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being a fintech leader

Being a fintech risk leader is not easy

Gil shares from his personal experience some of the less obvious difficulties fintech risk leaders face in their role

Being the one who says "no"

When I started my role leading Risk Operations at Bluevine, I very quickly learned that a part of my job was to be the one saying no. When everyone else wants to run, I was the one tasked with telling them to slow down, or to put down the scissors first. That is a difficult thing to do in any financial institution, but becomes even more difficult in a fintech filled with ambitious, driven, creative innovators who want to change the world and conquer a share of the market. It’s even more difficult when the company is very young, and still does not have robust infrastructure and data to support making highly informed decisions. When your company has not had its first fraud event it is much harder to justify putting in place fraud protections.

My response to the emotional strain of this part of my job was to buy a bunch of t-shirts that had variations of the word “no” on them. My favorite one was a shirt that said “Nope Nope Nope”. In part these shirts helped me because they set the expectation of anyone talking with me that I was going to say no to anything they ask, and then when I was much more collaborative and enabling than they expected, it was easier for them to accept the limitations or qualifications I’ve added. Another part of it was that every morning getting dressed I would treat it the same as putting on a uniform. I was putting on a role, a persona, “the person responsible of saying no when it’s needed”, and that helped me get into the appropriate mindset to do the right thing for our company every day. Over time I became more comfortable with this part of my role. My team's capability to base our decisions and recommendations on hard data and concrete examples became much more robust. I've learned which arguments worked best and how to make my case in a convincing, effective, and collaborative manner. I needed that "unifrom", that persona, less and less

Being the one who needs to "make it work"

Another part of leading a risk team is that you never have the resources and capabilities you need. Even in organizations that are very risk-minded with strong management support, which is certainly how I would categorize my time at Bluevine, you are constantly trying to catch-up to the company’s growth and needs. Your time and various budgets are always stretched as thin as they can be stretched. Unlike marketing or sales or product and engineering teams that are viewed as investments in growth, risk functions such as credit and fraud prevention are viewed as investments in sustainability. Because risk functions are not viewed as driving in new customers (or new top-line revenues), they are often provided reactive resources, and not proactive ones. When it comes to team building, capabilities building, and budgets, it is very common to see companies only allocate resources based on clear and immediate needs. Having reactive resources and capabilities means that if there are unexpected fire-drills, issues, or personnel changes, you have a hard time addressing them without hurting something else. It puts a lot of stress on you as a risk leader and on your team members to "make it work", "do more with less", or "hold the line".

My response to this constant shortage initially was to build very lean and flexible teams, focusing in my hiring on finding people with multiple capabilities who can step into a variety of roles on the team based on our changing needs. This allowed us to shift our focus based on real-time needs. I also focused on finding people that wanted to grow themselves and were willing to put in the extra time and effort it would take to grow. Their growth and ambition was in part my added capacity. A fraud investigator who wants to learn how to code or perform complex analytics is an amazingly valuable team member. Over time I've learned how to see where things were headed to in advance, and ask for resources early and efficiently. I've learned how to make my business case clear and financially sound and how to navigate the internal politics smoothly. I was able to secure my team some proactive resources and get us to a somewhat more comfortable place, allowing us to expand our hiring to highly specialized domain experts who focus on one thing, but do it amazingly well and helped us grow our capabilities.

We started Choir because want to help risk leaders with all of these challenging parts of your job. We want to provide you with the tools and capabilities that will save you time and effort which you do not have to spare. We also want to help you with the structure and support that will help reduce the burden of being the sole gate-keeper and help you make your arguments in a clear and efficient manner.

Want to hear more about what we are building? See how we might be able to be of help to you? Just chat about what you are going through? contact us.

We’d love to chat. We’d love to be of help.