“Improving Diversity in Fintech Starts at the Grassroots.” On the Record with Isabel Woodford, Sifted

For this edition, we welcomed the amiable Isabel Woodford, fintech Journalist at Sifted, a Financial Times-backed publication, telling the untold stories of European tech and diving deep into the region’s startup scene.

Welcome to ‘On The Record’ with YAP Global. A series where we speak to the journalists and leading figures in the digital asset, fintech, blockchain and cryptocurrency industry.

For this edition, we welcomed the amiable Isabel Woodford, Fintech Journalist at Sifted, a Financial Times-backed publication, telling the untold stories of European tech and diving deep into the region’s startup scene.

Isabel’s journalism journey began with an internship at Reuters, before she became the London and European reporter at The Block, writing about all things blockchain and crypto.

With a passion for international affairs, data-privacy, and gender discourse, Isabel shares with us her excitement for ‘open finance’ and why fintech journalists are perfectly placed to tackle the intersection of finance and technology in a more compelling way.

Read on to hear more from Isabel!

You’re currently a fintech journalist at Sifted but prior to this you were a reporter at the Block and your work has also been featured in the Guardian, Reuters and the New York Times. Tell us a bit about your background and what led you to journalism?

“I have to admit I didn’t always want to be a journalist. I did my degree in War Studies and then international development, so I imagined I’d end up joining an aid-agency or charity. But that changed during my Masters. I spent time interviewing ex-combatants and politicians, and became fascinated with the idea of helping people tell their stories. Plus, all the movies make journalism look super glamorous, so I thought “why not” (the movies lie).

Upon graduating, I managed to nuzzle in a short internship at Reuters in Madrid, and successfully pitched a bunch of pieces as a freelancer. I then flew out to Chicago to volunteer for the US midterms and it was there that I met The Block. They were very early on in their journey, and they took a bet on me. The rest is history, as they say!”

Your articles are a mix of news, interviews and analysis and you cover everything from the hottest fintech investments to the way neobanks are changing Britain’s banking landscape. What are some of your favourite stories to work on?

“For all my sins, it’s probably the handful of stories I’ve been first to break. It can often be the product of a lot of work in the background, so seeing that pay off is really fun. Other stories I really enjoy working on include deep-dive profiles, where you can feel a bit like a psychoanalyst trying to get to the bottom of what makes somebody tick.”

How do you see the fintech space evolving in 2021, what trends or predictions are you most excited about?

“The sector we call ‘fintech’ is only about 15 years old, so it’s now reaching a perfect sweet spot where it’s both maturing and still maximising innovation.

As a result; the companies who helped lay the foundations are reaching genuinely exciting milestones. I’m most excited to see the oldest and best list on the public stock exchange; a fresh opportunity for both scrutiny and celebration. I also think successful fintech IPOs will make big, older institutions who have long shunned technology sit up.

On the nerdier side, I’m excited about seeing the infrastructure players like Flux and Plaid continue to lay the foundations for a new era of financial integration, namely ‘open finance.’ I’m an early adopter because I cover this space, but it’s still a long way off public acceptance.”

In keeping up with such a fast evolving industry, how do you predict the future of fintech journalism will look?

“They say financial journalists don’t understand tech, and tech journalists don’t understand finance. It’s a matter of perception but clearly more needs to be done to tackle the intersection in a more compelling way. I think fintech journalists are perfectly placed to improve that, and to cover this cocktail of finance, technology, and societal change in a way that gets people interested.”

Who is your favourite person you’ve interviewed?

“Annoyingly, the best interviews tend to be off-record…so you’ll have to use your imagination!”

What else are you passionate about outside of your work at Sifted?

“International affairs, data-privacy, and gender discourse are all top of my reading list. Beyond that, I’m trying to become a better cook as I turned pescatarian three years ago and honestly, it’s still a work in progress.

My guilty pleasures include Beyonce dance-classes and The Guardian’s Dating Column on a Saturday. It’s pretty hilarious.”

We love that a lot of your research and writing revolves around elevating women leaders in European fintech. What do you think is needed to improve the overall state of diversity in this space?

“It starts at the grassroots. Give a young woman that internship, mentor a person of colour in your free time, take bias training, introduce micro promotions, push for transparent salaries, etc.

I also think there’s something to be said around addressing the fear that diversity and inclusion is a threat to some groups. This is really important; it’s tough to expect everyone to change their minds over night, and those of us with the time and mental space to invest in educating them, can make a big difference here (both men and women).”

What’s the one thing you wish PR consultants would know when pitching you a story?

“I’m probably not going to write a story about a tiny company, a product that’s yet to launch or a founder with a generic backstory. BUT, if you pitch me a trend piece which is actually interesting, and sprinkle reference to your client alongside some cool data…I’m all ears.

I have a lot of time for PRs who really invest in knowing their stuff, and also have taken a minute to weed out my interests and soft-spots.


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