Why One Fintech CEO Says You Can’t Build the Best Products Without A Diverse Workforce

martina king

Martina King sees her tech teams as a crime fighting force. 

As CEO of payments fraud prevention company Featurespace, King oversees a workforce 200 strong across two continents. The UK-based executive, named one of the most influential women in payments, joined the company following executive roles in media, technology, and retail. 

Featurespace was her first payments company, and years after coming on, she says she is still amazed by her employees “on the frontlines.”

“They are always trying to do the best they can to protect their clients and their consumers by creating the best possible technology to fight the criminals,” she says. “And because of that, in the payments sector, I found it to be really open and receptive to new methodologies — because they’re fighting crime.”

King is referring to the willingness of the industry to adopt policies optimized for inclusion across all backgrounds — gender, sexuality, race, education and everything else. 

Just like every other tech vertical, fintech has a gender diversity gap — less than a third of fintech employees are women, and that total includes non-technical roles. Though exact numbers are tough to hone in on, based on general stats in the tech and finance industries, it’s safe to say there’s a lack of racial parity as well.

That’s a problem, says King, because those building the products need to be as diverse as the consumers they cater to in order for the tools to be their best. 

It’s perhaps even more important in cybersecurity, because these tools aren’t just proactively helping a group of people — they’re built to reactively stop another group of people. Fraudsters don’t come in one flavor or shape.

“There is a responsibility to the customers and clients that we have, which is we know that the technologies we’re presenting have had the intellectual rigor from a governance perspective, from an impact on the companies and their workforce, that the technology is going to do what we say it’s going to do,” she says.

“If we want to retain those principles of rigor before we put something to market, you get a much better answer when you have a range of opinions to consider.”

It was part of the reason the company arrived at the decision to base their U.S. headquarters in Atlanta, King tells Hypepotamus. Following a $21 million funding round in 2017, Featurespace executives (most of whom are based at the company’s Cambridge, London office) began to look for office space to grow a diverse team in Georgia’s Transaction Alley. 

King says the Atlanta office is set to double this year to about 40 employees. The company as a whole is growing following another growth funding round at the end of January, this one for $32.3 million led by Insight Venture Partners and MissionOG.

Rather than a communications or logistical challenge, King considers the two offices as a way to add to their diversity — this time from a cultural and geographical perspective. 

“As we’ve grown, we’ve been able to attract a broad and diverse group of people. We have a vast array of nationalities working for us, but we also have an array of sexualities working for us. We have a vast array of religions working for us,” she says. 

She even looks at education as a factor. “We have a disproportionate amount of doctorates working for us. But equally, we have people in really important positions who have no educational background at all.”

To foster diversity, the executive team has had to pay close attention to both sides of the talent equation — attraction and retention. On the attraction side, it’s about intentionally creating a welcoming environment by paying attention to the little things.

“If [a woman] walks into a gym and it’s all guys that are bench pressing, it’s not intentional that it’s off putting. But it is just psychologically off putting for a woman to go into that environment,” she says. “In behavior analytics, we take in a huge amount through our eyes, so what’s the first thing you see, and then what do you hear, and how do you feel about it?”

Then, it’s retention. King personally interacts with each and every new Featurespace employee during onboarding to share the company’s culture principles and values. The executive team holds monthly and quarterly all-hands. They ensure employees have multiple touch points to voice any potential issues.

For example, those potential challenges arose when the company recruited its first transgender employees.

“We ask them to help us get it right. You can’t set up a company and automatically put all those policies in place,” says King. “It’s when somebody steps forward and says, ‘This is how I want to be recognized from now on,’ and then you’re able to say, ‘Can you help us as an organization get this right for you?’”

By keeping their mission and values as a “live” document, Featurespace’s leadership team ensures that the company can stay as fluid and innovative as the machine learning technology they develop.

“In a modern world, you can’t stay still on something like this,” King says. “When you’re at the forefront of a new technology like us, this revolution of machine learning, I’m really keen to ensure that we consider the impact they have on people and communities.”

“Our world is diverse and if one group think provides one product for the market, it isn’t going to fully consider the impact of that technology on the world.”