We're going to be interviewing visionaries in the space once a month and sharing our conversations with you. In these discussions, we'll be covering everything from intentional inclusivity in the industry to TikTok. To kick this exciting series off, we interviewed Nicole Casperson of WTFintech. Nicole started her career in the financial technology space as a fintech reporter for Investment News, previously working as the deputy editor of Royal Media. Today, she is the founder & host of WTFintech, a weekly podcast for the fintech community that interviews industry founders and investors, and covers news, insights, and analysis.
BE: Thank you for your time today, Nicole. So to start out, a focal point of our work is where the whole FinTech wave is heading, really focused on democratizing access to personal finance. I really loved the quote that you have in your bio about FinTech being the thing that's going to change the world whenever the world is ready to change itself. What do you think is holding the world back right now?
NC: I think that's what's holding the world back is a large reason of WTFintech is. Its purpose – my North Star – is uplifting the voices and stories and companies and platforms, all the things that have truly innovated and been leaders in the space, right? So whether that be a women-led FinTech company, or story, or a BIPOC, or a diverse thinker, neurodiversity, or someone that's trans; whatever that kind of experience that honestly the people that have run the FinTech and finance world, the people in the majority have had most of that platform, if you will. How do we change the world? We have to change the leadership, we have to change the stories that we're telling, and that's how you know FinTech will be able to actually get there.
So the stats are a little dismal, right? If you were to look at FinTech, it clearly has a systemic diversity issue, just like traditional finance. So for FinTech to sit here and say, “we're going to be better, we're going to be different than traditional finance, we are going to change the world by giving everyone access to financial services,” whether it be a FinTech founder or operator or the consumer that wants to get into investing and saving for the first time. But when the people that are leading these FinTech companies, or the content creators that are writing about these FinTech companies, or whatever it is, still look like and are the same as the people in traditional finance, then what difference are we really making? We as fintech, the fintech industry, have to change ourselves, we have to change our mindsets. The people covering this industry have to do better. It's why I exist, right? It's to show that, hey, there can be a woman of color doing things differently in this space. It's why there's so many amazing women founders, and diverse founders. People think there's a pipeline problem in this industry, and there is not. There are more than enough people, diverse people to invest in, to put your money into, to leverage your apps to hear their stories, they just aren't the ones that are always told. So anyway, that was my long answer. What I meant by that – FinTech will change the world when it's willing to change itself – we have to look within and say, “hey, are we going to create a leadership that is representative of the audience and consumer, that end consumer that we want to attract to use our products?” Until we do that, we'll never fully be able to reach and provide that democratization to access to all the people that we want.
BE: Yes, absolutely. So what I'm hearing there: we're asking these major global changes to be made, and that starts with us. It starts with self reflection, and thinking really critically about what are we changing, before asking anyone else to change?
NC: Yes, exactly. We have fintech, and it's too hard to recreate an old system or try to fix an old system, right? The point of fintech is to create a new one. But if that new system looks way too much like the old one, then we're not actually doing it right. So we’ve got to do better. And that also just means telling stories better, communicating fintech to the masses in a better way, which is what's so cool about content, what folks like you and I are doing.
BE: Absolutely. So in a similar vein of thought, more on content creation and storytelling, what have been the most important values in your own storytelling that you're finding reappearing in your interviews [for WTFintech]? You said you've done thirteen already, which is phenomenal. I'm sure that there's values and ideas that keep coming back as they do with any great story. So what are the ones that have really resonated with you?
NC: I think that common thread is this. It starts with Lule [CEO of eToro], and it's this feeling of change. Change is the only actual constant that any of us actually go through, together, if you will. We all go through our own changes, and the industry is going through it, and so are the souls that end up being consumers. So I would say, accepting that, that change and that disruption, and then actually being able to communicate it properly.
And then also, I think content creation is a huge aspect of the fintech landscape that is only going to keep ramping up. We even see that with all of the chatter of like, web3, and crypto and NFT's. And, you know, all of the great work that landscape can do to to provide financial freedom to more people to give that access that we all FinTech industry wants to provide. So I would say embracing the change which, we're all in FinTech, we want to do that. So as a leader and an operator in the industry, you really have to not just talk the talk, but walk the walk. So what are you doing? And that's a question I asked in all my podcast episodes. Like, innovation and inclusion are so important to me, what are you doing every day, to ensure that actions are being made? That steps are truly being taken, because it's a day-to-day thing? We don't just say, "oh, we'll put $100 million aside and invest in women led companies," that's cool and all but which ones are they? Or what are you actually doing, whatever it is? So getting more into the nuances of the FinTech space, and how it can truly help goes back to the communication aspect. So yes, to change communication.
I think the third thing was actually being able to put some kind of tangible examples to that. When you ask someone directly, "what have you done, today or this week, to stick with these values that you're preaching?" I think that's really important.
BE: Especially the last couple of years, we've seen so much of that more performative activism where we see big brands posting, hey, we're doing this or we're giving this money. And then people follow up 9-12 months later, and actually, nothing has happened. It's a bit disheartening and I think seeing those concrete steps are so much more valuable. It shows that people actually do care about what they say they care about, and it's not just for clicks.
BE: A major tool in communicating these stories has been social media, especially for the Gen Z crowd. We've had major success on TikTok, we have almost 4 million likes for our personal finance tips. Our co-founder, Kevin, started creating TikToks on the side, at the beginning of this year, and he's since gone viral. He does everything from cooking on a budget, to excel tutorials, and then posting the Excel spreadsheets he makes for anyone to use. It's been a really great way to introduce the personal finance world to Gen Z. What do you see to be the driving force for Gen Z as they come of age and start making their bank accounts? They're the generation that, for the first time ever, actually cares about issues like diversity & inclusion and climate change, and they're actually using their purchasing power to back up these values for the most part. So how do you see Gen Z as a driving force for the next couple of decades with regards to the fintech industry?
NC: I mean, Gen Z is everything. I love Gen Z so much I've started to identify with them, even though I'm four years or five years away from being a true Gen Z (technically a millennial). But I will say fintech right now has a lot of focus on millennials, especially elder millennials. So they're in their 30s to late 30s, because they have been in the workforce for a long time and they've accumulated some wealth. And there is something very interesting about that demographic that deserves to be catered to. However, Gen Z operates completely different, right? Like, millennials kind of put one foot into being different and having that change and communicating it, and having their personal values align with their finances. They take one step in it, but still have some of the trauma from the generations before. Whereas Gen Z, they don't give an F right, they just like they cut through the BS. And that is why that change, embracing that change, and that communication is so important. So there's no denying that social media has had a huge impact on financial services. Like Fidelity has got a TikTok, incumbents have a TikTok. And it's because they know that, like going back to the Fidelity example, incumbents have opened up access for teenagers to have investing accounts, or open a brokerage account, even if they have to have their parents' consent, but still, it's because they know Gen Z is going to come in, they care more about values than making money, they care more about their portfolios being reflective of who they are, they like to have fun and be authentic while they're doing it. So you have to have an amazing UX. And they care about social justice, and they care about change, and they care about things like climate change, and all these things. So you know, how are you going to be reflective of that growing demographic that's eventually going to actually have a lot of wealth transfer into their hands? And to me, that means meeting that generation, where they are at. So maybe it means having a TikTok, maybe it means having Instagram accounts, maybe that means going back to that communication aspect, because that's really where the industry has fallen flat.
We spent all this time in FinTech over the last decade making sure that the technology is mature enough, and it is now and that's great. We've gotten better at finance, making that as a service nailed down, we got payments and all that. So how do you actually now communicate the benefits of these to a demographic that doesn't just want to hear, "Oh, your returns are going to be great." What they want to hear is, "How is this thing going to help me put a better impact on the world?" Like, how is investing with your app going to help me create the change I want to see in the world? So anyways, that's where it's going. That's where you have to think when you're an operator in this industry. You have to think 10 steps ahead. That's also where folks that close their minds to crypto and web3 and NFT's are really messing up, because that's just where the world is going to go. Do you really want to sit there and say "No, it's just a fad." Or like the kids that love NFT's and changing their Twitter pictures, and digital art. Seriously, you're gonna be like the guys that said the internet wasn't gonna take off? No, you don't want to be on that ride. You want to be on this fun ride? Embrace change? So yes, that's where it all comes together.
BE: These differences between generations are where we're really having to stop and think critically. How are we going to create a product that speaks to both of these groups that are so different, that care about different things, though they do have these things in common? Keeping in mind these differences can be difficult when you're designing a product that you want to be young and relatable and easy to use, because you also don't want to distance yourself from the other crowd. What's been really cool, as you said, is that the Gen Z crowd is coming in, and they're so clear on their values and what they want from the Fintech community. It's really up to the broader community itself to catch up. You have these old, established banks that basically have looked the same for 100 to 200 years. And they're still working on making sure that their banking app actually works, or being the naysayers on crypto and web3, and all of these things. It's really motivating other groups in the Fintech space to get out ahead. But I think one thing that we've been trying to consider very carefully is, how are we making sure to carry our values with us as we're trying to evolve and relate to both of these groups? In your interview with Lule [CEO of e-Toro], you mentioned your intention of being "people first." I wanted to explore that idea a little bit more. How are you carrying that intention with you, in your discussions as a content creator? And also as a journalist? How do you carry that value with you every day?
NC: Love this question. You're awesome at this, this is how I like to do my interviews, so you're really resonating with me.
BE: I'm so glad it's such a pleasure.
NC: That's awesome. So I start off all my interviews, so far, only one is published. But you'll see the common thread. I start off all my interviews, first and foremost, learning about these CEOs, these founders, these leaders in the space that are the ones pulling the strings to make that change and communications that we talked about happen for Gen Z, for millennials and beyond. But I start off every conversation, learning about their values. And that, you know, goes beyond just saying, give us a brief background. How many [podcasts] start off that way? All of them. So I cut through the noise, and I explain their background at the beginning, or ask a question about their background. And then, what I want to know is, what are the core values of you as a human? How do you apply those core values to the FinTech company that you're leading, or you've created? And then how are you interweaving those values into the products and content that you roll out for your user? Because that Gen Z user is going to be able to tell, you can't fool them. They're going to know if you are values-based from the beginning. So that's how I do it in my day-to-day, by holding my guests accountable, by holding folks that I interview and the stories I elevate accountable for being people-first. It's the company that I work for. Workweek is completely people over profit. Workweek operates on the moral or beliefs that if you give a content creator everything that they need, everything that they deserve, from a good salary to all the benefits, to proper time off, with also the autonomy to create in the way that they see best, then the profits will come and the growth will come. We're already seeing that and Workweek has been around for a month or so. Anyway, so that's how you you do it.
I am also very particular about who joins on my podcast. You have to have intentional inclusion with these things. You have to be intentional. I've had coworkers in the past be like, "but Nicole how do you find them?" Because all my past coworkers are white men. They're asking, "how do you find the right women to interview," or this or that and I'm like, you literally have to ask the PR person, ask whoever the hell you need to ask. Just say, "Hey, I'm looking for a black woman because I want to talk about this or whatever it is." You literally had to be intentional about it. I chose Lule as my first debut episode because she represents all of the things, not just because she checks every single diversity box on the planet almost, but because she then takes all of that and applies it right to her to her work. But anyways, so that's how you do it. On the creator side and journalist side, we hold more power than we think or than we realize. We have to get around this notion that we are objective or we have to be objective. Look, if you would have asked me five years ago, and I would have been the journalist, the nerdy journalist who said, "of course, we're objective." But look at history. You want to look at history, history has shown that journalism is not objective. Okay? Because why is it that every single white male story has been elevated? Think about how many artists, think about how many founders, think about how many amazing people out there were women or people of color that didn't get their platform or didn't get their story shared, or whatever it is, because they were a woman or because the gatekeeper, i.e. the journalist didn't find them to have the story worthy of history. So yes, I was like, let's chill on that. Let's chill on us thinking that we have such a high horse in the content world. We really do have power, but we have to be down to use it to tell these stories. I became a journalist, because I thought I could change the world by telling stories. It wasn't until I came to Workweek that I realized the true way to change the world is telling the stories with my voice, with my perspective, with my experiences. That's really how you make that impact.
BE: Yes, that was incredible. I think just the idea of being intentional, not just in reporting, but in content creation, in storytelling, everything is so important. Because if you lose your intention, that's linked to your values. And if you lose that, you're just going to be buying into whatever the story that the industry wants you to tell. And like you said, that's really a certain perspective 99 percent of the time.
NC: Yes. And that's really easy to do. Don't get me wrong, it's very easy to say "oh, everyone else is covering this, should I? Should I do it as well?" I generally have to cut through the noise and tell myself: what is what do I think is important? What do I think is interesting? Because that's what's going to resonate with the audience, you know? So it's a whole new world of journalism and storytelling.
BE: I think this post-20th century transition to 21st and beyond that to the 22nd century, the way that we tell stories is going to change so much. Because for so many years, journalists were the gatekeepers of information. And then with the advent of the Internet, things changed, you have new sources that are basically partisan on each side telling the stories they want to tell. The rise of content creators is the way around that. People like yourself, who can go tell stories with intentions and with their own voices are so powerful. I know we're almost out of time here but I wanted to see if you had any last things that you wanted to share. If there's anything you want to talk about your personal story, I'd love to hear it or any last thoughts on the FinTech space, or perhaps intentions for 2022, personal intentions or intentions for the space?
NC: I will say one thing that I do want to make super clear just about my content and my stance. I very much interview men. I have a podcast episode launching soon with Miguel Fernandez from Capchase. He's a wonderful person. Actually my guest list right now, which might be more than 13 at this point, it's representative of the industry that I would like to see more of. It's about 50-60% women and about 50% men. It's about 80% people of color with two or three of them, white people who are exceptional. And I don't mean that there's different standards for the diverse people that I interview. Everyone is held to the same standard. It's just -- do you reach that potential? Or that standard for me to say okay, this is a story worth telling. I want this to be inclusive for everyone. Catering content to a horizontal, almost oppression and thinking that one person's experiences are better than the others, just because they are different, or just because they've had harder experiences. No, we all have different experiences, we all experience change in different ways. And that's what makes us a community, and that's what makes us the same. And that's what we got into FinTech for. So that no one else had to experience that moment where the lights shut off, or no one else had to experience that moment where a man told me I wasn't worthy of XY and Z. We all have these different hardships. So how are we going to come together as a FinTech community and say, "hey, we have all the power to change and to help people not go through these hardships, to live a more sustainable life, which is through financial stability and freedom." I just want to make that clear, I think that this actually means everyone is involved, every single person needs to be on this ride to really have that change that we're talking about.
BE: Absolutely. Yes.
NC: So until they're like that, it's just every day work. Someone's got to say the things and talk about them, until we reach that level.
BE: So simply put, your baseline for speakers is exceptional.
NC: Yes! And it's funny, I say that because I think Lule mentioned something about how you don't have to be extraordinary to be exceptional. So yes, the point is, is that you have to be doing the work right? Because that's really what's going to change the game. And to me, that's important for every single fintech operator to pay attention to and listen to and think about every single day. Otherwise, we're just gonna keep looking like traditional finance and financial guys.
Loved this interview? Read more interviews from our Fintech founders & leaders series here.
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