That Moment You Leave a Place You Love

Thursday, August 25, 2016

By Nancy Castillo

This Spring, Financial Health Networker Nancy Castillo spent 12 weeks at Oportun’s headquarters in Redwood City, CA. Castillo was there as part of a Fellowship program offered by Financial Health Network to its staff, the goal of which was twofold: to provide professional development and exposure to an emerging Financial Health Network leader, and to embed a Financial Health Networker into a network member organization to provide knowledge, insights, and interest in designing for high-quality consumer products.

But what really happened exceeded both organization’s expectations. John Thompson interviewed Nancy at the Financial Health Network All-Staff meeting. Here are some highlights.

JT: What projects were you planning on focusing on — and what did you actually do?

NC: We designed the fellowship so that I’d be able to share my expertise on US Financial Diaries by supporting the government and community relations team with a new market entry plan. We ended up leveraging my broader financial services marketplace insights to support other work as well. I researched and recommended a strategy for an Advisory Council for the organization and their financial capability efforts.

JT: Yeah, Nancy, but you’re a Financial Health Networker. That’s not enough to keep your plate full.

NC: Exactly. So when the CFPB Payday Rule was announced in June, I was helping Oportun understand what Financial Health Network’s perspective was on it — in real time. I was following Financial Health Network’s Slack channel (we had a representative at the hearing in Kansas City), and getting my Oportun colleagues engaged in the conversation informally and through a series of brown bags. It was a nice way to engage more staff in what it meant for the industry, and for their day-to-day work.

I also immersed myself into other teams, seeing firsthand how an ambitious organization expands to multiple new states in a short time.

JT: Our friend Sarah Livnat at Oportun said this about you: “From Day 1, Nancy was influential with our employees — helping them understand consumer challenges, the issues with small-dollar credit. We’re grateful to her for her openness to sharing her knowledge.”

What did you learn from Oportun’s leadership team?

NC: “Be relentless.” Raul Vazquez, Oportun’s CEO, focuses on the projects with the highest impact — and he makes decisions quickly, when needed, but is also careful and nimble to take advantage of opportunities. I think that’s something we can all learn from: don’t get too caught up on the details that you lose sight of the bigger things that have a lot of potential for influence. I came back to Financial Health Network with a new view of what I do; I can ask myself, now: “Am I being relentless on behalf of the consumer?” It reconnected me with why I’m in financial services to begin with — it was incredible.

JT: You manage our FinX experiential workshop here at Financial Health Network, and you got to spend some time “in the field” in Southern California. Tell us about that exercise.

NC: As part of the financial capability work I did, I got to go back to an Oportun location in the neighborhood where I grew up — Cathedral City, CA. I spent time interviewing several customers there to understand the financial topics most pressing for them and their views of the role Oportun plays in their lives. You know, we’ve hosted FinX in over 10 cities around the country, but being back there, in my home town, and interviewing my community, my people — it was incredible and reminded me of the value of knowing/being connected to “your” customer.

JT: And how did you use that for Oportun’s benefit?

I was able provide Oportun with directional insights about their customer to ensure that their financial capability work is relevant to them and can have an impact in their financial lives, in the areas where they need it most. Oportun was thinking about the size of their target market as 25 million Hispanic people. Now, several in the organization are thinking about the “57 percent” — the over half of America that Financial Health Network defines as financially struggling. That has the potential to change how the organization views their role in financial services.

JT: At the end of the day, what impact did you make on Oportun employees?

NC: Before I came, there were a few people people that knew about Financial Health Network and two that worked with us on a day-to-day basis — it was their job to carry back information and insights to the rest of the staff. Today? I’ve built relationships with people in different teams and over 75 people are engaging with us regularly — using our research, understanding what the opportunities are, applying those insights to their work. And the impact goes deeper than that — I presented to over 300 people at the organization, across various teams: front line, call center, technology, credit, risk, and the executive team. That’s game-changing.

About the Financial Health Network Founder’s Fellowship Program

The Founder’s Fellowship is a program in which a Financial Health Network staffer is embedded onsite with a Network Member as part of their team, for up to three months. The brainchild of former Financial Health Network board members Ellen Seidman and Luz Urrutia, the Fellowship was created as a way to honor the founding board members of Financial Health Network and reflect the board’s commitment to making professional development a priority within our ranks. The work of the Fellow with the Network Member is project-oriented and augments the capabilities of the Network Member, while also providing an opportunity to build the Fellow’s skills and increase understanding of implementation and operational challenges. Interested in working with us in a future Fellowship placement? Contact


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By Financial Health Network on August 25, 2016.

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