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Women in FinTech: Clare Flynn Levy, founder and CEO of Essentia Analytics

If you go to as many conferences as I do in the financial services and technology space (or FinTech for the hashtag friendly) you are used to bumping into the same people over and over again. You are also familiar with looking out into the sea the exhibition hall, and rows of the plenary sessions to be met with a recurring sight. Waves of dark suits worn by middle aged men. It’s financial services, with a tech edge - the alpha males of the alpha male dominated industries - what are ya going to do, right?

But my thoughts have always been, although women as indeed outnumbered in the industry (I just need to look at Finextra’s audience demographics to see that) that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a huge number of smart, hardworking, innovative thinkers in this space – who happen to be female – and aren’t getting the exposure they deserve. Their voices are being drowned out by the waves upon on waves of ‘men in dark suits’. (Who by the way, are wonderful people when you get to know them on an individual basis ;-)

I had been chatting with a few people in the industry about doing some sort of ‘Women in FinTech’ series over at Finextra, either as videos or blogs. As luck would have it, Brett King gave me a call a few weeks ago offering a chance to run such a series on his VoiceAmerica Radio Show, Breaking Banks profiling interesting women making waves of their own in the FinTech space. Bring it on, I thought.

Many in this industry harp on about ‘disruption’. Well, in financial services and tech – there is nothing more disruptive than a female voice. So every month in my blog pages, we will be profiling an awesome ‘Woman in FinTech’.  

To kick off our first Breaking Banks/Finextra Women in FinTech series, I sat down with Essentia Analytics founder and CEO Clare Fynn Levy. You can listen to the series on Breaking Banks now.

You can read a transcript of the highlights of my interview below or you can listen to the full interview now.

Clare Flynn Levey, CEO and Founder of Essentia Analytics ‘A Fitbit for Fund Managers’

Finextra: For the sake of our audience, what does Essentia Analytics do?

Clare: We make software that helps investment professionals understand their own behaviour patterns so they can see where their strengths and where their weaknesses lie. So they can focus on more of what they are good at and less of what they are not.

The end game is to make more money.

Finextra: What was your lightbulb moment?

Clare: The seeds were planted when I was a fund manager myself. I was a long only tech manager during the internet bubble and then I was long short tech hedge fund manager during the burst of that bubble. It was really fun on the way up, less so on the way down. I went from, everything I touch turns to gold to nothing I do seems to be making a difference and it was really confusing.

I had a strong view on where my competitive advantage lay and yet it wasn’t showing up in the data on my performance. Really what I needed was more data, rather than just a measure of the outcome. I needed to be able to dig deeper into where I was adding value and how I was adding value and whether my investment process was working.

Finextra: How is Essentia Analytics different from other decision support tools?

Clare: Traditional decision support tools monitor data from outside - what other people are doing. We look inward. If your bad habits or lack of self-awareness are causing you to not maximise your own skills or engage in investment decisions that are inefficient, than no amount of outside data will help you.

We look at what aspect of the decision process are adding or destroying value. Why did you make this decision or why did you decide to not buy this particular stock?

A bit like a Fitbit for fund managers.

Finextra: Is fund management behind the curve in terms of innovation?

Clare: Yes, I think the enterprise in general has been behind the curve. There hasn’t been a demand from fund management, who work to long term mandates where there hasn’t been a threat. Only recently have we seen a tipping point. For example, there have been some press concerning hedge funds not performing, especially in regards to fees.

Finextra: When will there be a tipping point for behavioural analytics to go mainstream in enterprise environments?

Clare: When actual individuals are being empowered by the data and it is not used as stick to beat them with or to sell advertising. We all have a huge amount of data collected about us and we are not getting the benefit of that data.

This industry is very concerned with compliance. People are frightened about having data collected about them. But when they see how it would benefit them, things will change.

Finextra: What surprised you most about becoming an entrepreneur?

Clare: Running a tech start up is an emotional roller-coaster. I was aware of that, but knowing it and living it are two different things. But there are a lot of high highs, so I am having a lot of fun with it.

People are approaching us, to work with us. It is not just about money. And in the fund management industry that is a change. Money is part of it, but it is about the intellectual challenge. To change the world for the better.

Finextra: What have been your biggest challenges?

Clare: Funding the business model is harder than we thought it would be – as provider of a software as a service enterprise offering. That early stage fund raising is so different from the investment world I came from. What we are doing is not something that the average generalist will understand. They get the concept, but they can’t related to it.

Finextra: What advice would you give a FinTech start-up?

Clare: The best thing we did was that we started the company with a client on day one. We were ready to go to clients who have an interest in behavioural analytics. They provided us with a certain level of legitimacy from day one.

Upcoming interviews will include Innovate Finance CEO Claire Cockerton and Kitty Parry, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Social Media Charter.

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Comments: (1)

Brett King
Brett King - Moven - New York 05 February, 2015, 20:17Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

Great interview. Looking forward to more in this series