Kayoko Francis: What It’s Like To Be A Woman In Fintech

When one is empowered, they can then go on to empower others. That is exactly the vision that Kayoko Francis, CEO of Finesse Digital Asia, has for the financial world.

She first found interest in finance and investing in her younger years when she spending time with her grandfather. He was the one who taught her how the trading market works. Inspired by his teachings and feeling empowered by the knowledge passed on to her, she pursued her career in the financial industry.

Today, Kayoko has founded her very own fintech company in Singapore. The mum of two and a triathlete is an overachiever in every way. With more than 16 years of experience in banking and wealth management, Kayoko has already secured Tokyo-based Nihon Capital Securities as a client within six months of operations. 

This is how she’s done it:

What inspired you to start Finesse Digital?

Living in Singapore, being the regional financial hub, you have a sense of the latest trends in the fintech industry. For the past 5 years, fintech has mainly focused on payment services but gradually, has started to shift to the lending sector. My sense is that Digital Wealth Management will be the trend in the fintech market soon, which is why I have started Finesse Digital Asia.

Another reason for starting up the company is that regulations for financial institutions are becoming stricter. Since then, banks have too many regulations and compliances to follow. There are a lot of administrative tasks to do and the industry has become very product centric.

Financial institutions have been challenged to come up with a new strategy to become more customer-centric instead, as the market expects them to understand the customer needs and to come up with suitable products.

Robo-advisors will try to identify risk profiles and understand customers’ life goals. This is something which was only available for high net worth individuals. It is also something retail banks could never achieve. Through Finesse Digital Asia, I want to minimise the manual work and digitise wealth management for the financial institutions and provide portfolios to the retail level.

What are some of the challenges you faced during the start of the business and how did you overcome them?

Due to our business model, which is currently business-to-business, our clients are financial institutions. As we are a technology provider, we needed to hire someone who’s specialised in IT. It was a challenge to hire someone from an IT background because my field was not IT and I couldn’t tell if the person was worth hiring or not.

Hiring process took quite some time and until today, it’s still a challenge to build a good team with mutual respect.

Who do you hope to benefit from Finesse Digital’s robo-advisory services?

Though our direct clients are financial institutions, when banks started to provide robo-advisors, it will become more accessible to the general public (and not just HNWIs).

Personally, who inspires you to do what you do every day?

Chris Skinner, the Fintech Pioneer. I have read all of his publications. Many people will discuss and publish their own thoughts about the technology revolution after it has happened. However, Chris Skinner will tell you the future of Fintech from a visionary’s perspective.

What are some exciting projects Finesse Digital Asia is currently working on?

Currently, we are working on launching the robo-advisor in South East Asia. We hope to build strong partnerships with financial institutions in the region to develop solutions and services to suit their needs.

Fintech in South East Asia will be developed over the next 5 years, and I hope to see Finesse Digital with more strategic contracts and partnerships with financial institutions around this region.

What is one key advice you would like to share with women entrepreneurs out there?

Although we are all hoping for no gender discrimination in the world, that is still hardly the case. There are still very few women in leadership in the IT field. We need more women product leaders in the Fintech industry.

There are over 200 fintech companies in Singapore alone, many run by men. Don’t let this intimidate you if you want to get your idea out there.