Money 20/20 Rise Up: Empowering Women in FinTech and Financial Services

Published in
10 min readNov 10, 2020


Diversity and inclusion are known issues in many industries, and financial services can be counted among them. While we’ve seen an increase in the number of women in financial services leadership roles since 2003 to nearly 20%, it still remains very low. To address the issue, Money 20/20 is using its platform as one of the top events in the industry to develop RiseUp, a global program to empower women in fintech and financial services and encourage more diversity within leadership.

In 2020, Money 20/20 launched MoneyFest, a new virtual event platform, where they took their commitment to inclusivity one step further by making the event all-access. As part of the event agenda, they featured RiseUp and talks focused on diversity and women issues in the industry and made them available to all the attendees instead of just the program participants.

Catch MoneyFest 2021, April 19–23:

We were so inspired by the experience and wisdom shared in the 2020 discussions, that we want to share them with you — READ ON AND ENJOY!

The ROI of Failure and Success

Viola Llewellyn, President and Co-Founder, Ovamba Solutions, Inc.
Shelly Swanback, President, Product and Platform, Western Union

The RiseUp talks kicked off with a compelling discussion between Viola Llewellyn of Ovamba Solutions, an award-winning FinTech platform for capital trade in Africa, and Shelly Swanback of Western Union on the ROI of failure and success in fintech. Drawing on her experience, Viola expressed that we need to encourage the industry to talk more about failure as it can be a far more valuable way to learn than only focusing on success. It was an early funding failure during the launch of their platform which led her to discover a new opportunity and market for short-term funding. She conveyed how making mistakes can be frightening from a reputational standpoint, especially as a black, female African working with western investors, and how cultural notions raise the stakes of failure for women and minorities.

As aspiring entrepreneurs, we’re all taught that failure is not an option, but should that be the case? Is the fear of failure holding us back from trying or preventing good ideas from coming forward? Shelly agreed and shared her observation that many businesses, both big and small, struggle to create an environment that allows people and teams to fail, make mistakes, and learn from them. She points out that we are all continuously learning and that learning plays a big role in success.

For Viola, her definition of what success means has evolved. She now sees that it’s not about getting it all right, but the ability to pivot and learn from mistakes, whilst maintaining the trust of your investors, co-founders, and customers.

So, how do we keep learning? Viola likes to listen to and learn from some of the incredible minds in our industry. She’s also taught herself to skim read books in order to pick up the key information quickly. And to avoid brain fatigue, she recommends doing something completely unrelated to your work — a great tip we can all benefit from! She also shared that her co-founder’s approach to learning is totally different from hers and that it’s important to find paths to gathering knowledge that work for you.

When asked what her wish for financial inclusion would be, Viola replied:

“For financial inclusion to become so efficient that every African or emerging market business that we have, knows the way in which they can grow, move forward and transfer wealth to the next generation.”
— Viola Llewellyn, Ovamba Solutions

Maintaining the Ultimate Work-Life Balance in the Wake of a Global Pandemic

Michelle Beyo, CEO & Founder, Finavator
Genevieve Dozier, Global Leader, Women’s Impact Network at Fiserv

On Day Two of MoneyFest, Finavator CEO & Founder, Michelle Beyo and Genevieve Dozier of Fiserv, took a deep dive into how to maintain work-life balance along your career path. Genevieve took us through her twenty-one-year career in fintech, how she achieved success at a young age and became not only the only female on an executive team but also the youngest — an intimidating position to be in for sure!

She discussed how, while successful, she struggled with having any work-life balance. When seeking advice, she was told she would have to choose between having a successful career and a family. Would that same advice be offered to a male counterpart? Probably not. They would have been encouraged to take up a hobby or a sport. Her example illustrates how, intentionally or not, we close off opportunities for women.

Without seeking it specifically, Genevieve landed a new job that allowed her to work remotely, and she discovered that it gave her the opportunity to improve her work-life balance. Based on her experiences, she shared the following five tips with us:


  1. Take calculated risks: We’re often encouraged to always say “yes”. It’s ok to say yes, but it’s also ok to say “no” if it isn’t right for you.
  2. Stop doubting yourself: Don’t let doubts and imposter syndrome get in the way.
  3. Make a home office: Create a space where you, and your family, know it’s work time.
  4. Adaptability is a superpower: We are more adaptable than we often think.
  5. Build your personal brand: Write one sentence about yourself, what you would do if you could do anything. Then, focus on that and share your story!

Michelle walked us through her career as well, and how she frequently found herself working 60–80 hour weeks — whoa! and not uncommon in fast-paced industries like ours. She shared how, through the sudden and unfortunate loss of a best friend, she gained a new perspective on the importance of prioritizing work-life balance for yourself, your family, and your friends. She began blocking out time in her calendar, including time for her kids, as well as herself.


  1. Network: Harness the power of LinkedIn for her career and business.
  2. Push yourself: There are no limits unless you set them. Write a list of what you want to achieve this year, even weekly goals, and push to meet them.
  3. Never stop learning: Take advantage of free virtual conferences, courses, podcasts, articles.
  4. Celebrate your wins: Big and small.
  5. Power-balance your calendar: Take control of your calendar! Don’t be afraid to block out time for yourself, your kids, family, and friends.

Together, Michelle and Genevieve conferred on the negative impact COVID-19 has had on women, pushing many into having to be caregivers while also trying to work. Genevieve points out how women previously had to have a business-face and a home-face, but through having to work remotely, those lines have blurred. And, as a result, people have become more accepting that women (and men) may be caregivers too, and that there might be family and pets in the background.

Allyship is More Than a Marketing Plan: How To Have Courageous Conversations About Race

Rawan Shawar, Senior Software Engineer & Team Lead, ACI Worldwide
Nicole Baxby, Vice President, Customer Success, Americas, Featurespace
Dr. Louise Maynard-Atem, Innovation Specialist, Data Exchange, Experian

Over the last few years, we have seen a rise in diversity and inclusion programs among companies. This year, following George Floyd’s death, we have seen an explosion in the conversations, statements, and programs addressing diversity and inclusion in both our personal and professional lives. Addressing diversity and inclusion should be more than just part of your PR plan or something that gets checked off a list. In this talk, Rawan, Nicole and Louise discuss the importance of allyship and having these tough conversations about race in the workplace.

Dr. Louise Maynard-Atem led the discussion by sharing an experience she had where a potential supplier she was to meet to sign a deal assumed that she was in the room to clean or make the coffee, when in fact she was the decision-maker. She explained how situations like this one can be particularly difficult when they occur in the workplace. She felt uncomfortable and uncertain about speaking out and worried she’d be viewed as being too sensitive. However, Louise’s boss stood up for her and set the supplier straight. This is an excellent example of allyship, says Rawan, and how important it is for management to lead by example because it trickles down to all the employees.

Louise’s example shows how insensitivity can lead to potential losses for a business. Companies invest thousands of dollars to make their organization look good, Rawan points out, but incidents like these demonstrate how the actions of just one employee can damage that. This is why conversations about race and bias are critical for a business's success.

So, how can we improve? Louise recommends that the first step is to acknowledge that we all have bias and there is work for us all to do. Identify what these biases are so that you are better able to address them. Nicole explained how our brain collects experiences and categorizes them which is very useful, but we have to be careful not to categorize people instead of behaviors, as this can be really harmful. Just as we need training to do our jobs well and to learn new skills, we also need training to address bias and how it affects others. Louise emphasizes that as companies we need to open up and have these difficult and honest conversations to educate ourselves.

“Even imperfect conversations (about race and bias in the workplace) are better than silence.”
Dr. Louise Maynard-Atem, Innovation Specialist, Data Exchange, Experian

A question put to the panel from a viewer was — how can an early-stage startup best create a culture of inclusion? The panel responded that early-stage startups often feel they don’t have time to address diversity because they need to focus on survival. But, many studies have shown that increased revenue can be directly tied to diversity, so if you want to succeed make diversity a priority. Louise further recommends that when it comes to recruitment, we often look for “cultural fit”. Instead, we need to shift to a “cultural add” approach, and look at what diverse candidates can bring to our organization’s culture, rather than just how well they’ll blend in.

How To Align with Male Allies To Create a Female Future in FinTech

Dara Tarkowski — Managing Partner, Actuate Law
Randy Rivera — Executive Director, FinTEx

Randy started the discussion by sharing some important recent statistics. In 2019, studies revealed that women only account for 19% of C-Suite positions across the US. And that a recent 6-month study on COVID-19 and gender equality by McKinsey & Co showed that women’s jobs are 1.8 times more vulnerable in the COVID crisis than men’s jobs. Additionally, women makeup 38% of global employment but account for 54% of overall job losses. When evaluating different scenarios, the study showed that taking an “act now” approach to advance gender equality could potentially add $13 trillion to global GDP in 2030, compared to continuing with the gender regressive scenarios.

Randy encourages organizations to look inwards and invest in people within our own companies. He recommends looking at how are handling talent and investing in initiatives that allow you to identify areas of talent that you can leverage and use to a competitive advantage.

When asked how to find a male ally, Randy suggests that you start where you work. Look to the people you spend the most time with and tap into business resource groups. Dara agreed and shared three further recommendations:

  1. Focus on existing alignments and relationships: Everyone has professional relationships with clients, coworkers, supervisors that can become allies.
  2. Leverage your existing infrastructure, as well as external infrastructure such as conferences like Money 20/20.
  3. Look outside your organization: Your most strategic allies may come from unlikely places.

Key Takeaways from the Talks

Viola and Shelly’s discussion on ROI of Failure and Success was a particularly important one for women and entrepreneurs. Too often we share only our success stories and hide our failures. Viola’s experience shows that failures can be great opportunities and that we need to develop the skills to be able to pivot and tackle failures head-on.

Through sharing failure and successes of their own, Michelle and Genevieve illustrated the importance of finding a work-life balance, and that you don’t have to choose between family and work to be successful. You can, in fact, “have it all” by learning to take control of your calendar and block out time for life as well as work.

We also learned that diversity and inclusivity are more than just talking points but a proven component to a companies success and profitability. And that one of the best ways to support achieving that goal is to look for “cultural add” rather than “cultural fit” when hiring.

Lastly, we learned that is never too early to focus on diversity and inclusion. And that even in these difficult times, refocusing and committing to these values is a costless exercise that will help us to not only survive but to thrive.

You can see the Rise Up sessions yourself here: Register and watch now

OR if you want to learn more about supporting diversity and inclusivity in financial services — hear from these five female leaders in fintech:



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