European Women in Finance : Diana Biggs : Driving digital change

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Diana Biggs, Chief Executive Officer of Valour, got her first computer when she was just four years old. So it is unsurprising that her career has revolved around making technology and finance more accessible. 

She said: “My mother was a single parent who taught us that we needed to save money for our education and be responsible for ourselves. Needing to amuse myself on a computer when my mum was working at the hospital led me to be an early internet user throughout the ‘90s, which showed me the power of technology to connect and create unprecedented possibilities.”

In February 2021, Biggs joined Valour, an issuer of exchange-traded investment products that launched in 2019 to provide exposure to innovative technologies, such as cryptocurrencies and digital assets.

“I joined Valour as I was very keen to get back into the start-up space – I missed building new ventures,” added Biggs. “I jumped at this opportunity which allows me to bring together my experience of working with founders, my academic and professional experience and emerging technology.”

Johan Wattenstrom, Founder and Director of Valour, said in a statement that Biggs is the perfect candidate to lead the company through the next phase of growth and expansion.

Wattenstrom said: “With a wealth of experience in traditional finance, as well as fintech, and her vision for bringing digital assets into the mainstream, we feel very lucky to have her on board.”

Last year Valour launched its first product, Bitcoin Zero, an exchange-traded note (ETN). Biggs had an unusual route to becoming a cryptocurrency evangelist which started when she was the first social impact-focused Fellow at Kiva, the San Francisco-based non-profit which uses crowdfunding to expand financial access to underserved communities. She worked in Burkina Faso and Sierra Leone to use crowdfunding and microfinance to power social enterprises in the region.

“My experiences working and living in emerging markets and the difficulty in accessing my own finances switched me fully onto Bitcoin in 2013 and crystallized for me the need for global, digital money,” said Biggs.

The ETN debuted in December last year and Biggs said it is the first fully-hedged, passive investment product with bitcoin as its underlying asset that charges zero management fees. The ETN has so far gathered $36.7m in assets under management. Valour had just under $30m in assets under management in total last month.

“The Bitcoin Zero ETN is listed on the Nordic Growth Market stock exchange in Sweden and has consistently been in the top three ETPs by turnover on the venue since launch,” she added. “We aim to list the products on more European markets this year.”

Valour’s mission is to create the most accessible way to invest in innovations like digital assets, and wrapping them into exchange traded products is an ideal way to do that according to Biggs.

“Our ETPs offer investors the opportunity to gain exposure to digital assets using mainstream investment channels,” she said. “The products are listed on regulated exchanges, meaning they can easily be purchased through a normal bank or brokerage account.”

By the end of this year, Valour plans to have an additional eight to 10 exchange-traded products listed and to increase the firm’s geographical scope.

Career path
Before joining Valour, Biggs was Global Head of Innovation for HSBC Private Banking, where she led on fintech partnerships and driving open innovation.

“HSBC taught me about innovation at scale and I worked closely with a range of stakeholders, including industry bodies, regulators, fintechs, and traditional finance in order to align on how to best serve customers in an increasingly digital world,” she said. “I was an advocate for emerging technology and fintech partnerships to help transform the bank.”

Earlier roles include Vice President, Head of Growth & Partnerships, EMEA for digital currency platform Uphold; Chief Strategy Officer for e-commerce start-up Soko; and management consultant at Oliver Wyman Financial Services.

At Oliver Wyman, Biggs specialised in financial services consulting with major players in the UK, US, and Europe, but also explored growth opportunities in the financial sector across sub-Saharan Africa, as well as undertaking pro-bono engagements in topics such as mobile money and microfinance.

“During my MBA I was interested in emerging markets and entrepreneurship,” she added.

Biggs has an MBA from the ESCP Business School and an undergraduate degree from the Faculty of Engineering at McGill University in Canada, where she grew up. She is also an Associate Fellow at the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School and served as head tutor for their Blockchain Strategy Programme between 2018 and 2020. Additionally, she is on the board of the World Economic Forum’s Digital Leaders of Europe community, and is a member of the Milken Institute’s Young Leaders Circle. Her TEDx on Blockchain Technology has more than 40k views.

“The WEF Digital Leaders of Europe initiative fosters pan-European entrepreneurship innovation which is important for the region to remain competitive,” she said.

Diversity
Her advice to other women is to take risks.

“I have constantly moved out of my comfort zone and pushed myself,” added Biggs. “You have to be brave enough not to be perfect and not be afraid to ask for more.”

She continued that words are not enough to increase diversity in fintech – there is also a need for tangible action. Overall diversity, not only gender, also needs to improve.

“Women need a real seat at the table – equal pay, equal opportunities, and sponsors, not only mentors,” said Biggs. “There is room for everyone and the results speak for themselves – including positive effects to the bottom line.”

©Markets Media Europe 2021
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