Ask for help! Managing your finances can be daunting, so it’s important to have someone in your corner that you can go to if you have questions or need advice. Whether it’s a parent, financial professional, or teacher, find a mentor that can help you learn along the way.
As a part of my series about strong female finance leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nicole Carroll.
Nicole Carroll is the Chief Product Officer at Experian Decision Analytics in North America. In this role, Nicole spearheads the development of Experian’s Decision Analytics products, in addition to providing fraud and compliance management, business intelligence and strategy, and consulting services. She previously sat on the Board of Directors for the Network of Executive Women.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to FinTech and the world of technology?
I was always a high-energy child and channeled that into always trying to find new ways of doing things. You can even ask my first-grade teacher about how my passion for finding efficiencies led me to trying to line up my classmates in a better way to make our class lines more organized! The first significant memory I have of seeing how technology can truly impact our daily life was in my pre-teens when theater tickets became available through Ticketron (the precursor to Ticketmaster). My parents would use this service to buy tickets to any Broadway show ahead of time, so we wouldn’t have to wait in line at a theatre or do a mail order. I thought it was fascinating that this digital transformation could make our lives easier and more efficient. This kick-started my interest in exploring how we can use technology to improve our lives.
Over the years, my fascination with how technology drives change and can ultimately help people continued to grow. When the opportunity for an internship at a major bank arose, I took it, and so began my career in credit cards and payments. Since then, all my roles have been underscored by the idea of transforming the customer experience and streamlining customer relationships through technology.
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?
As a woman in finance, I’ve heard and experienced a lot — usually interesting and sometimes amusing. Each one of these experiences have taught me new lessons and continued to push me to help level the playing field for everyone in financial services.
It is wonderful to see how far we have come in the financial services industry with regards to career growth and pay equity for women. One impactful anecdote that comes to mind is when I was up for a promotion in one of my previous roles. My manager looked at my salary and realized it was so much lower than the men at my level. The company had to give me a significant raise, so the next pay bump wouldn’t be as drastic. This is a story you’ve likely heard before. Salaries have historically always been a challenge for women and can have long-term impacts for women looking to move into a new role at a new company.
The valuable lesson I learned is to always negotiate and know your worth. It’s also critical as a leader to ensure that your team is paid fairly across the board.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help customers?
I’m currently working across Experian to ensure self-service tools are available and easy to use for customers. I’m excited about this evolution and digital transformation as we continue to implement more on-demand tools. We’re able to empower customers with the data and solutions they need so they can be agile and adaptable, which is critically important in today’s world.
One complex challenge we’re aiming to meet head on is fraud. Fraud is becoming more sophisticated and scalable, so it’s important that companies and consumers are equipped with tools they need to fight new and evolving types of fraud. At Experian, we’re continuously innovating by using data and automation to help customers reduce risk. On the road ahead, we’re continuing to meet our customers where they are by leveraging new technologies that streamline tasks and answer today’s needs. Last year, Experian’s fraud prevention solutions helped clients save 10 billion dollars in fraud losses globally.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
As most job candidates do, I turned to Glassdoor to read about employees’ past and current experiences with Experian, and I was blown away (in a good way!). You always want to believe the reviews are real, and I was pleasantly surprised to find out they are — especially when it comes to culture. Since I started at Experian, I have experienced an inclusive and positive environment that promotes collaboration and diverse thinking. Putting its people first has truly been evident.
Experian has balanced being a high-performance, results-driven organization with one that cares about its employees on an individual level. This was more apparent than ever over the past year. Experian’s corporate headquarters are based in Costa Mesa, California, so many of our U.S. employees live in the area. When the 2020 wildfires struck, Experian reserved a block of hotel rooms and arranged to have meals prepared by cafeteria workers at the company’s Costa Mesa headquarters for employees impacted by the wildfires. It was special to see such a tangible example of how Experian genuinely cares about the health and well-being of its employees.
Ok. Thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to 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 has always been a need for equal representation across industries, and the financial services industry is no different. From my perspective, what has catalyzed this growing change is the realization that diversity is needed because results are better when organizations have teams that are varied in background, experiences and perspectives. This drives innovation, changes the status-quo, and ultimately helps deliver better, more inclusive solutions to customers. Financial services are working hard to mirror the diversity and voice of their own clients, which will only make them stronger in the long run.
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?
People have a rubric in their minds (whether conscious or subconscious) for what a successful leader should be. In the past, women did not always fit the mold for what was expected from a leader.
So, the first step is for individuals to dispel preconceived notions about leadership and what that might look like, though that’s much easier said than done. Addressing bias should not only be considered on a personal level, but also addressed by companies through implementing regular Diversity, Equity and Inclusion training programs for employees to actively break down stereotypes.
Leadership and HR departments also have a responsibility to seek out qualified, capable candidates that promote diversity and inclusivity within an organization. Again, I truly believe that more diversified teams deliver stronger results.
Lastly, one of the best things we can do as women leaders in finance is to support other women in the industry. Formal and informal guidance and mentorship encourages other women and provides support for those breaking barriers and pursuing leadership positions in financial services.
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?
For so many people, talking about money is taboo, which has caused a major gap in financial literacy. Whether it’s your salary or the amount of debt you have, many Americans struggle to talk about money openly because of the associations and misconceptions around finances. However, it doesn’t have to be that way. Money is a part of everyone’s daily lives and talking about it openly improves financial literacy and people’s overall relationship with money.
While it can be difficult to get started, I recommend:
- Start talking to your kids about money at a young age to help them create a positive mindset about finances; money doesn’t have to be a scary or yet another thing to do — and all the digital tools that we have at our disposal have made it so easy to reward children, to track spending and to create financial responsibility. These conversations may have been difficult to initiate in the past, especially as one might carry their own regrets or sensitivities around certain aspects of their own finances, but talking to your kids about money is a great way to kick-start their financial literacy and foster a positive relationship between them and money. It can also be helpful to give your kids an allowance so they can work towards buying something special. I’ve done that with my kids over time and it has helped show them the value of money (and makes them question if they really need that skateboard).
- As I said earlier, money is a part of every person’s everyday lives, so financial education is one of the most practical and important things you can learn. If I had the power to make a change, I would implement financial literacy courses for students starting at the grade school level through high school to educate them on critical aspects of their finances, like savings, credit and taxes.
- With money, people often times don’t know where to start. But one very important piece of advice that I like to give everyone is please set up an IRA or 401K and maximize your savings as early on as possible. Speaking with a financial professional can also help foster a strong foundation and understanding of finances, so I would love to see more access to professional financial resources for all that will help people improve their own financial literacy.
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.
- Learn more about credit. Credit education is a critical part of financial literacy and knowing how credit impacts your financial future will set you up for success. You can learn more by joining Experian’s #CreditChat on Twitter. Every Wednesday from 3–4 p.m. ET, Experian invites people to join the conversation and learn about credit and important personal finance topics. It’s a great way to interact and connect with other credit-minded people.
- Pursue a course that covers personal finance, whether in a formal college setting or even via an online platform. Many day-to-day aspects of finance are not taught in school, so taking the onus to learn can make all the difference.
- Subscribe to personal finance newsletters and podcasts that are of interest to you. These serve as a good baseline for financial education and knowledge and often provide updates on personal finance in the context of the world’s current events.
- Take advantage of free, on-demand finance tools that can help you improve your financial literacy and manage your finances. There are tons of resources — from apps to free credit reports — to provide a 360-degree-view of your financial picture.
- Ask for help! Managing your finances can be daunting, so it’s important to have someone in your corner that you can go to if you have questions or need advice. Whether it’s a parent, financial professional, or teacher, find a mentor that can help you learn along the way.
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?
I’ve been very lucky to meet an excellent group of mentors and advisors throughout my career. I often jokingly say these people are the “Board of Nicole,” and they’ve all played a significant role in shaping my career and professional path. There’s one woman in particular who has been extremely influential and impactful in my personal and professional life. She was the first female partner at a top consulting firm, and to this day, she continues to offer me guidance and advice on navigating the world of finance as a woman, leading teams effectively, and thinking outside of the box.
One of the ways she’s helped me get to where I am today is with the simple saying of “Grit & Grace” Throughout my career, she’s emphasized the importance of being strong enough to garner respect and drive results, while doing so in a graceful manner.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Stemming from the idea that your professional and personal advisors are your personal “board” of life, I’ve also placed a special importance on the quote: “You either become the CEO of your own life or you end up working for someone else’s.” This resonates with me, not in the sense that everyone must be a CEO, but more so the idea that you are in control of your life and your path to success — whatever success may look like for you.
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. 🙂
The expression living your best life is all over the internet. That is the goal, right? That idea of living your best life is a movement that I think could bring a lot of good to people but how do you actually achieve that? I think early in life you should think about three things:
- What are your core values? It’s critical to understand what values are important to you and then you need to make sure that you always stay true to them.
- What are the things that bring you joy? It helps me to keep a list on my phone of the things that make me happy. This can be a list of big and little things.
- What do I want for my future? Begin having a vision of your future self-and make it lofty!
As any self-respecting product person would say — test and learn, document, pivot, be opportunistic once in a while but always stay true to your core values. I always find it important to regularly review where you are and make sure you are doing activities that align to your vision. And don’t forget “to enjoy this moment, because this moment is your life.” In the end, all of this empowers you to find out what you are passionate about — and that will lead to you living your best life.