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

Barefoot Innovation Podcast

Filtering by Category: Start-Ups

A Millennial Building for Millennials - Ollie Perdue of Loot

Jo Ann Barefoot

Today’s show features one of the most  interesting startups in London.

I was there in in late 2015 and looked up someone I’d been wanting to meet -- Jean-
Stephane Gourevitch,
(see more on Jean-Stephane below -- he is behind many of the most interesting fintech developments in Europe and will be on the show one day soon).  We met for coffee on the south bank of the Thames, near the Shard hotel, and he brought along a young entrepreneur, Ollie Perdue of Loot. Ollie showed me a quick Loot demo on his phone, and ever since, I’ve been avidly watching their progress.

A year later, I had a chance to do a podcast with Ollie. Sitting amidst their whiteboards marked up with problem-solving sketches and waiting list queues, he filled me in on their progress.

Loot is an app paired with a prepaid debit card, offering tremendously useful tools for easy budgeting, payments, and simple ways to set financial goals and get coached about how best to meet them. They also analyze the customer’s spending patterns and benchmark against peers -- helping the huge numbers of people who simply have no idea where they stand compared to where they should be, in financial health.

In our conversation Ollie describes how it all works, including how he got going and how he’s managed to launch something so impressive while still in his early twenties.The company has gotten a lot of attention, including raising an additional $3.13 in venture funds late last year. It’s aimed at young people and is one of the best offerings I’ve seen in hitting that sweet spot. That includes having an in-app ability to do customer service by text with (what else?) GIF’s.

Skeptics often argue that fintech is too narrow because so much of it aims for millennials. To that, I’d say two things. First, startups, out of sheer financial necessity, have to target early adopters -- markets that are likely to pick up a new product quickly and share it virally. That means a high percentage are starting with millennials. However, I don’t know any that plan to stop with them.

Secondly, millennials are the largest generation in the history of the world, both in the U.S. and globally. They surpassed the baby boomers a couple of  years ago. By sheer numbers alone, they’re going to dominate commerce and culture, just as baby boomers did as they came of age.

I made a speech last month to AFSA, who asked me to talk specifically about millennials as customers. Working on it made me think more deeply, myself, about how important it is that new financial technology is emerging concurrently with the rise of this huge generation -- whom we know, as both consumers and employees, want everything to be optimized by technology -- to be well-designed, fast, easy, friendly, engaging, and all the rest. If technology was changing, but customers weren’t, we can imagine slow adoption of innovation. Instead, today, both halves are transforming together -- the product and the user. That will change the market, not only for young customers, but for everyone, and in some ways, faster than we might think.

Millennials should not be underestimated -- especially thoughtful, energetic entrepreneurs like

Ollie Purdue.

More Links:

More for our listeners:

I'll hope to see you in March at LendIt in New York and SXSW in Austin. Also come to the FinXTech Summit in April and of course CFSI’s Emerge in June.

Remember to review Barefoot Innovation on ITunes, and please sign up to get emails on new podcasts and my newsletter and blog posts at  jsbarefoot.com.  My new post says 2017 will be the year of RegTech. Go there too to send in your “buck a show” to keep Barefoot Innovation going. Please also join my facebook fan page, and follow me on twitter.

See you next time!


Support the Podcast


Getting People on to the Credit Ladder: LendUp CEO Sasha Orloff

Jo Ann Barefoot

Today’s episode is about new ideas about a very old problem in consumer finance -- high-cost lending to high-risk borrowers. My guest is LendUp CEO Sasha Orloff, who is one of a new generation of fintech founders building alternatives to traditional payday lending.

In public policy, there has been a long-standing assumption, sometimes implicit and sometimes explicit, that widespread access to credit -- especially mortgages -- is a good thing. A host of government regulations, programs, and bank supervisory activities aim to promote more credit, because we’ve assumed that wider credit access is, broadly speaking, good.

Is it, though? Most people would agree that up to a point, it’s good, and beyond some point, it becomes bad. It definitely becomes bad at the point where the borrower can’t realistically repay the loan. It can also become bad if the pricing is so high that the person ends up worse off for borrowing, instead of better, especially if the borrower doesn’t understand the terms

We could do many episodes on the tough issues embedded in this question. One is whether it’s better to have high-cost loan options that are legal and subject to regulation, or to outlaw them, knowing that shutting down legal options will drive some desperate people to use illegal ones, which hurt them even more. Another is the philosophical question of how much the government should protect people from themselves. If the price of a high-cost loan is clear, and borrowers understand it, should the government respect their decision on whether to take it, or substitute its judgment for theirs and remove the option?

Again, public policy has been debating these issues for decades --  maybe centuries -- and still is, including through many of the initiatives taken to date by the CFPB.

In this podcast, we won’t tackle those questions, but will instead ask a very different one: What if we didn’t need to resolve them? What if, thanks to technology, we could solve the problems surrounding high-cost credit -- or a big chunk of them -- not through regulation, but in the marketplace.

LendUp.  Sasha Orloff founded LendUp to provide more affordable credit to the 50% of Americans with credit scores below 680. He had worked at a big bank, and at an NGO in the developing world, and had a brother in the technology world who kept telling him that better software could create better products. He finally founded LendUp, to build them.

LendUp offers credit products online -- which means it has, automatically, a lower cost structure than the traditional bank model of branches. As Sasha explains in our discussion, it has also designed its products to offer borrowers a gateway to better credit scores, credit options, and financial health.

LendUp is backed by major investors including Y-Combinator, Google Ventures, QED Investors, Startfund, Kleiner Perkins, A16Z seed fund, Thomvest Ventures, Kapor Capital, Bronze Investments, Founders Co-Op, Data Collective, Susa Ventures, and Radicle Impact.

Sasha and the firm have been featured in the Wall Street Journal, NYTimes, Financial Times, CNN, NBC, TechCrunch, Venturebeat, Inc, Wired, Bloomberg, Fortune, Dow Jones, American Banker, Marketplace and many others. He has presented at TEDx, and LendUp, and they won Finovate Best In Show. FastCompany named the firm as one of the World’s Top 10 Most Innovative Companies in Personal Finance, and it won runner up in Webbys for best website design. They have presented at LendIt, Emerge, Money20/20, The HubSF, NBC News, and Huffington Post Live, and participate in The Clinton Global Initiative on Financial Inclusion. Sasha also serves on the Consumer Lending Advisory Board for TransUnion (one of the three major credit bureaus)

A regulatory note.  After Sasha and I recorded this episode, the CFPB announced an enforcement action against LendUp. The order is, among other things, a warning flag for startups about the importance, and the great challenges, of maintaining complete regulatory compliance in the midst of rapid growth. The company has responded with a massive expansion of compliance staff. Following the announcement of consent order last fall, it issued this statement:

We started LendUp because the traditional banking system wasn’t working for more than half of Americans. From day one, we’ve committed ourselves to offering better, safer and more transparent credit products and to aligning the success of our business with the success of our customers.

We genuinely believed the product features that were identified by the CFPB and the California DBO– like optional expedited funding and a 30 cent per day discount for early repayment—were in the best interests of our customers. But we fell short in the execution and in meeting the expectations of our regulators.  We have since taken action to resolve every issue they’ve raised, including beginning to refund customers prior to entry of the Consent Order and Settlement Agreement.

We’ve also made significant investments to build out our legal and compliance operations. In this respect, we are a different company today, with a completely new legal and compliance team that is larger now than our entire company when we started these exams. Importantly, those teams are brought in at the beginning of the development lifecycle for every new product and feature.

We are proud of the progress we’ve made to expand access to credit, lower borrowing costs and provide credit-building opportunities to our customers. LendUp has:

  • Graduated more than 20,000 borrowers to the highest rungs of the LendUp Ladder in more than 11 states

  • Saved Californians alone more than $18M in 2016 (and an estimated $40M to date nationwide)

  • Delivered over 800,000 free credit education classes; and

  • Helped LendUp customers improve their credit scores: according to TransUnion data, 66% of LendUp customers showed a credit score increase – more than those in the control group using similar types of products from other lenders.

We are eager to keep building on this track record, and look forward to continuing our work to put our customers on paths to better financial health.

I have found Sasha to be one of the most thoughtful people in fintech. I think you’ll be fascinated by his overview of the shrinking of the American middle class, the impact of the smartphone revolution; innovation models fort startups versus banks; how making financial education interesting; and how to redesign regulation for the 21st century,

The loans at Lendup cost less than traditional payday options, but more than loans to prime customers, because the borrowers are simply higher risk. If lenders can’t charge enough to cover that risk, they won’t serve these customers. If they can, though, and if they can leverage technology to gain efficiency and underwriting accuracy, and if they can enable high-risk borrowers to build and repair credit records, and if they can educate people about managing their finances, and can also make a great return on capital and then truly scale up…. then seemingly unsolvable problems can, maybe, begin to.get solved.

More links:

More for our listeners:

I'll hope to see you at "LendIt in New York in February, SXSW in March, FinXTech Summit in April and of course CFSI’s Emerge in June.

Remember to review Barefoot Innovation on iTunes, and please sign up to get emails on new podcasts and my newsletter and blog posts at jsbarefoot.com.  My latest post argues for some healthy regulatory disruption as a new administration takes office. Go there too to send in your “buck a show” to keep Barefoot Innovation going. Please also join my Facebook fan page, and follow me on twitter.

Support the Podcast

And watch for the next podcast, because we’re going to turn to innovation in small business lending. My guest will be Karen Mills, the former Administrator of the SBA and at Harvard Business School, where she has just issued an updated study on small business lending This one is focused mainly on fintech. We had a fascinating conversation. See you then!



Fintech for Everyone : Vinay Patel and Max Gasner from Bee

Jo Ann Barefoot

I enjoy all my guests on Barefoot Innovation, but if someone forced me to choose my favorite episodes, this one would be on the list. It’s partly because my guests, the co-founders of Bee, were so fun to talk with, and so thoughtful. And it’s also because they are addressing one of the objections people raise to fintech – the notion that it’s only for millennials.

Bee was founded in June of 2015 by Vinay Patel and brothers Max and Alex Grasner as an outgrowth of One Financial Holdings, a 'venture-backed laboratory for innovation in retail financial services'. In pioneering an innovative capital-light model using pop-up kiosks and street teams to sign up customers in-person, Bee is able to offer top quality financial services at a significantly lower cost than traditional brick-and-mortar bank branches. Bee is specifically targeting the lack of quality services for low-and moderate-income underserved people (although my guests point out that 'underserved' and 'underbanked' are not words people use to describe themselves). The product is intended to function as an alternative to checking accounts, structured as a prepaid card paired with a mobile app. Bee partners with Community Federal Savings Bank to offer alternatives to checking and savings accounts to its customers in New York and California. 

Part of what makes this interesting is Bee’s specific hybrid model of personal touch and high tech. They’re trying to put the human beings where customers need them the most – in explaining and opening the account. And then they’re trying to drive down costs overall by not providing branches and tellers for routine functions. Bee’s team goes in person into underserved neighborhoods in New York and San Francisco, and they set up eye-catching mobile kiosks, which they compare to food trucks. They get people interested and then help them through a thorough process of thinking through their needs; opening an account; setting up and learning to use the app; and then, often, letting the new customer stay on to take advantage of the Bee wifi hotspot.

The in-person signup process also helps guard against money laundering, since people are seen face-to-face. 

I think you’ll be fascinated by Max and Vinay’s insights into these consumers, including their huge financial savvy -- how thoroughly they know their money situations, and how they optimize their spending on their phones (and the challenges of working with such a wide array of phones that may be old or broken). Vinay and Max talk about their customers’ worries about both pricing uncertainties and payment delays (issues that are being tackled by other innovators as well).   

One repeated theme is the company’s commitment to treating these customers with respect by providing a product that is obviously high-quality, right down to the thickness of the card, and providing a truly fantastic user experience on the app. They say customers often take selfies with the Bee team, at the end of setting up an account. 

Bee’s CEO, Vinay Patel, has a joint law degree and MBA from NYU. He spent 5 years teaching at NYU Business school and at Columbia Public Policy Business School. He then moved on to McKinsey and Co. as a consultant to banks and government. 

Max Gasner has a background as an investment stock broker on Wall street from 2007 – part of what motivated this work. He has also worked in the Bay area at an AI company  - Prior Knowledge, and then moved on to a tech company which eventually morphed into Salesforce

We recorded this episode several months ago. Since then the company has grown. It also won national recognition in New Orleans in June at the Emerge Conference, as one of the winners of the Financial Solutions Lab competition run by the Center for Financial Services Innovation and funded by JPMorgan Chase.

Max and Vinay are eloquent on the need for regulators to allow space for robust innovation – just one startup might create the 10X breakthrough that can change people’s lives. They’re also thoughtful on their commitment to earning compelling returns for their investors, including Blumberg CapitalFenway Summer Ventures and AXA Strategy Ventures.  They aim to do this with their unique formula of delivering personal attention and high value to a huge, largely untapped market, at very low cost.

 Enjoy my conversation with Bee.


Prior to Bee, Vinay spent five years at McKinsey & Company, where he advised leaders of US banks and public sector organizations on executing large-scale IT modernization programs. Vinay is a faculty member at both NYU Stern School of Business and Columbia School of International and Public Affairs, where he has taught courses on Enterprise Strategy, Game Theory, and Data Visualization. Vinay holds a J.D. and an M.B.A from NYU, and a B.A. with honors in Economics from the University of Chicago. He is happily married and lives in Brooklyn.

LinkedIn

Twitter: @patelpost

More about Max

Prior to Bee, Max built and sold a machine learning company to Salesforce.com and traded equities in NY and London. Max holds a B.A. in South Asian Languages and Civilizations from the University of Chicago, where he graduated after spending two years at Deep Springs College. He lives in West Oakland.

LinkedIn

Twitter: @gasnerpants

More about Bee

Bee is a financial technology startup built on the principle that all Americans deserve convenient, high quality retail financial services. Bee has pioneered an innovative capital-light model using pop-up street teams and kiosks to sign up customers in-person for financial services at significantly lower cost than with traditional brick-and-mortar bank branches. Bee partners with Community Federal Savings Bank to offer alternatives to checking and savings accounts to its customers in New York and California. Bee has ambitious plans to expand its product offering and geographic footprint over the coming years.

Its major investors are Blumberg Capital, AXA Strategic Ventures, T5 Capital, Fenway Summer Ventures, and Western Technology Investment

Websiteswww.onefinancialholdings.com and www.beecard.us


Support the podcasts - A buck a show!

I've decided to distill a lesson from the popular podcast series Hardcore History, by emulating their habit of asking everyone to send them "a buck a show." Some years ago, the show's host Dan Carlin realized the podcast was taking over his life - much as Barefoot Innovation has been doing with mine! He hit on the idea of asking listeners for "a buck a show," and eventually reached the point where he can devote himself to producing the series. Barefoot Innovation is produced part-time by me and two young, very talented helpers. One of them has a day job and the other is a full-time graduate student. If all our listeners will chip in a buck a show, we'll be able to expand our interviews, accelerate our pace (believe it or not, we currently run at a four- to five-month backlog from recording date to posting!), and be able to do some fun new things we have in mind for you. We'll appreciate any and all help to keep the show going, and growing!

And remember to post a review on iTunes.

Support the Podcast


Cost Cutting with the Blockchain - Blythe Masters, CEO of Digital Asset Holdings

Jo Ann Barefoot

Barefoot Innovation usually explores technology that touches financial consumers - new products and new ways of managing money. Today's episode pivots 180 degrees and looks internally, inside financial companies, at the equally transformative change underway in how financial products are made and delivered.

My conversation is with Blythe Masters, CEO of Digital Asset Holdings, and our topic is the blockchain -- distributed ledger technology, or DLT.

Most of our listeners know that the blockchain, created by the inventors of Bitcoin, is expanding far beyond digital currency and has revolutionary potential for changing how society operates.  Any complex system that keeps records or involves chains of transactions - payments, contracts, titles, tickets, warranties, exchanges of all kinds, government records, medical information, purchasing systems - anything -- can potentially be managed through distributed ledgers that can eliminate most of the current costs as well as errors, uncertainty, and fraud. DLT can also enable trustable transactions among parties who don't know each other, without need for a trusted intermediary. That's because safeguards are built into the technology itself, by making all the records and transactions transparent to all parties and preventing duplication or fabrication of information.

Blythe Masters says she began as a skeptic because, like many people, she equated the blockchain with Bitcoin and, given Bitcoin's colorful developments, dismissed both. However, after leaving her long career as a senior executive at JPMorgan Chase, she took a closer look and became a convert. Today she's leading one of the most exciting and best-financed firms in the field, Digital Asset Holdings in New York.

We had a chance to sit down together at the 2016 Fintech Forum of Women in Housing and Finance in Washington, where she shared her vision for the power of DLT to transform the internal operations of banks.

Note that DLT systems can be either open-access and "permissionless," moving information on the open internet as with digital currency, or can be closed and "permissioned" within a single organization or a gatekeeping group that shares a common need. (For more on open systems and digital currency, see our episode with Jeremy Allaire of Circle.) Large banks are actively exploring use of closed DLT systems to streamline their internal operations to cut out expense, mistakes, and the slowness caused by the need for reconciliation of records. These efforts will bring enormous cost savings, for three reasons. First, the DLT system is simply cheaper to operate. Second, it eliminates many kinds of errors - and preventing, detecting and correcting errors is a massive source of expense in every financial company. And third, reducing delay will also reduce the need to hold capital against the risks that attend pending transactions.

I would add that DLT will, over time, open up the opportunity to modernize and streamline regulation itself, through use of "reg-tech" relies on automated data in many areas that are now subject to expensive traditional examination.

Blythe thinks DLT is coming to banking much faster than people think - that these solutions will be in commercial deployment in just two years! One reason is that banks can modularize them, dropping DLT into functions that need it and then connecting them up with the other, older systems.

She makes another interesting argument, which is that those notoriously outdated old systems are going to have to be replaced soon anyway. Many are about thirty years old use computer languages no longer taught in college. The industry will have to invest in new technology, and DLT solutions will fortunately be ready at just the right time to permit a real leap forward in efficiency and effectiveness. Blythe also says regulators are thinking right about these challenges and have the right tools to manage them.

Her company is focused on banks' non-consumer activities, but think about the impact of these changes for everyone. Smart phones are demolishing the cost structure of delivering financial services, worldwide. Simultaneously, DLT is demolishing the cost of manufacturing and servicing them. The combination will bring vastly more efficient, affordable and accessible services.

Blythe Masters is a fascinating person. She was previously a senior executive at J.P. Morgan, where she started as an intern and spent 27 years. In 2007 she was named head of Global Commodities, and left the firm in 2014 upon the unit's successful sale. She had also been responsible for the Corporate & Investment Bank's Regulatory Affairs, and was a member of the J.P. Morgan Corporate & Investment Bank Operating Committee and previously the firm's Executive Committee.

From 2004 to 2007, she was Chief Financial Officer of the Investment Bank. Previously she headed the Global Credit Portfolio and Credit Policy and Strategy. Earlier positions included head of North American Structured Credit Products, co-head of Asset Backed Securitization and head of Global Credit Derivatives Marketing.

From 2012 to 2014, Blythe was chair of the Global Financial Markets Association (GFMA). From 2008-2010 she was chair of the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (SIFMA). She currently chairs the board of Santander Consumer USA Holdings and serves on the boards the Breast Cancer Research Foundation and the Global Fund for Women. She is an avid amateur equestrian.

Her efforts have long generated interest and buzz, including this feature story in Bloomberg, others in Fortune and CNBC, and a Financial Times story on her company's blockchain test with Chase.

In our discussion I quoted from an invaluable report on DLT by the Bank of England. Here is the quote I cited in our conversation - the report's opening lines:

              "The progress of mankind is marked by the rise of new technologies and the human ingenuity they unlock. In distributed ledger technology, we may be witnessing one of those potential explosions of creative potential that catalyse exceptional levels of innovation....that could prove to have the capacity to deliver a new kind of trust to a wide range of services."

Please enjoy this thought-provoking conversation with Blythe Masters.
 


Support the podcasts - A buck a show!

I've decided to distill a lesson from the popular podcast series Hardcore History, by emulating their habit of asking everyone to send them "a buck a show." Some years ago, the show's host Dan Carlin realized the podcast was taking over his life - much as Barefoot Innovation has been doing with mine! He hit on the idea of asking listeners for "a buck a show," and eventually reached the point where he can devote himself to producing the series. Barefoot Innovation is produced part-time by me and two young, very talented helpers. One of them has a day job and the other is a full-time graduate student. If all our listeners will chip in a buck a show, we'll be able to expand our interviews, accelerate our pace (believe it or not, we currently run at a four- to five-month backlog from recording date to posting!), and be able to do some fun new things we have in mind for you. We'll appreciate any and all help to keep the show going, and growing!

And remember to post a review on iTunes.

Support the Podcast


FINANCIAL INCLUSION: RAUL VAZQUEZ OF OPORTUN

Jo Ann Barefoot

In addition to our podcast, please take a look at Raul's keynote at the EMERGE Forum.

I am constantly amazed by the fascinating and unpredictable course of our conversations on Barefoot Innovation - and what a fun one I had with Raul Vazquez, CEO of Oportun. I always like to ask my guests to tell us how they, themselves, keep up with technology. With Raul, I asked this just as I thought we were wrapping up, and the question launched us on a whole new conversation. He's definitely my first guest to bring up potential uses of virtual reality in financial services, not to mention the first to describe virtually interacting with bison.  He thinks we're heading to a "transformative" ability for "anyone, regardless of their incomes" to be able to immerse themselves in a virtual world to try out products and experiences.

As sometimes happens as I get to know great innovators, this is a second podcast with the same company -- click here to listen to our prior discussion with Luz Urrutia, Global Head of Retail. Oportun is based in Silicon Valley and was formerly called Progresso Financiero. It leverages advanced data analytics and technology to provide affordable, credit-building loans to U.S. Hispanics and others with limited or no credit history. The company's proprietary platform risk-scores loan applicants, calculates each one's ability to repay, approves the loans it believes can be paid back, and sets loan amounts and terms to fit individual budgets. Customer accounts are also reported to credit bureaus to help establish credit history. The goal is to combine a highly personal experience with back-office efficiency. Between 2006 and 2015, Oportun helped more than 689,000 customers, disbursing more than $2.2 billion through more than 1.3 million small dollar loans.

Raul joined Oportun in 2012 after nine years in senior leadership roles at Walmart, including as EVP and President of Walmart West, President and CEO of Walmart.com, and EVP of Global eCommerce for developed markets. He also serves on the Board of Directors of Staples, Inc. and is a member of the Federal Reserve Board's Community Advisory Council. He's a graduate of Stanford University with BS and MS degrees in industrial engineering, and also earned an MBA at the University of Pennsylvania.

This is one of those fun episodes where we could have kept talking for hours if we hadn't run out of time. So...enjoy my conversation with Raul Vazquez!

To learn more about Oportun Financial, click here.

Click here to Opor-tune in to Raul's presentation at last year's EMERGE conference about Oportun's four key learnings so far.

To register for this year's indispensable Emerge in June in New Orleans, click here.

And here's my favorite Wired article on voice technology: "We're on the Brink of a Revolution in Crazy-Smart Digital Assistants"


A note on the podcasts - A buck a show!

I've decided to distill a lesson from the popular podcast series Hardcore History, by emulating their habit of asking everyone to send them "a buck a show." Some years ago, the show's host Dan Carlin realized the podcast was taking over his life - much as Barefoot Innovatoin has been doing with mine! He hit on the idea of asking listeners for "a buck a show," and eventually reached the point where he can devote himself to producing the series. Barefoot Innovation is produced part-time by me and two young, very talented helpers. One of them has a day job and the other is a full-time graduate student. If all our listeners will chip in a buck a show, we'll be able to expand our interviews, accelerate our pace (believe it or not, we currently run at a four- to five-month backlog from recording date to posting!), and be able to do some fun new things we have in mind for you. We'll appreciate any and all help to keep the show going, and growing!

And remember to post a review on ITunes.

Support the Podcast


A note on my Regulation Innovation videos and the most important writing I've ever done

Also click here to watch the new Regulation Innovation videos we've posted and read the new articles. These are currently a free sample but will soon become limited to subscribers. Every month, I'm creating a short video briefing and then backing it up with a deep article that shares what I've been learning about financial innovation, and also shares my hard-earned secrets about how I've been learning it. The articles are rich with links to resources -- everything from news reports and white papers to statistical trends to my very favorite Ted Talks.

My goal is to use this pairing of videos and deep articles to repackage my consulting advice, so it can reach a wide audience affordably. In essence, I'm searching the fintech world and curating the best insights for you. As a series, it's a journey through this changing landscape, finding the keys to thriving on disruption with me as your guide.

I've done a huge amount of writing over the years - I've published hundreds of articles. These are the most important, valuable writings I've ever done. Again, these are currently free - I hope everyone will try them out.
 


Upcoming shows

We have terrific shows come up - the amazing Blythe Masters, the very innovative founders of Bee, and much more.  Join me then!



Effortless Investing : Jon Stein of Betterment

Jo Ann Barefoot

Welcome to Barefoot Innovation and to a new dimension in the topics we explore. We've talked with many startups in lending, payments, and managing personal finance. Today, we're looking at the most exciting change underway in the investment space - "robo-investing." My guest is Jon Stein, the founder and CEO of Betterment.

We met in their fast-growing offices in New York, a converted warehouse steeped in industrial character and with mouth-watering aromas wafting from a very substantial food bar that lined one end of the busy open space, and offering the special charm unique to businesses where people bring their dogs to work.

In our conversations, Jon told me the story of his personal journey. He graduated from Harvard and - since, as he says, no one was recruiting for jobs with the description of "making people happy" - went into finance. Eventually he went on to Columbia Business School, gained Series 7, 24, 63 certifications, and become a CFA, Chartered Financial Analyst. He expresses respect for traditional financial businesses, but became frustrated by their transactional focus, and also by his own financial life - he had 7 brokerage accounts, invested in Enron, and finally concluded that the industry encourages the wrong investor behaviors, especially in trying to "beat the market." He'd studied both economics and human behavior in college (before behavioral economics caught on) and realized that his interests lie at the intersection of behavior, psychology, and economics. He remembers a professor saying "how crazy people can be, and how very often they would get in their own way, and how even when we wanted to do the right thing, we would do the wrong thing."

He also says he always knew he wanted to do "something big."

So in 2008, he founded Betterment.

Betterment is now the largest independent "robo-advisor," with $4.3 billion in assets under management and 150,000 customers. I've interviewed many founders of startups on Barefoot Innovation, but this is the first one that runs commercials on television.

Betterment aims to optimize investment through automation that produces sound advice for the long term, and that also makes the process both easy and more affordable. It builds around what Jon considers the MOST important advice -- which is too often overlooked, namely -- "How much to save?" The company has also taken on the "behavior gap" in financial advice - Betterment has the lowest in the industry and is trying to drive it to zero.

They are also constantly driving for efficiency gains (his colleagues say if you want to sell Jon on an idea just tell him it will increase efficiency), and for fee transparency. They think this combination of strengths - being advice-centric, transparent, and hyper-efficient -- will revolutionize the investment world. They also think their model, over time, can be applied to a much broader set of financial services. As Jon's biography puts it, "What excites him most about his work is making everyday activities and products more efficient, accessible, and easy to use."

One highlight of our conversation is his insights on the thorny questions of how these innovations should be regulated, including on the advice given, how data should be used to be sure it's helping customers, and how performance should be measured.
 


Note on upcoming podcasts

Click below to donate your "buck a show" to keep Barefoot Innovation going and growing. (If you didn't hear my explanation on this, it's at the end of the previous episode, with Raul Vazquez of Oportun).

Support the Podcast

Upcoming shows are going to be so interesting. Keying off Jon Stein's thinking on human behavior, we'll have an episode with one of America's top experts in how behavioral economics impacts investment and retirement savings, Harvard Professor Brigitte Madrian. I'm delighted to say Brigitte is also my faculty advisor on the book I'm writing on financial innovation and regulation for my Harvard fellowship this year.

We're also working on a fascinating show on innovation emerging in the insurance sector, dubbed, "insure-tech."

Other guests in the queue include some of the country's most thoughtful bank compliance officers, and the very thoughtful founders of Bee.


Note on Regulation Innovation Briefing Series

Meanwhile, click here to explore my Regulation Innovation briefings, while you still can for free!  The briefings are short monthly videos, each paired with a deep article about the twin and intertwined challenges of financial innovation and regulation. They are still free for a few more weeks, and then the series will be for subscribers, so please check it out.

As I said last time, these articles are the most important and valuable thing I've ever written. I hope you'll join the journey.



Its Still Simple : Josh Reich One Year Later

Jo Ann Barefoot

This episode updates one of the very first ones we did in our Barefoot Innovation series, last year. Episode Two featured the two co-founders of Simple, Josh Reich and Shamir Karkal. A year later, we all found ourselves back at the same conference where we'd recorded that program. Shamir has now taken on a new role, leading the open platform innovation of the very innovative bank that bought Simple, BBVA.  Josh, though, is still CEO of Simple (a fact that he says tends to surprise people). So on a very rainy afternoon in Southern California, he and I found a place where we could duck out of the weather (you may hear the deluge in the background), and talked about how Simple has progressed in the year just past.

So...very few people are more fun to talk with than Josh Reich, but I think my favorite thing about this episode might not be the podcast, fascinating as it is, but rather something the podcast led me to. In our conversation, Josh talks about a customer whose dog chewed her debit card - twice! Simple sent her a customer appreciation package with the second card, and she was so grateful that she made a YouTube video about getting it.

Every banker in the world should watch this:  customer appreciation reaction video
 


I won't update the full show notes here - please look at Episode 2 for the basics on Simple which, again, is now part of BBVA bank.  And if you missed it, be sure to listen also to my podcast with Manolo Sanchez, the CEO of BBVA Compass, who I think may be the most innovative bank president anywhere. BBVA is all-in on fintech innovation.

Also, Josh and I did not get to a key update, which is the big move Simple made last year to eliminate ALL its checking account fees. I'm linking to his blog post here explaining what they did and why.  Remember, Barefoot Innovation is a search for better solutions for financial consumers through all kinds of innovation. BBVA and Simple are making this search in a great many interesting ways.

So enjoy hearing Josh's insights, ranging from how to succeed when a big banks buys a small innovator, to the make-or-break power of a bank's culture, to the incredible efficiencies of growing a bank without branches - he shares some numbers -- to his advice for regulators.

And watch for fantastic episodes coming up: Oportun CEO Raul Vazquez; Betterment CEO Jon Stein; two of the country's top compliance officers, together; and Blythe Masters of Digital Asset Holdings - to name a few.

 


Regulation Innovation Video Series: Briefing One - The Five Tech Trends Driving Financial Transformation

The Five Tech Trends - the latest video in the Regulation Innovation Video series.

Meanwhile be sure to sign up for our new video series, Regulation Innovation - Thriving on Disruption.

These are short briefings - 10 to 15 minutes each - designed to be the single easiest way to understand the huge issues raised by fintech, in both technology and regulation, and how best to address them.

Since fintech is far more about "tech" than "fin," we're starting the series with The Five Tech trends transforming finance.

Plus we have a lighthearted little extra, straight from my own kitchen, on how I was inspired to some thoughts about innovation by a very unusual gadget.

The briefings are designed share in meetings and training sessions, from board rooms to business and compliance teams. They come with access to a subscriber-only website with resources and advice. We have group pricing available - just contact us!

Please sign up for them, and also to get my podcasts by email. And be sure to leave reviews on ITunes.


Please consider a donation to support our efforts to bring the best thought leaders in the financial innovation world to you.

A dollar a show is all we ask.

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CFSI's Innovation Contest

Jo Ann Barefoot

We have a very special show today. I realized – rather late – that we should do an episode on the CFSI financial solutions lab competition. It’s belated, because the contest is open, now, for its second year of applications, and the deadline is April 7 – just a few days from now. 

My guests are Ryan Falvey, who heads the lab, plus three of last year’s 9 winners. They are Sheri Atwood of SupportPay; Jerry Nemorin, of LendStreet, and Quinten Farmer of Even. They explain how the competition works, what they are looking for this year, and, from the standpoint of last year’s winners, what they have gotten from participating in the program.

FINLAB:  The FinLab is investing about $5 million each year in the contest winners, who also receive a huge array of expert advice and access to networks and resources. Here’s the information on the competition and how to apply by April 7 Finlab.cfsinnovation.com. And here is an overview of the full list of last year’s winners.

For today’s show, we’re featuring these guests:

RYAN FALVEY

As a Managing Director at the Center for Financial Services Innovation, Ryan oversees the Financial Solutions Lab, bringing together innovators from the fields of technology, behavioral economics, nonprofit services and design to provide guidance, share best practices and develop scalable financial products. He loves to help organizations solve hard problems. Prior to joining CFSI, Ryan was at Silicon Valley Bank, working with leading technology firms to develop innovative payment products and solutions. He also served as the Strategy Group Lead at Enclude Solutions, overseeing its global strategy consulting work in over 30 countries and supporting the development of several of the world’s most successful mobile-enabled financial products. Ryan has a graduate degree from Yale and an undergraduate degree from UCLA. 

Twitter: @TheFinLab@CFSInnovation

Personal Twitter: @Ryan_Falvey

SHERI ATWOOD

Sheri Atwood, Founder and CEO of SupportPay by Ittavi (acronym for “it takes a village"), is a former Silicon Valley executive, single mom and child of a bitter divorce. Atwood, who was raised by a single mother and was the only person in her family to attend college, married at 19, completed her undergraduate degree in less than 4 years and completed her MBA 10 days before her daughter was born. When Atwood herself divorced at 25, she was the youngest Vice President at Symantec. Before SupportPay, there was no easy way for parents to exchange child support -- and Atwood was so determined to create a solution that she taught herself to code and is today an expert in front-end development. Atwood was named “#5 of 50 Women in Tech Dominating Silicon Valley” and a "Top 40 Under 40 Executive in Silicon Valley." 

Website: www.supportpay.com

Twitter: @SupportPayApp

Personal Twitter: @SheriAtwood

JERRY NEMORIN

Jerry is founder and CEO of LendStreet. He previously worked at Bank of America Merrill Lynch in its Global Corporate & Investing Banking division, helping major companies restructure their debt during the financial crisis and raise money from the high yield debt market. Jerry is now putting that expertise to use in a way that helps consumers in financial distress deal with their debt and rebuild their credit.

Jerry has been a speaker, guest, and advocate for responsible lending and sustainable financial services on Capitol Hill and industry events such as Finovate, SWIFT Innotribe Competition, Experian's Vision Conference and Credit Suisse Impact Investing Conference.

Jerry recently served as Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the Darden School of Business Incubator. He began his career in Tyco's Treasury group and received a B.S. in Finance and Exercise & Sports Science from the University of Florida and an M.B.A. from the Darden Graduate School of BusinessAdministration at the University of Virginia.

Website: www.lendstreet.com

Twitter: @LendStreet

Personal Twitter: @JNemorin

QUINTEN FARMER

Quinten Farmer is Co-Founder at Even. Previously, Quinten ran Client Operations at Taykey, a venture-backed advertising technology company, and was Vice President of Operations at Onswipe, a New York-based startup. Quinten studied Computer Science at Columbia University, and also founded the Open Loans Project, a nonprofit working to bring transparency to the student loans industry. He founded Even to help employers enable workers to even out timing mismatches between paychecks and expenses, especially in volatile or disruptive situations.

Website: https://even.com

Personal Twitter: @Quintendf


Also, be sure to come to the CFSI Emerge Forum on Consumer Financial Health, in New Orleans, June 14-17. The new contest winners will be announced, and there will be an amazing lineup of speakers and events focused on technology solutions to building consumer financial health and well being.


As always, please donate to my free podcast series (which seems to be trying to take over my life) and please write a review of it on ITunes!

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