16 pioneering women shaking up digital finance

By Kitty Knowles 23 March 2016

We all know the future of finance is digital: Meet the incredible women who are leading the way.

The worlds of finance and technology may be dominated by men, but there are plenty of kick-ass women also carving their own niche.

From forward-thinking businesswomen in our biggest banks, to innovative founders creating new avenues of money exchange, we wanted to shine a light on some of the different ways women are pioneering financial technology around the world.

We couldn’t possibly feature everyone we wanted to and this is by no means an exhaustive list – but hopefully this feature will introduce to a few new revolutionary figures and inspire you with hope for the industry and its future.

1) Marta Krupinska


Co-founder Azimo, London, UK

One of this year’s Forbes 30 Under 30 Finance list, Marta Krupinska is certainly one to watch.

The Polish entrepreneur, who already launched her own social travel platform Travelnity in 2008, is co-founder at international money exchange business Azimo.

Krupinska created the UK-based service, having experienced first-hand how challenging it was to send money home, and the company now has a second office, in Krakow.

The entrepreneur dreams of Azimo becoming a verb, where instead of someone saying ‘I need to send some money home’, they say ‘I’ll Azimo it’.

“We’re at a tipping point where digital finance is having a widespread impact on the world, in a very real way,” she told The Memo. “We’re already saving our customers millions of dollars every year, but the opportunity to do more is what excites me most.”

Encouraging more women into the industry is not just important socially, but it’s good for business, says Krupinska.

“A report by First Round Capital showed that startups with a female founder as part of the team performed 63 per cent better than their all-male counterparts,” she explains.

“We need to set a higher standard, be the example and extend that all-important olive branch to other women in fintech.”

Read more: Wise VCs invest in women

2) Topyster Muga

Head of Airtel Money at Airtel Kenya Nairobi

Kenya’s Topyster Muga has been hot on the mobile money space since 2005.

Starting off at Airtel as an IT project coordinator and development engineer, Muga later oversaw the rise of M-Pesa mobile money transfer at Vodafone Group Services, and even won a Nelson Mandela scholarship award to study her MBA at the prestigious INSEAD Business School in France.

Now Head of Airtel Money, Muga was recently crowned IT woman of the year at the first annual IT women conference in sub-Saharan Africa.

Muga has previously spoken of her drive to bring financial services to the underserved and excluded in Africa.

“Kenyans have a strong entrepreneurial spirit, a very tech savvy youth and this has led to the innovations we have in technology and mobile payments,” she told FemTech Leaders.

“As many startups innovate, Kenyans embrace these services.”

3) Emily MacKay


Founder and CEO, Crowdsurfer, Cambridge, UK

MacKay founded Crowdsurfer, a worldwide data authority for crowdfunding and peer-to-peer finance, in 2012.

The Cambridge business is the go-to big data platform for if you want to find out about how investments financed through crowdfunding and marketplace lending.

Creating Crowdsurfer is exciting “because we’re bringing data intelligence to ​the crowd finance phenomenon, which offers huge social impact,” MacKay told The Memo.

“Businesses should represent the world in which they operate. We have our female COO running our hiring campaigns, from the job descriptions​ to the interviewing. And lo, women apply.”

“​It’s hard to feel like you’ll fit in if you don’t see or hear anyone who is like you – that’s true beyond gender.”

4) Maggie Wu

CFO, Alibaba, Hangzhou, China

CFO Maggie Wu is responsible for overseeing Alibaba’s complex online finances.

Not only is Alibaba an offshore holding company, that allows foreigners to own shares of Alibaba, but Wu also oversees the development of the company’s online payment platform Alipay.

Wu’s in good company though. A third of Alibaba’s 18 co-founders are women, and a similar percentage make up the company’s powerful partnership group, which essentially controls the company by nominating a majority of its directors.

Last year Alibaba’s market valuation topped $257bn making it worth over $100bn more than US online rival Amazon.

“We continue to execute our focused growth strategy, and the fundamental strength of our business gives us the confidence to invest in new initiatives to add new users, improving engagement and customer experience, expand our products and services and drive long-term shareholder value,” Wu said of the company’s success.

5) Angela Ceresnie


Co-founder and COO at Orchard Platform, New York, US

Brooklynite Angela Ceresnie is one incredible woman.

With a Masters in Engineering from University of Michigan, and over 7 years working for two high profile Wall Street banks in the City, the businesswoman is now Co-founder and COO at Orchard Platform.

“In my initial personal participation in marketplace lending, I was able to take that knowledge and combine it with this interesting, newly available (to retail investors) data and build a model that I found to be superior,” she told FemTech Leaders.

“That access and excitement along with meeting my other co-founders boosted my confidence to leave the Wall Street banks in order to do something different that I could personally impact.”

A Forbes Next Billion Dollar Startups company, Orchard raised a $30m in funding last September.

We’re looking forward to watching the company blossom.

6) Paulina Sygulska


Director, Grant Tree, London, UK

Polish businesswoman Paulina Sygulska first came to the UK after winning a scholarship to study at UCL.

Now a specialist in providing equity free funding for tech and debt, her company GrantTree has secured over £30m worth of government funding for more than 500 UK companies.

“I’m passionate about disrupting stale industries,” Sygulska told The Memo, “both from the perspective of inefficiencies and values (such as transparency and putting the user in a position of power).”

“It’s crucial that more female leaders support early stage female entrepreneurs,” she added.

“Women bring an egalitarian, value driven approach to business which is very much needed in the disrupted finance world of tomorrow, alongside deep knowledge and strong competences.”

ICYMI: Sygulska’s also a big fan of Ada Lovelace, Eileen Burbidge and… stripper Fancy Chance.

7) Danae Ringelmann


Founder Indiegogo, San Fransisco, US

Recently named one of the World Economic Forum’s ‘Young Global Leaders Class of 2016′, Danae Ringelmann is the founder of pioneering crowdfunding platform Indiegogo.

Just last month the entrepreneur told The Memo why women make better crowdfunders:

“Overall, woman generally express more emotion and write more about relationships, a style that is more successful than typical male writing at persuading online readers to fund their projects,” she explained.

Part of the reason Ringelmann founded Indigogo was to democratise capital and level the playing field for entrepreneurs, she added.

“It has removed bias from the funding equation by creating an equal opportunity platform where all ideas are welcome, and where all ideas succeed based on their merit and market,” she said.

Read more: The secret to successful crowdfunding? Women use words better says Danae Ringelmann

Read more: Amal Clooney & fellow Brits make World Economic Forum’s “tech-wise” list

8) Farida Bedwei


Co-founder of Logiciel, Ghana, Africa

A seasoned software developer with over 12 years experience in developing business and mobile applications, Farida Bedwei is now Co-Founder & Chief Technical Officer at Logiciel.

A force to be reckoned with, in 2013 South Africa’s CEO Magazine named Bedwei the most influential woman in business and government in Africa for the financial sector.

Her greatest achievement, Bedwei told CNN, is developing a cloud software platform that lets companies send loan codes to customers by text which can be exchanged for money in bank branches immediately.

This is being used by 130 micro-finance companies across Africa.

Inspiringly, Bedwei has spoken about how she achieved all this while living with cerebral palsy.

“I am a role model for a lot of children with disabilities so and it’s very important for me to showcase to the world that… Yes … You can have a disabled child and it’s not the end of the world.

“There is so much that that child can end up doing given the right resources.”

9) Ana Patricia Botín


Executive Chairman, Santander Group, London, UK

One of the most powerful banking executives in the world, and the first woman to head a major European lender, Ana Patricia Botín reigns as the executive chairman Spain’s Santander Group.

Last year the leader oversaw the bank’s pioneering partnership with mobile payment specialist Monitise that promised a commitment to “investing in, building and scaling fintech businesses with the potential to redefine and support financial services globally.”

The new £20m venture, follows a £63.8 million fintech investment pot set up by Santander in 2014.

“It’s hard to innovate as a big bank,” Botin told The Telegraph when the fund was formed. “But it’s a good time to invest – London is the best place for fintech in the world at the moment.”

“The UK has a large number of start-ups but the challenge is trying to get the small companies to become medium-sized ones,” she says.

“They give the economy stability, like the German Mittelstand, and they are the ones we’re targeting.”

Fun fact: A truly international businesswoman Botín speaks five different languages.

10) Catheryne Nicholson 


Founder BlockCypher, San Francisco, US

Cartheryn Nicholson is the co-founder of BlockCypher – which she describes as the “Amazon Web Services for blockchains”.

If you don’t know about blockchains, we suggest you want our handy explainer – it has cake!

Essentially Nicholson’s business takes care of the highly complex effort of building and running blockchain infrastructure so companies can focus on their business applications.

“Block chain technology has the capacity to be the Internet of the financial world,” she told Exponential Finance.

“There is an incredible opportunity to address large-scale inefficiencies within our monetary system and transform all exchanges of value.”

Nicholson is also a U.S Naval Academy and Stanford University graduate, she holds a BS in Aerospace Engineering, a MS in Environmental Engineering, a MBA, and is a registered PE in Mechanical Engineering.

She’s also previously built large-scale software platforms in education, energy and emissions management, and we think she’s boss.

11) Susanne Chishti 


Founder and CEO, FINTECH Circle

Susanne Chishti, the CEO of Europe’s first Angel Network for digital finance, is the Chairman of FINTECH Circle Innovate, and is also editor of the crowdfunded FinTech Book.

“I specialise across all areas of fintech both Business to Consumer and Business to Business across retail, corporate and investment banking, asset management and private banking, cryptocurrencies & blockchain and insurance,” Chisti told The Memo.

“My role as founder excites me as I am able to collaborate with the best financial entrepreneurs, investors and thought leaders helping to modernise financial services.”

“It is very important to support more women to be part of financial technology because firms need to understand how their customers want to be engaged, and half of their customers are women,” Chishti added.

“Fintech is also great for women as it’s so much about collaboration and that’s what we women are very good at.”

12) Amy Nauiokas


Founder Anthemis, London, UK

Not only is Amy Nauiokas Founder and CEO of Archer Gray, a leading media production and investment company, but’s she’s Co-Founder and President of Anthemis – the up-and-coming digital financial services investment and advisory firm.

The venture capitalist is a pro at spotting potential-filled tech companies, and her early investments include Zoopla, Climate Corporation, and Simple.

In a previous life, Nauiokas was CEO and Managing Director of Barclays Stockbrokers, and a Head of Electronic Sales & Trading for Barclays Group, where she was credited for driving significant expansion and adoption of the firm’s electronic products and markets to institutional clients globally.

13) Anne Boden


Founder Starling, London, UK

Led by Anne Boden, the former chief operating officer of Allied Irish Banks, Starling last year raised £10m to fund the launch of its mobile bank app.

And, in January 2016, it raised yet another $70m to continue building a challenger to the likes of NatWest and HSBC.

Anne Boden told The Memo the bank will target people who “live their lives on their phone.”

“Our aim is clear – to bring about a revolution in retail banking, by developing an account architecture, using the latest available technology, designed to meet the needs of the modern customer.”

14) Jane Dumeresque

CEO of Folk2folk, Cornwall, UK

Folk2Folk may appear the modern peer-to-peer lender, but it has community and traditional values at its heart.

Founded in 2013, the platforms born out of a law firm, Parnalls of Launceston, (with lending roots that go back more than 100 years), and was created “to fill a local funding gap at a time when banks were retreating from small business”.

One of the world’s only peer to peer lenders with a high street presence, Folk2Folk arranged over £50m of loans during its first 2 years.

“The Fintech industry is exciting because of the dramatic shift that has occurred in the financial landscape,” Dumeresque told The Memo.

“We’ve reached a stage where Alternative Finance is not so ‘alternative’ any longer.

Over 60% of people at Folk2Folk are women and the company has a culture of promoting internally, Dumeresque added.

“I firmly believe that having women around the board table and as part of management teams will bring balance to this new industry and contribute to ensuring that learnings from the past result in improved financial industry behaviours and practices.”

15) Elizabeth Lumley


Director of Global Ecosystem Development, Startupbootcamp FinTech & InsurTech, London, UK

Having worked in financial technology for over 20 years, there’s few people who are more knowledgable than Elizabeth Lumley, who specialises in “all of it”.

“Banking and tech are two white male dominated industries that need a fucking kick up the ass,” Lumley told The Memo.

“Women are 50% of the population,” she said. “When you have less than 5% of startups in FinTech founded by women; When you have appalling numbers of women in leadership positions in banking and FinTech and tech, that is a crime.”

I work with FinTech startups and great new innovative ideas, that have the ‘customer problem’ at the heart of design will never be developed by risk adverse, traditional incumbents,” Lumley explained.

“Financial services is not like any other vertical. It is an industry that underpins all other industries.

“A secure regulated, easy to access and control, bank account is a cornerstone of civilisation. FinTech gives that opportunity to many more.”

16) Anna Irrera


Reporter, Financial News

Anna Irrera is a journalist at London’s Financial News (part of the Wall Street Journal) where she covers fintech and market structure.

An expert in the field, she also recently launched her own Weekly Fintech Roundup that focuses solely on where the worlds of finance and technology collide.

The journalist started her must-read newsletter because “there is so much more going on” now.

“It is getting harder for people to keep up,” she told The Memo.

“I thought it would be useful for people in the industry to receive a weekly roundup of interesting stories, reports or blogs, with a short comment on why I think that content is worth reading.”