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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 Tag: 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:

  1. https://www.paymentssource.com/organization/simple

  2. https://bankinnovation.net/2017/09/no-credit-score-say-hello-to-petal-card/

  3. http://paybefore.com/finance-and-strategy/petal-uses-machine-learning-underwrite-credit-without-credit-score/

  4. http://www.thisisgoingtobebig.com/blog/2017/9/8/introducing-petal-providing-access-to-credit-to-thin-file-consumers

  5. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/08/your-money/new-credit-card-option-for-those-with-scant-credit-histories.html?mcubz=1&_r=0

Jason's Article in Medium:

https://medium.com/@jasonbgross_/petal-ba2bb74718f4

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

http://www.jsbarefoot.com/podcasts/2016/2/25/effortless-saving-digit-ceo-ethan-bloch


More for our listeners

Please remember to review Barefoot Innovation on ITunes, and sign up to get emails that bring you the newest podcast, newsletter, and blog posts, at jsbarefoot.com. Be sure to follow me on twitter and facebook.  And please send in your “buck a show” to keep Barefoot Innovation going.

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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!



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.

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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 www.RegulationInnovation.com. 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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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!

Please subscribe to the podcast by opening your favorite podcast app and searching for "Jo Ann Barefoot", or in iTunes.


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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. Wired.com 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.


Steve Carlson, Founder & CEO of Ascend, Winner of the CFSI Financial Solutions Lab Competition

Jo Ann Barefoot

Episode 9 finds us at the 2015 EMERGE conference in Austin with the winners of the first Financial Solutions Lab competition.

The contest is a $30 million, five-year initiative funded by JPMorgan Chase and run by the Center for Financial Services Innovation, or CFSI, the conference sponsor (note -- I serve on CFSI's board). It challenges entrepreneurs to create solutions for the cash flow difficulties facing millions of American middle and lower income-households.

Two hundred ninety-eight innovators applied. Nine were chosen. And  -- drum roll - one was Steve Carlson of Ascend Consumer Finance, our guest for this episode.

Ascend was recognized for its unique approach to broadening credit access and affordability for non-prime borrowers.  The company wants to drive a new generation of lending with its Adaptive Risk Pricing tool, which actively monitors and rewards customers for positive financial actions throughout the span of their loan, sharply cutting interest costs.

I've known Ascend's Co-Founder and CEO Steve Carlson since we both joined the Consumer Advisory Board of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) when it first was formed in 2012. Ascend has benefited - and so does our podcast - from Steve's double background in banking and technology. He has held senior executive roles at HSBC and Washington Mutual and advised global financial services firms as a co-founder of Sung Carlson Associates. He was also the head of marketing and business development at Intuit Financial Services (Mint.com and Quicken).

(A side-note on Intuit:  in the recording, Steve  relates its history and I ask if its founder, Scott Cook, got started by making calls from a phone book. Afterwards, I looked up the story and found it in The Lean Startup, by  Eric Ries (pages 88-89). He writes that in 1982 Cook "picked up two phone books: one for Palo Alto, California, where he was living at the time, and the other for Winnetka, Illinois." He randomly called people to gauge interest in his idea, and a company was born. For any listeners who haven't read The Lean Startup, do!)

In our conversation, Steve describes the impetus behind Ascend, their current status (including their partnership with Lending Tree), and why he believes banking should be a value-driven proposition. He thinks both consumers and the industry can benefit by improving the financial health of consumers. The company's pioneering product, RateRewards, enables borrowers to earn up to 50% off their interest expense by making responsible financial choices throughout the life of their loan. With Adaptive Risk Pricing, Ascend is able to offer loans at rates that reflect real-time performance instead of past behavior. This, Steve says, is reinventing "the whole concept of underwriting and risk assessment."

Indeed, many "non-prime borrowers" - a group that actually represents about a third of the U.S. population - are better candidates than their credit scores would indicate. One-time financial shocks and "thin" files can greatly diminish a consumer's chance of getting a reasonable rate on a loan, or even a loan at all at a traditional institution. Ascend is encouraging borrowers to bet on themselves and prove -- through their actions, rather than their credit history -- that they are creditworthy. As Steve says in the episode: "Everyone today [is] going to be in a different stage in terms of their financial health ... I might be in great shape today; tomorrow could be totally different."  Ascend is trying to make the road to financial wellness smoother -- something Steve says he feels good about.

This episode of Barefoot Innovation became a brainstorming session, as Steve and I tried to think through how innovators, banks and regulators can move toward better ideas for financial consumers -- including musings on how innovators should interact with the world of bank charters and regulation.

Enjoy it!  And check out more information on Ascend, and on the Innovation Lab winners.

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes HERE or by opening your favorite podcast app and searching for "Jo Ann Barefoot".

 

Green Dot CEO Steve Streit and Professor Dog on no-bite Banking

Jo Ann Barefoot

Professor Dog provides inspiration for Greendot Bank's effort to create financial products that serve and safeguard consumers' financial lives.

Professor Dog provides inspiration for Greendot Bank's effort to create financial products that serve and safeguard consumers' financial lives.

Once known as Streiter the Heater, Steve Streit is now often called the Prepaid Card King. He is the founder and CEO of Pasadena-based Green Dot Corporation and its wholly owned subsidiary bank, Green Dot Bank, described as a “pro-consumer financial technology innovator with a mission to reinvent personal banking for the masses.”

In this episode of Barefoot Innovation, I spoke with Steve about the former disc jockey’s pioneering foray into the re-loadable prepaid debit card industry and how his “highly curious mind” keeps him at the forefront of financial services innovation. As someone who created radio stations with names like Easy 105 and Country 103 (many of which still thrive in today’s fragmented broadcast market), Steve is known for bringing simplicity to his platforms, which now include the Green Dot prepaid card and its award-winning GoBank mobile checking account. Speaking of financial products, Steve believes: “If you have to have an owner’s manual, you messed up.” It is easy to see how he translated his connection with radio listeners into serving bank customers with an affordable product and cutting-edge technology that did not require opening a bank account.

Conceived in 1999 as iGEN, a company offering teenagers a pre-loaded debit card so that they could make purchases online, the company was re-branded as Green Dot when Steve realized that his product was primarily used by under-banked adults. Effectively tapping into a 73 million person “niche” market, Green Dot has since built a large-scale "branch-less bank" distribution network of more than 100,000 U.S. locations at retailers, neighborhood financial service center locations, and tax preparation offices,as well as an online presence in leading app stores and through providers of online tax preparation. Its MoneyCard partnership with Walmart was recently renewed for five years.

In 2011, under Steve’s leadership, Green Dot became a bank-holding company with the purchase of Bonneville Bank in Provo, Utah.  The subsequent acquisition of mobile geo-location start-up Loopt led to the development of GoBank, the first bank account designed from scratch to be opened and used on a mobile device. This past Tuesday, Green Dot announced the official opening of Green Dot Shanghai a high-tech facility that will bolster its “follow the sun” strategy to deliver high-scale, high-quality, and efficient technology services around the clock.

Steve has won numerous awards, including the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year 2005 award for Southern California, as well as its National award winner in the Financial Services category in 2011.  He has been honored with the Prepaid Industry Leadership Award in 2008 and recognized as the 2011 recipient of the Technology Leadership Award from Los Angeles County Technology Week. 

The father of seven grown children, Steve also works to improve the lives of children in need. In 2009 he founded Patti’s Way, a charitable foundation providing grants to single mothers and their children. Steve also volunteers in mentoring LA County Foster children and supports the LAPD’s Hollenbeck Police Athletic League (PAL).

Not one to be left out, Steve’s schnauzer, Professor Dog, was on hand as I interviewed him by phone at his California home. Listen to this week’s episode to find out how Professor Dog became an inspiration for Green Dot Bank in our lively discussion on how innovators and banks can best create products that serve and safeguard financial consumers’ lives.

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