Editor's Pick Opinion Alternative Lending Digital Banking Crypto Savings And Investment

The (fintech) 'Goldwomen' hiding in plain sight

Banks are searching far and wide for their next big fintech. But have the solutions been under their noses the whole time? Goldman Sachs’ alum of female fintech founders is impressive

startup woman


Big banks have always had a raging crush on fintech. 

For decades, they've been sliding into the seat next to start-ups, fake yawning and wrapping one arm around the back of the chair. 

There's the $4bn Barclays Accelerator. Deutsch Bank’s $1bn Innovation Lab. The $2.7bn Fintech Innovation Lab, backed by nine global banks. The list drones on, "accelerator" this, "innovation" that. While some flopped and others were surprisingly successful, they mostly mulch down into the same thing. 

2023's insatiable hunger for overlooked founders, however, is new. Bank of America launched the optimistically named, "Breakthrough Club", an incubator for under-represented communities. 

Spring saw UBS leap into action with Project Female Founder. And Morgan Stanley turbocharged its Inclusive Ventures Lab. But while banks throw their arms open to the world, have they overlooked those already in their offices?  

Trading floor founders 

30-year-old Niki Issaia is the co-founder of a ground-breaking fintech that transforms clothes into assets. She's exactly the kind of founder banks hope to attract. 

Having spent years on the trading floor, Issaia sees our wardrobes as unexplored markets, financial Narnias, ripe for disruption. 

A blouse, skirt, or decades-old pair of jeans is not yesterday's clobber, but "an asset", with locked-in value. Her start-up Charles is already valued at nearly £700k and has been fiercely backed by fashion brands and investors alike. 

Hot on her heels is Bhumika Gupta, another breathtakingly smart founder. Together with her brother, she's pioneering Bond Geek, a bond trading app for UK retail investors. 

Considering how mainstream a Robinhood for bonds could become, it's astonishing that she hasn't been snatched up already. Especially as she works in finance, in plain view of banks so desperate to capture people like her. 

But it's not just the traders swapping office badges for CEO business cards. Just a few years ago, Ayesha Ofori managed hundreds of millions in Goldman's Wealth Advisory. 

Today she's the founder of Propelle, an investment platform geared towards women. 

Business bootcamp

Issaia, Gupta and Ofori formed their ideas at Goldman Sachs, which fosters a uniquely go-getting culture. 

"We actively encourage people to think outside the box and do more than just the day job", affirms Goldman’s EMEA Head of Talent Strategy and Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, Shefali Gera. 

Employees treat workloads like their own businesses, priming them to become founders.  "You need to have a very entrepreneurial mindset", agrees Gupta. "A lot of colleagues were working on something on the side".

A weekend hustle, sure. But creating a fully blown fintech? This is a post-COVID burst. It’s Gen-Z thinking. 

Behavioural expert, author, and co-founder of Whateverland, Elin Helander believes we're at the start of something new. "Women nowadays have much more confidence than earlier generations. And thank God for that", she highlights.

GoldMAN Sachs? Please. Goldwomen more like.

Banks like Goldman are extremely good at finding and creating entrepreneurs... But not so good at keeping them. 

The power of purpose

According to Helander, today's female founders need two things to make the leap, "self-confidence", and "meaning". 

All three women revealed that while they enjoyed – even loved - their work at Goldman, it didn't give them that all-important purpose. 

"Although it was incredible, at the end of the day it was just numbers on a screen", Issaia reflects. "I realised I wanted to work with real assets". And what could be more real than the clothes on our back? Issaia wanted to democratize wardrobe wealth. 

Likewise, Ofori finds purpose by empowering women with property. "At Propelle, we want to help women build investment confidence", she explains. 

Forecasting won't fix it 

As the founders grow their businesses, the Goldman connections proved to be vital. Issaia explains how her network helped with "interviews and set up investor meetings". 

"The people who supported me when I was 24, also supported me in my 30s!", she laughs. And Ofori even went back to join Launch With GS, a programme designed to boost fintech founders. " I feel like my relationship is even better since I left", she smiles. 

So, it's bizarre that not one applied to GS Accelerate while they hatched their ideas, Goldman's in-house fintech incubator. 

Nobody had even heard of it. 

A 2019 interview from Head of the programme, Tanya Baker reveals GS Accelerate was set up precisely because "a lot of people leave and go and do great start-ups". 

Ever the forecaster, the brains at Goldman predicted an exodus of talent could happen, planned for it, but still couldn't prevent it. Why? 

Missed opportunities

There's a history of banks missing out. CEO and Founder of PensionBee, Romi Savova spent years as an analyst at Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley. 

Anne Boden worked at Standard Chartered, UBS and RBS before she set up her iconic challenger bank, Starling. Imagine if someone said, "Hey Anne, do you have any thoughts on us starting a digital bank?". Or "Romi, do you think we could improve our pensions?". 

In 2023 alone, 623 female-founded businesses exceed £10.2m in turnover, with 70 per cent coming from business and professional services like finance. How many more are already in the works? 

And how many founders will financial services overlook? “There's no doubt it will give us food for thought”, concedes Gera.

So, what can banks do to soak up some of the talent hiding in plain sight? The answer seems clear: Be more proactive, provide more purpose or do both. 

With multi-millions at stake, can they really afford not to? 

Companies In This Article


More Like This