InterviewFintech Interview with Mike Sha, CEO, and Co-founder of SigFig

FTB News Desk FTB News DeskDecember 20, 202220 min

Modern digital solutions in the fintech industry are fast-changing the landscape of the sector. How can one leverage these solutions to their advantage?

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Mike Sha , CEO & Co-Founder, SigFig

Mike Sha is CEO and Co-Founder, SigFig, a leading US-based enterprise financial technology firm that develops next-generation products for financial institutions, advisors, and their customers. Prior to SigFig, Mike held senior roles at Amazon where he launched and built the Amazon Visa Card into one of the fastest-growing consumer loyalty cards in history, was one of the original inventors of Amazon's Prime program, and built sophisticated fraud detection models that leveraged statistical data analysis in preventing online fraud. Mike holds a BA in Applied Math and an MS in Computer Science from Harvard.

1. Can you give us a brief of your career before SigFig? How did you find your way into FinTech?
My involvement in FinTech was really more of an organic journey than a targeted decision. Starting with a BA in Applied Math and an MS in Computer Science, I launched my career at Amazon, where I built the Amazon Visa Card into one of the fastest-growing consumer loyalty cards in history, and was one of the original inventors of Amazon’s Prime program. While at Amazon I also built sophisticated fraud detection models that leveraged statistical data analysis in preventing online fraud.

Based on these experiences, I developed a passion for helping customers and saw the potential for using technology to improve peoples’ financial journeys. In fact, when I started SigFig, the term FinTech didn’t even exist. As FinTech solutions started to proliferate, I was inspired to see how many different ways technology could play a transformative role in disrupting the financial services industry.

2. Could you tell us more about SigFig and what was the inspiration behind starting this company?
I got into investing when I was young and it quickly became a passion of mine. I realized that investing was an important way for people to achieve their financial goals in the short-term and long-term, but that access to good information was both a key component and big hurdle for the average consumer. Over time, I realized that technology could be a democratizing force to bring better financial advice to more people. This thinking was really the genesis of SigFig when it was launched in 2006.

SigFig was a leader in the robo-advice space, but has grown to become the whitelabeled enterprise fintech partner to major financial institutions, advisors and their customers. Digital wealth was always at the core of our offering, but with our focus on consumer experience, we expanded to take a more comprehensive view of the customer.

By partnering with SigFig, financial institutions are enabled to innovate quickly, empowering consumers with the experiences they need to achieve their financial goals.

3. What makes SigFig unique? How does it stand out from its competitors?
One thing that makes SigFig unique is the balance we strike between being innovative and disruptive, while also successfully partnering with larger financial institutions that have a lot of history and culture that can be more resistant to change.
We’ve made the transition from a pure play robo advisory to an enterprise SaaS company powering some of the largest financial institutions with the tools that enable high-impact customer experiences and engagement. We’ve been able to take the lessons we learned as a leader in the robo-advisory space and bring that to the large customer bases served by many of the household names in financial services.

Our earnest focus on design, user experience and innovation is another differentiating factor. We are proud to be building a modern operating system for digitally engaging with customers, and we are expanding our suite of capabilities to do this.

This is all important because as the financial services industry continues to evolve, we believe that banks will continue to play a critical role in this landscape.

4. What are the technology solutions that SigFig offers?
We offer three main technology solutions to our customers. First is SigFig Digital Wealth, which is a modern open-architecture investment platform that allows firms to reach clients directly or through an advisor. In addition, we offer SigFig Discover, which helps transform the way financial advisers and bankers discover qualified leads and understand consumer needs and goals to empower their clients with better insights. Third, somewhat accelerated by the pandemic, we are launching a remote collaboration platform designed to provide a better customer experience, moving beyond audio and video to build stronger engagement and connections.

5. Could you give a sneak peek into the recent developments at SigFig?
We fundamentally believe that larger financial institutions, everyday household names, will continue to play a central role in the transformation of the industry. With that in mind, we are very busy growing and scaling our company, adding new partners to extend the reach of our products to a wider swath of customers. As we continue to bring on new partners and products, we will make sure to keep you posted.

6. Tell us a bit about your culture. What makes SigFig’s culture unique?
I’m really proud of the culture we’re building at SigFig. One of the big pillars is our belief that innovation and disruption happen when different disciplines are brought together to collaborate. Similar to convergence in traditional sciences, where some of the most significant innovations have happened when math, physics, chemistry and biology have come together – think of advancements in aviation or food sciences, for example. At SigFig, we are bringing together people from different disciplines and experience in financial services, consumer, enterprise, innovation and with scaling and stability. It’s been incredible to see the diversity of thought and ideas that happen at the crossroads of this interdisciplinary collaboration.

7. In your opinion, what are the most exciting trends in FinTech right now?
I think one of the most exciting trends in FinTech is the focus on serving customers and meeting the full spectrum of financial needs. Right now, there’s been a massive consolidation of financial services to create a comprehensive offering under one roof. Banks, FinTechs and investment houses alike are all committing themselves to providing the best products and services to create a superior customer experience. Importantly, they are doing a lot more than just selling products – they are working to deliver trusted advice and solutions. I think this shift is a critical one as so many people are struggling to make the right financial decisions for their circumstances.

8. What are SigFig’s plans for expansion and growth? Where do you see it in the coming years?
We remain committed to product innovation and partnerships that enable financial institutions to be a place of both transactions and advice. We have a terrific team in place and a wealth of partners (no pun intended) prepared to help us continue to scale our company. We continue to keep our eyes on how people’s lives are changing, and how that might impact their recipe for financial success.

9. What is the biggest piece of advice you would want to give to company leaders?
Having worked with large financial institutions and fintech startups alike, my advice is two-fold. I would tell financial institutions not to be afraid to look to the outside for opportunities to modernize their software as there is so much innovation occurring right now.

For founders and FinTechs, I would say that it’s an exciting time to be finding great talent to elevate ideas to the next level. I believe that in many instances, the best companies are made in downturns, so don’t let the current environment limit your goals.

10. Where do your passions lie? What do you think defines you as a person?
I’m extremely passionate about working with amazing people and inspiring them to leave their mark on the world. The pandemic forced all of us to reimagine how we fostered new relationships with people, when they had to be remote. At SigFig, we are encouraging our teams to not just get together, but to do so outside the conference rooms and cities where we have offices. We believe this approach has been instrumental in helping our teams bond in an authentic way and motivating them to understand different sides of themselves.

11. Which motivational quote drives you to achieve more at work? How do you manage to stay relevant in such a fast-paced industry?
Honestly, I don’t believe motivational quotes are particularly motivational. I find working with great people to be my greatest source of motivation.

To stay relevant in the financial services industry requires a deep curiosity about what’s happening and how things are changing. And staying connected with the needs of our customers is always key.

FTB News Desk

FTB News Desk

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