Creating Pathways to Better Financial Health — Anu Shultes, CEO of LendUp

Miguel Armaza
Wharton FinTech
Published in
5 min readOct 14, 2020

--

In this episode, Miguel Armaza sits down with Anu Shultes, CEO of LendUp, a mission-driven fintech company focused on expanding access to credit and creating pathways to better financial health.

A 25-year veteran of the financial services industry, Anu has a personal mission to lift people out of poverty and infuses her work with her passion for financial inclusion. Anu’s career spans a broad spectrum of roles across subprime credit cards, subprime loans, and prepaid cards. Her significant experience building efficient operational processes and teams to support them has led her to become one of the few female CEOs in fintech.

LendUp is backed by a long list of top VCs, including QED, PayPal Ventures, Google Ventures, Y-Combinator, Thomvest, Radicle, Data Collective, Susa Ventures, and many more!

Over the last three decades, Anu Shultes has held a number of corporate leadership roles, climbed up the ranks within large organizations, and even helped launch and scale an early-stage startup. Most of her roles have been in the financial sector and she’s been working in fintech practically her whole life. However, long before she was the successful CEO we know today, Anu experienced the very financial challenges she seeks to solve for her clients at LendUp.

A Fascinating journey

Anu immigrated to the United States in the early 90s to pursue a Masters in Management Science from Case Western Reserve University. She excelled in classes and focused on a highly specialized and quantitative degree, yet she still recalls struggling to get her first job out of grad school because most companies were not willing to sponsor international students (most international students in the US can probably relate). Anu also remembers scrambling to make ends meet and living paycheck to paycheck to her very last dollar during this time. Eventually, after a long search, she was hired as a Data Scientist at Providian, one of the leading credit card issuers, ran by Shailesh J. Mehta, a CEO who had also been an immigrant and could relate to her struggles.

Although her financial situation as a student was definitely challenging, Anu understood it was a temporary problem and that after graduation she would probably get a well-paying job. What she did not realize until many years later is that millions of Americans live in a similar reality with no end in sight and with no one to turn to. This realization shocked Anu and led her to focus her career on solving access to credit and financial products for underserved customers. Which is why when she got the call to join LendUp she jumped at the opportunity.

Disrupting an Industry

Founded in 2012, LendUp has had a singular mission from day one: disrupting the payday lending industry by providing anyone with a path to better financial health. LendUp not only offers access to small-dollar loans, but it also aims to combat predatory practices of incumbent lenders. LendUp recognizes that a lot of their customers got into their vulnerable financial position by accident and are still paying for mistakes made during their youth. Shockingly, most of these customers have stable jobs with average annual salaries of $42k — $45k, yet they still cannot get access to basic financial services — which is where LendUp comes in.

The company looks to break the vicious cycle of financially-disadvantaged consumers and offers a judgment-free zone where they work with customers to provide personalized solutions to help them improve their financial health and education. Since inception, the firm has made over $2 billion in loans and has served more than a million customers.

There are signs the industry is starting to improve. Anu tells us that in recent years they have been approached by some of their competitors interested in using LendUp’s financial education tools and some lenders are definitely moving in the right direction. But close to 60 million US citizens still cannot get access to a credit card and she considers most of the financial industry continues to underserve this vulnerable group.

Navigating COVID & The Road Ahead

As soon as COVID began to hit the US economy, most of the lending industry panicked and there was an immediate flight to safety. Anu got together with her board and management team to assess the situation and after recognizing there was no playbook for this crisis, they prioritized just getting through the pandemic one step at a time. This was anything but normal and Anu understood how important it was to focus on helping customers navigate through the storm, while also taking care of her employees. This is why the company’s doors stayed open for returning and existing customers and Anu made sure to provide additional tools and flexibility for her workforce. Although LendUp’s lending activity dropped off a cliff in March, they have seen volumes recover over the last six months and are expecting pre-COVID levels to come back next year.

Going forward, LendUp will remain committed to its mission of helping people get to better financial health. Anu hopes the company can one day figure out how to do it globally but thinks it is also important to help customers with products beyond lending, including savings opportunities, doubling down on financial education, and helping people plan and budget for their expenses. Ultimately, Anu hopes LendUp will grow their volumes, but not by giving more money to the same customers but by serving new people and graduating existing customers to mainstream financial institutions.

Entrepreneurial and Career Advice

Whether you’re considering entrepreneurship or just planning out your career, Anu encourages everyone to challenge themselves. Reflecting back on her own journey, it was when she stepped outside of her comfort zone that Anu discovered things she didn’t even know she could do. Anu also invites people to figure out what problem do they want to solve and be really sure they are passionate about it because otherwise you will lose interest and quit when the going gets tough. Finally, there’s power in admitting failure, as long as you give it your best shot. Losing the fear of failure will help people take the next step.

--

--

Miguel Armaza
Wharton FinTech

🎙Co-President/Podcast Host @WhartonFintech. Fintech investor @ Gilgamesh. 📚MBA/MA Candidate @Wharton/@LauderInstitute. Author of Fintech Leaders Newsletter✍️