In what will be a recurring feature, Finopotamus will spotlight innovative women who are positively impacting technology applications in the credit union industry, and beyond.
For the debut profile, we spent time with Artis Technologies’ COO and co-founder, Lena McDearmid.
By W.B. King
With over 15 years of experience in products and operations across multiple consumer lending verticals, including automotive, mortgage, retail, healthcare and home improvement, Lena McDearmid is a true entrepreneur.
“My grandmothers, aunts, mother, sister, and other women in my family, had all been entrepreneurs, small business owners and glass ceiling breakers!” explained McDearmid. “They taught me strength and resilience. There was never a moment where I believed that being a female would be a limitation in my career.”
Back in 2011, terms such as “startup” and “fintech” were not all that familiar to McDearmid. But as she switched focus and became passionate about credit and finance, she quickly recognized the importance of these ubiquitous business monikers, especially when paired together. She saw the need for strong technology platforms and systems within the credit and financial industry, but was surprised by the fintech culture she encountered.
“When I moved into the financial industry and fintech space, I realized that it was a harsh industry for women and that was alarming,” she reflected. “Although I was able to rely on what the women in my family had taught me, I had to figure out how to apply it in my industry with no guide or mentor.”
Crabs in the Bucket
As McDearmid was transitioning her career into the fintech realm, what surprised her most was that women, not men, were more often her adversaries.
“It was hard enough to break the ceilings held in place by decades of discrimination, but when I realized that it was often women in leadership roles that were also holding me back, it was heartbreaking,” McDearmid reflected. “My grandmother referred to it as ‘crabs in a bucket’ because if one crab tries to crawl out of the bucket, the other crabs will pull her down.”
McDearmid wasn’t stymied by workplace hierarchy – be it men or women. She pushed through these barriers and cleared a path with tenacity and a hard work ethic. The goal, she said, was to do what she was taught by women in her family: Make it easier for women coming up the ranks after her.
“Ladder climbing and reaching for that next new rung was my focus. I challenged myself to climb because I knew once I got to the top rung I could change the rules and pull others up with me,” she noted. “I got this strength from my family of women warriors who had walked this path before me.”
Today, McDearmid is the COO and co-founder of the Atlanta, Ga. – based Artis Technologies, LLC. She explained that the company, founded in 2019, powers an embedded financing platform for merchants to provide consumers with lending and payment services at their point of need. Merchants, she noted, can offer consumers funding on the spot, improving sales while growing the reach of lenders to better source quality loans at a lower cost.
“When we started Artis, for security reasons, we designed transactions to be contactless. Little did we know that a pandemic would drive the value of this feature even higher,” she said. “We also built a true closed-loop payment network that is unique in our industry.”
McDearmid further explained that when a consumer originates a loan backed by a financial institution through a business or Artis’ approved network of businesses, those loan funds can only be spent with that business or within that network.
“This is of huge value for both financial institution partners and businesses, enabling institutions to gain share of the market while driving demand for local businesses’ goods and services,” she said.
Tech Now and Then
Over the course of the last decade, there have been numerous changes in finance and technology. And while some of these changes have seen women taking more senior roles in management, technology itself has continually morphed to meet ever-changing consumer demands.
“I have seen a shift away from single large applications to more loosely coupled systems. Software Development Lifecycles (SDLCs) have moved from traditionally bureaucratic waterfall to lighter weight Agile and Scrum methodologies,” noted McDearmid. “Priority has shifted away from backend architectures to user-centric, behavior-driven designs. The catalyst for these shifts is influenced by demand, frequency and user adoption.”
In McDearmid’s view, time is the most important variable a person has to give. As such, she supports using optimal technologies that allow companies to “keep up with the demands” of their customers’ needs.
When asked if she sees more women working in technology today than when she began her career, her response was a resounding: Yes!
“I see not only more women in the fintech space, but I also see more diversity in the type of positions women now hold within the tech industry. At the beginning of my tech career, women were predominantly in administrative positions, support roles, marketing, or quality analysis,” she explained. “What I am happy to see now are more women not only continuing to grow in the fintech industry, but roles like developer, designer, department head, quantitative analysis and product are more commonly held by women of all races.”
Artis Technologies’ currently has13 full-time employees on staff with 15% women, explained McDearmid. When asked for a demographic breakdown of employees, she said that 70% are Gen X with the balance being millennials.
“I see an overwhelming majority of Gen X and millennials in these demographics in the fintech industry, which is to be expected as Boomers are aging out,” she said. “Although I still see more men than women, that number is shifting daily as women continue to grow into more diverse positions, including senior leadership.”
Insights and Trends
As McDearmid surveys the fintech industry, she identified trends that continue to grow in importance, including security, compliance, fraud and consumer-centric design. Forward-leaning trends, she added, focus on the importance of artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML) models for specific uses like AI-based credit decisioning.
“With the advent of the pandemic, the trend for contactless payments for all transaction types is becoming prevalent,” she said. “And the importance of user experiences customized to each user — almost gone are the days where single user experience is good enough for millions of individual users.”
And while McDearmid said credit unions are generally slower to adopt new technologies, she added that if they see “their peers using a new technology, they’re typically quicker to follow.” Credit unions, she noted, make “great strategic partners.”
McDearmid said she looks forward to expanding Artis Technologies’ footprint, which includes the final stages of building a AI/ML platform to analyze its credit and business underwriting policies that will further optimize operations. And while COVID-19 has presented challenges across many organizations, she said Artis Technologies has not lost ground.
“We are primarily remote and it took us less than a day to adjust and keep engines firing on all cylinders. Some employees still like to come in every so often so that they can get out of the house. We do miss each other, however, our performance, productivity and general stress levels have improved,” she said. “I think work-life balance has an entirely new meaning in this COVID-19 age.”
When it comes to client interactions, she said the pandemic hasn’t changed how the company manages expectations. “We still communicate proactively and frequently, the only real change has been a shift to virtual meetings versus in-person,” she said.
As McDearmid navigates the future of the company she recently co-founded, while dealing with the pandemic, she looks to her past experiences as a woman in the fintech space for inspiration. The lessons she gained, in part, inform Artis Technologies’ “culture-first” ethos that ensures “all voices” are heard.
“I was happy to join a pair of like-minded men who also value diversity and equality regardless of gender, race, creed and age, and this is how I pay it forward,” she said. “I am grateful for my journey and the heartbreak because it gave me perspective and taught me that women’s advocacy is my job and my passion. None of us will move toward equality until we are all seen. Different voices in the rooms and at the tables are a critical requirement for each company.”