Two Belfast-based female founders disrupting charitable giving through Fintech

Fintech is not widely recognised as the most ‘female friendly’ sector. The STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematical) sector, more generally has struggled with gender diversity.

Even though Fintech is one of the fastest growing sectors in the UK and contributes £7 Billion annually to the economy, females remain underrepresented. Statistics from Deloitte show that less than 30% of the UK’s Fintech workforce is female.

Despite this disparity, two females are challenging the status quo and spearheading the Fintech revolution locally.

Carol Rossborough and Ailis Mone have recently set up ESTHER, a pocket-to-pocket giving app which allows users to give directly to individuals living in poverty.

Currently 250 donors and 18 charity partners are signed up with ESTHER and they will launch an Empowering Mothers Programme on International Women’s Day. They are also focused on firmly positioning this as a white label product to be replicated in the US market.

It is the mission of ESTHER to see 100,000 families lifted out of poverty in the next five years and it is this driving focus on the good which Fintech can have that motivated Carol and Ailis to enter this market. Speaking from their base in Catalyst Belfast Fintech Hub, Carol said:

“We quickly concluded that despite the great sustainable development work happening across cities, inner city poverty is getting worse. We recognised that there was a gap in the market to develop a product that was relevant especially to millennials that enabled peer-2-peer giving. It became clear to us that Fintech was the solution to a major problem and that this could be harnessed right here in Northern Ireland. We knew that the technology existed, but it is ultimately the application of this which is innovative.”

Recently, Northern Ireland has been recognised as a Centre of Excellence for Fintech and a leading global location for Fintech Investment. For Ailis, this recognition is due to the quality of talent and resources. She said:

“A number of factors contribute to our success. The talent coming through the local colleges and universities allows us to compete on a worldwide scale. Both the Catalyst Hub and Ormeau Baths have been incredibly supportive of us personally and have allowed us to use Belfast as our test market while focusing on growing our product in the US.”

Despite the under representation of females in the Fintech industry, Carol and Ailis both described the sector as ‘gender neutral’ and believe that in many cases, their gender has helped them and their business concept. Carol added:

“In many ways, when we have been seeking finance and support, there has been a recognition of the lack of females in the sector. We are also very lucky to have been championed by male figures in the sector particularly Seamus Cushley, Alex Lee, David Allister and Fintech Envoy, Andrew Jenkins. This has been crucial to our progress.”

Regardless of this, more needs to be done to encourage females into the industry and to break down the barriers to entry. Ailis said:

“Often when we are telling other women about our job, they automatically assume it’s all about coding and that’s not the case. To succeed, you need to be a problem solver and an opportunist who is willing to put yourself out there. If you have an idea, start small and most importantly, never disqualify yourself.”

Praising the innovative work of Carol and Ailis, Fintech Envoy for Northern Ireland Andrew Jenkins said:

“The innovation which is at the heart of the ESTHER product is really groundbreaking and is evidence of the good which Fintech can bring to wider society. The success Carol and Ailis have achieved is really encouraging and is evidence of the exciting opportunities which exist.”

“However, it is important that we acknowledge the gender disparities while working together to encourage females into the sector. As Fintech Envoy, I am committed to engaging with all stakeholders and doing everything to break down the barriers to a career in this growing sector.”

To view the ESTHER app, go to – app.esther.org.uk.