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Aviva CIO on backing the future of fintech

Aviva CIO on backing the future of fintech | Insurance Business UK

Aviva CIO on backing the future of fintech

“Female entrepreneurs currently lead just 4% of UK tech startups and this needs to change.”

Shedding light on the current lay of the fintech land, Ben Luckett, chief innovation officer at the British insurance giant Aviva, highlighted the gulf in investment backing female leaders across tech companies. When you see the statistics associated with female entrepreneurship, it’s clear the whole venture capital industry needs to make a change, he said – and Aviva is committed to doing its part in helping to drive that change.

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The insurer recently announced a $10 million investment into the Anthemis Female Innovators Lab Fund – financing that will specifically support UK-based fintech firms which are founded by women. Discussing how the partnership came about, he highlighted that the fund, which was created in 2019 and already has some investment from Barclays, is focused on investing in pre-seed and seed stage female founders in fintech.

“We came across it because the fund is run by the venture capital fund Anthemis and we’ve actually invested in a couple of their other funds,” he said. “So, we knew the business, we knew the teams and we got to know how they work. When they opened up this fund earlier this year to additional investment, we started that conversation. And we’re very excited to back it because I think it’s just an absolutely brilliant fund and thesis.”

Aviva is very conscientious about the investments it makes, and Luckett noted that three key elements made this partnership the right opportunity. Firstly, he said, it very much aligns with the company’s broader strategic investment appetite. Aviva makes investments into funds, and directly into startups, where it sees a good opportunity for a strategic and financial return, and where it can work closely with the funds to deliver powerful insights for its business and support its portfolio businesses in their growth.

“Secondly, and probably most importantly, there is a significant gap between the funding that goes to male and female founders,” he said. “We’ve noticed this and we signed up to the ‘Investing in Women Code’ a few years ago and started seeing that data and it was clear that the whole VC market needed to change. And of course, this also aligns to our broader agenda at Aviva in terms of both supporting diversity and women in finance.”

Aviva did evaluate several other initiatives focused on female founders, Luckett said, but this fund really stood out not least for its exceptional team. When he had the opportunity to meet with the founders and spend time with those running the fund, the broad alignment of their values and ethos became very clear – supported by Aviva’s existing relationship with Anthemis.

“And then thirdly, the opportunity for us to learn and work with some of the portfolio companies was also very strong,” he said. “So beyond investing, we are keen as Aviva to make sure that we’re understanding and seeing new technologies and new propositions coming through to both support broader financial services and also to think about ways that we can collaborate with the new and different to support our customers.

“My philosophy is very much one about collaboration and partnership. And we try and do that with the broader startup ecosystem and this gave us another opportunity to meet, to understand, and to work with emerging propositions and technology. So, it has all been very exciting and I’m delighted that we’ve made the investment.”

In an ideal world, there would be no need for investment into funds specifically relating to any single quantifier, but as it stands the market does need catalysts to create a fair and equitable environment. It is necessary for people to take a stand, Luckett said, and not just to talk about equality but to take action and make investments into the ecosystems capable of creating real change.

Such funds are critical in raising awareness of the gap that exists in the investment community, he said, because a lot of people are simply not aware of the extent to which it exists. These investment opportunities are essential to moving conversations forward and to role-modelling what can be done.

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“This is also critical to inspiring a younger generation,” he said. “And I think part of the challenge that I see, particularly with women in technology, is that it can start at such an early age - that you get this imbalance between… boys and girls and what they’re focused on. This is why we support that Code First Girls piece because it really needs to start at an earlier age – enabling people of whatever gender to see the whole range of opportunities available and not just assume that the boys are the ones who can go and learn computer science.”

The companies that embrace the full spectrum of talent will quickly find what a win-win situation that represents – with role-modelling what’s possible being reflected in a diverse and fulfilled talent pipeline. Looking across Aviva, Luckett highlighted how senior leaders such as Amanda Blanc [group CEO], Charlotte Jones [CFO] and Andrea Montague [CRO] are leading that conversation, and doing incredible jobs in championing and representing the range of opportunities in insurance.

Aviva will serve as a strategic partner to the fund, he said, which goes far beyond just a financial contribution. Getting the investment signed, sealed and announced is just the beginning, and the team at Aviva is looking forward to working with Anthemis on the ground to support its portfolio companies where it can add value. The fund is looking to make more investments in the UK, which Aviva will be on hand to support.

“[In addition], we will work with them to understand the pipeline of technologies and propositions that are coming through so we can think about how to reflect them in how we’re thinking about serving customers,” he said. “And we will potentially look at some of these companies for direct investment as well.”

For Aviva, effective investment is not about a once-and-done approach but rather active and strategic partnerships, he said, and with that in mind the insurer will continue to arrange events and networking activities to bring these portfolio companies together. Across Aviva, Luckett noted that there are so many people who would love to increase their exposure to such opportunities and vice versa – and he relishes the opportunity to bring those entrepreneurially minded people together to build that community.

“To date, it’s really been my team and the Anthemis team working together to get the deal done, but now it’s done, we can open that up to our colleagues and they can see this work firsthand which I think is really exciting,” he said. “Working and partnering with [these entrapreneurs] is just a great part of my job. And I’m regularly humbled and inspired by the entrepreneurs we work with because they’re so fantastic, driven and passionate - and that’s great to see.”