Snigdha Kumar has worked in her birth country of India along with Myanmar and Indonesia. While the economies may not be as developed as those of the US, the countries’ openness to helping vulnerable populations secure credit was, in many ways, far ahead of the country where Kumar would pursue her graduate studies in public policy analysis at Harvard University.
Kumar, now head of product operations at Digit, didn’t need to conduct a study or analysis to reach this conclusion. She lived it.
“I knew upon moving here that I would need to build a credit score,” the executive remembers. “I needed a credit score to secure a credit line, but I was trying to get a credit line to build my credit score. I couldn’t get either. These are the building blocks of financial planning here, and I felt like I was in some awful ‘chicken or the egg’ hypothetical. It seemed so backwards.”
If it was this hard for a person who had the benefit of pursuing a distinguished education halfway across the world, how much harder was it for someone with more financial challenges in their lives?
That’s the problem Kumar has been seeking solutions for ever since. Oportun’s acquisition of Digit is poised to create the perfect synergy of financial products and advocacy to ensure that access to credit, financial security, and economic well-being are no longer a luxury—they’re a right.
And Kumar believes Digit’s acquisition couldn’t be more perfectly paired. While writing her graduate thesis on digital savings for the underserved, Kumar interviewed executives at both Digit and Oportun for her research. The continuity between the two was evident, especially in strong contrast to the upward of 300 percent APR payday lenders were charging those who felt they had no alternative but to pay.
“Both organizations are so mission-aligned,” Kumar explains. “They’re both so focused on doing right by their members, and the best part is that we offer complimentary products. We’re not stepping on each other’s toes; there’s a perfect marriage to make life for our members better.”
The goal isn’t simply to introduce new financial products—it’s to fundamentally change the way banking works in the United States. Kumar describes this as “building a self-driving car, but for money.”
The organizations’ mission is to bring lending, banking, savings, and investing into one cohesive experience for members that can be done without leaving home. The process should be automated, effortless, and, most importantly, take some of the stress out of the process for members who have experienced economic hardship.
Kumar is currently working on the instant disbursement of their loan amounts. For members who may not have a bank account, they may be hit with paycheck-cashing or other predatory fees to access their loan amount and it may even take up to two to three days to access their funds. The instant disbursement project would allow members to open a bank account instantly, receive their loan amounts instantly and spend the funds via a debit card.
Kumar’s team is also thinking much more long-term about savings. The vision on the Digit side of the business is to leverage artificial intelligence and account information to understand financial goals for members and help plan accordingly. For example, if members are saving up for a wedding, they could be instantly approved for low-interest credit lines that may help account for unforeseen expenses.
When loans have been paid off, Digit can suggest intelligent savings goals or retirement planning. “The whole idea is to find ways to serve members with a 360-degree perspective,” Kumar explains. “It’s not just about lending. It’s about helping people to create long-term financial success in their lives effortlessly.”
Kumar has always been drawn to the ways in which financial systems can make the world a better, not poorer, place. The daughter of two parents who worked in government-backed financial institutions, Kumar was well-accustomed to high-level dinner table discussions of using finance for good from a very young age. The small child heard stories of people saved from poverty who went on to successful and prosperous lives. She’s continued her parents’ mission to a T.
“I feel like my job has made me even closer to my family,” Kumar explains. “We can all have these conversations now from different perspectives, but we’re all working toward the same goal.”
Inside the company, Kumar has been a valuable resource for easing fears that can accompany business acquisitions. Employees who may have had reservations about losing a brand identity or somehow having their mission-driven work altered were able to talk to Kumar, someone who had a significant working understanding of Oportun and how well the two companies would complement each other.
“I was happy to tell people that I had strongly considered working at Oportun,” Kumar remembers. “The two of us together creates so much more value than some of our competitors.”
Oportun’s strength and reputation in the lending space, Kumar says, pairs well with Digit’s focus on financial savings and well-being. And both organizations are dedicated to helping their members do more than make it past a hard moment. They want to ensure prosperity in the long term.