The history of Fintech and the #fintechgirls

Andra Sonea
5 min readMar 6, 2021

Last week, Simon Redfern of Open Banking Project sent me this old photo from a BarCampBank in Berlin in 2011. At the time, the term “open banking” was unheard of and in my personal fintech world, I credit Simon with the term. I am sorry he did not copyrighted the expression. Simon writes here about his eleven years of open banking work.

BarCampBank Berlin 2011. At Open Bank Project organised by Tesobe, Simon Redfern.

At the time of this event I was an IBM consultant, working on risk systems in one of the UK banks. What made me fly to Berlin for an “un-conference” when fintech was not even a word, I don’t know but I flew. BarCampBank un-conferences are a weird type of thing. For somebody like me, coming from a consulting environment where you had to be an expert in order to say something, BarCamp was the opposite of my working environment. Anybody could have an opinion at BarCamp and Simon and Berlin aggregated there people from various walks of life who wanted, to my surprise, something from banking. They wanted it to be “open” and they even had quite clear ideas about the features they wanted. I cannot tell you how unusual this was for me. At this event I met Duena Blomstrom who became my friend for many years.

This was not my first BarCampBank though. The first was in London almost three years before, held in the basement of Sun Microsystems in London. If you look at the list of participants at this event, you’ll recognise many names which over the years came to do quite amazing things in Fintech. Looking retrospectively through the pictures which are miraculously still online, I see Thomas Barker who organised the event, “the” Chris Skinner who went on to run the fabulous Financial Service Club, Tuomas Toivonen who founded Holvi Bank, Simon Armitage who worked for years in Innovation in HSBC, Cameron Stevens who founded Prodigy Finance, Alexander Osterwalder who went on to create Business Canvas Model, Dave Birch who run many BarCampBanks afterwards at Nesta, just before people would come to town for Finovate. Sean Park who went on to create Anthemis could not join for the day but he was on the list. Eight years later Sean would offer me a fellowship with Anthemis.

BarCampBank1 London, July 2008, Sun MicroSystems

The thing is, we all spent a Saturday in the basement of an office in London to discuss why we think banking should change and how. I was often the only woman in the room but this really is not the point at all. At the time we’ve met, none of these people founded or invested in the things they will be well known for later on. We did not know of each other then but we’ve got to meet many times over the years while each of us followed the dream, the passion, the obsession with better financial services. It is strange to me that one morning all these minds were together in one room. I would like a one over 13 years after.

Later BarCampBanks were organised by David Birch and led me to meet other amazing minds like Alex Anisie and Brett Scott . Finovate — which came to London in 2011 led to me meeting Chris Perrien, Duncan Anderson and Sarah Greasley, each of them a visionary in their own right, a kind of person I’ve met only in the “old IBM”. Sarah remains the only female Distinguished Engineer I know, now CTO at Direct Line. Duncan founded Humanise.Ai. Chris remained a close friend for years.

The fast-paced demos of Finovate and the race between the in-crowd to figure out the business model and “doability” was pure adrenaline. We learned what works and what doesn’r by meeting people and following start-ups and prototyping with them at IBM or LBG.

Innotribe of Swift was another milestone in my Fintech world. Run by a group of mavericks, the Innotribe in Belfast in June 2012 saw the launch of Kantox, Digital Shadows and Funding Options . Each member of the team running Innotribe has been very influential in the Fintech world: Kosta Peric went to Gates Foundation to work on financial inclusion; Nektarios Liolios which you can now listen at The Future Farm, founded StartupBootcamp; Matteo Rizzi runs Fintech Stage all over the world; Mela Atanasova runs the smoothest, most ingenious workshops on the most complex problems with a unique magic wand; Peter Vander Auwera ideas ahead of their time, stirred many minds.

The #fintechgirls hashtag started a bit later. Duena organised a dinner where I finally got to meet in person Liz Lumley — who I knew before from her always pertinent reporting on finance technology for Finextra; Claire Calmejaine who later brought me at LBG, now CIO of Societe Generale; Harriet Wakelam at the time design head at Capco, now Design Director at IAG in Australia.

Soon Robbie Profeta the innovation fairy of Intessa San Paolo; and “the” Leda Glyptis then in Innovaton at Bank of New York Mellon, “joined the hashtag” around the same time. Leda writes regularly here. A must read if you are in Fintech or not.

For years while we worked in London we used the hashtag mainly to communicate between us on the way to meeting each other, at events in London or elsewhere in the world.

I am not sure what triggered me going down the memory path of Fintech. Was it the photo from Simon Redfern? Or maybe that this week I felt that nobody understood my fintech references or their relevance? I share this knowledge and history with the #fintechgirls.

I miss our camaraderie.

I miss our silly drinking nights.

I miss our discussions and shared knowledge.

I miss the kindness, authenticity and encouragements.

Wherever you are, Happy IWD21 (whatever this means).

Miss you!