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Lauren Ford explains how you can support women in fintech all year

(BUSINESS FINANCE) Interview with Lauren Ford: Celebrate International Women’s Day beyond just the day by including more women in your finance company.

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Women in fintech over laptops and paperwork, in discussion.

A bit delayed, but happy International Women’s Day! It’s been a hard year, but this is one day I can always look to for inspiration. To celebrate this year, I interviewed Lauren Ford – the Customer and Content Marketing Manager at OneStream Software, a corporate performance management solutions provider. Not only is Ford a total powerhouse in her industry, but she is also a firm believer in female empowerment in the world of tech.

Here are her top 5 tips on how finance companies in particular can strengthen their gender diversity efforts – and a little bit about Ford too:

Tell me a little about your background and how you came to be the Customer & Content Marketing Manager at OneStream.

I have an extensive background working with enterprise software, specific to digital transformation, and I came to OneStream with a decade’s worth of experience in the Marketing Communications field. After earning my degree in Public Communications and Applied Economics from the University of Vermont, I was intrigued by the state of technology: What it had brought us, what it was doing for us now, and where it was taking us next. I was determined to get involved and landed a role at a start-up software development firm, specializing in enterprise content management and capture automation solutions specific to the office of finance. At the time, there were 30 employees – and I was 1 of only 5 women in that fintech space.

Overtime I achieved more prominent roles in the organizations and built customer-centric marketing teams, driving strategies for customer engagement and advocacy. The small start-up I knew had grown immensely but after 8 years it was time to take on a new challenge in a larger, well-known company – which brought me to OneStream.

What is it like to be a high-powered women in this industry at OneStream?

It’s no surprise that there is a shortfall of women in finance-leading roles. But, OneStream has really taken the time to focus on engaging, nurturing and retaining the best professionals throughout the industry. And over time the company has created a culture where women in high-powered positions are more prominent and well-respected. There are many women who have made it to the top – and what’s great about that is they’re open to sharing their journeys, challenges, and wisdom to the greater OneStream community. So much so, that the company recently introduced the Women of OneStream group, which has been developed to support the business success of OneStream and the women within. This group works to inspire and transform the landscape of women in fintech and in technology to achieve personal growth and company success. It’s inspiring to have this type of support within our industry, and I commend OneStream for taking the necessary steps forward to ensure a welcoming workplace.

We both know that there is a great lack of women in finance and fintech industries – what do you make of this disparity?

Obviously, the statistics about women in finance and fintech are quite grim – and sadly this is all too clear when looking at high-level leadership positions. Demanding hours can take away from home life, which could be a main reason why more women aren’t entering finance roles. But in my opinion, the biggest obstacle to women entering the finance field is an unsupportive or biased corporate culture. Even when a company looks to implement change to close the gender gap, people in senior roles are often privier to what’s happening whereas entry-level employees don’t have as much visibility to changes in policy or behavior – and therefore don’t believe it exists.

I think it’s important to communicate messages of change to all levels of the workforce hierarchy, and something as simple as creating more opportunities for mentorship and sponsorship can help make women feel more supported in their finance careers. The good news is we are lifting a veil on a problem that has always been there, but wasn’t always discussed, and now we are paving the way for change.

How can we help to combat this disparity moving forward?

I think there are some strategies that women can use to achieve a more prominent role in their organizations. Standing up, making their voices heard and cultivating relationships with people they respect and admire is important. Creating a support network is key to success. On the other hand, there are several things an organization can do to support diversity, equality, and inclusion to transform the perception of women in fintech:

  • Create internal support groups dedicated to diversity (ex. mentorship programs that empower women to improve and advance)
  • Offer consistent support from the top
  • Develop leadership training to help all get a seat at the table
  • Reevaluate company benefits (ex. paid family leave)
  • Expand internship/apprentice programs to train young and upcoming females (ex. teach them about finance and technology)

How do we make this push for women in finance as intersectional as possible? Why is this important?

There has been a lot of time and effort spent on segmented groups to promote diversity, but many people fall into multiple minority groups. Women and ethnic minorities are often disadvantaged when seeking roles in the finance field. Business leaders must adopt an intersectional lens and pay more attention to the interplay between the characteristics of ethnicity/race, gender, and social class in their onboarding. To help address this, organizations can:

  • Develop a Diversity and Inclusion Policy and create a strategy with quantitative data to meet diverse onboarding goals.
  • Expand internship/apprentice programs to train young women in high school and college to teach them about finance and technology and recruit for entry-level positions.
  • Encourage employees to invest time (volunteering, speaking, and tutoring) in youth STEM programs to help educate and interact with young people who are traditionally underrepresented in STEM fields.

What does International Women’s Day mean to you? How does this day tie into your career goals?

International Women’s Day is a day to reflect on the challenges and accomplishments of women throughout history and those who have fought for the equality of so many things I often take for granted. It’s a day filled with pride! I have gratitude for the women I am surrounded by, from my family to my friends and colleagues. This day also is a reminder that although we have come so far, there is still a long way to go.

There is definitely still a long way to go. If you own, manage, or work at a tech or finance company, Ford’s tips are definitely worth trying to implement. There is an amazing generation of young women coming into the workforce, and you won’t want to miss out – this boss knows what she’s talking about.

Happy ITWD!

Anaïs DerSimonian is a writer, filmmaker, and educator interested in media, culture and the arts. She is Clark University Alumni with a degree in Culture Studies and Screen Studies. She has produced various documentary and narrative projects, including a profile on an NGO in Yerevan, Armenia that provides micro-loans to cottage industries and entrepreneurs based in rural regions to help create jobs, self-sufficiency, and to stimulate the post-Soviet economy. She is currently based in Boston. Besides filmmaking, Anaïs enjoys reading good fiction and watching sketch and stand-up comedy.

Business Finance

How should freelancers be saving for retirement (is it even possible)?

(FINANCE) Adulting is hard, but retirement looms no matter your age – here are some ways to start squirreling money away so it’s less stressful later.

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retirement savings

Freelancing is a tenuous approach to employment, made all the more so by a profound lack of amenities usually offered by more stable arrangements – chief among which is a retirement fund. It can feel impossible, especially when your business suffers amidst a pandemic, so some of what follows can be ignored until the ship isn’t sinking, but don’t wait a minute longer than that – deal?

So there are several schools of thought regarding the best way to start saving and where you should put your money, but the bottom line is that, if you’re a freelancer, you should be allocating your own retirement funds. Here are some ways to do just that.

Before you can even get into the weeds of how to invest in retirement, you should have a parachute in case things go sideways. My Bank Tracker suggests starting with an emergency fund of $1,000, adding to it as you can until you have anywhere from 3 to 12 months of expenses covered.

This serves two purposes: ensuring that you’ll have the luxury of time if you need to perform an abrupt job hunt, and establishing how much you can safely put away each month without jeopardizing your business or standard of living (within reason).

Having a relatively large sum of money on hand for emergencies is always good, and if you never have to use it for the purpose for which you set it aside, it can supplement your retirement whenever you decide it’s time to cash in.

My Bank Tracker also suggests storing your emergency fund using a “high-yield” bank account, such as an online savings account, rather than sticking with traditional, low-interest savings options.

You also need to plan for taxes, which in addition to whatever your tax bracket percentage is, includes allocating 15 percent of your income to pay Social Security and Medicare. This means that you’re probably putting aside a pretty hefty sum (at least 30%) each month.

Once you’ve established your emergency fund and planned for taxes, you should have a general idea of what your wiggle room looks like vis-a-vis saving for retirement.

The actual saving part of retirement entails investment in a retirement account such as an IRA, Roth IRA, a 401(k), or a pension plan (referred to as a “defined benefit plan”).

Each of these account types has benefits and drawbacks depending on your situation.

  • A Roth IRA will allow you to contribute a certain amount each year, and you can usually set up an account quickly from a variety of online locations. The money that goes into a Roth IRA is post-tax, meaning you don’t have to pay tax on the retirement funds you pull out. Your income, however, can disqualify you from investing – if you earn above a certain threshold ($140,000 in 2021), you won’t be able to use a Roth IRA.
  • Other IRA options exist as well, each with a cap on how much you can contribute per year and varying tax requirements. For example, a traditional IRA account requires you to pay taxes when you withdraw the money, and there’s an upper limit on how much you can contribute.
  • A SEP IRA is similar, but the upper limit on investment is substantially higher – and you need to be self-employed (or an employer) to have one.

Nerd Wallet also points out that a 401(k) is a reasonable option for self-employed people who don’t employ anyone else, especially if you plan on saving “a lot in some years — say, when business is flush — and less in others.” 401(k) accounts allow you to put up to a certain amount ($58,000 in 2021) in each year pre-tax, and you pay taxes on withdrawals whenever you start pulling out money.

More eccentric retirement options exist as well. Taxable Brokerage Accounts let you invest in stocks and securities through a brokerage, and you’re able to use the money whenever you please – but you’ll have to pay taxes on your gains each year, which can become expensive in the long run.

And defined benefit plans are expensive and entail high fees, but they allow you to set up a pension with high investment opportunities as opposed to some of the lower-investment options.

Whichever option (or options – you can always invest in multiple accounts) you choose, make sure you’re saving for retirement in some capacity. And remember that these accounts represent exponential growth, meaning that the sooner you start saving, the better off you’ll be when you begin your retirement journey.

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Business Finance

Stripe makes it easier to collect money from customers

(FINANCE) Stripe didn’t reinvent the wheel, but they are outshining competitors by adding features that help small businesses.

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stripe payment links

Payment processing is an attribute of any sales process that can make or break the customer’s experience – and, with it, your revenue stream.

While coding in a payment portal can be time-intensive and costly, payment processor company, Stripe has a simple alternative: Payment Links.

Stripe Payment Links are exactly what they sound like. Rather than linking a customer to a product and then having them check out via the usual cart process, you can send them a Payment Link for that specific product; the customer then enters their payment information in the ensuing window, and the product is theirs.

It’s a very straight-forward process that is made easier by Stripe’s no-code presentation, a choice that ProductHunt posits is an effort to go with the no-code flow we’ve seen in the last year.

And, the easier the checkout process is, the more likely a customer is to complete a transaction. It’s one of the reasons why Amazon’s “Buy Now” feature is so rewarding (and dangerous, especially at night).

By offering a customer a direct link to a product with a space to enter their card info in a hassle-free manner, Stripe has created an incredibly convenient way for them to pay – and, without the usual process of checking out involved, customers have less time to second-guess that payment.

Call it what you want (manipulative, pushy, morally grey), but if a customer doesn’t get the chance to rethink their purchase before the payment form has been filled out, chances are decent that they’ll follow through.

Certainly, there are drawbacks to this system. The link applies to individual products or services, which means that, while you can create an individual link for each item on your site, your payroll processing will categorize each of those links differently. That can be a mess to sort out at the end of the day.

But it’s a great way to ensure that customers who want something specific can get it quickly and without much ado about anything.

Putting a Payment Link in your bio after advertising a product on Instagram, sharing your link on Twitter, or even DMing links to interested customers is sure to be a productive, if shameless, endeavor.

Here is a quick rundown from Stripe:

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Business Finance

Have fractional shares of stocks *really* democratized the market?

(FINANCE) Fractional shares of stocks and equity have become widely available, and it’s said that the market is being democratized. Is that true?

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fractional shares

Not everyone has the kind of startup cash needed to invest in premium stocks, which is why fractional investing (the practice of buying percentages of stocks rather than an entire share) is making waves. With the ability to purchase equity at a lower cost and with lower stakes, though, comes the question of whether or not the stock market is really becoming democratized.

Any time premium services become routinely accessible to middle- and lower-class members of society, celebration is somewhat hampered by the realization that those services might simply exist to exploit the people to whom they’ve been made available.

Similarly, one can’t help but wonder if such services are just gimmicks by the time they land – played out and generally wasteful.

But fractional investing options comprises anything from stocks like Apple to real estate these days, which makes the notion of investing a lot less scary than the traditional route – and a new player on the block, Bits of Stock, makes it even more interesting.

Bits of Stock is an app that does pretty much what it sounds like: earns you “bits” of stock as you go about your life. After linking the app to your bank account, Bits of Stock will count your spending toward stock-based rewards, allowing you to redeem fractions of various stocks over time.

Users on Just Use App have reported a generally positive experience with Bits of Stock, elaborating on a wealth of supported retailers and variable rewards, though one user explains that one can expect “0.5%” as a baseline for the percentage of stock earned.

It’s worth noting that over the years, other mainstream investment options have added fractional investing. Robinhood is perhaps the most famous, and Schwab launched something called “Slices” to the same effect.

Obviously, more people can gain equity when the price tag is lower, and that’s a good thing…

But, as interest in investment rises and the number of people investing in the stock market in some capacity surges, it will soon become clear whether or not this is a viable future for people’s money.

After all, with minor investment comes minor growth, and tying up the funds of people who usually wouldn’t invest – even if it’s in a stable environment – could have deleterious effects on their personal finances over time.

So have stocks been democratized by fractional investing options? Yes. But at what cost?

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