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Innovation in a Risk Management Business: A Conversation with Piermont Bank Founder and CEO Wendy Cai-Lee

Innovation in a Risk Management Business: A Conversation with Piermont Bank Founder and CEO Wendy Cai-Lee

FinovateSpring provided us with a great opportunity to sit down for an informative chat with Wendy Cai-Lee, founder and CEO of Piermont Bank.

Launched in 2019, Piermont Bank aims to blend the best of modern banking and agile fintech. Piermont Bank’s peer banking approach provides customers with technology-enabled, human-delivered solutions, opting for dedicated bankers over “1-800 numbers or chatbots.”

Last month, Piermont Bank celebrated three years of innovation. The woman-founded and entrepreneur-led financial institution currently has more than $420 million in total assets, and offers an end-to-end, digital banking-as-a-service platform with more than 40 fintech clients already onboard. More than 50% of Piermont’s loans since inception have been made to low- and moderate-income communities, as well as women- and minority-owned businesses.

Below are a few excerpts from our conversation with Ms. Cai-Lee at FinovateSpring in San Francisco in May.

On the decision to launch Piermont Bank

The genesis of building Piermont was actually really simple. A lot of entrepreneurs would tell you they had this grand vision. For me, it was actually just very two practical reasons. The first was seeing the impact and the speed of impact that fintechs were making on consumer banking … The second reason was: I’ve been in banking for 26, 27 years. (And I’ve seen) the same pain points repeatedly from both the customer (side) as well as internally as an operator … So basically I said, “Okay if I could start with a blank slate, how would I build this? How would I build a fully digital-native, totally tech-enabled bank to do commercial banking faster and more efficiently?

On the evolution of financial services in recent years

My industry, historically, doesn’t change. It doesn’t go that fast. These days, I say that if the CEO is still working off their three-year strategic plan, if it’s in their third year, the board should fire that person. I mean, are you still even relevant in terms of your products (or) the way that you’re delivering these products? So I think the biggest change is just the speed, the speed of change, the speed of innovation.

I was taught and it’s still true banking is a risk management business. So it’s a little bit counter-intuitive if you think about it, this so-called “innovation.” But you absolutely can innovate in a risk management business.

On the advancement of women into leadership roles in financial services

I find myself able to make the biggest impact in the day-to-day: hiring based truly on skill sets and meritocracy, being gender-blind, age-blind … I know that sounds weird but, as an executive, as somebody who is doing the hiring, as somebody who’s doing the promotion, if I can just say, is this person the best person for the job? That’s more than half the game. I know that doesn’t sound very inspiring or trailblazing, but it is actually the day-to-day that makes a huge difference. Empower women, give them the job opportunity, give them the opportunity to rise to the occasion. That’s how we get there.

Check out the complete interview on FinovateTV.

Photo by Alex Azabache