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FICO VP Sally Taylor: “As with any social movement, walls come down when people respect and understand each other.”

An Interview Tyler Gallagher

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There needs to be more mentor and sponsor relationships between those in the club and those outside the club. As with any social movement, walls come down when people respect and understand each other. Of course, those mentors need to keep their minds open and realize mentorship is a two-way learning experience. I once had a senior (male) mentor, and I asked him why another senior (male) executive kept going to two different male peers of mine for a particular solution, despite the fact I had already told him I was working on it, and the solution was in my area of responsibility. His response was that I can’t blame someone for working with those they already know. I beg to differ, especially when “those they already know” are largely male.

As a part of my series about strong female finance leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sally Taylor, Scores Vice President at FICO. As a senior finance executive in the predictive analytics and decision management space, Sally has over 30 years of experience shaping, managing and delivering solutions to help businesses improve their operations and generate high ROI in addition to driving industry innovations to promote consumer financial inclusion. She is a trusted expert at the intersection of finance and technology, focusing on anything from predictive analytics to decision science to solutions strategy from ideation to execution.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the Banking/Finance field?

I came into the banking/finance industry by way of analytics. I was a Statistics major in college and was looking for an opportunity to utilize those skills. FICO was my first job out of college, and I was hired as a data scientist. Even though FICO is an analytics company, our largest footprint is in banking, and that was the lion’s share of what we were doing. I was focused on credit risk management.

Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occurred to you in your career so far?

Some of the most interesting times were around when the FICO Score was becoming well known to everyday people due to it becoming widely adopted in the auto and mortgage industries. It was a very disruptive thing, and a lot of folks didn’t understand it. Early in my career, I got to speak at the Mortgage Bankers Association, and the speaker before me was the head of a large financial services company. He was against credit scoring while I was obviously pro. Right before I got up to speak, the gentleman said that FICO Scores didn’t work, and his “proof” was that his wife’s FICO Score was higher than his. There was a sea of women in the audience, and he gave me my opening for my talk about the FICO Score. That was a fun moment.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Yes, the UltraFICO Score, which is in the pilot phase now. It’s a game changer for the industry because it leverages consumer permissioned data to help unlock more credit opportunities (more lending options, better terms, etc.) for millions of American consumers.

Consumers opt-in by granting permission to contribute information from banking statements, including the length of time accounts have been open, frequency of activity, and evidence of saving, to provide an enhanced view of positive financial behavior. UltraFICO has the potential to improve credit access for many Americans, especially those who are relatively new to credit with limited credit history, or those with previous financial distress that are getting back on their feet.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

FICO’s dedication to innovation makes it stand out. There has never been a time when we rested on our laurels; we’re always doing cool things. The business impact alone is immense — from how access to credit has changed because of the FICO Score becoming accessible to all types of lenders, to our optimization solutions and customer management software. We’re always looking at and embracing disruptors in the industry, whether it’s open banking and consumer-contributed data, or the latest in analytics and machine learning. FICO is keeping on the forefront of technology as well as trends in in banking/financial industry.

I’m personally very involved in international FICO Scoring innovations, especially as it relates to financial inclusion. In a lot of these developing countries, we’re starting to do work with microlending, as you can’t separate the consumer from the merchants. Consumers get micro loans in order to buy supplies or get needed funds for their businesses. In these countries, credit and how it’s distributed has to meet consumers where they are.

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 has been a lot of change, but there still needs to be more. I think people are more aware of their biases, as well as how leadership is too narrowly defined by those that are already part of the club. Now, there’s openness to diverse thoughts and skill sets as it is proven to benefit the companies financially, with innovation, etc. For example, consumer-facing financial institutions realize that their biggest consumers are women. If you’re designing products for women, it helps to have those voices heard and incorporated into your R&D.

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 awareness is number one. Those who have privilege don’t always see it. Becoming more aware of your privilege and that what you take for granted can be a barrier for others. Despite some senior leaders claiming we have reached a meritocracy, there is still progress to be made when you look at those ratios and how far along we are from reaching true gender parity.

Number two is taking action. It has to start at the top of the organization, opening their eyes to which leadership skills they are rewarding and which they are undervaluing. We often hear there aren’t enough experienced women leaders in the pipeline, but that’s simply not true — men tend to be promoted based on potential, whereas that doesn’t happen as much with women.

Number three is mentorship and sponsorship. There needs to be more mentor and sponsor relationships between those in the club and those outside the club. As with any social movements, walls come down when people respect and understand each other. Of course, those mentors need to keep their minds open and realize mentorship is a two-way learning experience. I once had a senior (male) mentor, and I asked him why another senior (male) executive kept going to two different male peers of mine for a particular solution, despite the fact I had already told him I was working on it, and the solution was in my area of responsibility. His response was that I can’t blame someone for working with those they already know. I beg to differ, especially when “those they already know” are largely male.

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.

1) Establish credit as early as you can — People who use credit regularly tend be lower risk than people who get credit later. Use credit as long as it’s within your means.

2) Don’t be afraid to invest in your future — If it’s feasible for you, take low-paid or unpaid internships in the field you want to go into. The upside of doing something that helps your career is that it will provide you more in the long run than the temporary higher-paying job in something you have no interest in.

3) Don’t be afraid of lateral moves because you want to change your career.

4) Read books to become educated in investments and your financial health.

5) Use the tools out there — there are a number of personal finance tools to help you understand your spending.

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?

In the early years of working on the FICO Score, I had the privilege of working with an amazing team. They were visionaries and disruptors who developed approaches and designs that were intended to create longevity and change the way we do things. My colleague, Cheri St. John was head of Scores development and rose through the ranks to run the department. The great thing was that she understood how our strengths and weaknesses complemented each other. I appreciated that. Even when she was my boss, we would have genuine conversations. She taught me the importance of fostering complementary skill sets amongst your team.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Recently I’ve been taking to heart the quote from Theodore Roosevelt, which author Brené Brown used as the basis for the title of her book, “Daring Greatly.” In her book, she talks about those who courageously put themselves out there, versus those who sit back and criticize. She makes the point that she no longer listens to those who don’t put themselves “in the arena.” I spent too much of my life worrying about what others thought — so it’s a nice way to distinguish between those who deserve to influence me versus those who do not.

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. 🙂

A business environment established in more countries that upend the entrenched power dynamic. People like working in environment that have a mix of values with diverse thoughts and leadership skills. More women leaders that influence major business decisions would bring a huge amount of good for people beyond women.

Thank you for joining us!

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