Paula E. Vasco recently joined the Finnt Team as an Operations Manager. In this post, you’ll learn more about her background. But also about experience in the FinTech industry. Discover why she joined us!
Lina Albin (LA): You joined Finnt about 3 weeks ago, what do you think about the company so far?
Paula Vasco (PV): The team is highly motivated. Leaders have vast experience and integrity. Although I regret having all team members so far away, I believe Finnt has all the ingredients for success.
LA: There is a recurring theme in the Finnt team: you all come from different places.
PV: I am a Colombian immigrant, and I have been living in the U.S. for the past 8 years. I currently live close to Miami, U.S.A. I don’t think members have been selected for this specific factor. But yes: most of our members benefit from the experience of a multicultural environment.
LA: Could you give us an overview of your background?
PV: I am a Professional in Communications and Journalism with 8 years of experience working at startups. 7 years at Fintech companies and 1 year at an EdTech company.
LA: Can you explain what Fintech and EdTech companies are?
PV: FinTech stands for ‘Financial Technology’. It involves new technologies used to improve financial services. Revolut embodies well the ‘FinTech company’ standards. ‘EdTech’ stands for ‘Education and Technology’. Similarly to FinTech, EdTech describes the use of new technologies applied to schooling and learning. Coursera is a good example of an EdTech company.
LA: Can you describe in more detail your previous experiences?
PV: My first professional experience was working at Waleteros. Waleteros is a mobile banking app focused on providing financial services to the unserved immigrants living in the US. Just like Finnt, we were working on our Minimum Viable Product (MVP) and getting ready to go to market.
At first, I was part of the team working on the customer side for around 5 years. I wore different hats in marketing, customer service, operations and product. Then, I went to the other side of the business. I started working for a card program manager called Catalina. In there, I worked in Operations supporting different card programs to get ready to go to the market.
After that, I took one year to explore a different industry related to education in entrepreneurship. Then I came back to payments working at Paysend where I was also working as Operations. I handled the relationship with our partner bank. Also, I supported different departments like product, customer service, compliance and marketing in different projects and processes.
LA: What did you learn from your previous experience and how did it impact your current views about the industry?
PV: My previous experience has taught me how complex the payments industry is behind the scenes. About 1.01 billion credit card transactions occur every day worldwide. From a customers’ perspective all these transactions are processed and completed within minutes. Most people do not realize all the infrastructure that is built behind. In addition to all the different players that are involved in a single transaction. These 7 years of experience in the industry have given me a very good sense of how the industry works in the US. The more I learn, the more I realize how much I still need to learn.
LA: What were your key takeaways?
PV: Although I have been using different hats within the organizations, my experience has been mostly in the operations. Having solid partnerships in this industry is crucial to become a strong player in the market. Remaining competitive by constantly innovating is also important. Understanding the business in a holistic way, identifying the responsibilities of all the key external and internal stakeholders and working together to operate smoothly are the key ingredients to grow a business.
At my previous job, I was very fortunate to work closely with the compliance department. This gave me a totally different perspective on product building. It is important to implement a good balance. Especially regarding security and control to avoid rotten apples in your platform which would, in turn, affect user experience.
LA: How do you think this will benefit your current job at Finnt?
PV: In spite of the fact that Finnt’s value proposition and product differ in many ways with the previous financial products I developed, my best asset is my ability to plan smartly the ‘go to the market strategy’. Working on MVP is a typical challenge that a startup FinTech company faces and a common requirement which is needed to operate.
I think this is a win-win situation where I can contribute with my knowledge and previous experience working in the payments industry while continuing to learn from mentors that already have experience testing a market, raising money, building a product, and growing a business.
LA: You do seem to have a taste for startups, why so?
PV: The short answer is because I think you can have more fun 🙂
Being part of a small team gives you more freedom to propose and test different things. It provides the opportunity to work creatively and encounter out-of-the-box solutions. Meanwhile, I like working in a flatter structure because I sense it is more about collaboration than competition. Overall, everyone is motivated to move the boat in the same direction – no questions asked.
LA: Collaboration and creativity are two factors you are looking for in a job. What else?
PV: I am looking to work for a company with a social mission, and a motivated team sharing similar values. I also enjoy learning from humble leaders who are devoted to a higher purpose than profits. Personal and professional life balance is also an important factor, as I think that a company that genuinely takes care of its employees demonstrates that it is also responsible with the rest of its stakeholders (customers, investors, partners, etc.).
LA: Indeed, Finnt is exactly the type of company you are describing. On a more general level, what are your personal aspirations?
I would like to serve as an agent of change within forgotten communities where there isn’t financial inclusion and, through my work, teach them how to better manage their money.
Although money is a social construction as it is “purely symbolic” because the collective agrees on the value we assign to a dollar bill, money could be also considered the backbone of a household because it contributes to the development and quality of life of any family. It provides the wellbeing of all the members and opens the doors to new opportunities for both personal and professional development.
My personal aspiration is to be able to return back and contribute in some way to my birth country, Colombia and the Latam region in general. Although Colombia has the highest financial inclusion score (82) in Latin America according to Statista Research Department and has been working in favor of financial inclusion, there was a 60% penetration of banks and fintechs accounts in 2021. There is still plenty of room to grow and improve the financial ecosystem.
On the other hand, education in children has always been one of the passions that I have never explored. I am currently working on a project about teaching children about mindfulness, yoga, breathing techniques and providing them with tools that permit them to know themselves better and manage their own emotions in a more conscious way. I would like to become a leader in this field and why not be an inspiration for other women.
LA: Back to Finnt, can you tell us more about the company and how it is in line with your personal goals and aspirations?
PV: When it comes to FinTech, there is a huge list of startups out there figuring out different ways to make a difference in the payments ecosystem. As Uber with mobility and Airbnb with vacation rentals, the financial services industry needs a disruptive solution that solves the pain, the high fees and the time consuming processes that people currently face to manage and save for their loved ones.
Finnt has the clear mission to give everyone, anywhere, anytime a way to build wealth through the democratization of traditional financial services among families. This comprehends an educational component for all the members of a family.
LA: Considering all the previous points you’ve given, why do you think Finnt is the right choice for you?
PV: I decided to join the Finnt team for two main reasons: the people and the product.
Product first! The Finnt App is a very thoughtful and detail-oriented product. Faouzi’s motivation to build it properly and to ensure it is solving our target’s needs is a prevalent sign of success. From previous experiences, I have seen how some companies focus on accelerated growth with a product that doesn’t have the quality standards to solve the customers’ needs… I am not fond of these methods. I also respect the fact that Finnt uses agile methodology and is very data-oriented.
Furthermore, Finnt’s leadership is formed by experienced entrepreneurs with previous experience launching and running other startups. They are immigrants who understand the financial challenges that both families in their home country face and immigrants when supporting their family from abroad. The team has worked together in previous projects, they respect each other professionally and personally.
LA: Any personal reason?
PV: Yes. When I moved to the US I experienced the difficulty of starting from scratch in a new country. With no credit score it was impossible to rent a place in my name or finance a car. Sending money from Colombia to the US was quite expensive and inconvenient. I started building my credit score but it took time and somehow was a painful learning path. Unfortunately, traditional financial institutions do not understand this and there is no product or service that serves in an easy, affordable and efficient way. Thus, why I am looking forward to helping Finnt build theirs!
LA: You have worked in the payments industry for almost 10 years now, how has it evolved throughout the years and where do you think it is heading?
PV: I think that the nature of this industry is very complex as many actors are involved in the processing of any payment which makes rapid innovation a little more challenging than in other industries. Indeed, a FinTech company alone cannot disrupt the whole ecosystem. This is a collective effort that takes time not only from a product perspective but also in terms of regulation, compliance and also by changing user habits. The last one is probably the most challenging as people have been managing their money in a certain way for years – and as we know, habits are hard to change.
LA: Could you give us an example?
The NFC or contactless payments can be a perfect example of this. This technology was introduced for the first time in 1983 but it was not until the mids 2000s that Philips and Sony jointly developed NFC. Apple Pay was introduced in 2014 and Android Pay only a year later in 2015.
However, for the contactless payments to penetrate the market, it wasn’t enough to develop an app that was able to support the contactless payments from mobile devices. It also required a full upgrade of the technology in the retailers and merchants which included investment and time. Furthermore, this is a complete change of habit for customers who have been accustomed to swipe or insert their card for chip reading at the terminals. In 2020, The Global NFC market is estimated to have reached USD 17.5 billion. According to the NFC Forum, “20%+ of the world’s population have access to NFC.”
Having said that, during the past ten years what I have noticed in the US is an increase of ACH/ direct deposit transactions and less use of checks, a preference of mobile banking instead of traditional banking among the new generations, p2p transactions and, of course, the use of crypto, which I think is were all this industry is heading up.
LA: What do you think about the current financial situation/struggles in developing countries, especially Colombia, your home country?
PV: From my perspective, the main struggle Colombians and other developing countries residents with low income face can be summarized in two main points. The first one is the lack of access to physical financial services in rural areas and the scarcity of domestic policies to promote that access. The second one is the lack of financial education and alphabetization.
People who have no access to financial services commonly opt to use informal alternatives that result in more expensive and inconvenient fees. Besides, financial education is a real issue.
To illustrate, let me give you a personal example. Seven years ago, when my brother hired his house maid, he asked her to open a bank account to pay her through ACH, which she refused to do.
After my brother talked to her several times and gave her arguments of why it was beneficial, took her to the bank, taught her how to use her card, withdraw cash, set up online payments etc., she finally accepted to start receiving her salary by bank transfer. After a few years she has been able to access different credits and even a mortgage to buy her first home.
Unfortunately, not everyone has the chance to learn this because there are no proper tools to educate all people about financial best practices.
LA: Any solution you can think of?
PV: Definitely digital payments and mobile banking. According to the 2017 Global Findex, ‘30% of account owners in developing economies reported making at least one direct payment using a mobile money account, a mobile phone, or the internet.’ The use of mobile phones facilitates the democratization of financial services as nowadays almost everyone has a smartphone.
I think Finnt has its vision very clear because the product is fully designed for families that want to manage their money in easy, convenient and affordable ways while promoting the importance of savings and investment. Additionally, Finnt offers an educational component through its blog. Therefore, anyone can start educating themselves financially at their own pace.