It’s 2022 and FinTech is thriving more than ever and being abundantly relied upon for conducting payments and transactions on a daily basis in most corners of the world. Significantly boosted by the shift in global consumer behavior as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, FinTech is taking over as the preferred variation of finance by several age groups, but it’s also helping to bridge an aspect of society that has been relatively slow to progress until recently; gender gaps.
The role of women in the global business ecosystem has been largely suppressed through the ages, and today this notion is on a clear path to change. FinTech in particular has had a tremendous impact on empowering women in both the workplace as leaders and the consumer market as users.
Before we tackle this impact, a few figures are needed to put gender gaps into perspective.
A working paper by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) released in July 2022 stated that women represent less than 10% of FinTech companies, whether in terms of executive board members or founders. It was also highlighted that Western countries as well as countries in Asia and the Pacific have the highest rates of women founders, while Central Asia and the Middle East have the lowest rates.
In a survey conducted by EY in the UK FinTech industry, only 45% of women founders said they believe to be able to raise equity capital, compared to 62% of their male counterparts. The survey also revealed that less than a third (31%) of women thought they could access debt funding, while 44% of men felt the same.
However, the EY survey also showed that the state of women in FinTech is somewhat improving, revealing that 76% of women involved in FinTech believed their companies to be inclusive, and 56% believed them to be diverse. Men also corroborated these beliefs, where 95% believe in inclusiveness and 77% trust their companies to be diverse.
Make no mistake; attaining gender parity in the FinTech sector is happening today more than ever. The global female economy is on the rise, with the number of women owning and running small to medium-sized businesses (WSMEs) at an all-time high. In turn, powerful women contribute greatly to community development, job creation, and unprecedented creativity levels in the workplace, gradually breaking through the glass ceiling one imposed barrier at a time.
Assertiveness, determination, and diligence might have led women to climb up the professional ladder over the years, yet today their rising role is supported by modern drivers that have enabled the transition to a less male-dominated world:
1) Online Education
The sheer abundance of fast, easy, and often free online courses has shifted the way that women can access education and unlock their full potential, paving the way for their careers. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in more free time for everyone, but it also specifically made different timeslots available for women during the day, due to factors like remote work or kids staying home from school, which in turn allowed them to pursue their passion at their own convenience. Online education positively impacted women’s rising interest in digital financial services, offering many resources and tools to hone this interest and create great career opportunities in FinTech for them.
2) Reciprocal Economic Potential
Women’s relationship with FinTech as it stands today provides a great two-sided opportunity on both the consumer and employment sides. FinTech products & services that cater specifically to women’s needs still represent an underdeveloped market, and FinTech companies are still dealing with a shortage of employed women in the workplace, making both sides of this coin largely underserved. This gender gap offers great motivation for female entrepreneurs looking to establish businesses and build solutions that target female customers, and women who are interested in working in FinTech have ample opportunity for getting hired and make a difference today.
3) Awareness of Gender Bias
The lacking presence of women in key executive and managerial roles over the years, whether as founders or team members, has led to companies unconsciously using a skewed approach and being biased toward men. There might be balance in the general workplace, but it’s in strategic high-level roles that the gap begins to widen. Today, more FinTech entities are consciously working towards building more gender-diverse companies and inclusive work environments, dealing with women’s increasing relevance in the FinTech industry as a priority by reducing gender disparity, in order to provide more chances for them to break that glass ceiling.
Women & FinTech in the MENA region
As a relatively low-income region, the Middle East & North Africa presents added barriers for women to make it in FinTech when compared to high-income regions like the West. These barriers could be cultural or otherwise, but nonetheless, the MENA region has some of the highest rates of female entrepreneurial aspirations in the world, fueled by an established female-to-male business ownership ratio.
Today more than ever, there is a multitude of budding and blooming FinTech startups led by women in the MENA region. Here are some great examples:
- Nadine Mezher, Co-Founder of Sarwa
Lebanese Nadine Mezher established Sarwa in the United Arab Emirates as a financial advisory platform in 2017, along with her co-founders Mark Chahwan and Jad Sayegh. In March 2021, Sarwa Trade raised $15 million in funding from the Mubadala Investment Company, in addition to contributions from Hambro Perks Oryx Fund, HALA Ventures, and Middle East Venture Partners. Sarwa serves more than 80,000 customers today as a zero-commission, zero-transfer fee platform, representing a quintessential Middle Eastern FinTech success story.
- Fatma El Shennawy, Co-Founder of Khazna
Khazna was established in Egypt as a mobile app startup for financial inclusion solutions by Egyptian co-founders Fatma El Shennawy, Omar Saleh, Ahmed Wagueeh, and Omar Salah in 2019. The promising FinTech startup ended up raising $38 million in funding from Quona Capital, with contributions from Speedinvest, Nclude, Khawarizmi Ventures, Algebra Ventures, Accion Venture Lab, Disruptech, Arab Bank’s AB Accelerator, and CVentures. Fatma El Shennawy is Khazna’s Chief Strategy Officer, and the established company left the startup ecosystem behind, claiming a total of $47 million in funding today.
- Dina Sam’an, Co-Founder of CoinMENA
Jordanian Dina Sam’an co-founded CoinMENA as a crypto exchange in 2019 with fellow founders Talal Tabbaa and Yazan Barghuthi. Headquartered in Bahrain, CoinMENA rose to stardom when it claimed 150,000 active users in less than 12 months, securing $9.5 million in seed funding in 2021 from multiple investors, including BECO Capital, Kenetic Capital, and Arab Bank Switzerland.
These prominent women are leading by example in a world that has prioritized gender bias for a long time, and the generations to come can certainly take a page from their book to kickstart their careers. There are many more examples of female FinTech leaders in the Middle East and the world, and they
have all proven that it’s possible to break unjustly imposed barriers on a global level. Today, FinTech as an industry is coming together in many different aspects to boost the female talent pipeline, empower women to take control of their careers, and soar through that glass ceiling for the benefit of everyone involved.