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Barefoot Innovation Podcast

Apr 18, 2018

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Tim Chen is the founder and CEO of NerdWallet, and he’s a classic American story. In today’s episode, he describes the remarkable journey he’s taken so far in his still-young life, which has had dramatic ups and downs -- (as he says, when one door closes, a bigger gate may open). NerdWallet, which he founded at age 26, now helps more than 100 million people every year shop for and choose financial products that meet their needs.

NerdWallet is a matchmaker, guiding consumers to find the financial products that fit them best, and doing it in a way that automates large swaths of the financial advisory process in order to make advice affordable for people who don’t qualify for a personal wealth manager.

Tim says, “Money is so complicated” and he talked with me about how to make it all simpler, especially for people with relatively simple financial profiles. One key is automate the process of learning about their situation and needs, without making that process intrusive or too burdensome to be practical. In our conversation, he talks about how to do this, finding the areas where people’s situations are fairly similar versus those where there’s huge variation. He talks about doing living room visits, and how surprised he’s been by the vast differences among people who look the same if you just consider top-line factors like income. He talks about how much people struggle just to know where they stand, and about being humbled by how little we know.

Tim says traditional finance has been opaque, and he wants to change that. Among other things, he wants to break the “entrenched behaviors” around, as he puts it, people basically just taking what they’re given. 

As a man who founded a company in his mid-20’s, Tim has ringing advice for other entrepreneurs, including that it really helps to be “delusionally optimistic” about your product. As a startup cofounder myself, I’ve often recalled another bit of advice, on how to set priorities and stay focused on what counts the most.

Tim also has interesting thoughts on regulation, and had recently written an op-ed on the future of the CFPB (note that we had this conversation late last year).

Finally, he shares his secrets of personal effectiveness, which I suspect you will find surprising.

More for our listeners
We have great shows in the queue. They include my talk in Singapore with Michael Wiegand, who heads the Gates Foundation’s work on financial services for the poor. We’ll also talk with the CEO’s of two community banks -- Bob Rivers of Eastern Bank and Mike Butler of Radius bank. I was able to record three wonderful episodes at this year’s LendIt conference in San Francisco. One is with Jim Richards, recorded just a few days after he retired from his role as global head of Anti-Money Laundering for Wells Fargo. Plus I had an far-ranging conversation with my friend Greg Kidd of Global ID. And we’ll have an overview of new research done jointly by LendUp and Experian, on how to improve financial access through credit reporting. We also will have several members of Congress in the coming weeks, which I’m really looking forward to.

I hope to see you at upcoming events including:

  • Bank Director, The Reality of Regtech, April 18, New York, NY
  • Texas Bankers Association Annual Conference, May 3, Houston, TX
  • Women Corporate Directors Global Institute, May 10, New York, NY
  • Comply 2018, May 16, New York
  • Financial Conduct Authority AML Tech Sprint, May 22-4, London
  • CFSI’s EMERGE, June 6-8, Los Angeles, CA
  • American Bankers Association Regulatory Compliance Conference, June 26, Nashville -- I’ll be moderating a general session panel on regtech, and also teaming up again with the ABA for some special podcasts.

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