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EPISODE 006 : 04/09/2021

Susan Stover on Retail Authentication, Biometrics and Femtech

Susan Stover, public speaker, consultant and expert in identity services. As a former VP of Digital Content at FindBiometrics and Mobile ID World she transformed our conversation about mobile authentication. Today, she shares insights about naked payments and retail biometrics and also educates us about FemTech as a baseline requirement for all new tech moving forward into the future of technology innovation.

Host: Ned Hayes and Karen Jensen
Guest: Susan Stover

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Topics discussed in this episode

  • An overview of the sector known as FemTech
  • Examples of biometrics in retail and healthcare industries
  • Why tech in healthcare needs to be built around womens’ experiences
  • Overcoming stigma and taboo in women’s healthcare and wearables

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Audio Transcript

Ned Hayes [00:00:06] Welcome to SparkPlug, where we talk to smart people working at the intersection of business and technology. Brought to you by SnowShoe making mobile locations smarter. We’re excited here at Spark Plug and talk to Susan Stover, former VP of digital content at FindBiometrics and Mobility World, and now she’s on her own, working in FemTech and related areas. And we’re excited to be talking about the future of identity authentication and FemTech retail and much more.

Susan Stover [00:00:34] Great to be here.

Karen Jensen [00:00:35] Hi, Susan. Welcome to the show. It’s so good to have you with us today. How about you start us off by telling us a little bit about yourself? 

Susan Stover [00:00:41] Right yeah so again, thank you so much for having me on the podcast today. So Ned and I go back to my days working in FindBiometrics and mobile I.D. world. The tables have been turned here. I was interviewing him as part of my position and now now I’m the one in the spotlight. So for me, my role and at FindBiometrics and mobile I.D. world looking at various opportunities when it comes to identity and authentication from biometrics and mobile identity space, specifically when it came to the sectors of fintech government applications all the way to health care. And that kind of set me off for looking at how various applications of technology could be utilized in the health care and wellness space, which brought me to FemTech, which is a sector that is categorized by any solution, product or software that supports women’s health and wellness. And the umbrella of women. That definition is inclusive and isn’t necessarily meant to set up a binary. But what most attracted to me about FemTech was looking at decades old problems, even centuries old problems that hadn’t necessarily been resolved and looking at all  these innovative companies under the umbrella of FemTechs are currently working as a brand and content strategist in space. 

Ned Hayes [00:02:11] Wow. You touched on a lot of dimensions. I’m curious to back up a little bit to our shared history. I wondered if you could speak a little bit about biometric authentication. How does that work, especially for people who aren’t into biometrics field? What is biometric authentication? In a nutshell.

Susan Stover [00:02:30] In a nutshell, it’s a magic system. So when we look at a biometric like a fingerprint, voice or even behavioral, what we’re looking at is setting up a template to which it’s being compared. So think about your smartphone. You don’t want to use the Face I.D. or fingerprint idea. What is being set up is what it’s being directly compared to. So in that authentication process, which you’re looking at, is saying, does this modality match up? And then we go further into identification. That’s not just looking at, is this the same, but who are you? So those two things often work can work separately, but also in conjunction with one another. 

Karen Jensen [00:03:12] Interesting. Our audience focuses on retail scenarios. So can you tell us more about authentication in retail? How do you think retailers will be using biometrics in the future? 

Susan Stover [00:03:24] I think there’s several different applications, especially in the retail space, not necessarily just in brick and mortar locations, but also when we’re looking at e-commerce. So when we’re looking at things like authenticating a purchase and streamlining that process and making the onboarding process more seamless, I think we can borrow a lot from what the fintech sector has done in terms of banking and online banking. Specifically, I think for retail, there’s also a lot of opportunities that I’ve seen are looking at facial biometrics specifically for advertising in a retail space. There’s also biometrics for brick and mortar locations when it comes to user activity. So when you have something set up in your physical store looking at the biometric markers of how people are behaving, so if you’re setting up a particular stand, looking at the standard amount of time that people are spending on a particular set up or what might be a certain friction points for them, basically, it’s also a great way to know your customer and authenticate and verify who they are online or even if you have something like a loyalty program or something like that.

Ned Hayes [00:04:34] Right. So I know that Amazon has really pioneered stores that don’t require credit card anymore. It’s physically present instead, you can use your palm or you can use your facial geometry or even your behavior within the store to be able to identify what you’ve purchased and you just waltz out of the store with your purchases and your bill. Is that a good model for the future or do you see some gaps there? 

Susan Stover [00:04:58] Well, I see that that would be something that I would characterize as a naked payment. So naked payments would be something where you’re not physically presenting a card, and you may just be presenting a biometrics or with a more mobile application, you’re paying with your phone. I think that’s absolutely the direction that the current system’s going to work. So when you think about frictionless payments or naked payments, the real advantage there is not having to have an exchange of money, which I think in our COVID 19 world or post-pandemic world, this is going to become more and more the norm. 

Karen Jensen [00:05:37] OK, I’m curious about the long term fundamental trends, infection detection and technology to prove you are COVID vaccinated or tested. 

Susan Stover [00:05:49] In terms of biometrics in the health care industry, I think it’s important to understand where the healthcare industry is in general. Right now, we’re looking at the healthcare industry where fintech was five years ago. So when it comes to these various authentication and when it comes to accessing your your medical records or having some sort of immunization passport, I think that there is a real opportunity right now for the health care industry being on the precipice of leapfrogging over existing technologies when it comes to identification, verification and health care records. 

Karen Jensen [00:06:22] So as a leader in technical fields, you’ve now shifted your focus from biometrics to FemTech. What led to that shift for you? 

Susan Stover [00:06:30] I think for me it was, I’m not really sure even when I first saw the term FemTech, I think it was one of those things where specifically, I believe I was looking at women in wearables, which looks at a lot of different applications within biometrics and mobile identity. And I found this community looking to really serve and deliver technology specifically for women’s health and wellness. Personally, that really attracted me. It’s been something that I’ve been passionate about since even coming of age and kind of understanding how women have been. Women’s health specifically has been maligned, ignored and often technical solutions or technologies have even dumped from the equation. For example, in Rachael Braun Scherl book Orgasmic Leadership, she talks about the Apple Health Kit launched in 2016. This was advertised as a holistic, whole body way of monitoring your health, and it completely committed anything to do with menstruation. And so, and I don’t think that that’s malicious, right? I don’t think that the intent is to directly exclude women. But when you’re looking at a juggernaut and a leader like Apple to think about where we are in the year 2020 and beyond, it’s it really sparked something where I was like, I have this background technology. I understand how to communicate very complex ideas and technologies directly to either direct to consumer or B2B applications. And it was really a a perfect fit for me as soon as I got in because I saw that there were just so many opportunities. I think, especially when it comes to, you know, digital applications and data security that it just seemed like a seamless transition. 

Ned Hayes [00:08:31] Got it. So I know the tech world is pretty excited about Whitney Wolfe success with Bumble. So maybe we should start there and talking about FemTech. I mean, this is a female led company just went public she’s now a billionaire, is that a good starting place for FemTech? 

Susan Stover [00:08:46] So what I think is interesting about that highlighting there is that FemTech specifically often gets conflated with female leadership. So that’s one point of sort of the demystification that I’d like to kind of set the record straight on today. Although 80 percent of most female or most startups in the FemTech space are led by women, and there are several reasons for that. I think the first one being that the impetence when it comes to research or funding or investment, when it comes to these solutions, women are actually solving their own problems. Bumble wouldn’t, I don’t think, exactly fit into the category of FemTech, although when we’re looking at technology that for situations that disproportionately solely or differently affect women. I think Bumble might kind of slip in because the way that it’s structured is that women have a different experience when it comes to dating apps, and they’ve set up a way so that the communication is in their hands. However, I think moving forward, we need to remember that men are more than welcome to come into the FemTech space. Male leaders are more than welcome to come up with innovations, and there are quite a few who are in the space, but that’s just one point of clarification. 

Ned Hayes [00:10:12] Thank you for teaching me something. So it’s not necessarily about female leaders. It’s about making technology more accessible and more focused on a woman’s experience of the world. Is that fair? 

Susan Stover [00:10:26] Yeah. And specifically, it comes out of this health care sector, like looking at women’s health and wellness. 

Karen Jensen [00:10:32] What are some of the challenges that FemTech faces? 

Susan Stover [00:10:35] Well, thank you so much for asking that question. I think the challenges that are directly set out to the FemTech industry can be summarized with stigma and taboo. So that comes from oh sorry, that applies to everything from advertising reaching your customer all the way up to funding, specifically with venture capitalists funding when it comes to startups. So what I mean, when I’m talking about stabber, sorry what I mean, when I’m talking about taboo and stigma is that women’s bodies are way more regulated and way more censored than male bodies are. So when we’re trying to have an earnest, honest conversation about menstruation, fertility, menstruation, there’s a lot of uncomfortableness that comes with these things that often haven’t been talked about at all. So when we look at advertising, for example, a really great company in the FemTech space called Dame Products, which provides sexual health and wellness products, specifically sex toys, recently sued to be the transit system in New York because there was an ad by a company called Hims that was basically advertising for impotence solving. So they were advertising for erection dysfunction products. So and that wasn’t a problem. So, but when Dame tried to show something that’s not necessarily pornographic, not even showing female body, they were censored from doing so. So they have a great sort of advocacy there, with approach not approved to which is basically looking at different campaigns across Facebook and different platforms where these companies have been directly censored. 

Ned Hayes [00:12:29] Sounds like what you’re saying is that we need to have a different conversation about technology and about cultural acceptance of different experiences. It’s not just about creating technology for the space, but also opening a space for the technology to tell women’s stories. 

Susan Stover [00:12:47] Exactly. And I think that there’s so many experiences by some tech founders when they’re going out for funding that really outlines this experience where traditionally male vc’s may not, they just don’t understand why this would be a problem. Why is this? Why would why would someone need a period tracker? Why would someone need something to manage their menstruation? Would women want a sexual enhancing medication so that education is really the key to overcoming that challenge. 

Ned Hayes [00:13:22] Or a small example, many wearables don’t provide fertility tracking, and yet that’s incredibly important to women in a family planning stage. That’s part of women’s daily experience, and making that part of a baseline of technology for tracking makes sense. 

Susan Stover [00:13:41] Exactly. And I think the one thing specially with the example of fertility fertility doesn’t just affect women. Women’s health is everyone’s health, right? And looking at the statistics, you know, women are responsible for 80% of the household spending when it comes to health care choices, women are 75% more likely to adopt digital solutions. There’s just an enormous market that’s been ignored, and there’s just so many opportunities within it. 

Karen Jensen [00:14:06] Great. Can you think of three companies that you think we should be paying attention to? 

Susan Stover [00:14:12] Along the lines of going back to my mobile identity roots, one company better would definitely say to watch is a company called Clue, which was launched by IDA10 in 2016, who actually coined the term FemTech. So Clues a period and fertility tracking app that I was actually integrated into that Apple HealthKit went. They saw that there was a blind spot there, but the one thing that’s interesting about that company specifically is that it attended team is dedicated to setting up data security and privacy policies, more so than a lot of other companies. And under her leadership, she’s really looking to expand that conversation into the fintech industry as a whole. Another company I would say to look at is within the fintech space is called to make love, not porn by Cindy Gallop. So this is actually a movement that is looking at the current pornographic landscape and how we experience what Cindy Gallop calls social sex. This is actually a curated platform, and again, going back to identity, everyone who uploads a video has to show has to authenticate and verify their identity and able to create these these videos. But it’s going up against the narrative of how women are portrayed sexually. And another, I would say, in terms of like there’s over 300 fintech companies and I don’t want to leave anyone out. But another trend that we’re seeing is a move to virtual health care or digital health care. And Maven is a company that’s gotten quite a bit of traction the last few years, and it’s providing a model that’s built around women and families. And in terms of getting to know more about the FemTech industry, I would suggest for any of your listeners to tune in to FemTech focused women, wearables and FemTech insider for daily updates. 

Ned Hayes [00:16:17] Fantastic. Thank you for those recommendations, Susan. What’s the future of tech and especially FemTech look like? 

Ned Hayes [00:16:25] Well, I think what’s interesting is like the future of tech and FemTech. We really do have to understand data protection and security, I think as we move to a consistently more mobile world. These are things that we need to think about because data is such a huge asset right now and how to personally protect ourselves and have companies build themselves with privacy by design as a whole. When we’re looking at FemTech. I think one of the most exciting things to look at the future in terms of technology is expanding the definition right now in the market. So right now we’re looking at mostly solutions that have to do with a woman’s reproductive system, but it does expand beyond that. For example, Alzheimer’s affects more women than men. So there’s a huge sort of gap. There are also heart disease is a leading killer of women in the United States, and heart attacks actually present differently than they do in men. So how do we set up, there’s a few companies setting up biometric bras that can actually chart your vitals and let you know when something’s going wrong. Because we generally associate a heart attack with numbness in the left arm and tightness of breath. Most women actually experience that more as a stomach pain and tiredness. So it’s solutions like that, but that’s part of education, but also at the same time, employing different wearables and being able to track our health and then also looking at digital health solutions at large in technology, putting people’s health into their hands in a way that is informative, seamless and accessible to all. I think that’s that’s one of the big things. 

Karen Jensen [00:18:10] Susan, I was reading in one of your blogs what you were just talking about just now, and you mentioned another health and, you know, topic of endometriosis and PCOS and insulin and blood sugar tracking systems and whatnot. Can you touch on that a little bit? 

Susan Stover [00:18:29] Well, specifically for endometriosis, one of the big issues there is that it typically takes up to eight years to get a formal diagnosis. So this is an example of really where FemTech gets its roots is, what is it about women’s health that is being ignored for so long? I think a lot of women are just told that you’re just stressed out. Pain is just a part of your life. You just have a glass of wine and unwind and do self-care, which are all self-care is a wonderful thing. But being able to really have digital tracking apps that you can bring to your medical professional to say, here is what’s going on with me. This is the trends and being able to have more access to various specialists as well. I think it works alternatively, our search to flip that around to be able to educate health care professionals about what the signs and symptoms are, because traditionally, you know, you get five minutes in that doctor’s office, and that’s it. So it’s being able to have the language able to understand when it comes to diabetes and insulin, I think there’s a whole lot of innovation coming come quite quite far in the last five years to be able to understand how to track your your sugar levels. I think now you can just have that go into your smartphone and be able to have a more holistic understanding of your health. You’re not just just one symptom, youre not just one vital. FemTech very much looking at the woman’s health which changes from womb to tomb. 

Karen Jensen [00:20:15] And a simple app tracking what you’re eating and the nutrients that you’re logging isn’t sufficient enough. 

Susan Stover [00:20:22] No, no, I think it comes down to a lot of different factors. I also reading the news recently about COVID 19. Women are experiencing a massive exodus from the workplace and we’re seeing higher levels of stress. We’re seeing higher levels of eating disorders in women that aren’t necessarily presenting in the way that that someone would notice right away. So it’s it’s it’s a whole body experience, and it’s also about looking at it culturally as well. 

Ned Hayes [00:20:54] So back in the day, companies were urged to take their information online, and the internet was a new thing. And now if a company isn’t online, it’s not really a company. So I’m curious if you think that analogy applies to FemTech in the future, that technology will just by default should be enabled to understand women’s concerns as well as men’s concerns. Is this a fair analogy? 

Ned Hayes [00:21:20] I think it is. I’ve heard that FemTech being compared to feminism, for example, we put a name on it because there’s an urgent need, and I know that my personal hopes and goals is that we no longer need the word FemTech because it’s so integrated within how we build technology and how and who we serve. That not just women, but also intersex, trans and non cisgender. The whole LGBTQIA rainbow is being considered. 

Karen Jensen [00:21:53] So I have a final question, what is your mission that you want to be remembered for? 

Susan Stover [00:21:59] Such a big question? Yeah, I think when I look at what I do every day, what really drives me is that I want to support and amplify companies with missions that are ultimately going to benefit women’s health, which will ultimately benefit everyone’s health. So if I can do my job in terms of offering that support, whether it’s through content conversation or the brand support, getting directly to the customer, directly to the user and it actually having an impact, that’s I’ll be happy with that. 

Karen Jensen [00:22:46] Wow, I love that. Thank you. 

Susan Stover [00:22:48] Thank you so much for having me and Ned it’s it’s so great that we went back. We’re back in the day, remote biometrics and now worlds are colliding. So good luck to you both with this podcast. Thank you so much. 

Karen Jensen [00:23:00] Thank you. 

Ned Hayes [00:23:01] Thank you. Karen,. 

Karen Jensen [00:23:02] Thank you. 

Ned Hayes [00:23:03] Thanks for listening today to the SparkPlug podcast hosted by me, Ned Hayes and brought to you by SnowShoes for smarter mobile location. Spark Plug is a wholly owned property of SnowShoe all content. Copyright 2021 SparkPlug Media.