The US banking industry has a long history of excluding, exploiting, or simply ignoring low-income communities, recent immigrants, and racial minorities. In this paper, I share my experiences creating a community of practice where employees of a rapidly-growing banking startup can identify and confront the ethical challenges facing the financial technology (fintech) industry. This community is informed by insights from four years of activism and anthropological research that I conducted with small teams of service designers and ethnographers developing financial services for and with low- to moderate-income communities around the world. Through this research, I identified three institutional logics—insularity, decontextualization, and technological hubris—which limit efforts to build a more inclusive, equitable banking system. These logics hold the potential to lead well-intentioned organizations, and the practitioners they employ, to harm the marginalized communities they set out to help. This paper concludes with a reflection on the crucial role of ethnographers in identifying and counteracting ethical challenges in our organizations and industries.
Article citation: 2020 EPIC Proceedings pp 373–390, ISSN 1559-8918, https://www.epicpeople.org/epic