Taylor Burton Of Till Financial On How They Are Helping To Promote Financial Inclusion
An Interview With Orlando Zayas
Run regular audits against the business to understand the demographics of the user base and really see who’s having success and who’s not and why.
Most of us take it for granted that we can open a bank or a credit card. But the truth is, according to the World Bank, close to one-third of adults — 1.7 billion — are still unbanked, and have no access to a transaction account. About half of unbanked people include women in poor households in rural areas or out of the workforce. What can be done and what is being done to promote more financial inclusion? Authority Magazine is starting a new series about Companies Helping To Promote Financial Inclusion. In this series, we are talking to leaders of companies and organizations who are helping to promote financial inclusion.
As part of this series I had the pleasure to interview Taylor Burton, CEO of Till Financial
Taylor Burton is an entrepreneur with proven success blending consumer and merchant technology. He is co-founder of Till Financial, a collaborative family banking platform with a specialized app for helping kids become smarter spenders before they’re out on their own. Taylor has proven to be a true innovator, operating in executive functions at ground-breaking companies such as PayPal, eBay and Drizly.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to ‘get to know you. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
Taylor: My parents were both engineers and very focused on facts and doing things by the book. That was never how I operated and, while I didn’t have an exact playbook, I knew it was possible to become a successful entrepreneur. To their credit, my parents actively supported and encouraged me in any endeavor, so I was constantly starting mini business ventures growing up: in grade school I created a recess currency — which promptly got me in trouble. Further down the line, I started a bumper sticker company, playing to both sides of the political divide. As a high school freshman, I was in a group that worked for a student-based painting company. Although we brought in all the business and did the work, we received less than 30% of the revenue. The following summer, I cut out the middleman and started a painting business of my own and scaled it to a point where it was worth selling.
Basically, I was always trying to build something and figure out how to solve problems, something that obviously helped steer me to where I am now with Till.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
Taylor: While I appreciate a good book, I’m also a big believer in direct experience. Direct experience gets us out of insular thinking, which is naturally self-limiting. I have always been committed to seeking out direct experiences, and appreciate everything they teach me about people and the world. On a small scale, I aim to have a meaningful interaction with two new people every day, just to stay tuned into the world around me and to people who might have a different perspective than I do. I also value big milestone moments, such as my experience studying abroad in India. It was in 2008 and the country was still very much developing, but Internet-connected phones seemed to be everywhere. In the US, we were still primarily connecting to the Internet via desktop or laptop computers, so the difference was eye-opening. Seeing firsthand how ubiquitous the phone could become was an incredible lesson, and it definitely made me want to explore mobile access.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
Taylor: It’s not a quote, per se, but my mantra is to embrace being comfortable with being uncomfortable. As I shared, this can be lived talking with new people every day or traveling and studying in another country. It means knowing when I have given my all and when it is time to take on the next challenge. Today, that certainly means tackling big picture projects and initiatives that require full commitment, vision and energy — all while trying to support the people around me as well. I’ll know I’ve done it well when it is time for me to move onto my next chapter.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Taylor: Understand when you’re going in the wrong direction and don’t be afraid of substantial course corrections. Sometimes small, incremental changes can’t provide the corrections you need to be successful.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
Taylor: The experience I had moving from Fortune 100 companies like as eBay and PayPal to Drizly, where there were less than 10,000 customers at the time, was a big eye opener and learning experience. What I found was that while there were vastly different problem sets, there were similar ways to solve them: First, is people — ensuring you have a fantastic team. Second, is delivering on promises and doing what you say and third, is to take care of partners to create wins on both sides, and for the customer as well.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Let’s start with a basic definition so that all of our readers are on the same page. What exactly is Financial Inclusion?
Taylor: Financial inclusion is about accessibility to financial services for everyone. You can’t be an inclusive service or financial product if everyone can’t get access to it. Accessibility can be hampered by several things, including a user’s income and how much disposable income they have, the types of devices a user has available to her, the product’s cost structure, and the user’s general understanding of finance. Being inclusive requires making services available to everyone in spite of these things.
What does it mean to be “unbanked”?
Taylor: Being unbanked is exactly what it sounds like. People who are unbanked aren’t served by a bank or other financial institution. It’s a person who deals in cash or cash equivalence, including credit cards. It is terrifically challenging for people, especially as so much of our world becomes digitized.
I see there being various stages and types of the unbanked population. The most severe is when you just deal in cash. Moderate forms of being unbanked are just having a checking account with tons of limits and/or relying on a predatory credit card product. A good barometer for folks who are unbanked is those that might have to access their paychecks at a pay-day loan establishment.
For the benefit of our readers, can you explain some of the typical reasons why a person might be unbanked? Why can’t they just walk into the local bank and open an account? Why can’t they simply open an account online?
Taylor: People often make incorrect assumptions about the unbanked, and many of them are negative assumptions. But, you can be unbanked for many reasons. For instance, immigration status is a primary reason people are unbanked. This is because you need a social security number to open a bank account. Or, perhaps you are working, earning money, and paying your bills, but you don’t have established credit and so can’t get a fair credit card. Other scenarios could be going through a rough financial situation, or lacking a permanent address, or even having previously been incarcerated.
Can you tell our readers a bit about your work to promote Financial Inclusion? Without saying names, can you share a story about a person who was helped by your initiative?
Taylor: We designed our fee-free structure deliberately, so that nearly everyone regardless of socioeconomic status can participate in building better habits for their children, or for people in their lives who might not be fully independent. A story that sticks out in my mind is of an unbanked person that actually didn’t fall into our target demo. We had an adult Till user who was signing up their family and wanted to sign up their sister who had intellectual disabilities. This was a great way for them to help this person gain some independence. Similar to how kids feel like their independence grows, we can help those with intellectual or developmental disabilities as well.
This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for businesses to promote financial inclusion?
Taylor: Because it is the bedrock of how you get ahead in life, right? If we’re not opening opportunities and building bridges for people where they don’t exist, the past will continue to repeat. Typically, socioeconomic and family status drives people’s outcomes in life. But you don’t have to look much further than Barack Obama, The Rock, and others who come from backgrounds that don’t show trajectory to President of the United States or Top-Grossing Actor of All Time, but they got there because they fought their way through it, worked hard and were supported along the way. Sometimes luck plays a role as well. I think their success goes to show you that people are not necessarily a product of their environment and that if they create or are given the right opportunity and support to push them then they will be successful.
Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. You are an influential business leader. Can you please share your “5 Steps Business Should Take To Promote Financial Inclusion.” Kindly share a story or example for each.
Taylor: First, you need to decide if your business is something that can support financial inclusion. Not every product or service is made for everyone. Our focus is on families with kids to set up the next generation of financially engaged, smarter spenders. Within that segment, we are made for everyone, our decision to be fee-free is a part of that.
Second, consider the most immediate action you can take to support broadening the scope of the people you can serve. For us, that was not having financial barriers to accessing our platform. We think that a kids’ first banking experience shouldn’t mean their first banking fee.
I think step three is making sure you aren’t making assumptions on what people do or don’t understand. You have to ensure people understand “the whys” behind the way your product works and reasons why you’re doing certain things. So, when you ask for a social security number, explain why. Don’t assume people know that to open a bank account you need an SSN.
Fourth, make sure you are creating and marketing your product in a way that reaches all your demographics. Ensure that all the people you are looking to serve with your product are reflected in what you do. From research and focus groups to inform the product all the way through marketing materials.
I think the fifth is to check in. Run regular audits against the business to understand the demographics of the user base and really see who’s having success and who’s not and why. This requires a ton of work on the ground but it’s worth it, especially for a business with financial inclusion as part of its mission.
You are a person of enormous influence. 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. :-)
Taylor: That’s really what Till is about. Today, many Millennials are facing a mountain of debt, whether it was uninformed choices that they made when they were younger, or taking on a substantial amount in loans. We recognize that getting exposure and most importantly, hands-on experience making spending decisions when you’re young can have a tremendous positive impact on a person’s financial future. It’s also about enrolling families and the broader community to support a young person in achieving their goals; financial and otherwise. By providing the right tools, we’re focused on creating a generation of smarter spenders who make informed and intentional decisions about how, when and why they spend money.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)
Taylor: Without a doubt it would be Anjali Sud. What she has been able to accomplish in her time at Vimeo, coupled with the confidence she exudes in the face of difficult company decisions has been inspiring to watch from the sidelines.
How can our readers further follow your work online? https://tillfinancial.io/
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!