Empathy in Design, Data in Development; How Specialized Fintechs are Bringing Humanity and Finance Together

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Ahon Sarkar, GM of Helix

“I think the idea of being human has to exist at the core of your business. When you’re building a product, you have to start by asking ‘what’s the problem I am trying to solve and who is the person and what are they actually dealing with, and then how do I build it.’ You don’t build something and then bring it out to people. Empathy has to be the core of your product development.”

Ahon Sarkar is the GM of Helix, Q2’s BaaS arm, and a brand new homeowner. According to him, innovation happens when you define products based around problem solving, not creating products and then trying to force them on industries that desire innovation. 

“I just finished buying a house, and it’s been a crazy process,” said Sarkar. “When I sent the wire to go buy my house, I went and asked my bank, ‘how will I know it’s been sent?’ Obviously I’m anxious about it,” he continued, “it’s the largest amount of money I have ever sent in my entire life.”

Sarkar said that his bank told him their system doesn’t give notifications that wire funds are indeed sent. The bank was like “‘oh, you won’t know.’ I was like what?”

“That day, I walked out and called our Product Owner for Wires and I said, ‘Kady, we have to build wire notifications.’ That’s empathy. That’s putting yourself in the shoes of the person and figuring out what is wrong with the system and making it better for a human being, as opposed to focusing on just the top line revenue.”

Helix’s whole mantra is about making finance human. By creating specifically tailored products for their clients, the company has developed both a brand and mindset internally and externally about their goals, values, and outlooks on what their work means to the greater good of both levels of consumer and B2B economics. 

On top of offering employees complete flexibility on where and how they work, Helix also looks for people who are outside of the ‘cookie cutter’ software guru fintech employees are labeled as. Instead, Sarkar and Helix are looking for genuine human beings with life experiences that they can bring value to both the product and company’s culture.

“It’s hiring people that are empathetic, that are curious and are driven, because that propagates this idea into customer support, into operations and how we work with our bank partners,” said Sarkar. “It goes into marketing and how we’re talking about the overall message, so if it’s not at the core of what you do, at some point it will be pushed to the side so you can do the innovation and revenue you really want to do.”

“We have realized that you can innovate and drive revenue by being empathetic, by being human, and actually entrenching those values within the genetic fabric of the company,” Sarkar said. 

When asked about the state of small business lending, Sarkar spoke about the data pools some companies are sitting on that would allow them to approve individuals for financial products. However it’s regulations according to him that are holding companies like Uber back from offering financial products to their employees.

Sarkar pitched the scenario of Uber lending a driver money at a cheaper rate because the information they have on their own employee may be able to prove their creditworthiness more than the information that is accessible to a bank. 

“Let’s say you have an Uber driver, who has been on the job for four years. Five star driver, five thousand rides, Uber trusts this person. When that person walks into a bank, what does the bank see? Someone they never met before who makes $35K-$45K a year and comes with a bucket of risk. So that bank is going to run it through traditional underwriting, and that person may be challenged to get a loan because they have non-traditional income.”

According to Sarkar’s analogy, it’s Uber who should be funding this driver. “Uber trusts this person, Uber has been paying them for years. They know who this person is and they’re willing to extend more credit because they don’t think they are taking as much risk,” Sarkar said.

“So if you could take that idea and give Uber the ways to conform to a [financial] product that is based on what they already know about their drivers, those people might actually qualify for funds.”

Sarkar stressed that underwriters cannot even attempt to develop these products without the government giving these companies clearance to go out and provide these types of products for employees.  “Whether it be gig economy workers or solopreneurs, or medium-sized business owners, it doesn’t matter,” he continued. “At the end of the day, if regulation doesn’t allow the underwriting for these products, no company is going to put them into practice.”

Whether it’s culture, product design or staffing a team, it seems that this idea of humanity is sticking to the fundamentals of Helix’s brand. “If you take the financial products and loans being written and just make them more practical and more human, I think we would be able to solve a lot of problems.” said Sarkar.

Last modified: March 16, 2022
Adam ZakiAdam Zaki is a Reporter at deBanked. Connect with me on LinkedIn or follow me on Twitter.


Category: Banking, Fintech

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