InterviewFinTech Interview with Christie Kim, COO at Persona

FTB News DeskFebruary 8, 202319 min

Identity is a series of claims and promises. It’s not static. And so are the frauds that tag along with it. How is Persona deploying solutions to tackle these?
Christie Kim , COO at Persona

Christie Kim is the COO of Persona, backed by Coatue and First Round Capital. In her role, Christie is the second-in-command leading the team towards the company’s mission to be the identity layer of the internet for customers including Square, Brex, Postmates, Outdoorsy, UrbanSitter, and more. Previously, Christie was at LinkedIn where was the head of Business Development for LinkedIn Learning Solutions.

1. Tell us a bit about your background.
I have had quite a varied path. I got my start in banking at Morgan Stanley. I learned a ton, no doubt. But I quickly realized I wanted to be in an operating role and not an advising one. I like to work and learn at a fast pace, which startups enable. After working at a number of different startups I came to the realization that working for a company with a tight-knit culture with core tenets of hard work, inclusion, collaboration, and high standards was incredibly important to me.

2. What ultimately led you to Persona?
Early on, I knew I wanted to be at an early-stage company so I could build the culture from the ground up. I spent some time in edtech and online learning but was looking to learn about a new industry, though at the time I wasn’t sure what that would be.
I then met my CEO, Rick Song, through my sister, who had worked closely with him for years. I started speaking to him and his Co-founder Charles when Persona had just 2 employees.
I was impressed by the size of the market and the problem Persona aimed to solve; this was not an ancillary or obscure problem, but a fundamental one. After all, every business needs a way to verify that the individuals and the businesses they interact with are who they claim to be.
After spending time with Rick and Charles, I was convinced this was the place for me. I knew I would be working on solving a real-world problem that impacts both businesses and individuals. More importantly, I knew I would be working with a smart, humble, and driven team that is acutely focused on the customer.

3. Identity seems to be ever-evolving. Do you feel the challenge you solve has become more complex or easier to solve?
It’s definitely becoming more complex due to a few trends. The first, as I mentioned previously, is that identity matters to every business and individual, and the variety of use cases multiplies by the day, making the problem more difficult to solve. Second, there’s been an overall shift in consumer expectations relating to data privacy and security when it comes to personal information—the urgency to protect PII is real. Lastly, there is rapid evolution in the regulations that dictate how businesses providing digital services should handle identity.

The easiest way to think of identity is that it is a living entity, constantly changing with time. I love the way Jia Tolentio described identity (and I believe she was citing sociologist Erving Goffman)—“identity is a series of claims and promises.” It’s not static. Today, your bank may ask for basic credentials based on the Know-Your-Customer (KYC) data they have on you. Tomorrow, they may feel it’s not enough and ask for extra proof of identity, like a new pin or additional security questions. The opposite is also true—to complete a transaction, they might require less information on you based on existing relationships you have with them.

Now think of all of these strands of your identity in data form, living across many systems. Organizations have a tough time harnessing all of this data, safeguarding it, and painting an accurate picture of someone’s identity. And it’s not a one-and-done deal.

Risk and fraud evolve continuously; identity evolves along with them. It’s a never-ending problem and it’s critical to stay ahead in order for businesses to minimize risk, meet regulatory requirements, and build trust with their customers.

4. What are some of the shifts happening in financial services and how does identity fit in?
There are many, but the crux of the problem is that more and more transactions move online every day. This means more and more data lives online and across many systems and organizations. Just think of how complex digital banking has become. The number of platforms we use today to make payments, take out loans, etc. This creates gaps in security and invites fraud. And I won’t even get into crypto and the fascinating, yet complex nature of dealing with different currencies and varying regional regulations.
This brings me back to my original point about identity and fraud continuously evolving. The data flow never stops. Regulatory requirements change constantly, too. So whatever guidelines your company was adhering to last quarter, may not apply today.

5. What are some of the latest developments at Persona?
I thought you’d never ask! We launched the latest iteration of our platform. This will put everything I said above into perspective.
I don’t want to repeat myself; just remember what I said a second ago about the ever-evolving nature of identity, the endless stream of fragmented data, etc. Our new platform gives companies the building blocks to assemble, customize and operate a business’ unique identity process from end to end. We connect, centralize, and orchestrate all fragmented identity data, disparate systems, and identity operations under a single infrastructure. The suite of products and its building blocks give our customers the flexibility to continuously adapt and update their processes and how they collect, verify, and manage identities as their needs and regulations evolve.
Because every business is different, Persona allows each one to tailor the experience and friction for its customers, while taking into account the risk the business is willing to take on for each transaction and user. For example, the process to verify an individual within a business varies depending on the use case—whether onboarding for the first time, making a large withdrawal, or trying to unlock a user account.

I’ll stop geeking out, but it’s exciting to see how different businesses have used parts of or all of our products to solve their unique needs around identity!

6. How does Pesona’s culture stand out from your previous companies?
Many companies say they are “people-first”, but we truly embody that concept. At Persona we believe the people you work with are the most important factor. That’s one of the most compelling reasons to join Persona if you want to work with and learn from smart, humble, hard-working people.
We ground our decisions in what will be best for our customers across every function, especially our product. For us, we don’t think you can build great products if you don’t intimately understand what problems your customers face day in and day out.

7. What are Persona’s plans for expansion and growth? Top priorities for 2023?
To my previous point, we’re truly people-oriented. As such, we plan on continuing to invest in our teams so they can continue to grow and thrive in their respective roles. We’re also investing in a new office space to expand and improve our working environment.
We’re of course also doubling down on product innovation. We will continue adding more building blocks and products to our platform that improve our automation, orchestration, and fraud prevention capabilities. This is critical to customers and we listen closely to their feedback. We will also be enabling more self-service functions for added convenience.
Finally, you’ll see the platform continue to evolve, to stay ahead of increasing fraud, which continues to trend in one direction: up.

8. What motivates you each day?
I love what we do for customers. I love watching their expression when they tell us how our platform makes their lives easier and trust that we will be true partners; that we will do our best for them by protecting their customers and their sensitive data.

I also love seeing “Personerds” (that’s what we call ourselves internally) grow. I’ve seen many folks join us over the years, cut their teeth in the industry during our phases of hypergrowth, and come out the other side having experienced immense personal and professional growth. It’s a rewarding experience to see people transform themselves and their careers with and because of Persona.

FTB News Desk

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