Female entrepreneurs in UK fintech have played a major part in the sector’s impressive rise – and will be at the heart of our economy’s road to recovery and beyond. In January of this year it was reported that despite the challenges presented by Covid-19 and Brexit, the UK had retained its title as the European leader in fintech, attracting $4.1bn in venture capital, and therefore ranking second globally.
Amy French is Head of Level39 – the world’s most connected tech community consisting of 1250 leaders in fintech, cybersecurity, and retail tech. She has been supporting members throughout the pandemic, working with female entrepreneurs within the fintech ecosystem to help them navigate the current crisis.
Level39 is home to a plethora of female-led tech companies that are continuing to scale and pursue growth – from AllianceBlock, a technology that automates the process of converting any digital or crypto asset into a bankable product, to TAINA Technology, a RegTech start-up with a mission to help financial institutions comply with their regulatory requirements whilst saving costs and enhancing customer journeys.
Passionate about helping women in fintech succeed in starting and scaling their businesses, Level39 has undertaken numerous projects to support female founders.
Amy French, Head of LEvel39
Despite the impressive investment figures, it remains widely recognised that the fintech sector in the UK continues to suffer from a gender diversity problem. Data from Deloitte highlights this and in 2019, women held just 21.9% of leadership positions in financial services whilst the number of females on boards was even smaller. Whilst the number of women in leadership roles is expected to rise to 31% by 2030, we are far off from having an equal gender split in senior roles.
To accelerate change, female founders need environments where they can scale their businesses. Encouraging diverse and inclusive spaces will be key to achieving greater equality, and Level39 has worked hard to create an ecosystem that enables it.
Level39 was a founding signatory and member of the Steering Committee alongside Innovate Finance, FintechAlliance, FCA and Anthemis of the Fintech for All Charter, launched during the pandemic by InChorus – a third-party platform that anonymously tags, measures and resolves incidents of bias and harassment within fintech organisations.
The initiative was launched after InChorus conducted a survey that uncovered high levels of workplace harassment at the industry level. Amongst the employees from UK fintech firms surveyed, 85% of harassment-related incidents were related to gender, and 84% of victims harassed more than once.
To help tackle this, each signatory pledges to create a workplace culture where harassment is not tolerated, inclusive behaviour is championed, and diversity is widely promoted to future-proof UK fintech and enable the sustainable growth of the sector.
As well as supporting national efforts to make the fintech sector a better place for women, Level39 also has several offerings to support fintech entrepreneurs within their own community.
Level39 has a strong and diverse network of industry experts and mentors supporting female founders through virtual office hours. This has been an increasingly important resource for Level39 members throughout the pandemic, with members pitching their products and services to each other over Zoom, to provide peer feedback, before meeting with potential investors.
One such example of this is Level39’s support of the UK- Israel Female Founder Office Hours initiative, connecting female founders with a select group of UK and Israeli leading investors from Octopus Ventures, Playfair Capital, and Notion VC to name just a few, and setting up one on one meetings to provide advice on the tangible steps they need to take to scale their businesses.
As well as this, Level39 have been active in spotlighting the work of DiversityVC – a non-profit partnership helping VCs diversify their staff and portfolio companies. Most recently they hosted an event in partnership with the group, where Suranga Chandratillake, an advisor from Diversity VC and Partner at Balderton Capital spoke about the steps that need to be taken to build a more inclusive venture capital community in the coming years.
Level39 has also continued to develop its remote offering through Digital39 – Level39’s online community bringing together members advice, insights and connections as entrepreneurs navigate through the hurdles Covid-19 has thrown their way.
Through this, it has spotlighted the stories of female founders, and in the process encouraging other aspiring fintech leaders to follow in their footsteps. A recent member featured was Priyanka Lilaramani, Founder & CEO of Truealpha. She explained to fellow founders how the pandemic has shown the resilience of the sector – with members of the Level39 community supporting each other through difficult times, from helping each other navigate Government support schemes, offering advice, or introducing people to useful contacts.
Furthermore, Priyanka spoke in depth about the positive lessons she had learnt as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. One is how a successful company culture empowers an employee to have two selves – allowing individuals to juggle family duties alongside working life. Working virtually has meant people no longer have to compartmentalise their personal lives and supporting your team as people, not employees, will go a long way for the future of work. This is an important lesson to help all founders juggle working commitments and personal life – and it will be a key feature for the technology community as working from home becomes an enduring fixture for many.
For the female founders of exciting tech companies at Level39 and beyond – there will be opportunities to emerge from this crisis and seize the potential of an economy accelerating its digitalisation. The ambition for the sector is that through inclusive workplaces, environments and practices that the gender disparities in fintech are addressed and that we can use this time to progress positive change.