Don’t hide from your finances! When I was in my 20’s, I was a perpetuator of the “swipe and hope” where you swipe your card not knowing your balance and hope the transaction goes through. Hiding from your finances doesn’t serve anyone and is only a short-term Band-Aid to having to deal with what’s there. Look your finances in the face confidently, anything you don’t know you are totally capable of figuring out.
Asa part of my series about strong female finance leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mimi Salcedo. Mimi was the first Product Manager at Simple Finance, one of the first digital banks in the space. Founded on the premise of helping Americans achieve financial health through a delightful, fully digital experience. She went on to co-found WinWin, a gamified savings app helping consumers save money using the psychology of gambling, which was acquired by Oportun in 2019. She is now the co-founder and Chief Product Officer at Instnt which is enabling businesses to instantly sign-up new customers without the friction, cost or fraud loss liability.
Thank you so much for doing this with us, Mimi! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the Banking/Finance field?
Very early in my career I was a teller for a Big 5 bank, I only lasted about 6 months in that job as I quickly got frustrated with the pace of change and was lured over to some newfangled thing called a “fintech startup”. I can’t say I fell in love with banking/finance itself, but I fell in love with the problems that needed to be solved in this world. It’s widely cited that the majority of Americans don’t have $400 in savings for emergencies, I found this shocking and unacceptable and I quickly realized I could successfully wield technology to bring better tools and access to those that need them most.
Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occurred to you in your career so far? Can you share the lesson or take away you took out of that story?
My team and I developed an extremely complex banking migration tool that was to be used by every customer to hopefully remove some of the pain of moving our customer base to a new partner bank. It took over a year to plan and build, had to be approved by two different banks’ compliance teams and generally wasn’t a project that was viewed as exciting or necessary within the business. It felt like an uphill battle, but I believed in the value, so I kept my team motivated through hundreds of dejecting moments. The first amusing part of this story is that I’m now engaged to be married to the person who most strongly (and publicly) dissented to the entire project. Learn how to work with and empathize with your critics! The other awesome/amusing part of the story is that the migration ended up being so successful for the business that it had to be disclosed in yearly regulatory filings as a larger-than-expected source of revenue. If you believe in it, keep pushing… You could surprise yourself!
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Yes! I just co-founded another business called Instnt. We think customer onboarding is broken for everyone. Financial services businesses are rejecting up to 40% of good customers trying to sign up due to inaccuracies in their customer onboarding process. One of the main issues is actually young people who don’t have much in the way of credit history. Traditionally, identity verification tools have been sold by the credit bureaus. Unfortunately, using this data for identity verification has the unintended consequence of causing financial exclusion for young people who may not be known to the bureaus. Instnt’s mission is to deliver a frictionless customer sign-up experience while letting consumers control their data. We believe in self-sovereign identity, where people control their data and their identities and give consent for its use.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Diversity. Our team is super diverse, and it absolutely makes us stand out. Recently a Principal at a very notable VC fund came up to me at an event and said, “it’s VERY cool how diverse your team is, it’s really impressive that you’ve been able to accomplish that.” We can proudly say we’re 40% female and we represent 7 different countries, as a team of 9!
Ok. Thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. Wall Street and Finance used to be an “all white boys club”. This has changed a lot recently. In your opinion, what caused this change?
There’s no simplistic answer to explain this transition but I believe it can best be summarized as an ongoing cultural shift. My mother came out of the Finance/Accounting world of the 80’s and 90’s, holding the title of CFO at one point in her career. I believe it was a few women like her that learned how to “adapt and play” in the boys club that ushered in a new age for women in the workplace. Now we’re getting to create our own rules and play our own games, rather than adapting to the status quo.
Of course, despite the progress, we still have a lot more work to do to achieve parity. According to this report in CNBC, less than 17 percent of senior positions in investment banks are held by women. In your opinion or experience, what 3 things can be done by a)individuals b)companies and/or c) society to support this movement going forward?
I think it’s key that individuals extend their expertise and insights to mentor those around them, especially to those who are often disadvantaged in finding quality support. For companies, representation at every level is of critical importance. An environment is more welcoming when there’s at least some people that look like you, speak like you, etc. But more importantly, diversity breeds innovation so cultivating diversity in your business will inevitably lead to more innovative ideas and better outcomes. Society probably has the most important job of all, raising children to equally value math and reading. I’ve been reading a bunch of research on how they’re both deeply important skills that have unfortunately been assigned to different genders. If we encourage children to value both equally and spend time building skillsets in both, we end up with a more even split of young adults who excel in both which lends itself to driving more women into Finance or STEM fields.
Let’s now turn to a slightly new topic. According to this report in Fortune, nearly two-thirds of Americans can’t pass a basic test of financial literacy. In your opinion or experience what is the cause of these unfortunate numbers? If you had the power to make a change, what 3 things would you recommend to improve these numbers?
Money was and remains an extremely taboo subject in American culture. There’s a lot of deeply ingrained reasons why but the result is that we don’t openly talk about finances and it’s often viewed as an inappropriate and uncomfortable subject. However, the reality is that finance impacts every single one of us in innumerable ways, so being coy about our experiences isn’t really helping anyone.
- I have to cover the systemic issue first, which is the ugly truth that the American financial services industry thrives on confusing people. This truth becomes evident when you begin to look at consumer lending data or banking revenue generated from overdraft fees. Keeping people confused about fee structures, what they’re borrowing and how much it costs and how to manage their money generates a lot of revenue. I’m a believer in using regulation to bring the financial services industry more in line with consumer wellness, we have establishments like the CFPB but it would behoove us to give them teeth so they could most effectively advocate for consumer and hold financial services businesses accountable.
- Bringing it a little closer to home, it’s important to talk to children openly about family finances. We shouldn’t make the subject feel taboo or uncomfortable, we should be open and provide insight so children can begin speaking the language of financial literacy earlier. People encounter hardships all the time, appropriately engaging with children on what the family is experiencing financially helps them understand and promotes them being confident and adaptable in the future.
- In line with talking to children at home, we need far more financial education in schools. This is discussed at length in many pieces, but there’s a real lack of real-world education in our schooling system. We’re not exactly prioritizing financial literacy in early childhood education and I think that really disadvantages all of us.
You are a “finance insider”. If you had to advise your adult child about 5 non intuitive things one should do to become more financially literate, what would you say? Can you please give a story or example for each.
- First and foremost, categorize and track spending so you know where you’re at. If you don’t know how you’re spending money, you don’t know if there’s anything you can or should change. This is where technology can come in handy, there’s a plethora of tools and apps now that make this super easy.
- If you can’t control it, don’t worry about it. Finances tend to make people anxious, but you can minimize that anxiety by recognizing what is out of your control. A market downturn, for example, is out of your control so worrying about it isn’t helping you keep your mind clear to make rational decisions based on what you can control.
- Talk to people like you about their finances to learn what worked for them and what didn’t. People around you are a great source of cautions and inspiration, they may be sharing similar experiences to you so understanding how they manage those could teach you something too.
- Talk to someone you aspire to become, financially. While talking to people like you is helpful right now, talking to people you aspire to become will help you plot a future. Understand their journey but know that you’ll build your own. Use other people’s success as a source of inspiration as you chart your own path.
- Don’t hide from your finances! When I was in my 20’s, I was a perpetuator of the “swipe and hope” where you swipe your card not knowing your balance and hope the transaction goes through. Hiding from your finances doesn’t serve anyone and is only a short-term Band-Aid to having to deal with what’s there. Look your finances in the face confidently, anything you don’t know you are totally capable of figuring out.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Melissa Geyer hired me into Simple and managed me in my earliest years there. Melissa really defined “tough love” for me, she was always tough on me but in a caring and supportive way. She would set the bar for my performance extremely high, I would be terrified, and then she’d watch with glee as I flew over every bar she set. She saw that what I really lacked in those days was confidence. Her unwavering belief in my abilities gave me the boost of confidence I needed to get myself to where I am today. Sometimes it takes just one person to believe in you to set you on a different course. Now, as a manager myself, I aspire to always be the person that sees the magic in people and gives them the confidence to fly like Melissa did for me so many years ago.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Work smarter, not harder.”
We have this cultural perception that by pouring all of yourself into something, you’ll find success. In that belief, we tend to devalue humans while encouraging productivity which I simply have not found to be successful. Balance and prioritization are the keys to longevity, and they ensure that you’re coming from the most balanced mental state possible. Founding businesses is a constant exercise in finding balance and trying to make rational decisions about extremely emotional things. While some of my peers have given their lives, health and relationships up for their businesses, the founders I admire most are those that have struck balance in their lives. They’re the ones that are in this for the long-haul because it’s a wild role that they truly love, they work smarter and not harder.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
People tend to get wrapped up in their own worldviews and ideas, but the world is so much broader than anything we can imagine. #practiceempathy is about seeking to understand other people. By employing empathy, we can understand ways in which those who differ from us may not be so different after all. Empathy allows us to connect and to collaborate more effectively, both things the world could use a lot more of. By seeking to understand others we break down perceived walls and barriers and we humanize each other. Getting people to communicate effectively and with empathy is the only way I see for us to come together to solve the world’s most complicated problems.
Thank you for all of these great insights!