Inclusive Fintech Leaders Meet to Accelerate Innovation

Last month, Accion Venture Lab, FMO, and Quona Capital hosted the CEO Forum and Fintech for Inclusion Global Summit 2017. These two events represent Accion at our best. They produced an exciting exchange of ideas that will help us do more to bring high-quality financial services to those who have been left out.

The CEO Forum brought together more than 40 Accion Venture Lab, Accion Frontier Inclusion Fund, FMO, and Catalyst Fund partner CEOs to meet together, discuss common challenges, build partnerships, and work through this problem together. Over the course of several days, we helped build a community where they candidly discussed their successes, failures, and insights.

Following the CEO Forum, the Fintech for Inclusion Global Summit 2017 brought together more 200 fintech CEOs, VCs, bankers, and other senior representatives from the financial inclusion and impact investing communities. The Summit allowed our partner CEOs to network with the investors and institutions that can help their businesses grow. Summit participants also attended workshops on small business lending, alternative data credit analysis, innovations in mobile financial services, agricultural finances, financial health, and more.

At Accion, we’re fortunate to work around the world with local leaders, innovators, and pioneers, but we can rarely bring them together under the same roof. Once together, though, the depth, range, and quality of our partners’ insights became very clear. By convening the wider financial inclusion industry, we can share our perspectives, build peer-learning communities, benefit from each other’s’ experiences, and catalyze financial inclusion. At both the CEO Forum and Fintech for Inclusion Global Summit, our guests discussed how local trends in one region could help spur progress in another, the shape and future of the fintech industry, and the best ways to partner with commercial financial service providers and work together to promote inclusive finance.

Real challenges, real solutions

While we encouraged these macro-level conversations, we also realized that our guests wanted to discuss everyday challenges and come away with practical solutions that they could use to improve or expand their businesses. Our agenda included workshops on scaling culture and driving growth, motivating and retaining staff, enhancing customer experience, and raising debt capital.

In a plenary conversation on developing company culture, a business school professor reminded the CEOs that nearly everything that they do has major effects on how their employees act and their businesses develop. He asked the CEOs to consider how they would react to an experiment that didn’t pan out — if a CEO said ‘Here’s what we learned,’ then they could foster a culture of learning, one that valued experimentation. If instead they said ‘That experiment cost us this much money,’ then they’d create a more conservative company, one that stayed in its lane and focused on the status quo. CEOs need to be deliberate and strategic about the culture they want to inculcate in their businesses and behave accordingly.

During another session on recruiting and retaining human capital, some Accion partner CEOs described their successes with “Employee Value Propositions.” Noting that every startup has an elevator pitch and PowerPoint ready to go for potential investors, our CEOs confessed to not having similar materials tailored to prospective employees. “We don’t put the same rigor into hiring as we do to selling,” said one CEO. More than listing a salary or benefits, by creating an Employee Value Proposition, a startup can articulate why its work is important, how a new employee can help realize that goal, and the ways in which a new hire could benefit from joining that particular startup. Human capital is one of the most pressing challenges that our partner CEOs face; holding on to the right talent in tech is always difficult, and it’s even more so in the frontier markets where these companies work. An Employee Value Proposition represents one way to address this problem and build the teams that our partners need.

A culture of inquiry

The events helped foster what Quona Capital partner Monica Brand-Engel called a “culture of inquiry.” “When you’re an expert, saying ‘I don’t know’ can be difficult. You can do that here.”

I hope that that culture continues. Accion will do our part to help our partners work together to share what they know, solve common challenges, and catalyze the development and growth of the best new ideas. By nurturing that culture, we can bring more high-quality financial services to the families, markets, and communities who need them most.

Accion Venture Lab, Accion Frontier Inclusion Fund, FMO, and Catalyst Fund partner CEOs celebrate at the conclusion of the CEO Forum.

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