The two co-founders of Edinburgh-based startup Sustainably, Loral and Eishel Quinn, have been nominated as part of Innovate Finance’s Women in FinTech Powerlist 2020, making it onto the Standout 35 group. This celebrates the most outstanding female names in fintech over the past year.
CEO and co-founder Loral, an award winning global digital marketer and strategist, established the company with her daughter, Chief Product Officer Eishel.
As a company, Sustainably sits at the crossroads between tech for good and fintech. It offers users the ability to round up cashless transactions and donate the excess to charity. The company has links with 40 charities for users to donate to, having started with ten.
The company was also recognised by Richard Branson as his startup of the year in 2019.
Digit spoke with Loral Quinn about making it onto the Powerlist, along with the role of ethical business practices in a post-coronavirus economy.
“For us, the nomination was an amazing testament to the team and what we’re creating at Sustainably,” Quinn said. “I always think back to when I started Sustainably with Eishel – at that time I would look at the Powerlist and I was really inspired by a lot of the people on it.
“We’ve been on this amazing journey to get here and now, we are on the Powerlist, which will hopefully inspire the next generation of female fintech founders.”
Visibility is an important factor in helping address the gender divide. A lack of role models too often turns off women from entering the tech pipeline at an early age. This feeds into the idea that tech is a male industry, further discouraging women from entering it.
This means that many companies, and many women, are missing out on potential opportunities.
When investors look for companies, gender diversity is increasingly being used to determine how sustainable the business is. Multiple reports have all made claims backing this – that female-founded companies perform better than male-founded ones, or that female tech entrepreneurs generate higher returns than male ones.
However, this potential is still underestimated. For 2020, female-founded fintechs received 17% of the UK’s total fintech venture capital investments. While this was up from 6% in 2019, it illustrates how far the industry still needs to come.
However, ensuring gender diversity is a prime example of the benefits ethical business models offer.
Diversity provides a wider talent pool and brings more viewpoints to a company. This helps create products that can reach and benefit more people.
“There are still a lot of challenges in making fintech attractive to a more diverse workforce, and broader tech, but a lot’s really been done to champion that,” Quinn noted.
The Question of Ethics
Ethical and sustainable business practices range far beyond gender diversity. They touch on environmental and social issues, many of which have become apparent during the coronavirus pandemic. For many, 2020 and 2021 have been a time of isolation and reflection.
“When in a global pandemic, it is a chance to take a step back and ask what is actually going on. Looking at what we buy, what we consume, how we live, that’s really important now,” Quinn said.
Unlike previous crises, like the 2008 recession, sustainability issues have not been side-lined in the rush for economic growth. They are considered integral to rebuilding the economy, abandoning inefficient ways of working and embracing better ones.
“We now have an opportunity with global events like COP26 to really push the agenda of sustainability, and a more ethical business model is what we’re all about at Sustainably,” she said.
“More and more people are looking at how they travel, what they consume and thinking about what that really means to them.
“That will play out in terms of the economy as well – the business models that will succeed in the future will be those that are more ethical and sustainable.”
As people become more conscious of their spending habits, it is a trend that few companies can ignore. A company’s story, its purpose, and values, are fast becoming deciding factors in where people spend their money.
“There is a really big movement towards responsible business. 94% of CEOs have a commitment to responsible business, but only 17% have measurable plans in place. We’re plugging that gap with a really simple tool so businesses can connect and engage with their customers and employees in more meaningful ways, and measure their impact.”
The New Way
The importance of a value-driven business has struck a particular chord with younger generations.
“Gen Z and millennials now account for the largest giving segment by the money and volume,” Quinn said. “11 million of them in the UK gave £2.7 billion to around six causes each.
“All the generations give, but millennials and Gen Z obviously care deeply about where they work and where they shop. They are really concerned about the future and resolving some of the really big issues and they have a real passion to do that.”
As the world is driven online by the coronavirus, Sustainably is well positioned to take advantage of this trend. This also has synergy with its younger audience, who find it easier to adapt to digital technology.
“The rise of cashless has had a huge effect on what we’re doing and by connecting to Sustainably we enable an opportunity for people to have a positive impact, easily, as part of everyday life.”
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In addition, Sustainably’s focus on ethics means that it embraced open banking standards. These embed notions of transparency right at the heart of its business model.
“With open finance, the individual owns all their financial data and they can share it to use products and services that suit them. We’re enabling people to use their data in more meaningful ways that fit around their lifestyle.
“People are data conscious – they want to have control over their data. It is great to be able to enable people to do something good with their data, on their own terms.”
Startups have the luxury of building their business models around sustainable values. Established companies, however, can still re-evaluate how their values inform their processes. This involves a degree of soul searching.
“It comes to the core of what you are as a business and your ethics. What are your core ethics and why are you doing what you’re doing?
“One of the things I would like more businesses to do is to go through the B Corp Assessment – it gives a framework on how to become a more ethical business.”
With both Loral and Eishel on the Powerlist, they are highlighting Scotland’s importance as an ecosystem producing innovative startups. Furthermore, they are far from being the only two female tech leaders in the country. With so many in one place, they can share expertise and knowledge, helping their organisations develop.
“Being able to speak to amazing founders from Scotland, it’s all helping drive the ecosystem,” Quinn said.
“The Logan Review, the Scottish Tech Hub plan, and the Kalifa Review, all of these are feeding into building a better ecosystem for startups. As part of FinTech Scotland, it’s really great to be involved in all of those plans.
“This puts us in a really good position, having big ambitions that can help Scotland on a global scale.”