Ten highlights from our tenth year

2019 marks the tenth year of the Lab’s journey. It’s a decade that’s seen us grow from a compelling question – what would a financial system look like that served people and planet? – to a thriving charity and community of changemakers, with a global reputation as a pioneer in systems change.

2019 has been a landmark year for the Lab, in which we’ve launched two new programmes and completed our third Fellowship incubator, grown the team and board, and taken bold decisions about our future. Here are ten highlights that show the progress we’re making towards a financial system that’s democratic, responsible and fair.

1. We built the future of data-driven finance…

Our 2019 Fellowship incubated 14 innovators pioneering the responsible use of data in finance and was our most successful programme to date. Fellows built their systemic understanding of finance, their skills to develop and execute purpose-driven strategy, and their collaborative leadership capabilities. At our closing showcase in September, Fellows received a record 219 commitments of support – over 20 per project!

“Being a Fellow on the Lab has helped me in unexpected ways. I think I’m a more compassionate team member and leader… and the other Fellows and Lab team have challenged my theory of change, increased my questioning of our existing system, and expanded my ideas for designing a better one.”

2019 Fellow

Both during and after the programme we’ve seen our Fellows make huge strides, including a successful community share offer by Equal Care Coop, a £1m raise by Tumelo, NestEgg reaching the finals of the Affordable Credit Challenge, and Open Credit Network announcing their alpha launch. You can meet all of our 2019 Fellows here.

“Lab Fellowship is the most progressive programme in the industry. Nowhere else could we find the same level of support for cutting our own path to a solution that challenges the status quo.”

2019 Fellow

2… And we called for change across the industry

We used the insights from the programme to advocate for responsible data use in finance throughout the year, with speaking engagements including the Turing Institute’s conference on AI ethics in finance; ABCUL, Responsible Finance and Co-operatives UK’s annual conferences; and the Open Data Institute’s 2019 Summit. We also taught data ethics to students on Cranfield University’s MSc in retail and digital banking, and we were invited to join the financial services advisory panel for the government-sponsored Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation.

Amplifying the impact of our work in this way is central to our model for change. It enables us to share knowledge with other positive disruptors, influence regulation and policy to create a more enabling environment for innovators, and shift the narratives and norms we hold about finance. We’re now fundraising for an exciting new programme to influence regulation around data-driven finance – please get in touch if you’d like to support us.

“I’m not sure I would have had the opportunity to learn so much about the implications of data bias and information asymmetry in any other start-up incubator environment… It’s the place where I have had distinct lightbulb moments in relation the risks held by our implementation of AI and automation.”

2019 Fellow

3. We took our message to the heart of finance…

Over the course of the year, we tested how we can build a community of finance professionals with the vision, skills and influence to catalyse a shift towards sustainability and social purpose. We held masterclasses, workshops and action learning sessions with banking intrapreneurs in the UK, and held a peer learning workshop in New York for bankers seeking to transition their institutions to climate-safe lending.

We learnt a huge amount about the forces that can enable or prevent change in big financial institutions, and about the Lab’s role in that change. You can read more in our blog reflecting on the lessons from 2019.

“It is so rare to have a group so intimate and focused on helping each other. I honestly can’t think of another opportunity like this!”

Participant in intrapreneurship workshop

4… And we called out ‘purpose-wash’

While we know the power of purpose in finance, we also saw a big gap between the statements some banks were making about their purpose and the actual role they were playing in the world. Our blog on the dangers of ‘purpose’ argued that taking purpose seriously means reorienting a bank’s core strategy, operations and culture around their social, economic and environmental impact.

As a result of this work and our 2018 report The Regulatory Compass: towards a purpose-driven approach to financial regulation we were invited to contribute to the FCA’s consultation on the role of purpose in finance, led by the Chartered Banker Institute.

5. We helped make financial regulation greener

One of the key demands of The Regulatory Compass was that the FCA’s Innovation Hub should actively encourage applications from innovators addressing particular social and environmental challenges. In late 2018, the FCA announced their Green Fintech Challenge, and in early 2019 our Fellowship project CoGo was announced as one of the nine successful applicants. This is a great example of the power of our systemic approach, where advocacy to change the wider environment has a direct benefit on positive innovators.

6. We took our community to the next level

As our work has grown, so has our community of changemakers. In May 2019, we launched our new community programme: a network of innovators, influencers and practitioners all working towards a financial system that serves people and planet. Through matchmaking, participative events and mutual mentoring, our community members collaborate to generate ideas, scale solutions and change the story on finance.

“The ethos of the Lab is not superficial, but goes deep. At the same time, it manages to walk the line between outsider and insider status, bringing together parties who might rarely meet otherwise.”

Community member

We’re also working to diversify membership of our community and use our experiences to advocate for wider change in finance. Our women in financial innovation group now has over 150 members and our first event for people of colour in financial innovation was a sell-out. We’ll be holding a range of events in 2020 for underrepresented and marginalised identities and communities – to make sure you’re invited, join our community here.

“Can’t remember the last time I went to a professional event and not felt a minority.”

Community member

7. We welcomed our brilliant COO…

All of this work needs careful stewarding – of our team, our resources and our culture – and so in September we welcomed Rebecca Sumner Smith as Chief Operating Officer. We know that building our strength as an organisation is vital to achieving our goals, but we also know that many conventional models won’t work for our systemic approach and whole-human culture. You can read Rebecca’s initial thoughts on organisation-building for systems change here.

8 And a host of amazing trustees!

This year we also welcomed 11 brilliant new trustees to guide our mission and strategy, including experts in values-based banking, fintech, new economics, systems change, responsible tech and mutual ownership. We know that one of the biggest barriers to change in finance is the lack of diversity throughout the sector, so we were particularly excited by the diversity of experience and thought the new trustees bring to our work.

9. We kicked off a new strategy for systems change

Those talents will be put to full use in 2020, as we review our progress over our first five years of independence and develop a new strategy to maximise our impact to 2030. We’re incredibly excited about this process, which will be rooted in our values of collaboration, action learning and empowerment. We’ll seek input and learning from a range of experts and organisations outside of the Lab, including those with lived experience of the failings of finance, and we’ll focus on how we can scale our impact in the UK and beyond. 

10. We launched the search for our next CEO

Our new strategy will need an inspirational leader to take the Lab’s work to the next level. After five years at the Lab, I’ll be stepping down from my role in 2020 – so in November we announced the search for our new CEO. Please spread the word!

There’s still so much to be done if we are to make the transition to a financial system that serves people and planet, but I’m more convinced than ever that our goal is possible. It’s also more urgent than ever, as inequality reaches record levels and our window of opportunity to prevent climate catastrophe shrinks by the day. The next ten years will be crucial in deciding the future of finance – and the Lab is ready for the challenge.