From Vegan Entrepreneur to Fintech Journalist: An Unconventional Journey

Meet Isabelle Castro, a young journalist who has mastered the art of donning multiple hats. As the Future of Finance reporter for Digital Frontier, Isabelle brings a fresh perspective to the world of fintech, drawing from her diverse background and eclectic journey.


With over two years of experience in fintech journalism, Isabelle's expertise spans across the United States and Europe. But her journey to this point has been anything but conventional. Originally trained in architecture, Isabelle's career took intriguing turns through luxury real estate journalism and the art world, where she spearheaded a large-scale artist inclusion project.


With a master's degree in photography and documentary filmmaking, further enriching her creative repertoire, it was Isabelle's entrepreneurial spirit that prompted her to venture into Spain, where she spearheaded a vegan food and health business.


However, it was the tumultuous year following the Covid lockdowns that sparked a profound shift in Isabelle's career trajectory. Intrigued by the possibilities of Web3, she delved deeper into digital innovation and blockchain technology. This newfound passion culminated in her decision to transition full-time into fintech journalism, joining the ranks of US-based Fintech Nexus.


This week, on TXP Talk, we catch up with Isabelle to dive headlong into the world of reporting on an industry in constant flux. From her standout stories to more, join us as we uncover the fascinating layers of her experience in fintech...



What initially sparked your interest in reporting on fintech and the future of finance?


I came to fintech after first being interested in crypto. I had worked in the art world for a few years and became increasingly disillusioned by the gatekeepers and lack of access for many people to the industry. NFTs seemed like a great solution and I started looking into starting my own project for music artist engagement. As I looked deeper into crypto I realised how much potential Web3 had for solving real world issues, which in turn led me to look at what fintechs were doing. Then I was hooked.


Could you share some of the most significant trends you've observed in the fintech industry over the past two years?


The fintech industry is evolving at such apace it's difficult to whittle down the trends to just a few. Of course, we have seen alternative data increasingly affecting lending and open finance solutions have continued to develop. Tokenization has been a huge trend which is gaining more and more traction, and blockchain in general seems to be making its way into traditional finance.  Cyber security is becoming more and more of a concern as everything becomes more digital, and the industry is jumping to make sure they protect themselves from it. And then, more recently, LLMs and AI have taken centre stage - they’ve been used in fintech for a long while but now companies are focusing on their approaches.


As a reporter covering fintech in both Europe and the US, have you noticed any notable differences in the development and adoption of fintech solutions between these regions?


Coming from Europe myself, the size and complication of the US’ banking system and its regulators seems to affect a lot of the US’ fintech development and adoption. For example faster payments have only just been implemented on a federal level, and adoption by banks, I am told, is slow. But the market is bigger and much less fragmented than in Europe and fintech solutions have potential to catch on and be adopted quickly. They also have opportunities to quickly implement innovation in areas where, in Europe, the government has already stepped in. An example of this is Plaid, with their open banking network and Zelle with their instant payment solution.  In addition, ESG factors and sustainability seem to play a much bigger role in the European approach to solutions.


In your opinion, what are some of the most promising fintech innovations on the horizon, and how do you see them shaping the future of finance?


For me, blockchain could be one of the most impactful innovations for finance. Not only does it have practical applications to streamline things like payments  but it has the potential to shift the collective mindset on ownership and privacy. It’s been around for a while now but institutions are finally taking it seriously which I think could turn the dial on how technology gets adopted on a wider scale, driving smaller projects too.


Could you highlight a few memorable interviews or stories you've covered that have had a significant impact on your understanding of the fintech landscape?


Every article and interview feeds into my understanding of the fintech landscape - there are so many approaches and it’s so fast-paced I’m constantly being presented with new perspectives.

Last year, when I was covering the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank, Signature and First Republic it really broke open the US financial system for me and laid bare some of the issues that continue to be prevalent although fintechs are trying to approach it. I also wrote about the idea of a 'US freedom coin' based on a paper released by the American Enterprise Institute, that opened my eyes to the promise of tokenisation and consumer control over their data.

However, since I started writing for Digital Frontier, I’ve written a number of articles and talked to a number of people that really showed the interconnectivity of fintech and society, and how innovations in culture and business can also significantly impact the space.  


With the rise of decentralized finance (DeFi) and blockchain technology, how do you see traditional financial institutions adapting and evolving to stay competitive?


Particularly in the past year or so, financial institutions have started to show particular interest in incorporating blockchain technology into their processes. A lot are looking very seriously at tokenisation, stablecoins and DLT tech, and how they can benefit different use cases.


Can you share any insights or observations you've made regarding the impact of fintech on financial inclusion and access to services for underserved populations?


I don't have any specific numbers right now but I’ve covered news from a vast number of companies that are working to improve financial inclusion for underserved populations, and there are strong indications that they are making an impact. Things like alternative data are becoming more adopted by lenders and really opening out access to people that traditionally have found it difficult to access credit, and education initiatives seem to be really driving awareness of financial tools.  


What advice would you give to aspiring journalists interested in specializing in fintech reporting or covering the future of finance?

I think my biggest piece of advice is to be open to new approaches and ask as many questions as possible (and be sure to do research to back up claims). There’s so much innovation in fintech it’s such an exciting place to find out about new ways of approaching age old problems. But there can be a lot of PR hype surrounding things that have either been attempted before or aren't working as well as advertised so researching using a number of sources is normally the best approach (much like journalism for any other topic).

Another piece of advice is to go to as many conferences as possible, they are like an intense melting pot of ideas and even a comment in passing from a two minute conversation can end up somewhere unexpected. It also means you can get your name out there and build up your contact base quickly, which can make the difference when trying to write about something new.


What do you love most about reporting on fintech and its key players?


I love the out of the box thinking and optimism of the people in the fintech space. For the most part, they are genuinely trying to solve the issues they see in the world and use tech for good.


Photos: Isabelle Castro, iStock

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