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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: Innovators

A Healthy Credit Card: Jason Gross, CEO of Petal

Jo Ann Barefoot

Gross 1.png

I love having guests on the show who look at something that everyone takes for granted and said, why do we do it that way? That’s what today’s guest, Jason Gross, has done with credit cards. Jason is the CEO of Petal. He and his co-founders have designed a card that has a different business model and aims at a different market.

Credit cards have always sparked mixed feelings among consumer advocates and policymakers. On the upside, they provide incredible convenience and safety, over cash. On the down side, critics worry that that convenience factor is a double edged sword -- making spending too convenient and fueling over-consumption and under-saving.

People also worry that cards are hard to understand. For decades, policymakers have tried repeatedly to solve that by regulating card disclosures and practices with requirements to  disclose the annual percentage rate and fees; make key information prominent in the so-called Schumer Box (named after New York Senator Charles Schumer); require a grace period; bar retroactive raising of interest rates; limit marketing to college students; disclose the long-term costs of paying only the minimum balance and much more. Concern about credit cards prompted Senator Elizabeth Warren, back when she was a Harvard Law professor, to begin fighting what she called “tricks and traps” in financial products, and also business models that rely on penalty fees or interest for their profitability. That concern led to the CARD Act of 2009, and then to the creation of the CFPB itself.

The Petal card is trying to solve these challenges. It’s offering simpler, more transparent terms. It addresses the overspending problem by designing the card to encourage customers to pay the full balance each month, rather than revolve. And it’s tackling a third problem, which is reaching the tens of millions of people who don’t have a credit card. For most people, these cards are the first rung on the ladder to building a credit record so that they can later get a car loan or mortgage. Millennials have tended to avoid them, partly due to coming of age in the financial crisis and becoming leery about incurring debt. Jason notes that some young people are “sponsored” into the system by parents who provided them with cards, but for those who aren’t, it’s hard to build credit.

That’s a catch 22 -- you can’t get a card because you don’t have a credit record, and you can’t build a credit record because you don’t have a card. Petal is solving that with one of the most important kinds of innovations underway in finance, namely, use of alternative data to evaluate risk. They are looking at the person’s own payment and income history, as reflected in their bank account, to determine ability to pay.

Accessing that information has become controversial, as banks worry about allowing a third party to see this data even with the consumer’s permission, in case something goes wrong. However, the ability of consumers to allow such access is the life’s blood of most of the innovation underway in consumer finance. The CFPB is evaluating the issues arising around this, including questions like who really “owns” consumers’ bank account data, whether third parties’ data uses should be regulated, and whether we need to clarify where liability should fall in the event data is misused or breached. A lot of people are working on this issue. Solving it is one of the most important steps we can take toward making finance more inclusive.

Listeners have often heard me say that I’ve spent most of my career working with efforts to promote consumer financial health and inclusion by regulating the financial industry, and that I think the results have been mixed at best! A few years ago, I realized that technology could do most of what we’ve been trying to do through policy (if we get the policy right). Petal is trying to do that -- use new data and technology to offer a product that they think will be highly profitable -- despite leaving some kinds of revenue on the table -- because consumers will choose it. Watching them will be fascinating.

More information

Articles on Petal’s September launch:






Jason's Article in Medium:

My podcast with Digit CEO Ethan Block (another example of innovators leveraging bank account data)

More for our listeners

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I’ll hope to see you at the events where I’ll be speaking this fall:

I’ll also be speaking in December to the Dutch Central Bank on financial innovation in December. I do many presentations for regulators and welcome those invitations. Regulators, in my view, have the hardest and most important role to play in financial innovation.

We have wonderful shows coming up. I’ll be talking with Andres Wolberg-Stok of Citi Fin Tech. And I’m going to do one on one of the most fascinating experiences I’ve had in years -- I participated this month in the U.S. Army’s Threatcasting exercise  -- sort of a war-gaming process where we “threatcast” technology risks ten years into the future, and then “backcast” thinking about what we could do, today, to prevent the problem. It was off the chart fascinating.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    We also have a show coming up with Miles Reidy, Partner at the venture firm QED. Miles and I had a fun and fascinating talk about two topics -- the investment outlook for regtech, and then how to find and work with a venture capital firm.

Speaking of RegTech, we’re going to have a show with Merlon Intelligence, an AML regtech firm, and also a special show with my own co-founders -- at Hummingbird RegTech. I’m proud to say that Hummingbird has been selected to present at Money 2020 in the startup pitch session. Be sure to come and watch!

Meanwhile, keep innovating!

Remaking the Financial Rails: Ripple CEO Chris Larsen

Jo Ann Barefoot


Welcome to today’s show.

One night last summer I attended a small dinner in New York hosted by the editors of a global financial publication, on financial innovation. We had some of fintech’s brightest stars seated around the table, but I remember offering the view that the person there who was most likely to actually revolutionize the financial system was Chris Larsen, the CEO of Ripple. Most fintech innovators are building new things on the system’s old footings.  Ripple is trying to reshape the foundation itself.

As you’ll hear in our discussion, Chris and I first met about five years ago when the wider world had barely heard of Bitcoin, and blockchains and digital currency were still causing mostly head-scratching (at best). He had an impressive past that included co-founding eLoan and Prosper before Open Coin, which is now Ripple. The company’s mission is to create  interoperable global finance -- easy movement of money, and other forms of value, throughout the world. An analogy (which we also discussed in my earlier podcast with Circle CEO Jeremy Allaire) is to do for money what the internet did for information, enabling it to move instantly, cheaply, and accurately to everyone, everywhere.

I notice that people whose work is hard to explain use lovely, lively language and imagery. It’s certainly true of Chris. He talks about paper mail and rails and siloes and blocked pipes and, my favorite -- shipping containers, which he says boosted global trade by 700%, with the simple step of standardizing containers so they can fit efficiently on any ship, truck or train, anywhere in the world. He discusses a book on how this changed the world -- The Box by Marc Levinson. That inspired me to include the picture below, of a fully-loaded container ship as it passed along beside my apartment, which overlooks Boston Harbor.



In this episode, Chris says interoperability in finance is the last missing link that’s needed for truly efficient global commerce. He discusses the possible “science fiction” of connecting 50 billion devices through the internet of things. He describes how micropayments can transform functions ranging from ocean monitoring to financial access. He talks about people in huge swaths of Africa who have phones and Google but no connected way to pay for things -- and imagines the global growth that would be sparked by adding two billion people into mainstream payments and commerce. He imagines these solutions even helping to solve the problems caused by globalization.

Chris also talks about the crucial roles of banks, which are key partners for Ripple, and of regulators, including the risk that America’s splintered regulatory system could undermine our leading global role in finance which he says will be “up for grabs” as many countries compete.

And he explains, tellingly, how his views on “disruption” have evolved over time.

We recorded this discussion last summer -- before the presidential election, which he mentions -- and also before Chris’ announcement this month that he plans to step down as Ripple CEO at the end of 2016 in order to rebalance his life. He’ll remain active with Ripple and will work closely with its incoming CEO, Brad Garlinghouse.

More links:

I loved this conversation with Chris Larsen, and I think you will too. Enjoy!

Barefoot Innovation news….

We’re posting this episode during a flurry of activity. Ten days ago I had the fun of doing a fireside chat at Money 2020 with CFPB Director Richard Cordray -- who used the venue to make some big new on big data and data aggregation.  I raced back from that to speak last week at the FTC’s fintech conference, and I’ll be missing the SEC’s first fintech event next week because I’m off to the Singapore fintech/RegTech festival that’s being co-sponsored by the Monetary Authority of Singapore, MAS. Money 2020 drew 11,000 people this year -- the largest financial conference in the world -- and the Singapore conference expects over 10,000, including for the first-ever RegTech conference in Asia.

Meanwhile, our direct subscribers to Barefoot Innovation more than doubled last month. Every week I’m encountering people who tell me they’re fans of the show. Please do send in your “buck a show” to help us keep it going -- I’m having to bring in more helpers for it. And please remember to review us on Itunes. Also come to the new Facebook fan page. And please come to  to get onto our mailing list.

Most of all, come back next time, when my very special guest will be Alfred Hannig, the executive director of AFI -- the Alliance for Financial Inclusion. We recorded this one on an idyllic day in beautiful Fiji!  AFI is driving tremendous change in global financial inclusion and I know you’ll find the episode fascinating.

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Innovation in Small Business Lending: Sam Hodges of Funding Circle

Jo Ann Barefoot

Welcome to our first conversation with an innovator in small business lending – my guest is Sam Hodges, Co-founder and U.S. Managing Director of Funding Circle.

Funding Circle was founded in 2012 and is the world’s leading marketplace lender that’s exclusively focused on small businesses. It has made more than $2.5 billion in loans to 20,000 businesses in the U.S., Germany, Spain, the Netherlands and the UK (where it is based). It customers borrow directly from a wide range of investors, including more than 50,000 people, the UK Government, and divers entities like local councils, a university and various financial organizations.

Funding Circle was created because the founders were small business owners themselves and learned how hard it is to access finance, even for a successful business. Even when a loan was approved, they found the process difficult, or the terms unattractive. Sometimes they even felt misled. After opening their 96th loan rejection letter, they decided this was a systemic failure – that the traditional bank loan system was broken – and they set out to build a new solution. The financial crisis created fertile ground for them, as so many business suddenly had trouble accessing capital (the number of small businesses has dropped every year for the past 8-10 years). And their timing fit with the emergence of marketplace lending as a new model.

As Funding Circle’s Co–Founder and U.S. Managing Director, Sam oversees the company’s overall strategic direction and its day–to–day operation in the U.S. He was previously Vice President of Business Development at SecondMarket, the leading marketplace for alternative investments, where he was responsible for corporate and business development and the company’s geographic expansion efforts. Sam was also part of the investment team at Pequot Capital, an $8 billion global fund manager, covering investments in financial technology and information services. He started  his career as a strategy consultant at Katzenbach Partners, advising financial services and technology companies. He currently serves on the boards of two private companies. He received his MBA and MS from Stanford University and graduated magna cum laude from Brown University.

Sam points to three key Funding Circle innovations:

  • One is delivering a superior borrower experience. They can on-board and evaluate customers sometimes in minutes, or a few days, for situations where a bank might need 30 man-hours to reach a decision.
  • Second, they’ve re-architected how they do credit evaluation. Sam says it’s not a silver bullet, but they’ve have created their own rigorous data-driven approach to understanding risk, and they’re using new data, in new ways, to serve more borrowers.
  • And third, he argues that the marketplace model can be more scalable and profitable than the traditional bank approach, enabling them to grow a global business.

In our conversation, Sam expresses his continued confidence in the marketplace model. He discusses Funding Circle’s risk analytics (he says they hire world class risk officers from world-class institutions). He explains the role of alternative data in driving more sound and inclusive lending.

I was especially interested in how Sam contrasts the U.S. regulatory model with the U.K.’s efforts, especially on P2P lending. He thinks the fragmented American structure makes innovation here difficult. He also has suggestions for regulatory innovation, including sandboxes and a graduated scale of coverage that would allow small innovators to get up and running more easily.  He emphasizes the need for interagency coordination and consistency. He says transparency needs to undergird the whole industry, and that requires smart, sound regulation that everyone understands. (To listen to our previous episode about the “Regulatory Sandbox” with Nitish Pandey of BMO, click here.)

Sam welcomes smart customer protection regulation – he discusses his involvement in creating the Small Business Borrower’s Bill of Rights we discussed in an earlier episode with Brian Graham of BancAlliance.  See also this Harvard research paper by former Small Business Administration head Karen Mills on small business lending.

I hear increasing discussion about more regulation of small business lending. It’s partly because the online lenders are transforming the market, and partly because the “1099 economy” is producing more little businesses that arguably are functionally-equivalent to consumer borrowers.  The sector is covered by some of the federal laws on consumer protection, but not by most of them.  My own view is that regulation will probably need to come, but that we should NOT transplant the existing consumer protection rules into it without first updating them for the digital age. Speaking as someone who helped develop some of these rules, I will say they have a mixed record, at best, of protecting consumers. And complying with them costs a fortune. If we’re going to bring new regulation into the small business sector, let’s use the chance to take a fresh look, and apply some RegTech thinking.

Other notes:


I also want to share an announcement -- this month we’re launching a newsletter. It will be pithy and punchy and useful, highlighting the most interesting things that have happened, the most exciting things coming up. It will be a way to share some of the fascinating things I’ve been getting involved with. One example is that, this summer, I joined the Netherlands’ Queen Maxima (who leads the UN’s work on global financial inclusion) on her trip to Silicon Valley. Another is that I just returned from a week in Fiji at the global policy forum of the Alliance for Financial Inclusion, which represents the financial regulators of more than 90 countries in the developing world. I’m also working on ideas for promoting regulatory sandboxes in the United States. And in November, I’ll be speaking in Singapore at Asia’s first RegTech conference. And I’m doing a lot of work on RegTech. In fact, in Fiji I heard a new term – “SuperTech.” It’s a branch of RegTech that means technology-driven solutions for bank supervision.

The newsletter will share some of the intriguing things that are going on, outside our poccasts.

Don’t forget:

Remember to send in your “buck a show” to keep the podcasts coming

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Remember to rate us on ITunes. 


Coming guests:

And look for some amazing guests coming up. We have none other than the leaders of Varo, Ripple, LendUp, and Loot (from London)!

We have two amazing, mold-breaking innovators from the developing world – eCurrency and OneDollarCellPhone, as well as the head of AFI, the Alliance for Financial Inclusion.

And back in the US, we’ll have the community bank perspective on innovation.

But first, next up, we have Harvard professor and behavioral economics expert, Brigitte Madrian.

So, enjoy my conversation with Funding Circle’s Sam Hodges … and come back soon!

The Last Helicopter Pioneer – Innovation Insights from my Father, Glidden S. Doman

Jo Ann Barefoot

Barefoot Innovation has been in hiatus in recent weeks because my father passed away. I was in San Francisco and got a call saying he was suddenly ill and might not live through the day. I rushed for a redeye and flew all night home to Boston, where my son Matt met me and we drove to Harford in the wee hours. My brother and sister had rushed to our Dad too, and he had held on. In fact he began to do better, regaling us with stories in the ICU, bringing his sharp engineering mind to analyzing his medical situation, and enjoying us singing to him (we’re a singing family). We had hopes he would recover, but a few days later, he worsened and ultimately did not pull through.

He was 95 years old. His name was Glidden Sweet Doman. And he was a remarkable innovator. He’s being widely remembered as the last of the great helicopter pioneers, and he was also an important inventor in wind energy. Those two industries share the same technology – the wickedly complex science of rotor dynamics.

This very special episode of Barefoot Innovation is a conversation I recorded with him last Thanksgiving but had not yet posted. I got the idea of doing this podcast after watching a video of a talk he’d recently given at the New England Air Museum, which has two of his Doman Helicopters on permanent display. Listening to his lecture, I kept noticing parallels with the themes we discuss on Barefoot Innovation. It occurred to me that it would be fun to do a show inviting insights from someone who, nearly a century ago, began innovating in a field that’s very different from finance, but that was being similarly transformed by new, fast-changing technology.

Glid Doman was born in the village of Elbridge, New York, in 1921. His father, Albert Doman, brought electricity to that part of the state in 1890 (you can still see historic sites related to it), and was an inventor of the electric starter and electric windshield wiper. My Dad’s uncle, Lewis Doman, invented the player piano. His half-brother Carl Doman pioneered both aircraft and automobile engines and became a senior executive at Ford. His half-sister Ruth Chamberlain was the first woman architect in the region. My family is loaded with the genes for invention and entrepreneurship.

For my Dad as a boy, the most exciting field of invention was aviation. Airplanes were barnstorming farm fields. Airlines did not yet exist. And my Dad, who avidly read Popular Mechanics, built an airplane in his back yard (you’ll hear in the podcast whether he ever made it fly).

Aviation was the new technology then, the way digitization and mobile phones and blockchains are the tech frontiers today -- or genetics or robotics or 3D printing. Aviation was full of novel engineering challenges that were not yet understood. Flight was also inspiring bold predictions about how our lives were going to change, some of which were hilariously wrong – a good lesson for people like me who like to try to forecast tech impacts. For instance, in clearing out our parents’ attic in recent days, my siblings and I found a magazine cover story advising on women’s fashion for the coming trend of traveling by helicopter.

This little podcast touches only a tiny fragment of what made my Dad fascinating, and has nothing on his great life partner, our late mother, Joan Hamilton Doman. They met because she was the only woman in the 50-person University of Michigan flying club in World War II – and she was its top pilot. They had an amazing six decades or so, built around family and his work. He knew all the aviation greats from Igor Sikorsky to Charles Lindberg. He was featured on aviation magazine covers and traveled throughout the world. He was enlisted by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab to help design a “space sail” to rendezvous with Haley’s Comet (ultimately not deployed). He’s been honored by his alma mater, the University of Michigan aeronautical engineering school. And when his helicopter company didn’t reach scale, he pivoted to wind energy and invented a superior rotor design for wind turbines, using the same insights he’d developed working with helicopters. He led the design of two colossal experimental turbines funded by the Departments of Energy and Interior and installed in Wyoming. When he “retired” at age 65, he and my mother moved to Rome where he led international engineering teams in designing huge turbines in Europe.

And then, in his 80’s, he started a new wind energy venture of his own.  Right up to his death, he continued to be engaged with an affiliated firm, Seawind Technology, which is actively working to deploy his “Gamma” rotor designs on offshore wind turbines in Europe and other parts of the world.

Decades before computers could model the movements of rotor blades, my Dad used a combination of intuition, math, physics and relentless measurement to understand, correctly, the movement of spinning blades. For both helicopters and wind turbines, my Dad created massively simplified rotor designs and drastically reduced the stress on the blades as they rotate. This captures huge efficiency gains and virtually eliminates blade failure, the bane of most rotor systems. As he explains in our talk, one key to this was to realize that the commonly-used three-bladed rotor design is inherently unstable.  Wind turbines, he argued, should have two blades and helicopters – because they have to fly forward – need four.

Our conversation elicited a lot of my Dad’s thoughts about how to work with young, little-understood technology, as both an engineer and entrepreneur. While we didn’t cover all the ground I’d hoped to, you’ll hear him imparting Lean Startup-type wisdom. As a young engineer, for instance, he used a jackknife to cut open the balsa wood of a Sikorsky rotor blade to install measurement gauges on it and figure out what it was doing. He bought a postwar helicopter body for a dollar. He got hold of a Chevrolet clutch to use in his helicopter engine. His team invented do-it-yourself wind tunnels. It’s an MVP approach – a minimum viable product – in which they methodically identified, isolated, and intensively tested issues and reaped what today we call “rapid learning” and “fail-fast” lessons. As they figured out answers, they quickly pivoted, trying to succeed in an industry where, unlike today’s fintech, entrepreneurs needed huge amounts of capital. (In our recording, he talks about how easily his enterprise raised money, but that pattern did not hold over the decades.)

Our conversation only touches on a few of these lessons (and nothing about the wind business), but shining through it is his defining trait, the one that made him most successful, which was unbounded and insatiable curiosity.

Mainly, this episode shares his secret to being an innovator – and to having a wonderful career. His advice:  find organizations that have a lot of interesting problems, and go there and figure out how to solve them.

For those intrigued with the technology history of the twentieth century, I’m attaching early chapters of a biography that my brother, Steve Doman – also an aeronautical engineer -- is writing about our father’s journey. Here, also, is an overview and short video on Doman Helicopters created by my sister, Terry Gibbon (she too is an entrepreneur, with her own video company).  And here is a short video of one of the wind turbines.

To prepare this episode, I re-listened to the recording just a few weeks after his passing. One thing I notice is that, as we had this conversation after our Thanksgiving dinner last fall, my Dad’s comments kept making me laugh. Whenever he said goodbye to people, he always added the advice, “keep smiling.”  Words to live by.

Let me share two updates about me and the show.

First, I’ve become involved in a very significant project aimed at helping prepare our U.S. financial regulatory framework for the challenges raised by innovation. I’m going to stay in my Harvard fellowship for a second year, still writing my book on innovation and regulation, but will also be devoting much of my time to this initiative, which I’ll tell you more about as it develops. One result of the new project is that I’ve decided to suspend the Regulation Innovation video series we launched earlier this year. I expect to reactivate it when I have time to create the videos.  Meanwhile, they are still available, still for free, at Please do check them out. As I said when we started the series, I think the articles that accompany these videos might be the most important writing I’ve ever done.

Second, we will soon be back from the Barefoot Innovation hiatus, and what a line up we have!  We’ll have CFPB Director Richard Cordray; Digital Asset Holdings’ Blythe Masters; National Consumer Law Center’s Lauren Saunders; the prize-winning founders of Bee, Vinay Patel and Max Gasner; Harvard professor and behavioral economics scholar Brigitte Madrian; Funding Circle’s U.S. CEO Sam Hodges; QED Investors co-founder and venture capital wise man Caribou Honig, and the chief compliance officers of both Citi and Wells Fargo, Kathryn Reimann and Yvette Hollingsworth Clark, together.  And those are the ones we’ve already recorded! We have many more exciting people in the scheduling queue. This is why we ask you to send in “a buck a show” – the show has turned into a major enterprise, just because we have so many fascinating people to talk with.

We’ll try to speed up production as best we can, I’ll look forward to your continued feedback.

Meanwhile, keep smiling.  Jo Ann

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Effortless Saving: Digit CEO Ethan Bloch

Jo Ann Barefoot

This is one of my favorite episodes we've ever done - my conversation with Digit founder and CEO, Ethan Bloch.

Digit has set out to solve one of the core problems in consumers' financial lives - how to save. Their solution is to make savings effortless, using an intelligent algorithm that analyzes your spending and income patterns and automatically moves funds into savings. I had dinner with Ethan last summer and suddenly realized he was describing an "Uberization" of savings, paralleling the financial industry's efforts to "uberize" payments, in the sense of making the mechanics disappear, like the non-exchange of money at the end of an Uber ride.  Out of sight, out of mind. With Digit, you sign up, and you automatically start to save.

I had always assumed that getting people to save requires fostering mindfulness - getting people to think long term instead of short term. Digit is going in the opposite direction - not mindfulness, but mindlessness. Again, effortlessness. Instead of hoping people will form habits that keep them focused all the time, on saving Digit just lets them decide to save one time. After that, they save. He's trying to drive the "minutes per year" spent on saving to nearly zero. No more budgets, expense tracking, figuring how much you should save and can save and did save. They're breaking all those practical barriers that keep most people stuck.

I know it bothers some people to have consumers saving without thinking. We wish, instead, that everyone would become financially educated and focus on their life goals - you could call it developing the financial virtues. There are innovators working on that approach, too, using behavioral economics to get people motivated. Still, if the eat-your-spinach approach was going to work, it probably would have by now. It's time to try new tools. I know other companies working from the same logic.

And here's an interesting twist. After Digit gets people started on effortless saving, they actually do switch over to mindfulness. They start texting their customers about daily savings progress. And they do it with humor which, as I've been saying, is a secret weapons of many fintech innovators. They are blowing up the boredom factor that keeps so many people from focusing on their finances. I asked Ethan for examples of this. Unfortunately I didn't get the jokes because they're aimed at millennials, but if you -- unlike me -- happen to know what's cooler than cool, Digit will send you this fun GIF.


Speaking of millennials, Digit's average user is 27 years old. Some people want to dismiss fintech solutions for this group, because so many other consumers need tools too My answer to that is, the millennials are the early adopters of new technology. It makes sense to start with them. As these products get traction, they will broaden.  Listen to Ethan, and many of our other guests, and you hear a big vision about remaking the financial lives of everyone. (And by the way, we do have a show coming up with Bee, which is reaching for a very different market.)

At the age of 30, Ethan is at the forefront of the fintech revolution. Digit is a winner of the Financial Solutions Lab competition sponsored by CFSI and JPMorgan Chase, which focused its first year on solutions for the more than one-third of Americans who struggle with managing cash flow management. (Recall that another winner was Ascend - we talked with its founder, Steve Carlson, in Episode 9).

Ethan explains how much money Digit has saved people so far (by the way, we recorded this discussion late last year, so his progress data are for 2015, not 2016). He explains how customers are using the savings they build up. He describes their investors and business model and plans.

And he talks about how to design great financial tools, that are like smart phones - that people can just pick up and use, without needing manuals, much less lengthy federal disclosure documents.

Speaking of those, Ethan really calls out the failures of disclosures. He also discusses the shift underway toward a more principles-based approach (echoing our episodes with other guests, including Thomas Curry). He describes, too, the huge obstacles to innovation that arise from well-intentioned government efforts, including the difficulties innovators face in working with banks.

Ethan also had the most surprising answer I've gotten yet to my standard question on how he keeps up with technology change.

Finally, for our many listeners who play Barefoot Innovation while you're carpooling to school in hopes it will inspire your kids to grow up and found the next PayPal, I should say I'm rating this episode PG-13, for language. Ethan uses a few words in our conversation that...let's put this way, you hardly ever hear them on National Public Radio.

Learn more at and @hellodigit and @ebloch and find further links below:

Note to Our Listeners:

If you're enjoying Barefoot Innovation, please be sure write a review on ITunes and also click the Donate button, to help us can keep it growing!

Last but not least, I am finally launching my long-in-the-making video series, Regulation Innovation. It's for people in the financial world contending with the top two disruptive challenges - regulation and technology innovation. It for both business and regulatory people, and for both traditional companies and innovators. I'll have much more information coming on this, but please come to in March, and check it out!  I promise, there is nothing else remotely like it.

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Jennifer Tescher, President & CEO of the Center for Financial Services Innovation

Jo Ann Barefoot

Regular listeners of Barefoot Innovation will have noticed that we often mention the Center for Financial Services Innovation (CFSI) and serve on its board.

This year, CFSI celebrated its 11th anniversary.

A decade ago there was nothing called Fintech. And yet Jennifer Tescher – who when she first entered the financial services industry couldn’t balance her checkbook – joined with former OTS Director Ellen Seidman and others who had a remarkable insight: that technology trends would create innovative ways to improve the lives of financial consumers. A former journalist, Jennifer became interested in financial services via reporting on urban poverty and inequality issues. That led to her to join ShoreBank, America’s first community development bank, where she explored ways to serve consumers who are deemed risky, in new ways that can be both sustainable and profitable.

Fast forward to 2015 and CFSI has become the nation’s authority on consumer financial health, and Jennifer, as President and CEO, leads a network of financial services innovators committed to expanding access to high-quality financial services in ways that are sound and profitable.

As you will hear in this episode, a majority of Americans are not financially healthy. Research by CFSI and others paints a “frankly disturbing” picture of the economic lives of millions of Americans. Studies also draw strong links between physical and financial health, including how stress affects decision making.  Jennifer says it best our podcast: “Wow, wow, wow, huge swaths of people are incredibly challenged!”

CFSI is aiming to change this, using a lot of tools.  One is seeding new ventures. It founded Core Innovation Capital, which is now an independent VC fund (see Episode 3, where we talked with Core’s Arjan Schutte). And 2015 kicked off a five-year innovation contest funded by JPMorgan Chase, in the CFSI Financial Solutions Labs competition. (See our podcast with one of the contest winners, Steve Carlson of Ascend).

Second, CFSI convenes people, including through its new membership model and by hosting the annual EMERGE conference, which presents cutting-edge thought leadership and features innovators, executives, and emerging companies in the financial services industries, including guests of this very podcast!

Third, CFSI helps identify standards and practices that can help both providers and consumer thrives, as with the Compass Principles for prepaid cards.

And fourth, CFSI is doing unique research in deeply understanding the financial lives of American consumers, including through the U.S. Financial Diaries project conducted with New York University.

Jennifer is a nationally known expert on all these themes, with a monthly column in American Banker, frequent interviews and articles in the financial press, and major speaking engagements at industry and policy convenings. I am so happy to bring to you my lively interview with Jennifer, showcasing both her prodigious knowledge and her passion for these goals, which, as she says, has so far has kept her from abandoning it all in favor of a Mexican beach!

To bolster your own optimism, here are links to the new data and trends spurring CFSI’s mission, and links their initiatives and research:

Please come to CFSI’s website for a wealth of further information. And now, enjoy my talk with Jennifer Tescher!

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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.

You can subscribe to the podcast at iTunes HERE or open your favorite podcast app and search for Jo Ann Barefoot.

Striving for Worry-Free Finance - Stoyan Kenderov of Intuit

Jo Ann Barefoot

Stoyan Kenderov and I had a truly rich and candid conversation about the evolution of banking innovation and regulation, and though he appears ten episodes into Barefoot Innovation, it was Stoyan who first suggested I record our thought-provoking discussions and offer them as a series of podcasts. Thank you, Stoyan, for your encouragement! In this interview, we travel everywhere from communist Bulgaria to the emerging coding culture of mid-1990s Germany to today’s nucleus of innovation, Silicon Valley. In his current capacity, Stoyan leads Business Development and inorganic growth partnerships at Intuit’s Consumer Ecosystem Group and its product brands MintMint Bills, and Quicken.

As a child who literally disintegrated every toy he and his brother were ever given, Stoyan was born a natural disruptor. His vast curiosity has already taken him half way across the world, and he is ready to pass on his vision and wisdom to the new generation of financial consumers. (It was a real treat to hear how an innovator is teaching his young daughters about financial responsibility!) Stoyan and Intuit incorporate cutting edge behavioral research to create products that are simple, easy-to-use, and shorten the learning curve of traditional financial instruments.

Year after year, Intuit is recognized as one of Fortune’s “100 Best Companies To Work For” and Fortune World’s “Most Admired Software Companies.” With the acquisition of Check, and the creation of Mint Bills, the company now offers users a way to search for and set up bill reminders, see what bills are due and pay them with a single click so that they never miss a payment. agrees that getting started with Mint Bills is easy; maybe Mint Bills can even help consumers forget that “bills are the worst!

Prior to Intuit, Stoyan held executive positions at payments, telecommunications, and mobile companies such as Amdocs, XACCT Technologies, KPN-Qwest and pioneering German, Dutch and Austrian Internet service providers. He co-founded two start-ups and participated in four successful exits. He is an advisor and mentor at Village Capital – the financial services accelerator and impact investor, and he also invests personally in early stage financial services start-ups in Europe, India and the US.

I so enjoyed this conversation with Stoyan, and I hope you are as Intuit as I am. And, finally, here’s a bit more to exercise your financial (and listening!) skills:

Pop quiz! One of the following is not a startup mentioned in this episode: VouchDigitEvenGatherSweepSavedPlusFloatSimple, Karma, AcornsRobinhood, and Coinye.   

See my previous blog post for more on serving the “underestimated” consumer and how behaviors can change under conditions caused by shortages of a key resource like money, time, or food.

Professor BJ Fogg of Stanford’s behavior model and how to motivate and trigger responsible consumption.

The CFPB’s Project Catalyst.

The Center for Financial Services Innovation’s brief on household cash flow challenges.

You can subscribe to the podcast at iTunes HERE or open your favorite podcast app and search for Jo Ann Barefoot.