Inspiring Women in Fintech: Interview with Zee West

Zee West, Co-Founder of Picnic Bank, discusses why education is underrated, learning to negotiate like a supervillain, and more.

This week we talk to an inspiring woman who is a founder, entrepreneur, influencer and business mentor.

Zoe (Zee) West is the Co-Founder of Picnic Bank, a ‘fintech for good’ platform based in London. Picnic wants to help individuals, startups, SMEs and communities to create financial wellbeing roadmaps. The company is currently in talks with a US bank.

Zee West
Zee West, Co-Founder of Picnic Bank

Her other plans include launching an eco lifestyle service and social wellbeing network called Wild Things; working on an augmented wealth platform for women; and developing a TV series ‘The First Great Expedition’ where billionaires, celebrities and scientists witness the worst six points of climate change each year and pledge to change it by the end of the episode.

She is also the founder of Innovation Hubs and a fintech influencer via her #WeAreFintech communities and Fintech for Good Accelerator in the UK and US.

How and where did you start your career in fintech?

It was falling in love with crowdfunding and working with several of the major players in the UK. It gave women a chance to raise funding on an equal footing. Also heralding the local business as the heroes they should be. Communities and charities needed a neutral place to raise funding and give the armchair investor a way to give back and get excited about the world they were helping grow. I went on to work with Intelligent Crowd TV – and this also satiated my creative side as well as pure finance.

Are there any women in tech or fintech that have particularly inspired you?

Anna Fielding who ran The Finance Innovation Lab, hugely inspired me after I saw a talk that she gave about really innovating within fintech and pursuing ‘fintech for good’ in a serious form. There are many strong women I have met throughout my career in different roles who have stayed true to their core. Dawn Musgrave, formerly at the Department for International Trade, has been an inspiration on how to supercharge roles she has been in and start her own business throughout these stormy last few years in the UK and triumph.

Angelina Jolie’s speech at the Humanitarian Awards in 2013 about always ‘Live a life in use to others’, has always stayed with me – and even more relevant to re-watch with the refugees struggling all over the world.

Finally, my mother Angela, who has always been a serial adventurer, travelled around the world in her 20s alone when it wasn’t done, got her black belt in her 40s, and even now in her 80s looking after her community while always glowing.

What’s the most pressing issue for women in fintech today?

Realising that financial education is critical to the whole of their lives not just in times of crisis, which is usually when women reach out to their network for urgent advice. I think having strong role models to aspire to rather than Instagram influencers whose appearance is centre stage. Being a business woman and constantly continuing one’s education is underrated in today’s media. Now we have top universities and accelerators like Y-Combinator with free access to help any woman or girl with WiFi succeed.

What challenges did you face when founding and running Picnic Bank?

I came up with the vision of Picnic just before COVID-19 broke out, which created huge issues for my company at the time. Luckily I approached the unwavering rock Marcello DeMello – before COVID fully took hold – to be my co-founder, having exited a ‘fintech for good’ in Brazil.

Making sure you have the right fit for the market out of the blocks and doing something that is a true innovation is a much harder task than anyone would imagine. Keeping positive and wise people around you always helps shortcut any hardships and helps you flip issues into new paths forwards. Vesting of shares and an employee pool is very important, and working with people in a pressurised environment for over a year helps you see who is there for the long journey. Most unicorns have had a run-up of many years of sheer cliff faces, but you only start hearing about them when they go viral. So be assured it’s mostly hard work and not Hollywood glamour that makes a startup shine.

Being ambitious is an amazing trait to have, but this requires stages of hardship, endurance and Jedi-style focus.

What advice would you give to women looking to get into fintech?

In any sector: read widely on the subject, use lots of the different apps to see what is missing or what sparks in your mind for an industry-changing idea or unique twist. Learn to negotiate like a supervillain. Investors will use everything in their arsenal to get the best deal. Finance is still a widely-guarded industry with traditional networks and gatekeepers.

Remember network and profit are still king in this battlefield. Generally it takes seven to ten years to build your network in a new city or industry, and to have a real steer for success. I had three startups previously and then worked for other fintechs and banks to learn the ropes. To quote Pablo Picasso: “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.” Looking at many great unicorns straight in the eyes, it’s usually breaking out from the inside. 

Check out the previous fintech-themed interview with Bethan Unsworth, Co-Founder of ReforestPay, here.

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