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‘Changes will not happen overnight’: With speakers at conferences and new hiring opportunities, efforts for equality continue within fintech

  • The financial technology industry is getting more serious about increasing diversity and opportunities.
  • Over 50 fintech companies have joined the Fintech Equality Coalition.
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‘Changes will not happen overnight’: With speakers at conferences and new hiring opportunities, efforts for equality continue within fintech

While looking for speakers for Tearsheet’s Challenger Conference September, we reached out to Stash, a challenger bank with over 1 million banking customers. The company responded that they have a new policy in place: Stash will only provide speakers to conferences that feature people of color and cover topics specific to the Black community.

“We’ve not only committed to hosting and participating in forums and events that highlight Black speakers,” said Gloria Basem, Stash’s chief people officer. “But also to only participate in these events if there is a diverse lineup of speakers.”

Stash’s commitment to diversity extends beyond its participation in conferences. It’s taking steps to improve diversity within its culture. The company recently hired its first Diversity and Talent Acquisition Manager. It also holds workshops and offers anti-bias training for its employees. The company is already seeing progress.

“(T)hrough concerted efforts to attract more diverse talent, 20% of our new hires this year identify as Black and/or Latinx.” said Basem.

Stash also participates in The Fintech Equality Coalition, an organization that vows to foster inclusivity and equality within the fintech community. In its mission statement, the Coalition vows to increase recruitment of Black employees, support Black-owned businesses, and increase capital for Black entrepreneurs. By joining the alliance, companies promise to only take part in events that have a diverse speaker line-up 

The Coalition was kickstarted by Betterment, a fintech focused on investing, banking, and cash management. Even before this initiative, Betterment had prioritized the ideal of equality. Its platform includes an option to donate funds to nonprofits like the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund and The Trevor Project, organizations fighting racism in the criminal legal system and preventing suicide in the LGBTQ community, respectively. The company has been open about its goals to hire more people of color. Betterment has partnered with Jopwell, a career advancement platform for Black, Latinx, and Native American candidates. Other financial companies have also partnered with the platform, including Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Visa, and American Express. Its co-founders previously worked at Goldman Sachs. 

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In the wake of this year’s social unrest and the rise of the Black Lives Matter Movement, Betterment started to explore more actions it could take to fight racism. The company built the Fintech Equality Coalition in an effort to fight racial injustice on an industry-wide level, and not just within its firm. 

“Betterment is uniquely positioned in financial services, which is rife with diversity issues, as well as in technology which [has] systemic issues as well,” said Joe Ziemer, vice president of communication and policy at Betterment. “So, we’re at the intersection of those two and we thought [it would] be more advantageous for us to try to create an industry-wide initiative as opposed to just Betterment doing something externally.”

By signing the Fintech Equality Coalition agreement, fintechs commit to only take part in conferences and other public events with racially-diverse panels that include Black, Latinx and Native American speakers. 

“We would look at full-day conferences, and it would be just white males,” said Ziemer. “[So] we were in a position to say, we would only do it if you make changes.”

More recently, the coalition also requires member firms to regularly publish a plan showing diversity efforts within their own company. So far, over fifty fintech companies have signed the coalition agreement, including SoFi, Monzo, and Stash. 

But even with the renewed efforts this year, fintech isn’t yet a bastion of equality. It’s early days for the Coalition and its efforts. Joe Ziemer calls it “an early growing thing”.

“The biggest challenges in the immediate future are still just the final steps of [how the] organization [should] function,” said Ziemer. “And as the working groups start to make progress on their own, how do we make sure that all the working groups and the steering committee are aware and engaged and looking for opportunities to work together as well?”

Even if organizations like The Fintech Equality Coalition manage to maximize their efforts, it may not be enough. Ensuring equality in the future may mean fostering diverse talent as they come up the ranks.

As it is now, young people of color aren’t getting the same access to opportunities that young white people are. The Greenwood Project is an organization that aims to combat inequality in the financial industry by helping Black and Latinx students prepare for a career in finance. 

“These students are really talented,” said Bevon Joseph, co-founder of the Greenwood Project. “What they lack is the social capital, the connections, the network, to even know that these opportunities exist. And that’s what we do. We act as a broker pretty much.”

The Greenwood Project was founded by Bevon and his wife, Elois, both of whom come from a background in finance. “We just always noticed the lack of diversity when it came to entry level talent and internships, in particular at financial services,” said Joseph.“We find, groom, educate, and prepare students — Black and Latinx in particular — for careers in financial services.”

The organization’s goal at first was to help around five students a year. But its success quickly grew. 

“Never in a million years we thought we would be at this point right now,” said Joseph. “We just had close to a hundred students this summer. We have 150+ next year in multiple cities.”

2020 has been a big year in particular for the organization. “We did not plan to really expand until 2025,” said Joseph. “But given all that is happening in the US right now with the pandemic, plus racial injustice issues, we’ve gotten a ton of attention from financial firms and firms outside of finance who want to support what we do.”

As companies are making more progress and taking more initiatives to address inequality, there’s still work to do.

“We recognize that these changes within financial services will not happen overnight,” said Basem. “And so, we are in it for the long haul.”

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