How She Got There: Luvleen Sidhu, Co-Founder and Chief Strategy & Marketing Officer of BankMobile
Name: Luvleen Sidhu
Job Title and Description: Co-Founder and Chief Strategy & Marketing Officer of BankMobile
What inspired you to start BankMobile?
Luvleen Sidhu: I remember opening my first bank account and I had to go into the bank branch and I waited there for 20-25 minutes. In terms of the line and the process it took to really open up the account, I just remember it being a completely frustrating, useless sort of use of my time—not really [that] great of an experience. On top of that, I remember asking her, “What other products and services do you recommend for me?” I was a college student at that time. She handed me this flyer that had a list of all their products and services on it and she was like, “Here you go. Take a look at this.” It just kind of opened my eyes to, number one, how antiquated and frustrating the experience is when you try to open a bank and deal with a bank. Number two, there’s zero customization or personalization. She just handed me a list of all the products that didn’t include anything customized to where I was in life. Three, understanding this industry more and more, I learned that it’s really unethical the sorts of fees that are being charged to people. Americans are being charged almost 32 billion dollars every year, and that’s just in overdraft fees. That’s more than what they spend on buying vegetables, three times more than what America spends on breast and lung cancer research. There are 68 million Americans [that] are underbanked and don’t have access to traditional finance services. The personal experience, plus this opportunity for the need of Americans to have access to affordable financial services, given that everything in life has a financial component and you really can’t succeed until you’re on a solid financial footing. Those are some of the things that got me inspired, got me excited about this opportunity to really transform this industry.
What does your current job entail? Is there such a thing as a typical day?
LS: One thing that I’m constantly focused on is how do we build our customer base. Number two, how do we get current customers to be very excited and loyal, and feel that we’re providing for them with a “wow experience.” That’s our mission. A typical day is really focused on what sort of marketing experience can we try to get people to know BankMobile, get excited about BankMobile. That includes everything from digital advertising to launching campus ambassador programs. Last September, we did grassroots marketing to street fairs in New York City, email campaigns and developed membership strategies because people might have the inertia to open an account even though they’re frustrated with their banking experience. So developing an easy, midway step like giving an email address and getting to know us so we can send educational finance content and learn what we’re about. It’s really about continuing to innovate to get people to know about BankMobile since we’re new, and get people excited about what we’re doing. Also, as the Chief Strategy and Marketing Officer, I kind of hit on the marketing side; but the strategy is why did we come into business? Our mission is to make banking fee-free. We’re the first bank in the country with absolutely no fees. Number two, effortless. Number three, financially empowering. What from a strategy point in terms of the products, services, technology and strategic partnerships can do to really get us toward fulfilling those missions? That’s what I work on, on a day-to-day basis.
What is the best part of your job?
LS: I would feel that, to me, it seems really, I guess, cliché—but when I meditate. I meditate every day, and it’s a chance to really align with my goals and what resonates with my heart as a person. At the most basic level, my goal in life is to be happy and to make others happy as well. When you translate that into my professional life, the way that I move on that purpose is by creating this company and building this company that is truly going to get people to be on solid financial footing so they can achieve their own dreams and feel that joy in their own life. I’d say the best part of my job is going back to our core mission of making people financially empowered and helping people get to where they want to be in life so they can feel fulfilled and happy at the end of the day. Getting your finances sorted and being on a solid financial footing is the basis to be able to springboard and do that.
Who is one person who changed your professional life for the better?
LS: My dad and I work together. We’re co-founders. He’s actually a veteran banker, a seasoned banker as he ran a bank called Sovereign Bank that was bought by Santander for 17 years. He really knows the banking space very well. I, being a millennial myself, tech-savvy, and understanding the needs and demographics of this generation—which is the largest generation, and going to be the most profitable over time. Our powers combined have really helped in setting BankMobile with where we are today with over 100,000 customers after just one year in business. He helps me on an everyday basis not just by helping me understand banking better, and this world that we’re in, but also just being a better leader. I have the opportunity to lead a team while I’m here, and learning from him that so much of leadership is actually emotional intelligence. How do we manage our emotions? How do we manage our relationships? How do we empower those that we work with? How do we inspire our customers? Through his experience in life so far, I really am able to learn from him these techniques that make me a better leader and a better businesswoman.
What is one mistake you made along the way and what did you learn from it?
LS: Personally, I’ve actually dealt with a lot of chronic pain. I really let it spiral out of control where I didn’t deal with it for months and months. It became very painful. It’s something I’ve been battling with for 6 years now. The mistake I made was not taking care of my body and my health, and not prioritizing that. What I’ve learned from that experience and healing myself is that it’s so important to be healthy—your mind and your body, and to take accountability for that, and to be in balance. Once you heal your mind and body and pay attention to taking care of yourself, you have the balance and groundedness to really excel in all aspects of your life including the professional aspect. That was a huge learning for me that I needed to focus on basics to excel everywhere in my life, especially BankMobile.
What has been the most surreal moment of your career thus far?
LS: I would say that when we started on January 14, 2015, we made a public announcement to our investors and publicly on the street that we would have 25,000 BankMobile accounts after one year of being in business. For us, this is already a stretch goal because if you look historically at the growth that banks see after being open for only five years, they only have 1,500 accounts. We were thinking of multiples of this when we put out our goal of 25,000. So, really, a surreal moment for me was being able to get over 100,000 accounts in just a year. Not only were we able to achieve our goal that was already really a high bar but exceeded exponentially. To me, that just showed me that when you are driven by a passion or a mission that is greater than just profitability and being a successful business, but more driven by changing people’s lives and having a bigger purpose, the other things in terms of accounts and profitability sort of follow. Having that in our mission was the driving force behind our growth.
What advice would you give to a 20-something with similar aspirations?
LS: I would say, as boring as it sounds, it’s so important to never give up. I feel that there’s so many times in life, whether it’s in your personal life or your professional, when you’re at a low point. It’s so easy to feel defeated, to feel hopeless and to not push forward. I feel that the biggest gift in life is this change in philosophy in life that I’ve had is to feel happier, wiser and stronger—mentally and physically. If you are on a mission for moving forward, moving your life forward in every way that you can each day and never giving up, that would be the most powerful lesson and I believe nothing can stop you with that attitude.