by Brian Nordli
September 24, 2018

When it comes to workplace diversity, Tala takes a global perspective.

The fintech company deploys a team that spans five countries and contains an array of financial backgrounds. The credit team alone contains four nationalities, speaks 10 different languages and has equal gender representation.

That sense of diversity fuels Tala’s innovation, creating a mix of opinions, ideas and experiences that enable the company to help people from emerging countries obtain loans.   

We spoke with four employees at Tala to discuss their world travels and how they’re making financial services more accessible to people around the globe.

 

Tala Office
Photography By McKenzie Smith
Tala Team chatting
Photography By McKenzie Smith
Tala Logo
Photography by McKenzie Smith

 

FOUNDED: 2011

EMPLOYEES: 347 (97 local)

WHAT THEY DO: Tala uses smartphone data to provide instant credit scoring, lending and other personalized financial services to users in emerging markets.

WHERE THEY DO IT: Headquartered in Santa Monica with offices around the globe.

GLOBETROTTERS: Employees in Santa Monica have opportunities to travel to countries like Kenya, the Philippines and India to get to know Tala’s customers and international team members.

MIND AND BODY: In addition to full coverage for health, dental and vision insurance, employees can spend time meditating in the company’s wellness room or participate on one of Tala’s intramural sports teams.

 

Eric at work

Eric Portrait

 

Eric Lee, Head of Engineering

Eric is responsible for managing and scaling the global engineering team at Tala.

BEYOND WORK: Eric’s favorite hobby is building plastic model cars and Legos.

 

What problems are you solving with technology at Tala?

We are determining financial risk using a system that is based on alternative data and machine learning concepts. Our system uses mobile data to calculate that risk, based on the intuition that daily life interactions captured on a mobile phone are the closest representation of a person. This enables us to scale without any manual intervention.

 

What's your favorite part/element of your company's culture?

I enjoy working with a diverse, geographically dispersed team that spans from Santa Monica to Nairobi, Mexico City, Bangalore, Dar es Salaam and Manila. I also enjoy our ongoing personal growth and feedback. Given our mission, both of these align quite significantly.

 

Diversity and equity are a key value for us, and we believe it powers innovation.”

 

What advantages does a diverse staff provide, especially working with international customers?

Diversity and equity are a key value for us, and we believe it powers innovation. There are so many nuances to understanding our customers and their lives. Having team members who’ve walked in our customers’ shoes and speak their languages and dialects work alongside team members with a different background create an exciting tension that provokes creative thinking.

 

Tala Team on the Couch

Gaurav Portrait

 

Gaurav Bhargava, VP of Credit

Gaurav Bhargava manages the credit and fraud strategy functions at Tala. His team applies credit risk and fraud risk models to identify which customers can be approved for a loan, for what amount and what price. Those business decisions drive the profitability of Tala’s market portfolio.  

BEYOND WORK: Gaurav enjoys reading postmodern literature and poetry. His favorite authors include Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre and Rudyard Kipling.

 

What is unique about the credit you offer at Tala?

We use alternative credit scoring, which leverages data science to assess an individual’s capacity to manage credit based on their smartphone data. I love this capability because it is globally scalable and doesn’t depend on an individual country’s credit bureau to assess risk. We also differentiate based on customer experience and how we disburse our loans. Our customers can get a loan within minutes after they apply to address the issues that matter the most to them.  

 

We have team members from all walks of life, which brings in a diversity of opinions and experiences to meaningfully drive our innovation.”

 

How do you promote and facilitate diversity on your team?

Just by the nature of our business, the team at Tala is culturally more diverse than any of my previous jobs. Tala operates in five countries, each with its own local office and staff. Our credit team has representation from four nationalities and equal gender representation. As a team, we speak 10-plus languages. We have team members from all walks of life, which brings in a diversity of opinions and experiences to meaningfully drive our innovation.

 

How does Tala’s culture compare to your previous work experiences?

Tala is my first startup experience. I previously worked at large financial institutions, where it was difficult to develop a full understanding of all business functions. At Tala, I get a chance to learn about new business functions — like how a UX team works to humanize a product — that I had never experienced before.

 

Shannon Ping Pong

Shannon Portrait

 

Shannon Yates, Data Analytics Lead

Shannon Yates leads a team of data analysts who work with Tala’s global teams to leverage data to prioritize and drive key initiatives. She also focuses on larger organizational challenges and opportunities like research collaborations and customer trips.

BEYOND WORK: Shannon co-captains Tala’s recreational soccer team.

 

How are you using data to shape Tala’s product?

Data drives and informs our product every day. We use the data our customers share with us to form an alternative credit score that enables us to underwrite the microloans we offer. It also enables us to drive our product development.

In an earlier version of the product, we wanted to understand why our customers were seeking out our services. I developed a focus on customer segmentation through surveys and analytics, which helped us identify three primary motivations: founding a business, putting their kids through school and day-to-day stability. This helped us adjust our value proposition and reconsider how our product and messaging serves those goals.

 

How does the company’s culture inform the work your team does?

Our mission is to expand the access, choice and control our customers have over their financial lives. One of my team members joined an internal initiative designed to create pathways for people who wouldn’t typically qualify for the product. When the manual efforts to evaluate each application became too much, he built an automated function to scale the process. It demonstrated our belief that we should always challenge assumptions and focus more on the consumer than on operational requirements.

It was amazing to show how we’re empowering people and have the data to prove it.”

 

What about your own experiences? Is there a moment that made you proud to work for Tala?

One of our values involves proving potential, and we put this into practice in a way that demonstrates our commitment to our social mission. We decided to self-govern and implement ethics policies, such as our data restriction against allowing discriminatory attributes like gender, into our credit decisions.

I was able to then share our findings that showed how well our female customers managed our loans at the Global Banking Alliance for Women Summit. I explained how far ahead we were of traditional financial institutions in servicing highly creditworthy women around the globe. It was amazing to show how we’re empowering people and have the data to prove it.

 

Quang at play

Quang Portrait

 

Quang Tran, Director of Product Impact & Insights

Quang Tran leads a team of five user and product researchers that conduct half of the product processes at Tala, including user research, product research, design and prototyping.

BEYOND WORK: Quang is learning how to play guitar.


With a global user base, how do you find out what your customers want from your products?

This is something we constantly work on and iterate. One way for us to find out what our customers want is to resource it. We created the product impact and insight (PII) team and hired local researchers in markets where they are culturally and linguistically fluent with our users. This allowed us to turn around research projects faster, without having to get on a plane.

We also developed a common language around product discovery, determining why it’s important, what it is and how it can be done. This has enabled user researchers, product designers and product managers in Santa Monica to leverage each other’s work. At a tactical level, we do user research at four stages — strategic/discovery, concept testing, usability testing and post-production evaluations. We use tools ranging from qualitative problem discovery to quantitative analyses of data from our surveys or app analytics.

 

What advantages does a diverse staff provide?

Even within the PII team, we have a good deal of diversity, from financial inclusion experience to consumer technology experience. Everyone brings a diverse set of intelligence and skills which accelerates progress.

We recently worked on a project to test different repayment reminder messages. Normally we would brainstorm various messages and then test them out, but our colleague has deep financial inclusion experience. She alerted us to the fact that several financial inclusion organizations had tested behavioral nudges. We reviewed their published work and were able to build on top of that.

 

Last March, I went with our product designers to Nairobi to explore improving credit education for our users.”

 

How often do you travel abroad to meet customers and local team members? How meaningful are those exchanges?

I love this aspect of working at Tala and find it rejuvenating. I usually travel once per quarter to one of our markets for customer research. Last March, I went with our product designers to Nairobi to explore improving credit education for our users. We spent two weeks working with our team in Nairobi to identify user problems and several concepts to address those problems.  

It was amazing to interact with our users. I loved hearing what concepts they disliked and why. One of those was a concept I’d developed, and it was humbling to see it shot down. Ultimately, it helped me understand our users better and helped us home in on better concepts. Aside from that, it was fun to collaborate in-person with our Nairobi team.

 

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