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Meet The Female Leaders Of Finance: “Individuals should be advocating for themselves more” With Angela Galardi Ceresnie, CEO of Climb Credit

I think individuals should be advocating for themselves more. It’s important to have the skills, but you also have to be confident in yourself to do them. I’ve found that finding a mentor can always help with that. I also think companies can be more proactive in ensuring that opportunities are equally available to all […]

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I think individuals should be advocating for themselves more. It’s important to have the skills, but you also have to be confident in yourself to do them. I’ve found that finding a mentor can always help with that. I also think companies can be more proactive in ensuring that opportunities are equally available to all employees. A company that’s actively involved in creating environments in which this mindset can thrive only stands to benefit from it. And for society in general, people should be much more open-minded about opposition — and when we think that we’ve achieved equality, we need to keep checking ourselves. Yes, we are making advancements in gender equality in the workplace, but there’s much more to be done.


As a part of my series about strong female finance leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Angela Galardi Ceresnie. Angela is the CEO of Climb Credit, an education finance company that evaluates the return on investment of education programs and helps consumers find, evaluate, and finance these programs to increase their earning potential. She joined Climb as the Chief Operating Officer in 2016 and quickly helped shape the operations, culture, and future of the Climb, earning her the role of CEO in 2018. Prior to Climb, Angela co-founded and was COO/CFO of Orchard Platform — a provider of software and data products offered to institutional investors to purchase loans from marketplace lenders [acquired by Kabbage]. Before her time at Orchard, she spent 9 years running credit risk analytics teams at American Express and Citibank where she made billions of dollars’ worth of data-driven credit decisions.


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

My first job after graduating from the University of Michigan was for Amex — I worked in the Risk Department, where I gained my coding background. I then moved to Citi Bank and worked in the Small Business Division, and that’s where I noticed there was so little access to credit for people with small businesses. I wanted to find a way for banks or private lenders to assess risk outside of just looking at your credit score. That eventually lead me to co-found Orchard Platform, which connected small businesses with investors and was essentially a marketplace for people starting a new business and needed seed money. We were eventually acquired by Kabbage, after which I moved over to Climb Credit as the COO and was then given the opportunity to become CEO after 2 years of working there.

Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occured to you in your career so far? Can you share the lesson or take away you took out of that story?

To me, the most interesting thing has been seeing how the workforce has evolved over the past 15 years I’ve been in it, particularly for women. When I started working, there were a number of things that were considered status quo that aren’t today — including what women should have to tolerate and how working mothers are treated. As always, there’s still more to do, but we’ve been evolving as a culture on both of these at a breakneck speed, and I’ve really enjoyed being a witness to progress!

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

Yes, definitely! We’re working on a new loan option that we believe will have a big impact on higher education. When building this, we’ve looked at Income Share Agreements (ISAs) which have served an important purpose for students. With ISAs, students like that they are protected — meaning they don’t have to pay — in the case that they don’t receive a job post-graduation. However, we think the current model of ISAs has a lot of shortfalls — including often overcharging students and locking them in to the terms of the agreement — which is why we are staying out of that market. We’re currently working on an ISA alternative product for our students and partners that we’re planning to launch in the next few months. Our product plans to fix the issues with the current model and create a more student-friendly experience.

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

Our company is solving a really unique problem from a very different point of view. Most of the students who attend classes at our partner schools are career switchers — they’ve been working in an industry for a certain amount of time and decided to go back to school to change paths for themselves, which I think is what’s really interesting about our model. A lot of students with bachelor’s degrees come back for the skills that their initial degree didn’t train them on; skills they need to get further in their career. I think that’s a huge problem! One interesting story through my years at Climb is we had a student who had an MBA and worked at an office job, but he wasn’t making that much money. He said he hated it and wanted to do something different. So he went to one of our programs, got a 6-week certificate to become a crane operator, and is now making double what he made before in his office job. It really goes to show how unfounded the stigma behind some career paths is. And the funny thing is, there’s really no data to support that stigma.

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?

I think the increased emphasis in women advocating for other women has really helped shed light on what we all can do in the workplace. Society has been evolving and changing for a while now, and corporate America is finally catching up with it. Even Wall Street is succumbing to new workplace cultures.

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 individuals should be advocating for themselves more. It’s important to have the skills, but you also have to be confident in yourself to do them. I’ve found that finding a mentor can always help with that. I also think companies can be more proactive in ensuring that opportunities are equally available to all employees. A company that’s actively involved in creating environments in which this mindset can thrive only stands to benefit from it. And for society in general, people should be much more open-minded about opposition — and when we think that we’ve achieved equality, we need to keep checking ourselves. Yes, we are making advancements in gender equality in the workplace, but there’s much more to be done.

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. Not all debt is bad: if you know what you’re getting into, and have done your research, borrowing can be a great decision!
  2. Not all education is worth it: make sure you know what education is going to do for YOU.
  3. Mindfulness above achievement: our mind is our most precious resource. Don’t lose sight of that, and protect your mind.
  4. Travel and get out of your comfort-zone, and make it a continual practice: learning about the world and interacting with it is a lifelong pursuit. Always build time in to learn about others who have different experiences than you.
  5. Eat great food: life is too short to eat bad food — try new things and be adventurous!

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?

My first boss at American Express was incredibly thoughtful in the feedback she gave me (and everyone who worked for her.) She was tough at times, but honest, and you knew you were getting the real deal. I’m forever grateful because I was able to learn early on in my career what my inherent strengths were and where I needed to develop.

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

Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.’ — MLK, August 16, 1967 Atlanta

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. 🙂

Reducing the stigma of alternative education. So many students feel forced into a 4-year degree because they’re told by their school, friends, family, etc. that it’s the only way to achieve success — but it really isn’t. Not everyone wants to go to college, and there are so many trades out there that need people. Right now there are more job openings available then there are people to fill them. Having students know that trade school will not lead to a dead-end job, and that a 4-year degree is not the only key to success, would help a lot of students who are about to graduate high school be able to navigate their lives in a way they choose.

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