In June of last year, Plaid – a data aggregator which says it serves 11,000 financial institutions across the United States, Canada, and Europe – hired Ginger Baker as its head of financial access.
“As a network that provides the financial account connections between consumers and fintech apps, we are constantly thinking about how to make connectivity better, more reliable, and more expansive,” she wrote in a recent company blog post.
At prior companies, Baker worked as head of on-demand liquidity at blockchain firm Ripple, and was head of financial services at Facebook. Baker also was director of payments at Square, and has worked in rewards, emerging market solutions and mobile payments at Visa. Baker came to the field with an academic background in international affairs and organizational development.
For this segment of FinLedger’s Women in Fintech series, we spoke with Baker to get her perspectives on Plaid’s financial access strategy. Responses have been lightly edited for clarity.
I note that you moved into financial services through an international development background. What attracted you to financial technology?
My first job was at Visa when I was still a senior in college, actually, and I found it really interesting and complex, the way that technology can be applied to financial services in a way that really empowers and enables both people and small businesses to lead more fulfilling lives. A central thread in my career has really always been the exploration of how technology can be applied to hard to solve problems, with financial services and financial access generally being the ones that always rose to the top.
Where does Plaid fit into your broader career journey?
An interesting opportunity for me [at Plaid] is to now move from that experience where I’m building a zero-to-one product or [where] I’m serving a particular set of customers through one kind of product or capability, to enabling other product leaders and other companies to build those products. It’s going from being the product manager myself to enabling other companies and apps to do that.
How do you understand financial access, and how does your role at Plaid advance that?
The mission of our company and the motivation of our team is about ensuring that people have access to the financial tools that they need in order to have a healthier financial life. But the focus of our team is [also] really on the financial institutions themselves. How can financial institutions have access to the same tools and technology that we’ve been building for developers for the past five years that the banks, traditionally, haven’t availed themselves of?
Do you have an example of this?
[For example,] a Wells Fargo wealth manager needs to also be able to see the assets of their customer that may sit at Charles Schwab, at JPMorgan Chase, and at the credit union, from their college days. We’re also spending a lot of time to make sure that it isn’t just the largest banks and the most established institutions whose users can connect to this fintech ecosystem.
What are some moves Plaid has been taking to ensure that people and institutions can access data safely and securely?
[In] the Financial Data Exchange (FDX), our head of policy is very involved, and a number of people on my team actually have a significant portion of their week dedicated to various working groups within FDX, to not only help to understand where the industry is going, but also to make sure that we are representing the view of our fintech customers in those conversations. Another big initiative that we’re leaning into very heavily in 2021 is our goal of ensuring that 75% of our traffic is committed to API’s [application programming interfaces] by the end of 2021.
Do you have any thoughts on how Plaid’s recent funding announcement – a $425 million Series D raise – will further its mission?
Plaid is committed to building a secure, API-based open finance platform that helps meet the rising demand for digital services. With this funding, we are excited to strengthen the investment in our work with financial institutions to help them deliver consumer financial outcomes at scale.
The fintech industry has a reputation of being male dominated. What are your thoughts about improving gender representation, particularly in key strategic roles?
We are seeing an increasing amount of awareness about the disparity between women in leadership roles in this industry. Having female leaders at the helm of some of these fintechs is also a useful tool. From personal experience when I was at Facebook, I joined a team that was almost all male. The sheer fact of my joining that group meant that more female product managers and female engineers were interested in applying to that team.
Is part of the challenge getting the message out that there are viable career paths in the industry for women?
I think mentorship is a big piece of this. I’ve always been a fan of [former Square CFO] Sarah Friar, who’s now the CEO at Nextdoor. She was a real mentor for me. I worked for her when I was at Square, and she started a Ladies Who Launch group that brings in female entrepreneurs who are launching their own companies. They do conferences and mentorship.
Those kinds of programs are gaining a lot of steam, and it’s not just that program that’s going to drive a number of women [into the industry] but it’s the ripple effect of building community around the topic, so that we know who each other are and can support each other.
Are there other noteworthy components of the financial access picture that you would like to highlight?
Access is such an important component of what my team does and what Plaid is invested in, ensuring that people can have control over their lives. This often goes into underrepresented groups as well. Plaid launched FinRise in January of this year as a way to support BIPOC founders who are most often left out of the traditional venture backed startup path. We also recently launched an apprenticeship program that fosters individuals from non-traditional software backgrounds to work at Plaid.
Another activity that we’ve done around access is that we’ve gone through and looked at financial institutions that were owned by underrepresented people from underrepresented groups, and our team went through and checked to make sure that [we] had really strong data connections into those institutions, so account holders at those institutions could avail themselves of the services in the fintech ecosystem.