Debbie Gamble understands banking and finance. The current Vice President of Digital Products and Platforms at Interac has nearly 30 years’ experience in the field, having worked across Canada, the United States and Great Britain for companies such as CIBC, Visa and Mastercard. For 10 of those 30 years, Debbie has also supported FINCA.
I had a passion for technology and innovation; I knew it could change how people interact. And I had already seen innovations such as mobile wallets change the way people shopped and banked. When a friend introduced me to FINCA Canada, I saw tremendous alignment between what I do for a living and FINCA’s mission of financial inclusion. It occurred to me that what I had been working on could be applied to transforming lives in other parts of the world.
What does Debbie do in her current position? “Interac,” she explains, “is Canada’s domestic debit network. It enables digital transactions, connecting every Canadian to every bank account and retailer. Interac is what allows mobile wallets, Apple Pay or Google Pay to perform real-time payments and transactions. I lead the team focused on digital enablement.”
Clearly, she has had an impact. PaymentsSource, a news and information resource for payments and financial service professionals, named Debbie one of the most influential women in payments for 2018.
Starting out, Debbie wasn’t committed to pursuing a career in financial services. “I didn’t choose it as a vocation; I fell into it. I got a summer job. That summer job continued for 16 years. I was lucky enough to always be involved in the innovation and technology side of finance, which I enjoy, so I’ve been doing it since 1981.”
So where does her passion for innovation and technology overlap with her commitment to FINCA and financial inclusion? “Access to financial services should be a basic right for humankind, regardless of location or economic status,” she says. “But how do you make access easy for everyone, including people in remote areas, or those with limited resources and education? How do you remove usability challenges and mitigate risk? Entities like FINCA try to address that ‘how.’ Through village banks, engendering mutual trust and support among neighbors, and through innovations such as agency and mobile banking services, FINCA provides easier access to financial services.”
Yet, bringing financial services to very low-income individuals can be expensive and risky, for both providers and clients. “Technology can help alleviate some of those barriers,” says Debbie. “Mobile devices now connect people in isolated areas to other parts of the world. That ability to connect can change people’s businesses and their lives, reducing the need for expensive trips to distant bank branches or wholesalers, for instance.”
Biometrics,” says Debbie, such as when a device verifies individuals through a fingerprint or facial recognition, “provides a basic ID solution and an additional layer of security. Those two things alone—digital devices and biometrics—set the stage for all kinds of opportunities; if I can access my account easily and prove who I am, it doesn’t matter what part of the world I’m in or how much I earn. I have an opportunity to do more.”
Debbie believes that technology has, in fact, brought the developed and developing worlds closer together. “How FINCA clients use technology parallels things that I work on every day for Canadians who are very well banked. It’s exactly the same thing.”
But adopting the latest technologies and staying ahead of the curve can be a challenge for organizations like FINCA that are focused on their clients. “Embracing these tools is typically done through partnerships,” says Debbie. “Not everyone has to be an expert; you simply have to understand the potential of new technologies and partner with other entities who are specialists to deploy them.” That is exactly what FINCA is doing in countries such as Tanzania and Pakistan: partnering with mobile communications providers to offer branchless banking, mobile wallets, electronic payments and other services.
Debbie is also drawn to FINCA because of the people. She speaks enthusiastically about visiting with staff and clients on a trip to Mexico*. “I happened to be lucky enough to visit the country with FINCA’s Founder, John Hatch. That was incredible and inspiring. I was equally inspired to see so many women entrepreneurs working with what little they had and using loans and savings to change their families’ lives. It was incredibly humbling.”
“In Mexico,” Debbie recalls, “I met a woman who sold oranges on the street. She bought a crate of oranges, found a corner location, and began selling them. And through sheer determination, she had put two children through school and university. To me, she was an entrepreneur in the truest sense: the equal of anyone I’ve encountered in my trips all over the world.”
Debbie is not only a long-term FINCA supporter, she plays an active role on FINCA Canada’s Advisory Board. “It allows me to see that the things I work on day-to-day have a real social benefit. In a world where politics sometimes seems meaningless, I can find value in what I do. Moreover, I enjoy being around people who are so passionate and committed. I’ve never asked myself ‘Why am I doing this—why am I supporting FINCA?’ It’s always, ‘Why aren’t I doing more?’”
Looking ahead, Debbie says, “What FINCA has been able to do in the last 10 years since I first joined the effort, is mind-blowing. The organization has made so much progress in deploying rapidly evolving technology to reach so many deserving clients. And that has changed so many lives for the better. So here’s to the next 10!”
“FINCA is always looking for new members of the FINCA family. I urge anyone in my industry to connect with FINCA and see how you too can harness your professional expertise to create greater impact for FINCA clients.”
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* FINCA served the people of Mexico from 1989 to 2016. On November 10, 2016, FINCA transferred its operations there to Te Creemos, a mission driven Mexican Microfinance Institution that shares FINCA’s commitment to providing responsible financial services to clients of all income levels.