From finance to fintech: How a Betterment GM made her way out of banking and into startupland

June 14, 2017

Betterment is the quintessential New York fintech darling. The company launched back in 2010 at the first-ever TechCrunch Disrupt and has since become one of the largest independent robo-advisors on the market. As an alternative to a stagnant, zero-interest saving account, Betterment focuses on simplifying investing for its users. 

Not only has the company upended traditional financial services from a technology standpoint, but it has provided a new type of culture within the finance industry — an industry often criticized as a process-driven, slow-to-innovate boy’s club.

That’s exactly what drew Cynthia Loh to the company. After working at traditional financial service companies for over a decade, Loh now services as GM of Betterment for Business, the retirement investing arm of the company.

Loh was hired to launch Betterment for Business just over a year ago, and now, Betterment for Business’s management team is completely women-run. They work with over 400 companies and are growing at a fast clip. We spoke with Loh to find out what it was like taking a career leap of faith, going from a secure finance job to life at a startup.

 What made you decide to make a career switch into fintech?

I spent a decade in asset management and I was considering a couple of different factors. I took a hard look at the trends going on in the industry and saw how technology was affecting finance. Then, I looked at my own experience to make sure I had utility for the next 30 years of my working career. That’s when I made the move into the tech sector.

What was the experience like launching Betterment for Business?

I came onboard in July 2015 to help launch the business, which is focused on evangelizing the 401(k) industry. When I got here there was no product, but we presented to the board in August and launched with our first 50 clients in January 2016. Now, across sales, client services, marketing, product and engineering there are about 35 people on the team.

What advice would you give to people thinking of making the switch from traditional financial services into tech?

For me, it was all about looking at the financial services industry. I would recommend reading Reid Hoffman’s ‘The Start-up of You,’ which asks you to look at your life like a startup. It makes you question things like what skills you need to acquire and where do you need to raise capital. Something I always hear from candidates is that they’re not ready to take that risk. My advice to make sure you’re thinking of risk in the right way. Staying at a big bank in the short term is secure, but in the long term, will you have a skill set that anyone wants to hire? 

What other factors do you think people perceive as risks in making the career switch?

Salary is also a big thing. But again, that’s a short-term versus long-term mindset. In the long-term you are becoming more employable, because you will gain more skills at a startup.

What are some challenges that presented themselves when you did make that leap?

Culture is a big thing. At big finance firms there are great training programs and a good career ladder, but on the flip side, it takes a lot longer to get things done. At a startup, it’s quite the opposite. There are not a lot of processes in place at startups, but you can make such a big impact in such a short amount of time. For example, when we were getting Betterment for Business off the ground, we had to make a lot of decisions when it came to things like hiring, product build or capital set. Since we have a pretty lean team, we were able to make those decisions quickly, and were ready to get the whole 401(k) business built and launched in the span of three months.


Images via Built In. 

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