Shmulik Fishman Of Argyle On The Future Of Money and Banking
An Interview With David Liu
Listen more, talk less: Clients are a wealth of product ideas. Listen to your clients, don’t just pitch them. Our product roadmap is guided by our clients, and by hearing what challenges they face and what solutions they’re looking for, we build better products. Things like which payroll processor we pick next is highly guided by clients.
The way we bank has changed dramatically over the last decade. It was not too long ago when you had to wait in line in a bank to deposit money. Today things are totally different. You can do your banking without ever walking into a bank. In addition, the whole concept of money has changed. In the recent past, money usually meant bills and coins. But today, the concept of money has expanded to include digital currency and NFTs. What other innovations should we expect to see in banking in the short and medium term?
To address this, we are talking to leaders in the banking, finance, and fintech worlds, to discuss the future of banking and money over the next few years.
Shmulik Fishman is the founder and CEO of Argyle, which provides a universal, trusted platform for accessing employment records with worker consent. He started Argyle in 2018 after experiencing the complexity of work verification for his previous venture STRATIM. Shmulik is a published author and has an undergraduate degree from Hampshire College where he studied philosophy, as well as a degree in business from Columbia University.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started in this industry?
It was the best accident ever — at a prior company I was trying to hire a large number of employees and had an overwhelming volume of applicants. Each application had to be manually verified, which was incredibly inefficient. In an attempt to improve the process, I experimented with applying to several jobs myself at well-known companies. My experiences with these employers’ applications were terrible. It forced me to examine how we could make the job application process a more successful experience for every worker.
Initially, I set out to improve the employment verification process for Uber drivers. At the time, I didn’t realize how big the market was for employment verification, but I felt very passionate about making employment verification systems and online processes better, more automated and streamlined for users. I was also interested in providing more access to opportunities. I was learning how error-ridden and inequitable the existing employment verification process is in the United States.
Throughout my career, I’ve been attracted to marketplaces and businesses where there’s an underlying network of fragmented and extreme complexity. Translating the complex into an accessible and simple process for the customer fascinates me.
I got to explore this during my time at Adap.tv, an ad marketplace. There are hundreds of millions of websites where ads can be placed — the options can be overwhelming. A company like Coca-Cola, for instance, needs one hub to effectively manage the placement of those ads. We developed a very simple access point for clients on top of a platform that abstracted away a ton of complexity and functionality and kept it behind the scenes. Another example of this was my time spent at STRATIM (now KAR Global), which was connected to hundreds of thousands of car dealerships. We made it easy for companies like Toyota to get their cars to all the designated dealerships in America.
Last year 7.3 million EIN numbers — i.e., tax-paying business entities operating in the U.S. — paid American workers, and 250,000 payroll service providers processed payroll on behalf of these companies. That’s a ton of complexity that my company Argyle is putting a “decomplexifying” layer on top of so workers can readily access their employment information and lenders can make more-informed and up-to-date credit decisions.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I recently posted a piece on Medium about a marketing mishap when we first started Arglye and launched a Twitter account.
Following our Series-A funding round, we decided to create a Twitter account to broadcast the announcement. Compared to starting a company from the bottom and nurturing a product to market, this task seemed like small fries. “No problem,” I thought to myself, “I’ll handle it.” Everything started out well enough, and then Twitter asked for our birthdate. Naturally, I put in the day Argyle was founded. Seconds later, I realized that action flagged us as underage, forever locking the account.
This could have been a moment of crisis, but instead, we all laughed, made a new name (@withArgyle), and put in my age instead of the company’s. I got to make fun of myself, didn’t blame anyone else, and it brought us together.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Don’t take yourself that seriously, that way other people won’t either.”
At Argyle, we have a lighthearted culture where we’re willing to laugh when we don’t get things right every time. We’re creating a culture where it’s safe to say “tell me I’m wrong.” We’re happier and less stressed because of it.
Can you tell our readers about the most interesting projects you are working on now?
Argyle is building a product called FinanceNow. It’s a white-label product that will help our clients keep consumers inside their environment with access to frictionless, continuously streaming financial and employment data. We also just integrated OCR technology — expanding Argyle’s offerings. There are many ways to verify: phone, paper, digital, our API now does it all.
How do you think this might change the world?
With each iteration of our products, we move closer to universal financial access for the underbanked, those with thin credit or no credit history, and those that the financial system has traditionally left out; gig workers, shift workers, and creators. We’re constantly expanding our capabilities to ensure that we have an option for each type of person.
What most excites you about the banking industry as it is today? Can you explain what you mean?
There’s a pivot towards new product offerings, earned wage access, and paycheck-linked lending, as well as personal finance management. These next-generation financial products have a consumer bend to them — they are tailored to consumers’ needs and I think we’ll only continue to see that grow.
What most concerns you about the banking industry as it is today? What would you suggest needs to be done to address that?
Regulation… it’s built on top of a lot of old principles and tech stacks and all new experiences have to be built on top of old ways of working.
How would you articulate how the concept of money has changed in recent times? Is it really a change? How is it still the same? Can you explain what you mean?
Money is becoming more elastic. Money is no longer just what you have in your pocket, there’s now the idea of money you’re going to get in the future and money you’ll get back later.
Based on your vantage point as an insider in the finance industry, what innovations should we expect to see in banking in the short and medium-term?
Earned wage access. Workers put in the time every day, but they don’t get money in their pockets every day. Earned wages aren’t accessible to them until their employers run payroll. The ability to access your earnings when you complete work is going to be a huge trend.
How has the pandemic changed the way banks interact and engage with their customers?
Everything is going virtual (even though people have been saying that for 10 years), that was put to the test during COVID and is now commonplace — people don’t go into a branch to manage finances anymore.
In your particular experience, how has the pandemic changed the way you interact with, and engage your customers?
We’ve made a huge investment in asynchronous functionality — you can use Argyle by going to our website, app, etc.
If you could design the perfect communication feature or system to help your business, what would it be?
Because we’re a data/API company, we interact with developers frequently and we use changelogs a lot (if you go to our doc page you can see our changelog). It is a great communication and marketing tool, allowing our clients to see what we are working on and how things are changing in an interactive and engaging way.
Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career In The Modern Finance, Banking and Fintech industries?
1. Listen more, talk less: Clients are a wealth of product ideas. Listen to your clients, don’t just pitch them. Our product roadmap is guided by our clients, and by hearing what challenges they face and what solutions they’re looking for, we build better products. Things like which payroll processor we pick next is highly guided by clients.
2. Be practical: There’s no reason to always invent something new. We recently integrated OCR document upload into our API. People have and use paystubs, and some are more willing to share them than log into accounts with their credentials. For some consumers, even though it may feel counterintuitive, that’s the path of least resistance. It’s not futuristic, it’s helpful. You don’t always have to be “inventive.”
3. Product lead growth wins: The finance community is over-indexed to sales teams and business development. The number one question is do you have a product that provides a solution to a consumer problem.
4. Be global (and have a diverse team): It’s important to get people from different industries into the mix. At Argyle, we’re not looking for everyone to come from a financial services background. Different cultures, different industries, and a global team are tremendously helpful in ensuring we’re solving problems from multiple perspectives.
5. Experiment: Your product doesn’t need to immediately be perfect. Build features people will use and then you can improve them. Incremental improvement is fine. A non-perfect product is fine.
If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
A movement that encourages people to be willing to interact meaningfully with others who are different from them and have different backgrounds would bring about a lot of good. What’s great about the peace corps is that it sends Americans into environments that are unlike their own. People become more well-rounded. We need more of this in America. Once this pandemic is over, I should be spending time in Oklahoma, for instance. People in Kansas need to come to New York. We need to get to know each other better, celebrate our differences and find more common ground.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you so much for the time you spent doing this interview. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success.