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At the vanguard: Private banking’s women in tech talk inclusivity and innovation

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Leading the charge on digital transformation at private banks, the industry’s top women in tech speak to Asian Private Banker this International Women’s Day on improving inclusivity for women in the industry, their personal experience in driving tech projects, and how digital solutions can positively impact female HNW clients.   

Evy Theunis, head of digital wealth, DBS Bank

How can the fintech industry promote inclusivity for women?
Organisations should be mindful of their female representation, and hiring numbers are a good start, but inclusion goes beyond that. It entails ensuring both men and women have equal chances to lead, and a say in key decisions vital to the organisation’s well-being and future. Upon identifying such gaps, address them by taking action — don’t stay in the comfort zone. If too few females are in technically skilled fields, go the extra mile to understand why, rejig the role to better address their needs, and build a network to reach these talents. For instance, DBS launched its inaugural Hack2Hire-Her programme this year, which is an initiative aimed at boosting our intake of female technologists.

Also, do be aware of pre-set biases. Often, we may not realise that certain biases or stereotypes are clouding our judgement — this applies to everyone, myself included. These aren’t representative of an individual, or the value he or she can bring to an organisation. Make a conscious effort to keep an open mind. That said, it is heartening that the industry has become more cognisant of the value-add diversity brings, be it in terms of gender, background or perspective. More organisations are increasingly strengthening their awareness efforts, which is a significant step towards creating a more inclusive environment.

What has been your personal experience as a woman in fintech?
One of my key learnings so far is that we are our strongest advocate. Too often, we hinder ourselves from progressing by getting consumed by what society expects of us or regards as the norm — for example, “your priorities will change upon becoming a mum”, “women shouldn’t be too ambitious” — when what we should do is to understand what we want for ourselves, speak up about our aspirations and thoughts, and openly pursue them with confidence. Put in the fight, and don’t leave things to chance.

It is also essential to find yourself an environment that supports, nurtures and gives you room to grow. Often the only female at the table in my previous roles, I was pleasantly surprised to see many high-ranking women in DBS — all of whom were different, be it in their personal or career backgrounds, stage of life, etc. To me, this spoke volumes about the company — success wasn’t defined by a certain gender or stereotype; it wasn’t a one-size-fits-all. Everyone had a chance at it just by being who they were.

People play a key role, too. I’m grateful to have met people who believed in me and helped me to progress. I was four months pregnant when DBS hired me to lead a major project, which wasn’t the most common nor the easiest move for an organisation to make. But they saw my potential and took a chance on me, for which I am very thankful.

How can the finance industry use tech to better meet the evolving needs of female clients?
Women may have certain life-cycle needs such as longer life expectancies, which need to be factored into their long-term financial planning or maybe they need to be more involved in managing the family’s finances. They may also display behavioural characteristics such as being less active on digital investment platforms compared to men but tend to make more informed and calculated decisions when they do invest. However, these aren’t prescriptive, especially as society continues to evolve over time — gender lines are blurring and age-old stereotypes (for example, men run the business, women run the family) no longer hold.

Every individual’s needs are unique and can’t be categorised by gender. Instead, these needs are determined by the job or activity at hand. This is reflected in our technology efforts as well. Taking our digital investment tools as an example, we are continuously focused on enhancing them based on client characteristics such as their familiarity and investment style, not gender.

Vivien Jong, chief digital officer for Asia, BNP Paribas Wealth Management

How can the fintech industry promote inclusivity for women?
While there is still a lot of work to do — not just in finance and tech but across the board — some notably encouraging steps have been taken. Certainly, at BNP Paribas, there have been a number of initiatives to increase representation of senior women. For example, the bank is a signatory of the Women in Finance Charter and the UN’s Women Empowerment Principles and is implementing gender targets for participation in leadership programmes. As a single parent, it’s also important for me to have workplace flexibility. I would not have been where I am today if not for great mentors, great bosses, and great work environments. I have personally benefited from many remarkable leaders and if I can pass these attributes forward, I am sure others will see that it is possible to improve inclusion for women, enrich the talent pool, achieve results, and drive innovation.

What has been your personal experience as a woman in fintech?
During my 24-year-long career in the business, I have had to overcome many challenges commonly faced by women around the issue of gender imbalance. With technology deemed as a male-dominated sector, gender discrepancies become even more pronounced.

Even though a lot of progress has been made and the tech industry is becoming more diverse and companies are directing more resources to help develop more gender-balanced teams, the gender gap is still an issue that needs tackling.

How can the finance industry use tech to better meet the evolving needs of female clients?
Our digital strategy focuses on client experience through digital offerings to meet client needs — so we are gender-agnostic on this topic currently.

However, BNP Paribas Wealth Management is committed to understanding, serving, and celebrating women entrepreneurs and we have developed specific initiatives to support these goals. Our annual programme at Stanford University involves mentoring, training, and high-level networking for women entrepreneurs. Nearly 150 women have since benefited from this unique growth and leadership programme that started in 2015.

Cat Rüst, head of innovation technologies for Greater China, UBS GWM

How can the fintech industry promote inclusivity for women?
I am extremely fortunate to work in UBS Wealth Management Asia Pacific where over 60% of employees are female. It’s an incredibly inclusive environment and the presence of inspiring female role models, leaders and mentors is, without doubt, empowering others to follow in their wake.

In real terms, female mentors, nursing rooms, parental breaks, etc. are all part of what is offered to support women at UBS. But it really goes beyond that, well into the whole culture of diversity and inclusion.

Our digital hub in Kowloon also caters to our female clients focusing on how technology affects their businesses, their lives, and their families.

Equality isn’t the case in all aspects of the finance industry, nor is it the case in the tech industry. I think the problems start much earlier and are well embedded in society so we also need to be looking at initiatives such as those keeping girls in STEM subjects — for example, the Women’s Foundation’s Girls Go Tech programme — where previously they might have been discouraged.

Additionally, women need to value their own worth. I used to have a female developer who worked for me — very young but highly capable. We did a ‘holocracy’ workshop whereby everyone discussed their salaries and relative pay. We were an incredibly diverse team, men and women, with no two developers from the same country and they jointly recommended an increase in her salary. She hadn’t believed how good she was, and happily, that has changed!

Having run multiple tech start-ups before joining the bank, I have been impressed by how being different has been seen as such an asset. It’s that culture of inclusion that we all need to be building.

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