September 28, 2020
I’m delighted to say that my guests today are Allie Burns, the CEO of Village Capital, and Sarah Willis Ertur, Head of Financial Health Work at JPMChase and former Director at the MetLife Foundation.
Among the many things that have been disrupted by the pandemic is our podcast schedule at Barefoot Innovation. Regular listeners know that we had several shows in the queue early in the year, and ended up deferring them as we turned to COVID-related programming. For today’s show, this delay is extra complicated because during that interim period, Sarah actually changed jobs. At the time we recorded this conversation, she was a Director at the MetLife Foundation, and so the show focuses on MetLife and its work with Village Capital. Sarah has now moved on to lead financial health work at JPMC, which means she is still working on the issues we discuss in this episode.
Our conversation focuses on how to bring more capital into fintech ventures that really advance consumer financial health. Allie lays out today’s venture capital landscape, which is heavily skewed to a few markets and away from startups that work on building financial health. Sarah explains MetLife’s efforts on how to influence the fintech industry to diversify both founders and the customers served.
The discussion highlights the shift that’s happening today, away from framing this challenge as financial “inclusion” and toward viewing it in terms of financial “health.” Not so long ago, the champions of inclusive finance defined the goal as everyone having a bank account. We used to talk mainly about people being “unbanked,” as if having a transaction account would solve the financial inclusion problem. Today, we’ve realized that, if the goal is to help people thrive financially, the solutions are complex. Sarah and Allie describe international research that bears this out, and they talk about the need for, as they put it, “non-extractive” business models. These include a rising focus on behavioral science -- understanding how people really live and how they really make decisions, and therefore what can be done with savings tools like “set and forget” plans and prize-based incentives that leverage the human brain’s attraction to gambling.
My guests also talk about the ugly underside of financial “inclusion,” in the US and globally, and what regulators need to do to prevent abuse.
As we catch up with these old shows, it’s interesting to discover that some have taken on a bit of a time capsule quality, even though they are only a few months old. This one was recorded months before the killing of George Floyd. Today I think it resonates even more than it would have if we’d posted it pre-pandemic. With most of the financial world now mobilizing to do better on race and gender diversity, you’ll be interested to hear my guests debunking the notion that VC’s can’t find founders who are women or people of color.
A final note: I served on the board of the Center for Financial Services Innovation, CFSI, for years, starting as we began to shift our strategic focus from financial inclusion and “unbanked” issues, to advancing financial health. That journey culminated in changing the organization’s name to the Financial Health Network and adopting a strategy of multi-dimensional solutions that are bigger than the financial sector -- right around the time I stepped down as board chair. Check out FinHealth’s efforts, including the great new podcast by CEO Jennifer Tescher.
More on Sarah & Allie
Sarah Willis Ertur is Head of Financial Health Work and JPMC. She was previously the Director at MetLife Foundation, where she focused on strategic financial health grant making in the U.S., Europe, and the Middle East, and managed a global portfolio of inclusive fintech initiatives. She also lead the Foundation’s outcomes measurement efforts. At the Clinton Global Initiative, Sarah focused on catalyzing economic development through entrepreneurship in Europe, Middle East, and Africa. She has lived and worked in Turkey and Germany – as a Fulbright Fellow in Nuremberg and a researcher on solutions to SME development in Turkey. She holds a MA in International Affairs from The Fletcher School at Tufts University and a BA in International Affairs and German Studies from the University of Minnesota.
Allie Burns joined Village Capital in 2016 and was named CEO in January of 2019. In her role at VilCap, she oversees their team of “rabble rousers” dedicated to creating new opportunities for entrepreneurs who have been traditionally overlooked by early stage investors. Prior to joining Village Capital, Allie spent seven years working directly with technology pioneers Steve and Jean Case as a senior executive at the Case Foundation. She also served as part of the core team who created and launched the Rise of the Rest initiative at Revolution, the venture capital firm created by Steve Case. Prior to joining Revolution and the Case Foundation in 2009, Allie worked in the technology and media space. She holds an undergraduate degree from Boston University and an MBA from Thunderbird School of Global Management.
More for our Listeners
We have wonderful guests coming up. They include Scott Cook, Founder of Intuit; Renaud Laplanche, Co-founder and CEO of Upgrade, Linda Lacewell, Superintendent of the New York State Department of Financial Services; Ann Cairns, Executive Vice Chair of Mastercard; Jeremy Allaire, CEO of Circle; and Sam Graziano, CEO of Fundation.
We also have CFTC Chairman Heath Tarbert coming up on our Future of Regulation Series.
I am also going to be reading the whole Regtech Manifesto in podcast form, for those who would rather listen than read. Watch for that coming soon!
The newest addition to my speaking events is the CFTC Empower Innovation conference, where I will be doing a fireside chat with Chairman Tarbert to kick off the agency’s conference series — be sure to join us! I will also be speaking at many other virtual conferences, including LendIt Fintech (for a fireside chat with FDIC Chairman Jelena McWilliams), Fintech South 2020 (for a different chat with the FDIC Chairman), Summit on Making Finance Work for Women, the A-Team Regtech Summit, and FS Vector RAFT, as well as the Singapore Fintech Festival and Fintech Abu Dhabi.
I hope everyone stays safe and keeps innovating!
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