One on One with Women’s World Banking’s Manager for Digital Financial Services

September 4, 2017

Diana Boncheva Gooley, Digital Financial Services Manager at Women's World BankingDigital financial services are so ubiquitous now, it’s easy to forget that little more than a decade ago, the industry barely existed. Diana Boncheva Gooley, who recently joined Women’s World Banking as Manager for Digital Financial Services, remembers the early days when she began working with then-experimental businesses  that have since become a major industry.

The Bulgaria native found her way to the emerging field after completing a graduate degree in Latin American Studies at SAIS Johns Hopkins and working on NAFTA and other free-trade issues at the North American Commission for Labor Cooperation in Washington DC and the Mexican Ministry for the Economy in Mexico City. Gooley started as a mobile money analyst and manager for a remittance price comparison portal at then-newcomer Mondato. She then landed a role at paythru, a FinTech startup in London, where she launched a variety of mobile payments solutions at such famed institutions as the London Eye.  She then went back to head Strategic Partnerships and Projects at Mondato, helping establish the firm as one of the premier consultancies in digital finance. Mobile Fintech is now a fast-growing industry, and Gooley is deeply versed in its ever-evolving intricacies and challenges. At Women’s World Banking, she looks forward to helping financial institutions identify and implement the digital solutions that will transform women’s lives. We spoke with her one summer afternoon, as she was preparing to dive into her new role.

The industry is very complex and there are many moving parts.

How did you find your way into digital finance and FinTech?

A lot of things in my life have been coincidences and lucky chances. This was one of them. After graduate school, I wanted to work in emerging markets since that’s what I studied. I found a company that did telecoms consultancy in emerging markets, but they said they weren’t looking for anyone in that business. Instead they were starting a firm, Mondato, which would be sort of a Kayak for remittances as well as a research/consultancy for mobile money. Because of my background in labor economics, that move made sense. I didn’t know what mobile money was because this was 2008, right after M-Pesa had taken off (in 2007). But I decided to take a chance and learn more about it, and it worked out.

Does working in a rapidly changing field like digital financial services (DFS) present unique challenges?

The most challenging thing has been that the industry is very complex and there are many moving parts, so you always have to stay abreast of new developments. You have to educate your business customers (e.g., banks) on what DFS is, why they should work in the space. They rely on us to help them navigate the space and to tell them what’s happening, what they can do and how they can do that.

Women are half of their target audience. If they don’t serve women, they can never properly scale their services.

What are some of your most memorable experiences in the industry?

When I worked for paythru, and we did a mobile ticketing solution for the London Eye. It’s a big tourist attraction, so people have to wait in long lines, get their tickets, then wait in line to get on. We developed a solution to buy tickets on your smartphone, and we advertised it on the back of the Thames Clippers commuter boats. You’d send a text message, then you’d get a text message back with a URL. Once you click on that, you’d get a payment page to fill out so you could get your tickets on your mobile phone. That was in 2012. At the time, not many people were doing that yet.

What are you looking forward to at Women’s World Banking?

One exciting goal is figuring out how to make digital finance really work for women, and helping providers and other institutions perform well. We have to focus on the business case, and on how this can be a profitable segment. Once we can prove that to other organizations, this can help us get other players inspired to think that yes, they should serve low-income women.

Women are half of their target audience. If they don’t serve women, they can never properly scale their services.

Do women face specific challenges when it comes to DFS?

ext 8 Technology is challenging not only for low-income women but particularly for them. The solutions can be clunky and complex. You have to key in access codes, instructions, a PIN number.  If my mother, who is a college-educated woman, only recently learned how to send text messages, how do we expect women with no education or a low level of education to use a feature phone for financial services? It’s quite complex… for anyone.

Maybe phones are not the thing that we should focus on for low-income women in the short term. There are other digital solutions out there, but some of them can still be very difficult.

You’re the cofounder of the GeekGirl L.A. chapter. What does that organization do?

GeekGirl was founded in Sweden and has a few chapters in London and other cities. It brings together women who are interested in technology and design, including coding, to inspire them and try to help them advance their careers in technology. Women network in different ways, especially in the tech space, where there are way fewer women than men. I do this in my free time on a volunteer basis with the friend I launched the chapter with.

What else do you enjoy doing in your free time?

I love to read and travel. My friends are all over the world, so I like to travel to see them.  I don’t know if I’m going to travel much during my time off now though, since I do that all the time for work. I also love good food, and the food is great here in L.A. There are so many fresh fruits and vegetables. Especially after living for two years in Hong Kong, where so much of the food is imported—cucumbers from New Zealand, tomatoes from Holland—it’s nice to have really fresh produce around.