If anyone understands the rise of Fintech as an industry, it’s Liz. For over 20 years, she has been immersed in financial technology, and worked in or studied almost every feature and angle within it. Liz’s career began as a reporter in New York and she has built a remarkable wealth of knowledge and connections throughout fintech, across the world, since then.
Today, she is internationally recognized as one of the leading voices in FinTech and banking technology innovation. With a well-established career in global event speaking and organising, Liz is now the director of content and fintech at VC Innovations. In her own words: “After 24 years in Fintech I have attended my fair share of conferences – I have put together events, round-tables, webcasts and meetups. I could whip up an agenda looking at payments in my sleep. I’ve interviewed, drank with, and engaged with on social media anyone who is anyone in Fintech. Because of that, I know what needs to be changed. My thinking always ends up on the same road. The idea that events, media and community need to be … wait for it … disrupted.”
The values that make Fintech businesses a great place to work, while ensuring they do great work for customers, are qualities that Liz understands better than most. When the traditional way of doing things become outdated, nobody is more capable of offering a little innovation and a dash of much-needed disruption than Liz.
We met with and interviewed her personally for this exact reason; we knew Liz would have some great thoughts on the industries’ past, present and future, all with her brilliantly down-to-earth and humorous delivery. We can confirm: she did not disappoint.
Q. Firstly, how did you get into FinTech?
A. So, I've been in FinTech for 25 years. Honestly, I answered an ad in the New York Times for a reporter role in the city. I started as a reporter on a publication called Inside Market Data, which covered the real-time market data industry for investment banks. I had absolutely no idea about anything, I barely knew what a stock was. When I started, we did use the term "FinTech" in the office, but most of the industry called it financial information technology. That's kind of how it started in 1994.
Q. Have you seen a massive change from the concept of Fintech before? How do you feel about that kind of democratization?
A. So, I'm a big fan of democratization. Making it easier for non-professionals to invest is a very good thing. Although, when we use the term “Robo advice”, I think we need to know what that means. Is it a rules algorithm? Is it something that actually learns? I think there's a lot of confusion about what that actually means in the investment space and I'm not talking as an average person, I'm talking as someone familiar with FinTech already.
Q. So, what would you see as your main financial goal? What have you always strived for in finance?
A. I'm an American and my parents paid for my education. Therefore, I graduated with no student debt, and that is something that I will never, ever take for granted. I consider it a huge part of my privilege and it is something that is very topical, especially now. In the United States college system, it's awful. My husband and I have one son and I would like him to go to university. However, I don't want him to graduate with £100,000 worth of debt, so that's my main financial goal right now.
Q. I see. So, what does financial independence mean to you?
A. Freedom. I really get annoyed and sometimes tend to see it with… well, let me phrase this the right way. I am a liberal, but the men who claimed capitalism is all B.S. and we don't need banks and all this stuff. I'm thinking: “Well, you know, there are millions of people in this world who don't have access to a secure regulated bank account and most of those people are women.” Having access to your money is freedom and it's a voice, and there are people denied that, and that's a big deal to me. So that's where I think banks are a social institution like schools and hospitals. We might not like banks but, for example, my mother was Assistant Head of Operations at Boston Trust and Guarantee back in the 1960s. She still had to get her husband to co-sign for her to get a credit card, and that's not that long ago. For women, having control over money is a big deal, and to p*ss on that and to reject that privilege because you have it to reject on principle? I find it offensive.
Q. What do you see as the biggest issue in the investing world at the moment?
A. As I mentioned before, I think there are a lot of people that think it's (investing) beyond them. Most of the time, it really isn't, and having it simplified so that people who only have a few hundred pounds extra can use that money effectively, particularly while living in an extremely low-interest rate environment; you can't say that that isn’t a big deal. I think also, to refer back to women, there’s a study I bring up a lot that was done on two separate stories. One done by Fidelity Investments and one done by UBS, which came up with very similar views and very similar findings. Of the women they surveyed, three years after their husbands had died; UBS found 80% and Fidelity found 70% of the women left their financial advisors because the bank’s were not meeting their needs. That's huge. They're losing money because they're not meeting their market.
Q. Ok, so how do you think the industry can better serve their female market?
A. They need to just pay attention, it's not that hard. What are your needs? What are your goals? Instead of having this sort of mythical client that you pitch every product to, usually male, and usually the breadwinner. That doesn't really exist anymore, at least not in many places. This is one of the best pieces of advice I received. Ages ago, I was talking to someone who said the best thing you could do in investing was to just put your money in a portfolio, forget about it and just let it grow. Don't play games. It's the stupid thing about Trump, I don't know if it's true but, allegedly, if he had just taken the money and put it in an S&P Tracker account he would have made billions. So, it's not rocket science.
Q. What's your favourite financial app to use?
A. So I have a Barclays main account. Ages ago, when my son was eight years old, my husband went to the bank to open up a little kid’s savings account and they gave him a passbook. So he brought it back, and I'm like: "No, no". Instead, we gave him an Osper debit card. He started managing his spending when he was eight. Now, it's not an actual bank account, it's connected to our bank account. But he gets the physical card and sets his own saving goal on it, and there’s an allowance. I highly recommend it. It’s for 8-18 year olds and it's been working out really well for him.
Q. What is the best piece of financial advice anyone's ever given you?
A: So my dad is really good with money. He says always save something, even if you only manage £1 a week. Just always put something away. I think there's something to that, you know, just put it away and forget about it. He always used to have a penny jar. I like to think that's good advice to have because it's simple. It's like those people that tried to stop smoking. Every time, they put the money that would be spent on a pack of cigarettes into a savings account. Then you go back six months later and see what you'd saved.