Reinventing Banks Isn't Just About the Technology

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In the early 1990s, I started my career on Wall Street. It was a lonely place as a woman, and the traditional financial services world did not afford us females the opportunity to get a firm footing at the top of the career ladder. Its structure, demographics and, frankly, the level of discourse on the topic of women's careers made it virtually impossible to seed real progress. When I left the industry in 2008, there were many more of us. But it didn't feel any less lonely. Worse, little has changed since I left Wall Street.

As a venture capitalist and female founder, I am fortunate to have a front-row view of how Wall Street is attempting to reinvent itself to stay relevant in the Information Age. Here at Anthemis, we are witnessing a strong generation of founders transforming the way we engage with our money, protect our families and plan for our futures.

Unfortunately, while technology has the power to broaden access to financial wellness – including and particularly to underserved target audiences, like women, around the world – entrepreneurship in the startup sector is still predominantly male.

According to a 2016 Harvard Business Review study, only 9% of entrepreneurs in venture capital-financed, high-growth technology startups are women. And for the female founders who are out there, well, they're simply not getting funded. From 2010 to 2015, only 12% of venture rounds and 10% of venture dollars globally went to startups with at least one female founder, according to CrunchBase's 2016 Women in Venture study.

I know that women aren't lacking in ambition or ideas. And I know they are able to grow successful, profitable businesses. There are many women, like me, who have had thriving corporate careers in the financial services and technology sectors and who are capable of founding their own startups. So what's stopping them? The traditional system of entrepreneurship and investing has inherent barriers that prevent women from accessing the right level of sponsorship, support and capital to pursue these professional paths.

Knowing firsthand the challenges women face as they build their businesses, I started Anthemis wanting to lay the foundations for what the next generation of financial services companies would look like. I knew I could help all founders, especially female founders, find their footing. Six years on, I'm disappointed with how few women fintech entrepreneurs I meet. And I want to understand why.

I shouldn't be the only one asking. As financiers, it's our collective responsibility to ask the tough questions about why so few women pursue paths of entrepreneurship. But we can do more. We can hold founders accountable for not prioritizing gender parity as they build their startups – from day one. Because as the transformation from the Industrial Age to the Information Age continues, it's more vital than ever to ensure that ventures are reflective of the customers they're serving, the clients they're representing, and the audience they're trying to reach. And those audiences are, and increasingly will be, women.

I believe that, through the concerted, collective effort of fintech investors and leaders, we can help build the companies of the future. But my vision goes beyond identifying great technology or business models. To me, it's about the people who we invite in to the innovation agenda and how they help to evolve and change financial services.

What can we do? We can hold new market players accountable for putting women's issues on their agendas. We can commit to expanding our networks and actively look for women who are creating great businesses. We can ask founding teams about female C-suite representation. And, as venture capitalists, we can look around our own offices to see if we are attracting the best female talent to help us on this journey. All of these small behavior changes will help to ensure that we are building an industry that will be more female-friendly than the one I joined.

There have been amazing initiatives across the industry and in the private sector to encourage young women to join financial services, to become more financially savvy, to stretch and to lean in to their full potential. But we need to hold ourselves to a level of greater accountability.

When my 4-year-old daughter takes her first step on the career ladder, I hope there will be no such thing as a "gender agenda." But it starts with action. It starts with women not only having a seat at the table, but a voice that is heard.

We make up 50% of the global population. Is it too ambitious to think we can make up 50% of funders, 50% of entrepreneurs and 50% of the Fortune 500? Absolutely not. Let's roll up our sleeves – men and women together – and start the hard work to make this happen.

Amy Nauiokas is founder and president of Anthemis Group.

Editor's note: This post is part of an ongoing series looking at diversity issues in banking and finance. See previous posts in this series from Citi FinTech's Yolande Piazza and BMO Harris Bank's David Casper, and visit American Banker's Women in Banking page.

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