As the month of March draws nearer, there is bound to be a lot of discussion about gender diversity, so I wanted to get an early start writing on one of my favourite topics. And boom, while listening to the FinTech Insider podcast (episode
295), inspiration struck. Let’s question how innovative and disruptive FinTechs really are…
For more than a decade we have all been talking about the importance of customer centricity, how to leverage tech & data to recuperate trust and build long-lasting relationships between financial service providers and their customers. Then marched in FinTechs
and challenger banks with lofty promises of disrupting the financial market. And that’s exactly what they have been doing: offering digital banking experience that we have all been waiting for - simple, quick, cheap and painless. Hooray! Time to celebrate
the financial service providers finally evolving enough to really care about us, their customers.
Not so fast! Technologies and brands might be new but in some cases the values behind them have not evolved much at all. Let's take the infamous Revolut Valentine’s day underground ad, in which an
attempt to be witty eventually led to accusations of “single shaming” and patronising condescension.
Iona Bain, financial commentator, journalist and founder of the Young Money Blog, was the first to voice a critique on
Twitter: “How much does this ad infuriate me? Let me count the ways. Firstly, patronising language & awful single-shaming more redolent of early 2000s Bridget Jones, not a modern and
empowered fintech brand…” Another point is added by one of her followers: “Would an ad ask ‘You ok, hun?" to blokes? Or are they assuming all those transactions were by women?”
My first reaction: “Is Revolut’s CMO a man or a woman?”. This might seem like a counterintuitive place to start, but I simply don’t believe that any woman in charge of this campaign would ever greenlight it. Why? A, it lacks empathy and B, it discriminates
against both women and singles. As you may have already guessed, Revolut’s head of global marketing is a guy. His response?: “We did not pay enough attention to the copy and the tone".
But it doesn’t end there. The damage control strategy of this FinTech has been interesting to say the least. Has it showed some humility and transparency, values that resonate deeply with their (mostly millennial) clients? According to Iona, Revolut is
yet to respond to her directly and “the official response suggested a lack of empathy, humility and open-mindedness”. As she
puts it: “This is a slow motion PR car crash for a fintech brand that is comprehensively alienating its key influencers and real target audience, and a masterclass in how NOT to deal with media or consumers. Competitors, take note!”
This is not a good sign if we are talking about a FinTech. This takes us back to the origins. What is the objective of the FinTech revolution? Be better than traditional banks, especially in the way customers are treated. As David Brear from 11FS puts it:
“It’s not about making pretty apps, most of the differentiation is beneath the iceberg. It’s about what your technology is doing, it’s how you communicate as a brand, how you use data on behalf of the customer”.
So if we look at all those innovative financial service providers, we are kind of there. Cutting edge technology is in place, apps are looking nice and sleek, operating in real-time, their leaders are young and energetic, wearing t-shirts and jeans. Their
communication is witty and they are even trying to be transparent about their
culture. But they are still far away from passing that hurdle of diversity, something that is so crucial to innovation and the overall sustainability of a business. FinTech is not going to be disruptive in its true sense until so-called “feminine” values
such as empathy, humility and openness are not embraced at all levels of the decision-making. I know that you men don’t like when we call them “feminine qualities” so let's call them human-centric qualities. According to several studies, from the
Athena Doctrine to McKinsey
research, these qualities are key to success, long-term profit and talent retention.
Yes, I know how hard it is to find female tech talent (the struggle is real at Strands too),
only 7% of FinTech organisations employ female executives, but my advice is - look harder. And in the meantime, question if what has brought you success in the short-term is going to help you in
building a sustainable business. To truly differentiate from the old school model, how can your organisation demonstrate its feminine, more human, side?
Revolut has been successful during the early stages of their business (launch, scale-up) because this is where masculine energy is required most. But, according to my research, feminine energy needs to kick in when you are trying to build a sustainable
business and manage crises, which can happen to any company.
Incumbent players in the banking space such as BBVA, Santander or ING may be slow to change and innovate (due to their vast size) but one thing is for sure: they have learned from past mistakes and are very careful about the tone of voice used in communication,
trying to be as inclusive and inoffensive as possible. What is interesting is that all of the above-mentioned institutions have clear strategic focus on gender diversity and we see more and more women at the top.