Women in fintech are spearheading the movement to democratize finance and break down internal barriers for gender equity. Diversity is critical, and leaders like Ally Invest President Lule Demmissie are at the forefront because their diverse backgrounds provide a natural lens to build out full-service online investment platforms that center around inclusion.
As President of Ally Invest, Demmissie is responsible for Ally Invest Securities, Ally Invest Advisors and application programming interface business lines. She is responsible for the products and services delivered to Ally’s all-digital client base; the shaping of the client experience; and the management of the profit and loss (P&L) statement and growth strategy for the business.
Demmissie has a passion for investor behavior, agile product development and an appreciation of design thinking in shaping user-centric experiences. She will outline the ways advisers should be offering personalized client experiences during a keynote presentation at the InvestmentNews FinTech Virtual Summit on March 23.
Demmissie is an advocate for empowering everyone to take control of their financial futures. She’s a firm believer that what we all have in common in our financial challenges and concerns far exceeds our differences, but there is no doubt that “financial wellbeing” is not the same among all groups, she said.
As a financial executive with a range of intersectional identities, a woman of color and a member of the LGBTQ community to name a few, she has a perspective that is much needed and not often represented on the investment and financial challenges facing a variety of communities.
“So how we hire, how we shape the consultative process to be more mindful of inclusive thought processes and consultation processes,” Demmissie said. “What we’re also trying to break the ceiling of is the lack of engagement that comes from Black and Brown communities.”
What follows is an edited version of Demmissie’s conversation with InvestmentNews.
Nicole Casperson: Please share how your diverse background has shaped your role as a leading woman in fintech?
Lule Demmissie: I’m hoping to be one of the champions that changes that profile of not being. I often talk about how I don’t want to be a unicorn, I want to be a farm horse. I don’t want to be rare. That’s part of the mission I have in my career is to try to figure out how to continuously drive inclusion and representation while we serve our customers with the excellent products and services that we can. It’s a delicate dance and one that I find to be important.
In terms of my background, I’d say there’s three ways that my background has informed me. One is I’m an immigrant. My parents left my country of birth, which is Ethiopia, for two reasons: Political freedom and freedom of thought. I’m now a naturalized American.
[Ethiopia] was a very oppressive regime and my parents were seeking opportunity for their children. So they left midlife to try to make an opportunity for us. I really learned from that grit that comes when you leave your homeland.
I grew up in different parts of the world. By the time I was 18, I was on four different continents. That really fueled me, the ability for a lot of rapid change in my life. So that’s one part of my identity.
The second part of my identity is like just being the other in the room. There are elements of my identity that are visible, and then there are other identity elements that are not visible. Whether it is being gay or dyslexic, which I am. I often out myself that way as well, because I want people who have any learning disability to know that’s not something that has to hold you back.
In different parts of my life, my otherness, the ones that were out or the ones that we’re not seen could be sources of like how I was struggling to fit in. But now, I often say it is my superpower, because it has given me the ability to empathize and connect and really see people who are unseen by others.
Lastly, I grew up, as I said, in many different parts of the world by the time I was 18. A lot of the schools I went to were very diverse. In fact, I would say in most of the schools I went to, one identity, didn’t dominate the group.
There’s something I learned out of that, which is the power of majority minority communities and the actual power that has in figuring out harmony and figuring out innovation. That really fuels the ability for people to check each other’s blind spots, if you will, to enrich the experience, because there are different perspectives that come from it.
NC: Tell us about the big projects on your plate right now with Ally Invest?
LD: Part of it is just keeping up with the robust growth that the market is giving us through the conditions of the rapid change that’s happening in our world and some of the stay at home orders that we’ve had. People have been really engaged in finance and investing in this digital period.
So it’s really making sure that we keep up with that growth and grow up with that growth, which is fantastic. Having the kind of customers that want to invest for the first time or otherwise get engaged in investing, but also making sure that we continue to build out products and services that match our client’s needs, which is really where a lot of our ideation comes from.
We’re working on coming out with a wealth offering that’s much more robust and high touch compared with most players out there, which is really exciting. But as we shape it, making sure its genesis has inclusion at the center.
NC: It takes a leader with your type of background and uniqueness to bring that messaging forward.
LD: I’ve never had the feeling that it was a zero sum game — that just because I got in the room, nobody else could. That helps the confidence that comes within and the responsibility that comes with knowing that you’re there to do the work that improves the process and the system.
My job is to make sure I give Ally Invest customers the best products and services that I can, but also make the process and system better before by the time somebody else takes over. Thankfully, Ally is a very special institution. So none of this is uphill.
NC: Women, when they enter financial services, we can feel this need to blend in. How do you overcome that?
LD: Wanting to blend in as a human — all of us intrinsically have that. Belonging is coded in us. The difference though, is when you’ve come from an identity where there’s no way that you could have blended in practically speaking, you end up realizing that it’s a shroud, that’s a waste of time.
What you want to do is make connection points with people. It doesn’t mean you’re coming in to burn down the earth. You’re going to make relationships and connection points, but don’t spend your time worrying about covering up.
NC: Does that thought process help with any type of imposter syndrome women may feel?
LD: I say out loud in moments that I don’t feel like I belong. Part of leadership is showing that vulnerability so that people don’t start thinking that you have to be a superhero to become a leader. Leadership is a very human and flawed exercise. The difference is you just have to figure out how to get comfortable in your skin.
NC: What does International Women’s Day mean to you?
LD: I saw that question and thought: ‘What do I do with this?’ The interesting thing is, by way of background, I come from a long line of matriarchs for generations.
So for me strong women, women with impact, is an everyday thing for me and not a single day. I also appreciate the intentionality of celebrating a day, whether that’s International Women’s Day or Black History Month. I do think that intentionality of saying this is an important moment is something that’s critical in our lives. For that matter, it just makes me more intentional of the long line of benefits that I’ve had from women before me. And hopefully that I’m making a mark for the woman after me.
As our second lead editor, Cindy Hamilton covers health, fitness and other wellness topics. She is also instrumental in making sure the content on the site is clear and accurate for our readers. Cindy received a BA and an MA from NYU.