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19. Underbanked, to Unstoppable with Debbie Watkins

19. Underbanked, to Unstoppable with Debbie Watkins

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Key takeaways

  • Complacency and fear prevent the banking industry from being customer-centric
  • Helping entrepreneurs build their business goes beyond just providing credit.
  • As we go about our corporate lives, there is a parallel universe with people facing a completely different set of challenges from us.

“More things join us than separate us”. While a politics of difference has proliferated mainstream thinking and become commonplace, Debbie believes that we are more similar than different. There is a responsibility for us to look out for one another. She speaks of her adventures across the world and what she has learned from these travels, namely, how women are not given the same opportunities, how entrepreneurs require more holistic support, and why banks trudge on as cold monolithic institutions. 

As Debbie became more involved in inclusive finance, it brought her to over 35 countries. One thing that she saw time and time again was that entrepreneurs face similar challenges across geographies. Firstly, entrepreneurs face difficulties applying for loans as they are not a reasonable credit risk. Based on fixed frameworks that consider the amount of collateral and salary, entrepreneurs rank poorly. However, if we look behind the curtains and attempt to understand their lives, they are probably a reasonable credit risk. Secondly, credit is not enough to keep a business running, and more holistic support must be provided. One key form of support is educating business owners on additional skills, such as building a cash flow projection. Cash flow is the biggest killer of small businesses and should be higher on the priority list for entrepreneurs. 

One thing that Debbie highlights is that women do not have as much access to finance as men. Men are funded 40 times more than women, and if women were given the same opportunities, the global economy would receive a $5 trillion boost. This is why Debbie and her co-founders started Lucy, an investment app designed for women. When asked about the name, Debbie shares that the company is all about focusing on ordinary, extraordinary women, and they wanted a name that reflected that. Also, the founders did not want to have a generic name that likened the company to a bank. Debbie comments that banks are perceived to be very formal and unwelcoming. Hence, they wanted a name that made people feel welcome despite its focus on providing financial services. Since the founders wanted something that typified an ordinary woman’s name, Lucy was chosen. 

Finally, Debbie notes that the banking industry is perceived as a cold monolithic entity because of complacency and fear. When issuing loans, banks do not consider how the loan is being used and how it will help someone grow their business. The general attitude is ‘why bother’. When Debbie was giving a workshop on customer-centric product design to banks, someone in the audience noted that it was too much work and wondered why they should bother. The other quality holding them back is fear. It is often intimidating when branching out to serve a new market segment. This goes hand-in-hand with complacency as financial institutions would rather feign ignorance and carry on with the status quo rather than attempting to do anything different.

Meet Our Guest Speaker

Debbie Watkins

Co-founder and CEO at Lucy

Debbie Watkins has over 20 years of experience in finance technology. She has led customer-centric market research and product development engagements and supported her clients in implementing and assessing digital platforms. She has also acted as Project Director for a number of long-term multi-million dollar financial service solution implementations. As an individual, she has explored many regions of the globe, living in a wide range of countries and working in over 30 of them.

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