FinTech Female Fridays: Christen Chen, Senior Manager Partnerships, Credit Karma
Why did you decide to pivot your career from traditional finance of JP Morgan payments to Credit Karma?
I spent my entire career at large financial institutions, including JP Morgan and Jeffries, and was ready for a change. These firms were great places to launch my career, I was quickly exposed to the different parts of the industry while having access to the tools and resources needed to be successful and grow. However, from this experience, I realized I wanted to join a company that was earlier in its lifecycle, one that was focused more on growth than maintaining the status quo. During my time at JP Morgan, I learned that digitalization was having a dramatic impact on payments and the way consumers interact with finance. I love that Credit Karma operates at the intersection of digitization and financial services and has the bold mission of empowering financial progress for its more than 100 million members in the U.S., Canada and the UK.
If you could give three pieces of advice for people that are looking to pivot careers from traditional finance to FinTech; what would you tell them?
Here's my advice for those looking to pivot their careers:
*Be intentional. I've found you need to be focused to be effective. The world of Fintech is actually quite broad, including everything from consumer and B2B payments to insure-tech, reg-tech and wealth management. Focus on your top interests so you can be intentional about where you focus your time so you can deliver the most impact.
*Leverage your extended network. I recommend leveraging your second- and third-degree contacts -- not just your immediate friends and colleagues -- to expand your network. It may seem awkward reaching out to people you do not know very well for help but I've found that as long as you're polite and clear about your ask, most people are more than willing to help make an intro or offer up advice.
*Offer interesting insights. To make an impression, people need something to remember you by. So, do your research and stay on top of current industry trends. This information will come in handy when you're networking, allowing you to deliver interesting insights that help you stand out in the crowd.
Since you have lived in both New York and San Francisco; what do you think is the major difference between the FinTech ecosystems?
There are two main differences that come to my mind, though they're somewhat generalized: the sheer number of FinTechs in each region and the sector focus.
In New York, FinTechs tend to focus more on wealth management, investment and regulation-related technologies, along with some consumer payments, while those in Silicon Valley are a bit more diverse. This makes sense when you consider the industries that are most prevalent in each location -- New York is one of the world's largest financial hubs and Silicon Valley is arguably the largest hub for innovation and entrepreneurship.
This distinction also explains the disproportionate number of startups in each region. For decades, Silicon Valley has been home to many founders, startups and technologists, making it a destination for those looking to start up. New York, one the other hand, doesn't have the same reputation. I imagine we'll continue to see an increase of FinTechs in New York, especially as VCs start to look beyond Silicon Valley for investment opportunities.
How do you think that consumer lending will change due to COVID 19? What is Credit Karma doing to navigate this change?
While we aren't an underwriter, we know that an uncertain job market impacts our partners, many of which base their defaults risk models on the unemployment numbers. There are a lot of unknowns for lenders right now and, with unemployment fluctuating so much, lenders are finding it difficult to assess risk and are tightening their lending as a result. This is where we feel we can help our partners the most. Through our platform, lenders can adjust their lending criteria in real time to fit their evolving business needs. This allows our partners to identify new customers in a way that’s both effective and efficient. Unlike direct mail, for example. At the same time, we see an opportunity to help consumers. Historically, subprime and near-prime borrowers are most significantly impacted by financial crises. These are arguably the people who need help--and access to cash--the most. This is where I see the real opportunity for FinTechs to step in and help consumers. We are focused on supporting members who need help the most.
How do you think this recession will have an impact on the overall financial health of consumers?
It’s been just over a month since the initial Shelter In Place orders went into effect. Since then, millions of Americans have lost their jobs and a record number have filed for unemployment benefits. This has already had a notable impact on peoples' finances and will continue to weigh on their finances until we come out on the other side. Our hope is that we'll see consumer behavior around finances shift to a more conservative outlook.
If there’s a silver lining to this pandemic, it’s that people will hopefully pay more attention to improving their money management habits, prioritizing savings, not spending beyond their means and preparing for the unimaginable.
As the senior manager of partnerships; where are you looking to build out further partnerships within the finance sector? Where do you see growth opportunities?
For the most part we're focused on growing our existing partnerships and improving the member experience on our platform. Because we already work with most of the major financial institutions, we see opportunity in helping our existing partners improve their offerings on our platform to help our members gain access to the products they want. Other areas for growth lie in new and emerging verticals on Credit Karma, including home, auto, and tax. We believe that by expanding into these areas we'll be able to better serve our members.
Reach out to Christen on LinkedIn.