LBS Alumnae founded FinAbility to financially empower domestic abuse victims

Did you know an estimated 1.3 billion women have experienced domestic abuse in their lifetime? That’s the total population of North America and Europe combined. It’s a big problem globally, further exacerbated by the pandemic.

Stacy Sawin (MBA2021) and Asha Xu (MBA2021), London Business School alumnae are on the path to solving the problem. FinAbility is a non-profit committed to financially empowering survivors of domestic abuse. We sat down with Stacy, CEO of FinAbility to discuss what led her on this journey.

Stacy Sawin (MBA2021) and Asha Xu (MBA2021), Co-founders of FinAbility

Why I’m so passionate about the mission

The mission of FinAbility is borne out of Stacy’s personal experience as a stalking survivor. Not long after she moved to Washington DC, at the age of 23, excited about her new job in consulting, things took an unexpected turn. She was repeatedly stalked in person, defamatory emails were sent to leaders at her firm, along with repeated threatening text messages. She contacted the police for help and sought criminal as well as civil protections. This led to a long 3 years battle in the US court system. “I would go and often be the last one to testify. So, you’re sitting in the courtroom for a full day until it’s your turn. It almost felt like I spent one day per month in a courtroom” recalls Stacy.

But whilst in the courtroom, Stacy started observing a pattern. “I saw dozens of women seeking protection from their harm doers mostly in domestic abuse cases. And almost none of them were able to get protection. It had nothing to do with the validity of their case but their access to financial resources”. It was frequently too expensive for them to hire legal counsel, or to take time off work to attend the court cases. Observing these women, many with children and visibly bruised not being able to get the help they needed, encouraged Stacy to start volunteering at women’s service organisations. “In the back of my mind, this set the seeds of FinAbility”.

London Business School Entrepreneurship electives – shaping FinAbility

Whilst Stacy was at London Business School, she continued thinking of how fintech solutions could be applied to empower survivors of domestic abuse. It wasn’t until Entrepreneurship Summer School, a practical elective she took in summer 2020 that she started exploring all the options. “Going through the process of primary research, interviewing advocates and survivors, deepened my understanding of the issues they faced and the real barriers to solving the problem. It allowed me to connect the dots”, she remarks.

It became apparent that access to bank accounts was a major barrier for survivors to permanently leave their harm doer. Without access to a bank account, it becomes increasingly hard to access salary cheques or lines of credit. This affects over 15 million survivors of domestic abuse in the US.

FinAbility launched an MVP in August 2021. The primary focus was to address this exact problem – connecting abuse survivors to bank accounts. “Survivors told us that it [our MVP] was really helpful but they also needed a more holistic guide, explaining how to financially prepare to leave their harm doer”. That gave Stacy and the team very valuable insights on what to include in the next version of the product. “We’re working on launching an interactive resource guide as part of our website to guide abuse survivors through the process”, Stacy says.

Along with a resource guide, FinAability will be launching complementary educational resources via their strategic partnerships. This includes virtual courses focused on financial literacy and one-on-one financial counselling provided by a partnering credit union.

At such an early stage of FinAbility, how did Stacy forge such powerful partnerships with top-tier firms? “We got most of our ins because 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men are domestic abuse survivors and the mission really resonated with them”, says Stacy. But she was also targeted in her partnerships approach, reaching out to community-oriented credit unions and financial literacy education providers.

Advice to future founders

“Dream big and be practical, in that order!” Stacy recommends. “When developing solutions, I used to focus on determining what was feasible and would then select the best remaining option. It was very pragmatic but also limiting. Now, instead, I first imagine what an ideal solution would look like and then reverse engineer how to make it feasible. It’s a small shift in mindset, but it’s had a huge impact on our ability to innovate.”

FinAbility’s vision for the future

“When people think about financial security and freedom, FinAbility is the first organisation that comes to mind. I want everyone to know there’s a place they can turn to if they suspect they’re experiencing domestic and/or financial abuse. A place where they’ll be believed and supported.

If the mission of FinAbility has resonated with you and you’re US-based, get in touch with Stacy.