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The promised fintech IPO boom is coming, but won’t include many women

At the current rate, it will take 80 years for women to achieve equality at CEO level at FTSE 100 companies.

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The long-fabled fintech IPO boom is nearly here, but it’s unlikely to feature many women. That’s not my opinion; that’s a fact.

Unsurprisingly, there just aren’t enough female CEOs to lead their companies to IPO.

Last month, 31-year-old Whitney Wolfe Herd made history as the youngest woman ever to have taken her company public, with Bumble floating on the New York Stock Exchange with a $13bn price tag. 

But, why is there such a lack of women at the top? The answer is not straightforward. 

It’s a man’s world

Why was it that Wolfe Herd was such a rare occurrence? Was it because she rang the NYSE bell with a baby on her hip? Because she based herself in Bumble’s Texas office, and not in New York? Or was it because she was only the 22nd woman in history to have taken a company to IPO in the US?

The answer is probably all three. But why is it that female CEOs so rarely take their companies public? Well, put simply, there are just fewer of them.

According to a report by Silicon Valley Bank, just 28 per cent of technology firms in the US, UK, Canada and China in 2019 had at least one female founder and startups with at least one female co-founder were much more likely to have a female CEO than their all-male counterparts.

Despite the groundbreaking achievements of the 22 women to have taken their companies public in the US, there is yet to be a single female CEO to do so on the London Stock Exchange, and there are only two that are even close to doing so. 

Anne Boden, CEO and founder of Starling Bank, and Romi Savova, CEO and founder of PensionBee have both publically flirted with the idea of an IPO in the next few years.

Savova looks set to pip Boden to the post, with PensionBee’supcoming IPO set for later this year, while Boden’s Starling won’t IPO until 2022 at the very earliest. 

In the US, women hold the same proportion of CEO positions in the top listed companies as over here in the UK. Just six per cent of S&P 500 CEOs (30) are women.

And some of you may be thinking, well there are just fewer companies that list on the London Stock Exchange. Yes, that is true, however out of the 480 IPOs in the US in 2020 alone, just four were by female-led CEOs. Starting to get the picture? 

If that doesn’t quite hit home, what about the fact that there are fewer female CEOs of FTSE 100 companies as there are CEOs called David (six) and even fewer than those called Steve (seven).

Just five women hold the top job at FTSE 100 companies in 2021, with only an increase of one female CEO since 2012. According to data from IG, a listed trading firm, at the current rate, it will take more than 80 years before women achieve equality at CEO level.

Hey not-so-big spender

One of the most significant barriers women face to founding companies is funding. 

According to data from Pitchbook, in 2019 less than one penny of every pound of VC funding in the UK went to all-female teams and 89p went to all-male teams. In 2019, there was $13.2bn of VC investment so it’s not as if firms were strapped for cash.

Fintech is marginally better, with 6.7 per cent of VC funding going to fintechs with a female CEO in 2019.

If you need an example of just how tough it is for female CEOs to gain the same access to funding as their male counterparts, just look at Anne Boden and Starling Bank.

As one of two female CEOs even looking to list their companies, Boden has had her fair share of ups and downs and, when she was just starting to plant her feet, she decided in 2015 to hand a man control of her bank.

Following the publication of her book Banking On It in November 2020, Boden revealed that to keep Starling afloat, she had to sell a majority stake to Bahamas-based investor Harald “Harry” McPike, who founded investment group QuantRes.

Originally only looking for a £3m boost, Boden was instead faced with a three-part £48m investment that would see McPike gain control of two-thirds of Starling. I wonder if Tom Blomfield was ever offered such a deal?

Going public

There needs to be a real change in the industry to encourage more women to found their own companies, become CEOs and take companies public.

In the two reviews ordered by the government into fintech and the listing process, the Kalifa review and the Hill review, the issue of gender is not mentioned once, and neither is race or ethnicity for that matter.

Even groups that are created to help champion the interests of fintechs are predominantly men. For instance, the recently rebranded Fintech Founders, which offered guidance in the Kalifa review, consists of six, white, male founders.

We can’t even begin to tackle the issue of gender diversity without even giving women a seat at the table in the first place. 

That being said, there are groups aimed at helping women get a footing in the industry. 100 Women In Fintech, founded in mid-2020 and part of the 100 Women In Finance group, is helping to raise the profile of women in fintech. 

And if you think there is a lack of women in the industry, you’d be right, there are just a handful of female CEOs, with many of them leading some of the most successful fintechs in the UK.

There is still a lot to be done before the number of female CEOs of FTSE 100 companies can overtake the number of Davids.

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