Christine Duhaime, of Vancouver, Canada-based Duhaime Law, specializes in financial technology (FinTech) and law. She is the co-founder of Digital Finance Institute—a think tank focused on the nexus between financial innovation, FinTech, financial inclusion and financial regulation.
Among other initiatives, Digital Finance Institute is developing strategies to ensure continued innovation among FinTech companies serving disadvantaged communities, and holds the distinction of hosting Canada’s first-ever FinTech Conference.
Duhaime's comments and insights on the FinTech industry have appeared in The Globe and Mail and The Wall Street Journal, among other publications. She is also the co-author of the 2015 "Power Women In FinTech Index: Bridging The Gender Gap," encompassing more than 400 women industry leaders.
This is the second of a two-part Q&A with Duhaime. [Read Part I of Christine Duhaime's interview HERE]
New York Financial Press (NYFP): How do you see alternative marketplace lending out for the next generation?
Christine Duhaime: "We’re trying to build technology for the refugees for financial inclusion, and one of the things we always do is try to talk to teenagers at universities. And we say things like 'If you’re in Canada and you have to get money to your relatives in Syria?' It’s such a different answer than if we asked adults who may be older and have bank accounts. The answers from the teenagers and the people in universities is: 'You know what? I want to pick up my phone. I want to get a picture of someone that I know is in need in Syria, the Ukraine, and instantly send them ten-thousand dollars, because I have their picture there, know that they got it, and know I’ve just bought them a dinner, or I’ve just bought them a train ticket to safety, I’ve just bought them diapers or water or a hotel.'
"What they say, in terms of their view of banking, is instant, frictionless, has to be acknowledged that the banking transaction went through, has to be personal. This is their view of where banking is going and is what they are going to demand. But if you ask someone who is older, their view of what banking should be and where it’s going is 'It’s fine. Because we bank at a bank branch, someone there knows who we are.' It’s a personal connection. And I get that. But I think the second group of people are not going to prevail. It’s going to be online banking. It’s going to have to be frictionless. And that’s why I think the little FinTech companies are succeeding, because they’re going to the bank and saying, 'Look, for some reason, innovation doesn’t happen very well in a big banking institution, but we can provide you with the innovation. We can provide you with the better thinking, with an onboarding system for the client, where they like what they see, and then you could just be the banker.'
"But the banks are saying 'We want that, but we don’t 100-percent want that. We actually want to be innovative, we want to be seen as the entity that can be cool and fast and provide frictionless services, but still be Bank of America.' So they’re struggling with trying to be innovative, but not actually in a culture of innovation with these other people that really are innovative, because they’re starving little startups that understand about innovation or die.
"I think every big bank now has, or is trying to have, an innovation lab, and one of the things we found when we did our first Women In Fintech studies last year—when we looked at women and men who are in Financial Technology—one of the things that came up was the innovative lab scenario. And what they were saying in that context was that banks were setting up innovation labs inside the banks, and they’re finding that that’s a complete fail. Or they’re finding that they’re trying to bring in innovation culture, and that’s a complete fail. And so they’ve finally realized that the only way to make it succeed is to have a separate innovation lab that they own and that they kind of keep hands-off.
"And whatever that innovation lab comes up with will work with the bank, but they don’t oversee, overlord, try to adopt them in terms of culture, but let them do their own thing, like wear t-shirts, don’t come to meetings, whatever they need to do to be innovative. So it’s really interesting to see this in terms of banks. I think they’re finally starting to realize that there’s obviously something different about bank culture and start-up culture. And if you really want to be innovative, you really have to keep the start-up culture alive and in an innovation space, otherwise, it just becomes another bank project. and because it’s a bank project with bank managers overseeing it, that are really used to committee-izing everything, it’s not going to be successful as a start-up attitude and start-up culture."
"If we can do anything to help a couple more women start a business and become successful and leaders in the world, and then they go on and change the world themselves, I’ll feel like we’ve done a hell of a job."
NYFP: What do women bring to banking that is different, especially in leadership roles that will affect the broader industry, as they have more seats at the table?
Christine Duhaime: "I think the biggest thing that banks don’t see is that we are customers. And so for us, it’s really important. I had a woman say to me the other day [that] one of the things that’s frustrating about her bank is that she works nine to five, then she goes to pick up her children, then she has to make dinner. By the time she’s banking, it’s nine or ten o’clock at night. So to be able to bank online or in a mobile environment is super-important, because it gives them a freedom they didn’t otherwise have.
"Women have different demands. And we do probably four times more than men do in our lives, in terms of just the roles we play, so I think having women at the table is a dialogue of 'You know what? This is what our life is like. We don’t have someone ironing our shirts and making our dinner. So for us, this is what the banking experience needs to look like. And we are half your customers, so don’t ignore what we have to say.'
"And I think banks need to get smarter and realize that if they actually marketed to women and marketed to working, professional women, they would get really loyal customers, but they are missing the whole marketing to women thing because they aren’t in tune with their constituents. We bring the experience of being women that the guys around the CEO table simply cannot bring, because honestly, they’re going home to someone who is cooking their dinner.
"And I know that sounds like a 1950s scenario, but sometimes, that’s still true. Whether or not I’m married, I’m making my own dinner. And that’s the life of women, usually. We are 50 percent of the population. You should be catering to us. It will help your bottom line. In Fintech, I think it’s really cool that women are developing applications and developing companies that take into consideration women as banking customers. That’s the cool thing of having women coding and coming up with the design of what it should look like for women.
"One of the important things that I heard from the Gates Foundation was where a woman was saying, in the Middle East, for example: 'When you start to ignore women as customers and women in banking, and every time we hear someone saying 'Fintech is men, men, men' and we’re really tired of it.' In the Middle East, when you try to get a mobile phone for banking, and all of the agents are men, women in the Middle East won’t go to an agent who’s a man. So as a result of that, they won’t get a mobile phone or a smart phone, and they won’t go do their banking through an agent. Even in a refugee situation, culturally, it’s difficult for them to trust and to establish a relationship with a man who’s an agent. So there is a need for female agents if they want to grow the database of women who have mobile phones and smart phones and get them onto digital banking.
"Why are there no female agents in Africa or the Middle East? If you look at the model, even if it’s FinTech or Bitcoin, it’s nothing but male agents. So I think having women—we talk about financial inclusion, but another part of that is female inclusion—as part of the dialogue for financial technology, means that we are going to be building products and providing services that are catering to women and allowing them to get on board with the banking system in a mobile way so that they aren’t left behind, and they’re not financially excluded just by virtue of the fact that they’re women."
NYFP: What do you want the public to know about the Digital Finance Institute?
Christine Duhaime: That we are very passionate about the two of our main themes, which are: Women in financial technology as leaders, where we profile women in small startups, or like Google or Amazon, where they are making a difference in financial technology, because that’s really important to us, and we want to make sure that as the banking industry changes, it also changes, in terms of who sits at the executive level. And we’re really passionate about financial inclusion.
"Financial inclusion is not really a known concept, and we want to change that here. We’re talking to a bunch of organizations of just having financial inclusion—a little D20 is what we’re calling it, it’s our working word—where we have a financial inclusion body with the banks around the world where we just deal with financial inclusion for women and we solve the agent problem I was talking about, and we start to have a dialogue that serves the financial inclusion problems around the world. If we could to the smaller issues of 'Can we get women get financially included? Can we get women mobile phones in places where it’s a matter of survival for them?' We’re passionate about solving financial inclusion problems by advocating for mobile banking and solving what we think are policy and cultural things that make it harder for women to get modern types of banking."
NYFP: What inspires you?
Christine Duhaime: "I think what motivates me is I look around at some of the things that need to be done around the world and I feel like some of the big organizations whose jobs it is to cover these problems aren’t doing it, so I feel like 'Okay, we can all make a difference in the world.' And so, I don’t know why there seem to be leadership gaps. There needs to be one person or maybe ten people who say, 'Here’s a problem that needs to be solved, let’s start a dialogue to start to solve it.' Some of the reasons we do what we do is just to start the conversation, which is half the battle. Identifying issues, finding the people you think can solve it, and then working toward that. That’s how we view ourselves.
"In terms of inspirations, I don’t know that I have one. I just love stories of women, for example, that came from nothing and made something out of their lives: poor, immigrants, starving—I love those stories and I feel like if we can do anything to help a couple more women start a business and become successful and leaders in the world, and then they go on and change the world themselves, I’ll feel like we’ve done a hell of a job."