Key Takeaways from Four Leading Women in Fintech Product Development
Designing products for financial technology companies is a complex endeavor, made even more complicated when you are a woman in a male-dominated field.
We recently held a panel in partnership with Women in Fintech where we invited four accomplished panelists who work in fintech, specifically in product, and asked them to share their paths to success and what they think other aspiring women in fintech should know.
Our panelists were:
Aoni Wang, Lead Product Designer at Chime
Nicole Anicetti, Senior UX Researcher at Chime
Snigdha Kumar, Head of Product Operations at Digit
Moderated by Honor Flannery, Senior Product Manager at Treasury Prime
We’re also hosting an event in partnership with Women in Fintech once again at our Activate Conference — a premiere half-day event filled with expert-led panels and networking during Money 20/20 — and you’re invited. RSVP to Activate here, no Money 20/20 badge required.
Through this one-hour discussion, our panelists discussed some of their biggest lessons, their unconventional paths to fintech, and what they think other women need to know when entering into a field where women are the minority. We’ve recapped some of the biggest takeaways below. You can also watch the full panel here:
There isn’t just one way to working in fintech
For our panelists, getting into fintech wasn’t a straight path.
Nicole studied psychology at Santa Clara University and went on to study the workings of the human brain at Stanford. After a conversation with a colleague who was studying human-computer interaction, Nicole discovered the field of UX and pursued it after graduate school. Nicole has found that a lot of her clinical research experience, particularly in ensuring others are at ease and comfortable during user testing interviews, translated into her UX roles.
Aoni, who always had an interest in design and art, originally thought she’d be a fashion designer and chose to study advertising in university. She worked on branding projects like posters until some of her classmates asked her to design their startup’s user interface. “I took it on and that's how I started to get in touch with product design and where I found my passion.”
What makes fintech different from other industries
For those looking to get into fintech, our panelists said working in such a regulated industry can be one of the biggest hurdles, especially when it comes to designing, testing, and deploying new products.
“You’re designing for a customer segment where [money] is the one thing that touches their lives every day,” Snigdha said. “But at the same time, it's so heavily regulated that you have to think about making it simple or complex. You can't do one or the other…and it makes designing a product in this space really challenging.”
Aoni echoed Snigdha’s thoughts. Fintech often deals with complicated topics — regulation and compliance among them — and it can be difficult to make your product or service feel human and to make people feel confident that what you’ve built is right for them. Remembering that whether it’s B2C or B2B, all customers are human and have feelings and emotions, and that can help drive product design and positioning.
How to approach product in fintech
Our seasoned product vets all agreed on one thing when it comes to designing and working on products in fintech: know the why.
Part of proving market fit is not only identifying problems, but also identifying the problems (and solutions) that consumers may not know exist or could be possible.
“There's this element of seeing what adjustments people are making right now because of the lack of that product.” Snigdha said.
Understanding the why is key to aligning the entire organization and its resources to address it. Oftentimes there can be this desire to constantly innovate on new offerings, but working on a product that doesn’t answer the why can ultimately be distracting from what is important to the customer and is business-critical. For example, as Snigdha explains, in doing research at Digit, consumers were dividing up their savings into separate savings accounts each with a distinct purpose like saving for a wedding or for traveling. Customers were making this very manual adjustment, so Digit made it much easier. Using Digit’s platform, customers can now automatically divert money into separate accounts while still retaining easy access and visibility to their funds.
The biggest lessons learned
Similarly to understanding the why, Aoni says that one of her biggest lessons learned was to start with the problem. As she went on, she explained that when she’s asked to design something, she’ll often root the request in the why. Will a new design solve the problem? Is there another, perhaps simpler solution to this problem that can achieve the same goal?
For Nicole, she found flexibility to be a major takeaway. As a UX researcher with specific goals and tailored interview scripts, there’s a lot of benefit to being flexible and going off-script when conducting interviews. Rather than treat a study like a checklist, bringing a human conversational element can unearth findings that may have been difficult to find otherwise.
Snigdha and Honor had similar lessons to pass on: don’t feel like you need to have an answer for everything, but don’t forget that your opinion matters.
“I learned that I don't need to have all the answers, but I need to have the ability to figure out those answers.” Snigdha said. “That attitude of figuring it out versus ‘I need to have that answer tomorrow before that presentation, otherwise people are going to think that I don't know what I'm doing.’”
Honor similarly explained that as a product manager, you’re absorbing a lot of thoughts and opinions from different sectors of the business whether its fellow product team members, sales, or marketing. It can be hard to remember that you also have a valid opinion.
“I can have strong feelings about something and my thoughts and the way that I think about product — those are really valuable things that I bring to the table.” Honor said.
The best piece of advice
Whether you’re an aspiring woman looking to get into product or fintech or if you’re already there, our panelists had some inspiring advice.
For our panelists, working in an industry mostly occupied by men can be challenging — and all agreed that using your voice is incredibly important.
Snigdha recommends being clear and upfront if anyone’s behavior feels offensive or made you feel uncomfortable. Honor reflected a similar sentiment in standing up for yourself if you feel discriminated against or disrespected. By not saying anything, it allows the same kind of behavior to continue.
“It's about not being a shrinking violet and being willing to call [offensive behavior] out,” Honor said. “I don't like to sway the boat, I don't like to ruffle feathers, but I think it becomes a habit and if we don't call it out, it just goes on and on.”
Similarly, Nicole encourages making your voice heard, even if it makes you feel comfortable.
“[There’s] imposter syndrome where you’re just being constantly worried, ‘Am I going to say something that's compelling? That's interesting? That people are going to like, take, and respect?’” Nicole said. “And I think for me it's been a learning that oftentimes speaking up is better, having your voice heard is as important- if not more important, than saying that super insightful, compelling comment.”
Aoni also added that there’s a lot of value in finding female mentors who have already led your journey and been through what you have. She recommends seeking out role models and mentors that are both within your team or organization as well as finding some outside of it. Snigdha also suggests finding some personal champions who may not necessarily identify with all of your experiences as they can help to amplify your voice to different kinds of people and give you access to people and places you may not have otherwise.
Recommended resources for other women in fintech
There are a variety of resources, many of them free, and some of our panelists favorites include:
- Books and speeches from Carla Harris
- Fintech Business Weekly, Fintech Brain Food, How I Built This Podcasts
- Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink, Leif Babin
- Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office by Lois P. Frankel
- Women in Fintech
If you’re interested in attending more events in collaboration with organizations like Women in Fintech, we’re hosting one during our inaugural conference, Activate. You can learn more and register here.
And if you have any additional resources you’d like to add to this list, we’d love to know. You can tweet us or send us a DM.