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Jo Ann Barefoot explores how to create fair and inclusive consumer financial services through innovative ideas for industry and regulators

Increasing Economic Opportunity for  the Underserved - Luz Urrutia, Global Head of Retail at Oportun

Barefoot Innovation Podcast

Increasing Economic Opportunity for the Underserved - Luz Urrutia, Global Head of Retail at Oportun

Jo Ann Barefoot

Luz Urrutia, the global head of retail at Oportun, has been carrying the same credit card in her wallet for 30 years. Having moved from her native Venezuela to the U.S. to study finance at Georgia State University, Luz was thrilled when she landed her first job in the banking industry – only to have her credit card application rejected by the same bank where she worked! Having little or no credit can make adjusting to life in a new country extremely onerous. In our conversation, Luz points out that anything from getting a job to renting an apartment and hooking up utilities is often impossible without a FICO score.

Currently, almost half of the Hispanic community in the U.S. is underserved. Luz decided years ago to help the 25 million individuals who represent the un- and under-banked in her community by offering responsible credit-building and affordable loans. Before moving to California to broaden her mission, Luz co-founded and served as President and Chief Operating Office for El Banco de Nuestra Comunidad in Atlanta. Since then, her career has been characterized by a relentless drive to use technology and creative techniques to “score the unscorable” and serve those overlooked by traditional financial institutions.

Oportun, formerly Progreso Financiero, was founded in 2005 with the same goal of empowering underserved Hispanic consumers. Its proprietary technology platform scores applicants, even those who do not have credit, and enables Oportun to provide a highly personal experience with back-office efficiency. Headquartered in Redwood City, CA, the customer experience at Oportun is designed with the Hispanic customer in mind. This experience is disseminated through a network of more than 160 stores in five states, often conveniently co-located with or near Hispanic grocery stores, are open 7 days a week into the evening, and staffed by team members who speak Spanish.

In recognition of Oportun’s goals of increasing economic opportunity for its clients, promoting community development, and serving low-income or underserved communities, Oportun was certified by the United States Department of Treasury as a Community Development Financial Institution in November 2009 and re-certified in October 2013.

I spoke with Luz at the Center for Financial Services Innovation’s (CFSI) EMERGE conference in Austin, on whose board she has served since 2004 (full disclosure, I am also on the board). Luz has often been recognized for her commitment to improving the lives of underserved financial consumers, including being named as 2009’s Latina Business Woman of the Year and American Banker’s “Community Banker of the Year” in 2006. Perhaps the greatest reward for Luz, however, is the joy she feels pursuing her mission every day. In our interview you can gladden in her words imbued of passion and excitement (you’ll just have to trust that they were accompanied by a brilliant smile!).

I am happy to offer this episode of Barefoot Innovation as a pick-me-up for anyone who needs a reminder of the unique work being done throughout the industry to use innovation to enhance the lives of financial consumers, and what revolutionary breakthroughs a strong drive to help one’s community can render.

To learn more about Oportun Financial, click here.

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