Here’s How I See 2019 … And Avocado Ice Cream

Wholefoods are predicting that 2019 will see avocado ice cream and seaweed butter flying off the shelves. Forbes magazine reckons that in-car voice shopping may be on its way, allowing us to get the weekly shop done on the daily commute. And booking.com believes that this year, city breaks and sunshine holidays will be making room for the coming of age of the Appren-trip – a kind of holiday-come-learning experience.


Make a real difference

Whatever industry you’re in, the beginning of January is a fun time to make predictions, just as much as it is a serious time to look ahead, agree corporate strategy and set priorities. At Castlight we have looked at the year ahead and what has struck me is that we have 12 brand new months of opportunity and responsibility. A fresh new year on which to make our mark, leave a legacy but most importantly, make a real difference.

I like the American management consultant Peter Drucker’s take on predictions, when he said: “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”

Shape the future of credit

So, that’s what we are going to do. In 2019 we are going to create the future. We are going to change lives for the better.

More specifically, we are going to change lives by continuing to create and shape the future of credit.

Our suite of affordability tools from the Affordability Passport to our affordability-scoring CastScore, have all been developed to ensure people only take on debt they can afford to repay whilst at the same time enfranchising people with thin files, helping people recover from debt exile and using our sophisticated financial “storying” technology to help people demonstrate their sound financial behaviours despite the odd wobble.


More than an algorithm

People are more than an algorithm. Everyone has their own financial story and the detail of these very individual stories matter to us. With the data our customers entrust to us, our technology can review the shape of their financial stories, the ins and outs of their daily transactional lives. Ultimately, these stories are transmuted into a CastScore, providing customers with safe, and often unprecedented access to affordable credit. In this way, we can change lives and create, as our strap-line reminds us, “A safer financial world.”

2019 offers up another 12 months to keep innovating, to launch new affordability products, to keep more people safe from unaffordable debt and enfranchise more people with the credit opportunities they deserve.


Gourmet curve

I hope you’ll walk with us, into 2019 and the future we plan to create as we go.

And if you want to stay ahead of the gourmet curve this year, here’s how you can make your very own avocado ice cream, the Jamie Oliver way.

https://www.jamieoliver.com/recipes/fruit-recipes/avocado-ice-cream/

Wishing You a Happy and Affordable Christmas

Every year statistics are published highlighting how badly we get ourselves into debt over Christmas and how long it takes us to recover. The numbers aren’t out yet as there’s more damage still to be done online and in the High Street. There’s still more plastic to smoulder.

But what I’ve found this year, in the run up to Christmas, are lots of websites suggesting innovative (and sometimes glaringly obvious) ways to save money at Christmas. I like the idea of stuffing a big cardboard box full of balloons for a toddler or concocting homemade bottles of rosemary infused olive oil for adults. There seems to be a whiff of nostalgia floating around the internet, a retro yearning for simpler times and maybe even a game of charades?

Pressure to Overspend

And it’s all good. We all need to resist the pressure to overspend on presents and then buy Christmas themed things we don’t need. Like a Christmas jumper. Who started that? And why have I got one?

But in amongst the thousands of words on line about the damaging effects of overspending and the creative ideas for keeping things simple, it was the voice of Lucy on Mumsnet that made me think.

“Unfortunately this month we don’t seem to have much money spare. I had put some money aside but due to an issue with my car that’s all gone.


 There is 9 people in total to buy for.


I’m spending roughly £20 – £30 per person but it will mean I have to use my credit card. I’m so careful with money normally and try to never use my credit card so I just feel like there’s a massive weight on my mind.”

Financial Blip 

Lucy hadn’t overspent this month. She’s careful with her money and she had specifically saved for Christmas. But her car broke down and her budget unravelled. Lucy is not alone – she speaks for thousands of families across the UK, who are just one financial blip away from debt.

These are the people for whom many of Castlight Financial’s products have been developed and which are now being widely used by some of the UK’s biggest banks. CaaS (Categorisation as a Service), CastScore and the Affordability Passport are all designed, in their different ways, to help banks and other financial institutions support customers who might experience a bump in the road. They provide lenders with unprecedented levels of information and insights into a customer’s finances, so that they are able to get a 3D picture of a person, their life, their financial behaviours and spending patterns and support them through difficult times of the year, like Christmas.

Thank You

I hope Lucy has a bank account with HSBC or one of the other financial institutions who use our affordability tools. Because if she does, she won’t need to tell them that she’s normally so careful with money. They will already know that. And that ability to really know  their customer means much greater financial security for Lucy, not just in December but all the way through the year.

We are proud of our affordability products and the positive impact they have had on thousands of people’s lives this year. I am confident that next year we will make even more progress. And my dream is that no-one will post messages of financial desperation on Mumsnet ever again.

Happy Christmas to everyone who has shared this blog year with me – thank you for your interest and support.

And for those of you I might see over Christmas, I hope you like your olive oil infused with rosemary?

Casting Light at Christmas

Yesterday evening I was listening to the story of a young family man, working in the financial services industry who, on Christmas Eve was on the brink of taking his own life. The financial services company he was running had lost money, investors’ finances were threatened, and criminal charges were looking unavoidable.

This is a story that would not be unfamiliar to charities like the Samaritans and Mind, particularly in the dark days of the 2007 financial tsunami.

But happily, and rather unusually, this young banker was saved at the last minute … by his guardian angel.

It’s a Wonderful Life

The guardian angel was Clarence, the young financier was George Bailey and the story, It’s a Wonderful Life, is watched by millions of us every Christmas.

It’s fiction of course, but like some of the best stories, it is shot through with the starkest of truths. And in this instance, the darkest of truths. This was a guy under intense financial pressure, whose financial distress had seeped out to affect his whole life and distort his sense of his own worth.

It got me thinking….

At Castlight, we strive, above everything else to deliver ‘a safer financial world’ and I’d like to think we could have helped George Bailey, long before he stood on the edge of the bridge on Christmas Eve.

Christmas Pressure

For anyone unfamiliar with the plot, here’s a quick summary. When George Bailey’s father died, leaving the Building and Loan company without a director, George gave his college tuition money to his brother Harry and unwillingly took up the reins, on the condition that Harry took over the Building and Loan when he finished uni. Four years later, Harry returned with a job offer from his father in law and George resigned himself to keep running the family firm. Sometime later, there’s a run on the bank, misplaced funds and potential arrest for George. George feels he’s let his whole family down and wishes he had never been born.

Sadly, there are a lot of people like George. So, each year, as we look forward to Christmas, it is good to be reminded by charities like Mind and the Samaritans, that for people with mental health or financial problems, Christmas can ratchet up the pressure to sometimes, catastrophic levels.

There are all sorts of reasons why people get into debt. That’s why Castlight Financial recently launched the Big View at the House of Parliament with the Big Issue’s Lord Bird. The Big View helps people in debt, often people who have been brought to the brink of despair, to get back on track, using affordability technology to understand and resolve their financial problems.

If we’d been around at the time, I believe the Big View could have helped George Bailey. We could have been his guardian angel and he would never have walked onto that bridge.

There are lots of people out there needing guardian angels and I’m glad that the Big View is doing its bit to cast light into the finances of more and more people with debt crises.

These are important, pressing issues and ones we need to think about amidst the bright lights, ringing tills and chinking glasses.

Plot Rewrite

But I’m not quite done with Its a Wonderful Life! And, with a lighter touch I’d like to leave you with some small plot re-writes which, had I been around in 1946 I would have suggested to director Frank Capra.

I think George could have gone off to university with his brother Harry, as his CastScore would have shown sound financial behaviours merged with a strong credit score and he would have got an affordable loan for Harry’s tuition fees. Uncle Billy would simply have had to step up and hold the fort until the brothers both finished university. Working at the coal face of the business Uncle Billy would have learned a thing or two about management and would never have been daft enough to misplace the $8,000 that caused all the trouble.

Four years later George and Harry, with their MScs in Fintech would return to Bedford Falls and invent the Affordability Passport. There wouldn’t have been a run on the bank, because the Building and Loan would be thriving, underpinned by the Affordability Passport and CastScore which would ensure that only people who could safely afford to repay loans would be able to take them out. George and Mary wouldn’t have to prop up the bank with their honeymoon savings and would have enjoyed a week in Paris, sipping fine wine at a pavement café.

Fortunately for all lovers of Its a Wonderful Life, Frank Capra told his story his own way. And I for one, will love it once again this Christmas.

A French Lesson

We’re used to technology advancing at an exciting pace. After all, at Castlight we are responsible for disrupting the status quo of the way people bank, obtain mortgages, secure loans, make investments and climb out of debt. Our data scientists are pushing boundaries every day and creating products and services that have never existed before. That means we are constantly having to name things – the Affordability Passport, CastScore and CaaS are just a few of the product names we’ve recently had to brainstorm around a table.

But it’s not just brand-new product names that are evolving. In the last few decades, thousands of new words have entered our lexicon that weren’t needed before such as fintech itself, which amazingly only made it into American on-line dictionary Merriam-Webster in September this year!

Les Données

And of course, the language of technology is not only evolving in English, it’s evolving in languages around the globe. Sometimes we share or borrow the new words across languages – the French, for instance, will send “un tweet” or post something on “le Facebook”. But sometimes, a translation will stop you in your tracks and make you think about what a word really means.

One of my favourite words is the French for “data”. And it’s not “le data”. It’s “les données”, which comes from the French verb “donner” meaning “to give”. Data, to the French, is something that is given, it’s a gift.

I’ve blogged in the past about data being the new oil and so have other people in the fintech community, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard it called “a gift”.

I think the French are spot on to coin a word for data, wrapped in the linguistic sense of it being something valuable, something that is given, a gift.

Gift of Financial Security

It made me think of our Affordability Passport and CastScore too, both of which are of course, all about data. These products use open banking technology to access a customer’s bank accounts, analyse and categorise their income and expenditure and provide the customer with an Affordability Passport or CastScore which can then be used to open doors to safe loans.

Intrinsic to this process is that fact that the customer’s data is valuable. It’s theirs to give to someone they trust. And I believe that when they give it to us, we are able to give something back to them which is even more valuable.

Le CastScore and L’Affordability Passport peut-être?

Or in plain English – the gift of financial security.

Building a More Inclusive Financial World

I love working with Lord Bird and The Big Issue. They are great guys and they sure know how to pick a venue for a financial inclusion summit. For a Glasgow-based company, we don’t get many podium opportunities at the Houses of Parliament, but last Thursday, there we were.

Fabulous though the venue was, it was the message and the conversations we had afterwards that were the real star attractions.

Puncturing the Poverty Premium

Lord Bird and The Big Issue team, Martin King, Head of Vulnerable Customers from Lloyds Bank and our own Castlight Financial team – we were all there to talk about how we could work together to secure financial inclusion and set about puncturing the poverty premium.

Lord Bird kicked off the evening and, as he does, cut straight to the chase. He reflected on the problems his Irish mother had, 45 years ago, keeping track of scant money and said:

“That is one of the problems of poverty. You lose the ability of finding out who you owe to. It’s the idea that you cannot control your incomings and your outgoings. And if someone can come along and help you, and guide you through that with fintech solutions, it’s really useful.”

Lord Bird went on to speak about the financial mess that people living in poverty can get into, or the “sticky stuff” as he called it. He talked about The Big Issue Invest, which focuses on providing emergency relief or implementing coping strategies, but also the very real need for prevention work, led by Big Issue Invest. He said:

“We have to have the prevention work. And the prevention work is stopping people falling into the sticky stuff in the first instance. In the second instance it’s getting them out of financial vulnerability by using fintech, by using data, and by using methodologies that everyone can understand, and that everyone can use. We are moving into a fintech world where we can help to dismantle poverty in the lives of the most needy people by using technological advancements to do transformative things”

Need for Affordability Tools

I hadn’t seen Lord Bird’s speech before I spoke, but it was as if we’d both sat down and written our speeches together. Lord Bird spoke about “very simple things’ that make a difference. And I started off by explaining the need for affordability tools and just how simple the concept of affordability is:

“At the very heart of the last credit crunch there was a disregard for affordability. There weren’t affordability tools available for people to make real time affordability decisions. No-one really knew what affordability was. We set about trying to build products that nailed that. It’s a really complicated formula by the way – you take somebody’s income, you deduct their expenditure and you get their disposable income. Everyone says to us ‘why has no-one else thought of this?” I can’t answer that.”

Of course, the fintech is state-of-the-art, AI-driven open banking technology, but the idea is simple. And it’s also inclusive. We have used the affordability technology to launch The Big View with Big Issue Invest, to help people in debt understand and resolve their financial problems.

And as I went on to say, The Big View is not the only financial inclusion product we have created which makes us proud:

“We’ve created the first open banking score. Why did we do this? 18 months ago, we realised that there are 5.2 million people in the UK that have ‘thin’ credit files. They could be immigrants or migrant workers, but what we’ve seen is an increasing trend in the business that millennials are credit adverse. Why? Because they’ve lived through times where they’ve seen their parents scarred by a credit crunch. But in order to get a good credit rating they are encouraged to take out debt. That’s counter intuitive. Why would you want to do that? We set about building products which take people’s personal data and build credit risk models on that. And we’re delighted to say that a lot of firms working with us and pushing us out. I’m grateful for that.”

Barriers to Financial Health

Martin King was next up, and his job title alone is testament to the concern of Lloyds Banking Group for all their customers. Martin King is Head of Vulnerable Customers at the bank and he and his team should be very proud of the work they are doing to remove barriers to financial health for thousands of their customers.

As the evening ended, and Lord Bird burst into song, to get our attention and move us off, and to let staff get ready for the next day, I was thinking about Castlight Financial’s vision of “a safer financial world”. Maybe we should all be thinking more about “a safer, more inclusive financial world?”

Something to set our sights on as old and new friends, sharing this same vision, drifted off to a local pub to talk some more.

Looking forward to the Financial Inclusion Summit in Westminster

We’re looking forward to Thursday’s Financial Inclusion Summit in the Houses of Parliament with Lord Bird. It’s an exciting opportunity for us to talk about The Big View, our fintech tool which gives people with debt concerns access to a version of Castlight Financial’s affordability tool. Since it was launched earlier this year, in partnership with the Big Issue Invest and Advice Direct Scotland, advisers have been helping people get the bigger picture of their finances, by using the Big View’s data and interpreting the findings. Equipped with new financial insights the advisers have then been working with their debt clients to create pathways back to financial stability. The Big View is working, it’s making a difference.

So this Thursday we are hoping the summit will encourage debate and the sharing of ideas amongst finance professionals who believe, like we do, that financial technology has the power to be redemptive, to give people another chance.

One of those like-minded finance professionals is Frank Cooper III, BlackRock’s Global Chief Marketing Officer, and who has recently discussed how financial services can be used for everyone, not just the elite few, to become more knowledgeable about their finances. He delivered at keynote at the recent Money 20/20 Revolutionary Stage, “Is There Wealth Beyond the Wealthy”,  and so much of what he was saying chimed with Castlight’s mission. Where we at Castlight talk about redemptive technology, Frank Cooper III was talking about the importance of empathy in financial technology. We are singing from the same hymn sheet.

This is what he said about the power of financial technology to help people:

“I think for us to really connect with a wider range of people so that more and more and more people have access to what we call wealth we need to step up the way in which we connect with people, the way we intuit how they think, feel and act, putting ourselves in their shoes.

I think we can leverage technology to actually expand empathy and understand people better.”

Financial technology tools like the Big View, can crunch through data and provide the behavioural insights that help us understand exactly how people think and feel and act. It allows to us do what Frank Cooper suggests – and put ourselves in someone else’s shoes.

And financial technology can certainly be leveraged to help us understand people and people to understand themselves. We share that passion with Frank Cooper.

But we have a tool that can transform understanding and empathy into practical help and solutions. Our redemptive technology can actually put people back on the path of financial wellbeing.

That’s a big responsibility. And that’s why we are thrilled to have the opportunity at the Houses of Parliament to share our ideas and listen to other people’s as we explore together how financial technology can make the world a better place.

Frank Cooper III is right to be excited about the potential for financial technology to change behaviours and help ordinary people become more financially stable. I wonder how excited he would be if he knew that here at Castlight Financial, we are already doing it and have a fintech tool already being used by individuals who are financially squeezed, struggling or debt-laden. And that it’s helping them back on the path to financial health and back to the lives they want to lead.

Because The Big View can track back through historical transactional data, it allows an individual to identify problematic financial behaviour which needs to be addressed or areas where simple changes in patterns and behaviours could significantly improve their financial wellbeing.

We like to think of it as “redemptive technology”, the kind of fintech that uses some of world’s most cutting-edge categorisation software to address one of society’s oldest problems.

So Mr Frank Cooper, if by any chance you are passing through London next Thursday, you would be very welcome to join us! And when you hear what we have to say, I think you might be tempted to jump out of your seat in excitement too!

Daredevil Plot Turns on CastScore

DAREDEVIL SEASON 3 SPOILER ALERT

As season three of Daredevil explodes onto Netflix and sucks us all into the now familiar Marvel drama fest of nocturnal super-hero action, fight scenes, intrigue and love interest, I have to say I have been side-tracked a little by the brand new character of FBI Special Agent Ray Nadeem.

When we first meet Ray at his son Sammy’s birthday party, we find out the Nadeem family are in the midst of a family financial crisis. His wife Seema has had all her credit cards declined. Ray’s brother’s wife has cancer and their insurance has stopped paying for treatment. Ray and Seema have stepped in and helped cover their sister-in-law’s medical expenses. And now they are in debt.

Overwhelmed by the financial pressure, Ray asks for a raise at work and is denied. His boss tells him his low FICO score has put him out of consideration for promotion as he poses a bribery risk.

Instead, the agent is assigned the task of visiting arch villain Wilson Fisk in prison to elicit co-operation with ongoing investigations. Needless to say, it looks like Ray’s course is set on a slippery slope into well … bribery and corruption.

Not being a character in the original Marvel universe, purists may not embrace Agent Ray Nadeem as quickly as I have. But I have to confess to an ulterior motive. I’m drawn to Ray because he’s a character in the everyday universe of the world I live in too.

Financially Overstretched

He’s financially overstretched himself but he has done so with the very best of intentions. All he needed was a timely promotion, a window of time to pay off his debt, his sister in law to respond to treatment and all would have been well with his world. He would have had a routine visit to Fisk in prison and returned to his desk for a sandwich. Admittedly, this would be seriously bad TV, but in the real world, personal disaster would have been averted.

The plot all turned on a FICO score which just showed Agent Ray was in debt, not why or how likely he was to be able to repay it.

It was for people like Ray that Castlight recently launched the world’s first open-banking affordability score, providing people with a whole new way of demonstrating their creditworthiness.

Traditional credit scoring focuses on the consumer’s future credit behaviour being similar to their past performance.

CastScore, by contrast uses open-banking technology to analyse a customer’s transactional data in real time and score their likelihood of paying credit back. The AI that powers the CastScore technology has been validated on actual loan performance data, supplemented by expert analysis of spending trends with high street banks. CastScore then merges this information with transaction analytics, sourced from an up-to-the-minute review of the customer’s actual income and spend as well as a more complex analysis of lifestyle and discretionary spending.

“Redemptive” Technology

CastScore looks at and categorises every debit and credit, filling in the gaps in traditional credit data reporting and provides a 3D movie of an individual’s financial story. It gives people a chance to be fairly assessed. And it is a “redemptive” technology which allows people to make mistakes, recover from them and get back on track.

If CastScore had been checked with Agent Ray Nadeem’s FICO score, it would have shown that Ray had a good regular job, that he had a history of fulfilling credit commitments and that he had hit a blip. It would run Ray’s transactional data through financial insights and behaviour software and provide a lender with a score which reflected Ray’s 3D financial profile and the statistical likelihood of him being able to pay off his debts.

It could very easily have given him a score that would have reassured his boss, secured him the promotion and changed the world of Marvel forever.

World’s First Open Banking Affordability Score Launched By Castlight Financial

Affordability innovator Castlight Financial has developed a new open-banking affordability score, providing access to borrowing for the first time for the 5.8 million people, in the UK alone, with “thin credit files”.

The company, which has been pioneering open banking based affordability products for the last three years, including the Affordability Passport and Categorisation as a Service (CaaS), has now taken the open banking technology currently being used for traditional credit assessment and unlocked a powerhouse of additional functionality.

Revolution

The new affordability score, CastScore, is not dependent on a customer having a history of credit in order to demonstrate creditworthiness and instead uses open banking technology to analyse a customer’s transactional data in real time and score their likelihood of paying credit back.

The AI that powers the CastScore technology has been validated on actual loan performance data, supplemented by expert analysis of spending trends, with high street banks. CastScore then merges this information with transaction analytics, sourced from an up-to-the-minute review of the customer’s actual income and spend as well as a more complex analysis of lifestyle and discretionary spending.

CastScore is currently being piloted by three of the UK’s High Street banks.

Says Phil Grady, CEO of Castlight Financial: “CastScore looks at and categorises every debit and credit and so it allows us to fill in the gaps in traditional credit data reporting and give customers, particularly those with thin files, a chance to be fairly assessed. Traditional credit scoring focuses on the consumer’s future credit behaviour being similar to their past performance through looking at historic credit reference agency data. The CastScore creates an up to date view of a consumer’s available disposable income and is able to predict future payment performance using more recent and relevant data. It truly represents a revolution in how lenders may view all consumers, from those with established credit profiles to those with thin files.

For the first time someone with a thin credit file will be able to demonstrate, at the touch of a button, not only that they have a regular income coming in, and that they are financially robust, but they will be able to show a set of exemplary financial behaviours which make them a very good credit risk indeed. For a financially cautious millennial with little credit history but enough money in the bank, CastScore could be the difference between securing a mortgage or being stuck in the generation rent trap.”

But it’s not only the millions of people with little or no credit footprints who will potentially benefit from the CastScore technology. A predictive CastScore, even somewhere in the middle of the range, could be used to augment a traditional credit score and radically improve it.

Says Grady: “The reason that a CastScore rating, taken by a lender in conjunction with a traditional credit score can improve a customer’s credit score is because CastScore isn’t just reviewing a history of credit repayment performance. It is instead based instead on an individual’s nuanced behaviours. The open banking technology scans all the customer’s transactional information and assesses whether the customer is a saver or a spender, do they run a tight ship or exceed their means and even are they a homebody or a party animal. It will also raise good and bad financial behaviour flags. A good flag might be that discretionary spending on charitable giving and personal health has increased. A bad flag might be unpaid bills, bank charges, increased gambling or payday loans.”

Machine Learning Powerhouse

Castlight’s machine learning powerhouse merges both the transactional analytics and the customer’s financial “story” into the CastScore which gives lenders all the enhanced predictive information they need to make a lending decision for customers with thin or no credit files. And for customers with traditional credit files, it significantly augments their financial profile, providing all parties involved with more insight, less risk and more lending scope.

An example of CastScore’s insight might be a customer who takes out a finance plan for a new car in January. This commitment may appear on a traditional credit score a few months later, if the credit score has good coverage, and only then will the credit score be updated. However, the CastScore score will update as soon as payments start being made from the account, providing financial decision makers with up to the minute information.

CastScore assesses a customer’s full financial big picture. So, whilst the new car payments may be greater than the customer’s previous car payments, there may be reductions in insurance premiums. The customer may also have taken out roadside assistance, which is statistically a good indicator. By taking factors like this into account CastScore could demonstrate that the new car was a sensible investment that in the long run cuts costs and increases financial stability.

CastScore’s algorithms have been uniquely trained to analyse the hard numbers but also to reach out into the complexity of a customer’s real life and set credit and income movement in context. CastScore’s AI brain has the computing power to demonstrate that, in a particular case, a new car may not just be an item to put on a list of credit obligations, it could be a sensible investment that in the long run creates stability in the family life and cuts costs. Ultimately that means that when the entire credit scenario is computed, it will actually factor positively in the generation of a good CastScore.

3D movie

As CastScore is being piloted with the UK’s banks as a means of enfranchising customers or helping them augment their credit scores, Castlight Financial is already developing CastScore to provide the banks themselves with significant competitive edge in a busy market place.

Says Grady: “If traditional credit scoring provides a snapshot of a customer’s affordability, CastScore provides a 3D movie. That means that any bank offering CastScore to customers is going to be able to use the enhanced modelling system to identify risk more accurately and ultimately offer better credit terms. Credit risk teams will also be able to use CastScore  for ongoing control and monitoring of customers’ finances, providing an early warning system of potential problems and allowing them to update their risk models and limits if needed.

“Open banking has already revolutionised the way we think and bank. But it’s a massive iceberg, with a huge percentage of its capability still to be exposed and exploited. By harnessing the full potential of open banking, we are powering a potential revolution in credit scoring and the wider world of banking. I believe the CastScore can help both lenders and customers access better, safer credit as well as enfranchising the millions of people with thin credit.”

Companies and Algorithms Need Women in Tech

Our team at Castlight Financial is growing by the week and we were delighted to note this week that, despite the fact that just 17% of people working in technology across the UK are female, 23% of our employees are women. And in the even more traditionally male-dominated developer sector, 57% in our development team are female.

These are important statistics for a number of reasons and not just the obvious ones. Of course we want to be sure we are attracting the best people for the job and not just the best men for the job. But it goes deeper and wider than that.

Talking around the table with some of our female developers this week, it was interesting to listen to their take on the importance of encouraging more women into tech roles. Clare said: “Where previously ‘IT’ sometimes felt like a separate subject, now it feels more like tech is integrated into many different areas, and often in service of something else. For example, at Castlight we’re harnessing tech to try and deliver a safer financial world and that has a wide appeal”. Laura, who recently joined us from New Zealand, added: “We’re not just writing code. We are problem solving and that’s gender neutral. In fact a diverse team has the advantage of accessing different ways of problem solving.” Amy pointed out that “we won’t even be having this discussion in a few years time as kids are being brought up on the iPad, not gendered in any way.” And Hayley highlighted that attracting more women into tech is a self-fulfilling prophecy. “The more women on a development team, the more appealing that company is to women. I have been put off applying for jobs where I knew I would the only female developer.”

So, of course it’s good for companies to attract and sustain gender diverse development teams. And we will continue to recruit the best people for the job and for the team.

However, where the issue of women in tech gets really interesting is that encouraging women into tech isn’t just good for their careers and good for tech companies, its good for the users of tech too. Algorithms need women.

Hannah Kuchler in the Financial Times has said: ‘Given that algorithms are rapidly becoming responsible for more decisions about our lives, deployed by banks, healthcare companies and governments, built-in gender bias is a concern. The AI industry, however, employs an even lower proportion of women than the rest of the tech sector, and there are concerns that there are not enough female voices influencing machine learning. Kuchler goes on to quote Sara Wachter-Boettcher, author of Technically Wrong, who says: ‘I think we don’t often talk about how it is bad for the technology itself, we talk about how it is bad for women’s careers. Does it matter that the things that are profoundly changing and shaping our society are only being created by a small slice of people with a small sliver of experience.’

Yes Ms Wachter-Boettcher, it matters very much.

Our affordability products are for everyone who needs them, developed and created by our team of talented men and women. That’s something that’s important to us and, increasingly, to the users of our products.

Castlight Financial, Big Issue Invest and Advice Direct Scotland launch fintech tool

Today (5th June) Castlight Financial, the Glasgow-based financial capability company, Big Issue Invest (BII) and Advice Direct Scotland (ADS) launched a tool that will empower people struggling with debt by providing them with access to their own data. Read more