When I'm asked what I do, I tell people I'm both a financial inclusion advocate and a startup founder.
Because this is often fairly alien for people to picture, I might ask them to imagine a Venn diagram, with one circle being the world of financial inclusion – where academics, charities, regulators, governments and others point out how and why financial services are not well designed for all – and the other circle being the world of tech startups, so-called 'fintech' innovations, and all of the jargon that surrounds that world. I'm in the middle.
My financial inclusion work has been ongoing since 2016/17, when I became really interested in how fintech innovations might be used to solve big hairy problems around inclusion. I'd met Polly Mackenzie at an event and she'd explained how she was starting a research charity focused on the link between money and mental health problems. As someone who lives with mental health issues, I was inspired to learn more. At the time I was at Monzo and Polly was kind enough to come in and speak to the team about the research she'd been doing, and we kept in touch.
In 2018 I decided to prototype an app that could help people struggling with managing their money focus on the basics. I was inspired by the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute's research, and was able to use an Open Banking hackathon to build out a basic version of the app. Our team won and received £10k in prize money – my share went towards building out the prototype into something we could start testing with users.
In late 2018 I applied for and won grant funding to continue building the app, then called Toucan. In 2019 I built a team and together we were able to design, build and test the app, working hand-in-hand with experts and people with lived experience of mental health and money problems. This experience taught us a lot about working with and designing for so-called 'vulnerable consumers', and I wrote the project up into a detailed report, 'Let's talk about money'.
Off the back of my work on Toucan I was approached by the Money Advice Trust, who run training on product design for people in the industry. I ran training sessions and also authored an industry guide to inclusive design, published both by Money Advice Trust and Fair By Design.
Since I have experience working with Open Banking and other fintech innovations, as well as understanding on some financial inclusion issues, I've been asked to join the Government's Financial Inclusion Policy Forum and the Financial Inclusion Commission, and I try to add value to both where I can.
Fintech innovation and startup culture
I've worked in and around fintech since 2010. My first startup job was with Funding Options, the business finance comparison site, then I went to MarketInvoice (now MarketFinance), then Monzo. I've also worked with Zopa, Wagestream and other smaller brands as a trainer and contractor.
For the most part I've worked in marketing and product roles, although for a short time I worked as a junior Software Engineer, so at least I'm fluent in some more technical ways of thinking.
Of course, I've started my own fintech startup, which helps a lot in understanding how things go from nothing to something. At Toucan we were part of the famous Techstars startup accelerator and were also a part of Nesta's Open Up 2020 Challenge alongside other Open Banking innovators.
Nowadays, when I'm not working on my own startup, I'm either training or advising other startups on how to design products while being mindful of vulnerability and exclusion, or I'm working with the Global Open Finance Centre of Excellence, attached to the University of Edinburgh, in order to help push industry understanding of the risks and opportunities involved in Open Finance.
I'm the founder of a fintech-for-good research lab called Touco.
Touco (formerly called Toucan) has been around since March 2018, when I won an Open Banking hackathon with an idea about how to help people with long term mental health difficulties access support around managing their money from a family member or carer.
I'd experienced mental health problems myself, and having worked with the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute (MMHPI) during my time at Monzo, I knew that this was a huge and growing problem.
For the first year it was just me on my own, working up prototypes and talking to experts about how we might build a product that helps vulnerable people manage their money better.
At the beginning of 2019, Touco was given the opportunity to be a part of a programme called Open Banking for Good, supported by Nationwide Building Society. As part of the programme we received funding and support from charity partners, including MMHPI.
We were able to build out the team, build the first version of a mobile app, and run a pilot alongside Northumbria University, all in our first six months. At the end of that project I published a report on our findings, 'Let's talk about money'.
Since then we've been chosen as finalists as part of Nesta's Open Up 2020 Challenge, gone through the Barclays Techstars 2020 accelerator, released a new version of our app and announced that we're building a Care Card with support from Innovate UK.
“A new app that gives parents, friends and carers oversight on loved ones’ finances without having to hand over direct control” – Which?
A quick summary would be that I've worked in fintech for the best part of a decade, mainly in early stage startups and scale-ups including Monzo, MarketInvoice (now MarketFinance), Funding Options and Zopa.
MarketFinance was where I spent the most time, joining as employee number twelve and the first person in marketing, and leaving as Head of Marketing with six people in my team.
Although I've mainly been in marketing and product roles, for a short time in 2017, I also worked as a software engineer.
Before getting into fintech I was interested in becoming a writer and musician, having studied English Literature at university. But when I fell into tech, I loved it. The huge variety of work is what keeps me on my toes, and over the last ten years I've seen how fintechs have really managed to change financial services for the better. It's great to feel part of that movement.
Believe it or not, I'm more than a fintech nerd! Among other things:
- I care deeply about diversity and inclusion.
- I like baking, and make a mean chocolate chip cookie.
- I'm a part of an amazing group of lifelong learners called Enrol Yourself.
- I harbour a secret desire to go back to university to study economics.
- I love going on long train trips (longest so far was Chicago to San Francisco in 4 days!).
© Bailey Kursar 2021. All Rights Reserved.