ and it’s true that visibility, that is, shining a light on the women with roles in FinTech, remains key when it comes to inspiring school-age girls to consider this career path.

In working with female founders and developers on the range of apps within AppGallery, from FinTech to entertainment and retail, we at Huawei hope to challenge the perception that a career in technology isn’t for women – this just isn’t true, and now is a better time than ever before for women to take the leap and start making a difference within the industry.

I host the Game-Changing Minds podcast with the Oslo Business Forum in collaboration with Huawei, where I interview game-changers in the field of technology to help inspire people all over the world (we have listeners in 42 countries) with the range of opportunities available in the tech industry. At Huawei, we are on a journey to encourage diversity and inclusion and I would like to hope that having more women like myself in top tech positions will help to promote change and have a positive effect within the industry.

The acceleration of the use of digital technologies to propagate services such as saving, banking and making payments, is giving us as women the opportunity to thrive – but we must also remember that opportunities will not be handed to us on a plate, so it’s important to get involved and work hard to reach our goals. Yet this advice applies to everyone – there is competition out there and even if you don’t succeed when you first try, it’s important not to give up and meet challenges head on.

It’s also vital for companies to continue investing into their tech and making sure they bring women on board early, to ensure they continue meeting the needs of all consumers in our ever-increasingly digital society.

The key thing to remember about mobile banking, spending, and saving is that it is accessible to all – people just need a smartphone or tablet to be able to tap into the life-changing solutions offered by FinTech companies, and women need to be at the forefront of this journey to help empower more consumers to take control of their financial health. I encourage everyone to open their eyes to the opportunities offered by the FinTech industry and join us on the journey to financial confidence.

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