“Democratizing” Finance: Making Investing, Saving, and Access to Capital Available to All - Cynthia Plouché
Innovations in financial technology (FinTech) hold the promise of improving the quality of life for all. These advances enable more people with fewer resources to leverage the power of banking, investment, and other financial services.
We’re talking with Cynthia Plouché, a seasoned financial services executive and facilitator of opportunity, about her perspective on the impact of FinTech on social change.
Cynthia, you’ve said FinTech can help us ‘democratize finance.’ What does that term mean, and how does this process benefit society?
“Democratizing financial services means making the activities of banking, investing, and saving more accessible to more people, period. FinTech apps make it easier for all consumers to take control of their financial lives. At the corporate level, companies are making it easier for entrepreneurs who want to start their own business, particularly people of color and women.
“For example, ESSENCE Communications Inc is one of the founding strategic partners for the $100 million New Voices Fund, which started this year and invests in businesses owned or managed by women of color. Goldman Sachs launched a program to advance racial equity and economic opportunity by investing in Black women. The company’s “One Million Black Women” initiative commits $10 billion in investment capital and $100 million in philanthropic support. American Express has a similar initiative to support Black women entrepreneurs in jump-starting and raising capital for their start-up companies. Its ‘100 for 100’ program provides each of 100 Black women entrepreneurs with $25,000 grants and 100 days of business resources to grow their businesses.
“Beyond those examples, we’re seeing more and more of the nation’s largest financial service organizations democratize their programs. After the unrest our country experienced when George Floyd was killed, consumers and stakeholders called on American corporations to invest in social justice causes. Happily, many responded and became a new source of funding such initiatives — not only by providing access to dollars for new businesses but also by creating programs that pay for college education and providing internships at the C-suite level.
“This is a promising trend, as companies control so much wealth and opportunity and can have a hugely positive impact on our shared culture and collective empowerment.”
Tell us about how democratizing finance has intersected with the organizations you devote your time to.
“Here’s an example. I’ve been serving as a strategic advisor, angel investor, and founding board chair to a young entrepreneur named Noah Plewa in launching a social venture, “Village.” Village is a venture capital–backed organization working to promote curiosity in children up to age 18 by connecting them with extracurricular learning experiences outside of school. Village is especially focused on addressing the barriers to accessing these sorts of educational opportunities that under-resourced and marginalized families face.
“We recently completed a highly-successful pilot launch of Village’s first product — a software-as-a-service tool for out-of-school providers — in Noah’s hometown of Eau Claire, WI. Together, to benefit others who are starting initiatives that address societal challenges, Noah and I will be sharing the lessons we learned about how to raise capital for, and launch, a new business — and how to capture attention for it in a highly competitive world.”
How can we make it simpler for us all to understand finance as more markets become available to all?
“It starts with financial education at the K-12 and college levels. Financial services companies have stepped up to provide educational programs in the schools. Ariel Investments, for example, offers a full investment curriculum designed to create ‘financially literate kids’ for a ‘financially literate society.’ Civic groups like the Junior Economic Club of Chicago offer additional learning opportunities, while social media platforms open doors for us all to share knowledge.
“As the FinTech industry rapidly expands, so will its abiding imperative: to provide the assurance that our personal information is always protected. The future must be paved with consumer trust.”
Thank you, Cynthia, for your thoughtful observations.
Cynthia R. Plouché is the founder and CEO of The Alzenia Project, a nonprofit organization that leverages the impact of other nonprofits to help young women of color achieve personal and professional growth. Along with her devotion to advancing diversity, Cynthia is also an inspiring business leader. She has a successful career in investment management, including more than 10 years as co-founder and chief investment officer of a woman-owned firm and culminating in ongoing corporate board leadership within the mutual fund industry.
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