We need to recruit more women into tech across the board. Diversity needs to happen at all levels to attract an outstanding applicant pool and give them a visible, viable career path. The best thing we can do as a group is find and grow talent of all descriptions, hire great people and run great teams. I work towards removing barriers to entry so that everyone can benefit from the satisfaction of doing work they love in an environment that fosters who they are and what they bring to the table.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Sara Priola, Co-Founder and General Counsel of Figure Technologies.
As Figure’s Co-Founder and General Counsel, Sara oversees Figure’s legal team where she leverages her extensive experience in representing financial institutions and fintech companies, structuring and negotiating complex real estate finance transactions, corporate governance, capital markets, and regulatory and securities compliance. Sara works closely with regulators and industry experts on blockchain regulatory and asset-level enforceability as well as a myriad of potential financial services use cases for distributed ledger technology.
Prior to joining Figure, Sara was Chief Legal Officer at PeerStreet and a real estate attorney with Dechert LLP and GreenbergTraurig LLP. Sara graduated from St. John’s College, Santa Fe with a BA in liberal arts and from University of Southern California with a JD and a Masters in Business Taxation.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you share with us the story of how you decided to pursue this career path? What lessons can others learn from your story?
I was always interested in being at the cutting edge of legal, diving into what’s new or not yet clearly defined. I found myself somewhat alone sitting squarely in new securities regulation around the JOBS act and navigating that space when FinTech was still new. I wanted that kind of challenge. I sought it out. So it’s no surprise that my co-founders at Figure brought me here. I was in from the get go knowing I had the opportunity to form a company I believe in with such a clear, consumer-focused mission.
The blockchain element fascinated me. At the time, only a few “corporates” really believed in blockchain. Yet more and more they are recognizing the need for blockchain as well as the wide-scale change it could bring to financial services.
My reflections don’t fit so much into lessons learned as they do a philosophy on life.
- Do you what you love. You can be motivated by money or passion or some other means. I’ve always just followed what I found was the most engaging and interesting. I’m by nature very curious. That’s led me to a fantastic career in a company I love. Yes, I work very hard but it’s also fun. I’m completely driven from the inside, from what makes me jump out of bed every morning ready to take on the world.
- My advice? Take a big step back and think about what you enjoy doing, do more of that and less of the rest, and one day you’ll wake up and realize that the majority of what you spend your time on is fun, interesting and engaging.
Can you tell me about the most interesting projects you are working on now?
- While I am juggling dozens of projects, I’m most passionate about understanding US regulation of financial products on blockchain.
- Specifically, I’m delving into different use cases of blockchain in financial services. On the one end is commercial paper — so easy and intuitive to run on blockchain. On the other end of complexity is securitization, which is what we’re tackling out of the gate.
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?
- Yes, one story jumps to mind for both its impact at the time and the long-term influence it’s had on my career. When I was pregnant with my first, I worked in a big law firm. There was not even one female partner with kids in the firm. That was typical at the time. It wasn’t that long ago, but few women were making it to partnership and having children.
- After maternity leave, I wasn’t sure I wanted to come back, wasn’t sure it could be done. I talked to my senior partner. His response? “If anybody can cut that path, you can. But, take the time you need, there’s always a spot here…come back.” And when I was ready, I came back. Of all the people who changed my career, he was progressive enough and thoughtful enough to let me make my own decision and then welcome me back.
- When we treat each other as responsible human beings who are fully capable of making the right decision, everybody wins. I’m not sure I ever would have come back to being a lawyer without his support and counsel.
What are the 5 things that most excite you about blockchain and crypto? Why?
- Opportunity to create new products. In particular, the ability to support shared ownership of an assets on blockchain opens up new possibilities across financial services. As an example, if property title were on blockchain, it would cut the costs of title insurance dramatically. Even more exciting is the ease in which individuals and companies could take on a partial ownership in physical real estate.
- Eliminate costs trapped in the financial services industry. We’ve identified $26 billion in cost savings blockchain technology could unleash in loan securitization alone. Securitization is burdened with audit, underwriting and trustee fees. Blockchain technology could cut those costs by upwards of 70%. More broadly, stocks require expensive custody and transfer infrastructure that would no longer be required.
- Improve transparency. Each financial asset class is often burdened with opaqueness, which ultimately creates inefficiencies as participants work to peel the onion. Corporate bonds are a great example.
- Increase liquidity. Non-securitized loans have no formal trading platform, and trades can take up to 100 days or more to settle. Pooled vehicles require trust, custodial and administrative fees. And exchanges — when available — charge for liquidity. Blockchain can change that.
- Reduce risk. The ultimate impact of improved transparency, liquidity, and distributed checks and balances reduces risk for institutions and the broader financial markets.
What are the 5 things worry you about blockchain and crypto? Why?
- Excessive hype. There’s been a lot of hype, which is inevitably followed by some shake out. Many of the new companies are undertaking proof of concepts and parallel transactions vs. conducting actual business on blockchain. We launched Figure to bring assets to blockchain.
- Limited understanding of blockchain. Blockchain technology and its application are creating new business models and ways of doing business. This naturally raises questions that require research — be it legal, compliance, technology, or interoperability.
- Blurring of cryptocurrency and blockchain from a perception perspective. Cryptocurrency is interesting but it’s but one application of blockchain technology.
- Time and effort to change the status quo. Many financial institutions are cautious and will watch to see how the technology works and the best way for them to participate.That said, we’ve been encouraged by the level of participation already. We think we’re on the precipice of major blockchain adoption in financial services — and not just in the U.S.
- Hackers/security issues are always top of mind in technology. We believe blockchain technology can actually reduce that risk meaningfully.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share a story?
- From my work at Figure and historically at Peer Street, I’m excited to see the ultimate result of my work be disruption in the industry through transparency, efficiency and lower costs that help consumers save time and money, and bring them more access to capital as well as a deeper understanding of financial products.
- While it may largely lie behind the scenes at first, I believe strongly in the impact our financial literacy/educational efforts will have.
- It’s strange for me to say out loud, but I’m a leader, a role model and a mentor. We need more of all of those things in the world, especially from women. So, it’s important we open the conversation with other women about what they want to achieve and support them in doing that. For me this looks like taking the time to connect and work together to figure out how I can be more supportive. Might be a networking connection, sometimes it’s more complicated than that, but whatever it is at that moment with that person, it builds a strong foundation. No question in my mind, the most important professional relationships I have, especially those with successful women, are built on those foundations.
As you know there are not that many women in your industry. Can you share 3 things that you would you advise other women in the blockchain space to thrive?
- Intellectual curiosity is key, if you aren’t actually curious or wondering or asking the next question, you’ll never get to innovation. This is the “why?”
- Mental flexibility to think about how things could be. This is the “what if?”
- Creativity to find a way to connect the dots. In the legal profession and in highly regulated industries this can be very challenging, but that’s what’s fun about my job. This is the “how”.
Can you advise what is needed to engage more women into the blockchain industry?
- Chances are it will likely reflect the broader tech industry, so we need to recruit more women into tech across the board. Diversity needs to happen at all levels to attract an outstanding applicant pool and give them a visible, viable career path. The best thing we can do as a group is find and grow talent of all descriptions, hire great people and run great teams. I work towards removing barriers to entry so that everyone can benefit from the satisfaction of doing work they love in an environment that fosters who they are and what they bring to the table. Until we achieve that goal, we must continue to invest in bringing equality to each individual interaction, each company, and the industry as a whole. It’s each one of us individually who makes the ultimate difference, every minute of every day.
What is your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story of how that had relevance to your own life?
- Be the change — Gandhi. If we actually did this, the world would be a different place, and in my view a better place. I love the idea of large-scale change, but it all comes down to the people, to their belief, and to their ability to dedicate themselves, one by one, to making that change happen.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
- Well, I have lots of ideas, lots! To name one: silence. It’s cheap and easy and it can change your life. Try it. Even one minute a day of complete silence is worth it, find a comfortable position, close your eyes, sit still, take a few breaths and see what happens. Might be hard at first, but if there is one secret to my success, silence is it and I’d love for it to become a global phenomenon.
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