The fintech industry’s lack of progress in promoting diversity is astonishing, but the coronavirus pandemic offers a chance to change.
The problem is still massive. For example, a study by LendIt found that only 37 per cent of fintech employees are female and just 19 per cent hold C-suite positions.
The best fintech companies recruit globally across all ages and cultures. This approach has helped drive their growth. But even they have an opportunity to transform more radically to address imbalances in areas such as gender and race.
COVID-19 lockdowns have led to unprecedented investment in technology, according to a survey by KPMG. Most chief investment officers report spending more on technology due to the pandemic, with an average increase of 5 per cent. Some 86 per cent have moved to remote working and most anticipate large numbers of staff will continue working from home.
Elena Krutova, global head of human resources at multi-asset broker Exness, says: “Fintech is one of the fastest evolving industries with high levels of innovation. But men still dominate the sector and fewer female candidates are available for recruitment, compared to other industries.
“The fintech sector has reacted faster than other industries to pandemic-related changes such as remote working. They accepted quickly that the world will never be the same. This increases the opportunity to recruit a more diverse workforce, based only on a person’s values and professionalism.”
Cohesive and dynamic
The pandemic will continue to drive digitalisation as companies keep adapting to the uncertainties and financial pressures it has created. This affects almost everything from online shopping experiences to distance learning and telemedicine.
This change has highlighted the pressing shortage of technology talent in the market and forced fintech firms to focus intently on attracting and retaining staff. Attracting more females and minority groups will help them address the talent gap.
But it will also make their technical teams more cohesive and dynamic. Research shows adding diversity improves a range of team metrics. For example, 67 per cent of chief information officers say promoting diversity has increased trust and collaboration in the technology team and improved access to skills, according to the KPMG survey.
But to boost diversity further, fintech firms need to eradicate biases in the way leaders are selected, promoted and mentored. It is a stiff challenge given that only 24 per cent of IT leaders feel their organisations are very successful at promoting diversity and inclusion in their teams.
One way to solve the problem is to improve benefits and schemes that women and minorities value. For example, the COVID crisis should be a catalyst for promoting flexible working for people with caring responsibilities.
Many women’s careers have been held back by family and caring duties. But the pandemic has shown flexible workers can be highly productive.
Krutova says: “Exness employees who now work from home have been at least as productive. Parents working from home should have more access to the job market compared to last year. If their company offers the right flexibility, working mothers can maintain productivity and all workers can enjoy a better work-life balance, which will make them more productive. The only major limitation should be their broadband connection.
“Remote technology allows a global approach, but it also brings challenges, such as working across time zones. Or during a Zoom chat, for example, you need to listen very attentively to make sure you understand the other person’s cultural perspective and lose nothing in translation. But the opportunities to recruit a more diverse workforce far outweigh this.”
Education and culture
Recruitment, education and culture must also change. The fintech industry has a reputation for innovation and upending tradition. Now, more than ever, companies must apply this principle in recruitment. Hiring from outside financial services, for example other relevant technology sectors, should help.
“Fintech is different from the rest of financial services, in which people often tend to protect their positions with safe recruitment choices. In fintech, we need to step out of our comfort zones and recruit people with a more transparent mindset and who are better than us,” Krutova points out.
“At Exness, we spend lots of time training and educating our team around this principle because each time you hire someone better than you, it opens new opportunities. There are no limits as to what ‘better’ means.
“We want each person we hire to change the company in some way. The culture in fintech is to innovate and create something new every day, which requires you to bring in new expertise constantly. This is harder if managers limit themselves by only making safe recruitment decisions.”
Krutova says recruitment for diversity requires a wide range of tools and mechanisms for assessing candidates fairly.
“We have employees from around 60 nationalities in our company,” she says. “In addition to taking a global recruitment mindset, we have a recruitment committee, not just one or two people, who bring a range of perspectives into the hiring process. These perspectives add value to the way we collaborate.”
Fintech companies should not use positive discrimination just to fill a quota. Firms should always recruit based on a candidate’s professional level first, rather than for the sake of balancing diversity.
But fintech companies need to reassess their attitudes about how less-represented groups such as women can add value to this industry. In addition to education, they need to provide under-represented groups access to development and promotion. This will give these groups a supportive environment and a chance to believe in themselves.
Fintech HR managers have made some progress, but they need to go to the next level in embracing difference.
Finally, nurturing a more socially responsible culture should help. Krutova concludes: “During the pandemic, many fintech firms have protected employees’ jobs, helped them cope with the uncertainties and care for their families. All this demonstrates a high regard for social responsibility, which has a hugely positive effect on employees and can also help attract people with similar values.
“The opportunities in fintech are enormous. There are positive changes occurring around the world. Remote working opportunities add to these changes, but there’s a long way to go.
“We shouldn’t be afraid to accept new challenges, even in the current climate. We should try to take something positive from COVID by seeing it as a chance to improve and become more caring and diverse.”
For more information please visit www.exness.uk