SoFi CEO Anthony Noto on the company’s new culture and why he’s in the fintech industry

SoFi CEO Anthony Noto left his role as COO at Twitter in February 2018 to join the financial technology services company as their lead executive. According to Noto, SoFi is virtually a different company than it was before he started. “In many ways, we are a company that is really less than 2 years old,” Noto said.

Ladders spoke with Noto to find out more about this new company culture, what his past leaders taught him, and his advice for getting hired at SoFi.

What inspired you to leave Twitter and play your hand in the fintech industry?

“I saw SoFi as an opportunity to build a mission-driven company that could eventually positively impact hundreds of millions of people. When I was first asked if I were interested in the role, I had no idea how pervasive the financial burdens of student loan debt were.

As I dug into the reality, it became clear to me that no company was singularly focused on building broad-based digital financial services offering with a membership approach that could help people reach the point where they had enough money to do what they want, which we call financial independence.

I also noticed that no company had leveraged a common technology platform to help people get their money right across all of the key must-dos to reach financial independence in borrowing, saving, spending, investing and protecting their money.”

You’ve held many leadership positions throughout your career. Has anything about the role of CEO surprised you?

“Every leadership role has been a learning experience, and I wouldn’t be where I am without those previous positions. The biggest surprise I’ve seen is that after a 20+ year career, I still have so much to learn. From the outstanding employees at SoFi to our inspirational members, I find myself learning from these stories each and every day.

Also, now that I am in the CEO seat, I have a much greater appreciation for the impact that CEO leaders have had on me and the way I lead. Until I stood in their shoes as a CEO, it was truly impossible to appreciate the impact great CEOs have on an organization, the COO, CFO and direct executive staff.

Now that I have the privilege of being a CEO, I could not be more thankful for the leadership (and patience) that CEOs I have partnered with as a CFO and COO in NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Founder and CEO of Twitter Jack Dorsey.”

How would you describe your management style at SoFi? Does that change at all when working with employees from the Millennial or Gen Z generations?

“Leadership has never been one size fits all. At the core of being an effective leader is a common foundation in the mission or purpose of a company or organization, a belief in each other, followed by alignment on strategy, priorities and plans, and of course, accountability. These are concepts that are not always relatable to all employees, so we use a much more tangible approach in aligning every level of our company around OKRs (Objectives and Key Results). OKRs are supported by specific plans to achieve them and all have to ladder up to our priorities, which advance us toward accomplishing our mission.

Focusing just on what we do as a company is not enough to be an effective leader, as leaders are responsible for whatever a company does and doesn’t do. So, in addition to the “what we do”, it’s also important to build a common framework that aids the company in determining the “how we do”. At SoFi, we have 11 core values to help form the foundation of the “how”. We must use these values as a guide to set the expectations of being a good leader at the company.”

SoFi creates innovative tools and initiatives like Get That Raise. As CEO, how do you inspire an atmosphere of innovation among your team?

“Innovation is essential at SoFi. We focus on the needs of our members to drive our innovation, not the desire to build a specific business. Our members need to get their money right by improving how they borrow, save, spend, invest, and protect their money. In order to do these things better, we are creating better services for each area. For example, we push the envelope with new products like SoFi Money® and SoFi Invest®. We consistently roll out complementary tools that educate members and help them succeed financially and in their careers, like Get That Raise tool.

One of our core values is to “Learn, iterate, innovate” so we are constantly iterating to drive innovation across the key activities to getting your money right.

Another source of inspiration for everyone at SoFi is our member stories. Every day, we hear that they are paying off hundreds or thousands of dollars of debt, or negotiating a 41% raise with the help from our products and services, or buying their first stock or ETF now that they have enough money to invest. Our members’ success is our success, and that alone is an inspiration for me to get up and get to work every day.”

SoFi has an extremely unique approach to lending. Why do you think it appeals to Gen Z and Millennials?

“SoFi was launched as a way to help solve the student loan crisis that is crippling a generation in this country. The staggering number owed is over $1.6 trillion and this burden comes with a number of consequences for the individuals saddled with this debt; for example, Millennials are investing in lower levels than ever before because they’re drowning in debt. Not having the disposal income to invest means they’re setting themselves back by tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars in potential wealth later in life, delaying or completely obliterating their chance of being able to afford retirement.

What we have also learned is the crippling financial challenges to Gen Z and Millennials that are well beyond just the burden of this debt. Even without student loan debt, these generations can not reach the point that they have enough money to do what they want – for some that are having children, others buying a house, living where they want or the career of their dreams.

SoFi is a mobile-first business, which is what Millennials and Gen Z expect. Millennials didn’t grow up going to a brick and mortar bank and they don’t see the need for this expensive line item when it comes to managing their money. By helping cut down on the length of loan payments and the amount of money owed, SoFi is helping hundreds of thousands of people to pull themselves out of this crisis and toward financial wellbeing. As we grow, SoFi continues to expand its products to more options designed to help this next generation achieve financial wellness, allow them to pay off their debt without forgoing investing, by giving them accessible and tailored investing options and give them the tools to get their money right in the long term.”

Has your experience at a major social media giant influenced the way you manage and direct your company culture?

“I learned the power of being at a mission-driven company at Twitter, and the chance to build SoFi into fulfilling its mission was something I was and am very passionate about. Every day that I have been at SoFi, the impact that we have on people’s lives increases and that, in turn, fuels my passion to help change more people’s lives. I am a big believer in transparency, getting to the truth and making principled and data-based decisions within SoFi.”

How do you describe SoFi’s company culture?

“With gratitude to the many people that built SoFi through 2017, it’s very clear that we are a very different company today. In many ways, we are a company that is really less than 2 years old. The initial success of the company gave us the license to start again, but on a clearer mission and in a new direction, leveraging the heritage and roots of an incredibly innovative and immensely valuable product, in student loan refinancing.

As this “new” company, it’s safe to say our culture is still forming. It is critically important to me and all leadership at SoFi that we aim to achieve our goal: to have the best culture in the world. Having the best culture in the world does not require capital, technology, unique IP, or a great brand. What it requires is leadership alignment and accountability. Our core values form the foundation of how we must work in order to accomplish our goal. You can read more about our 11 core values here.”

What advice would you give to someone interviewing at SoFi?

“Join SoFi if you want to be part of a mission-driven company that can impact people’s lives in unexpected and unimaginable ways. You might not be passionate about consumer finance day one, and you don’t need to be, but if you want to be part of something bigger than yourself that has a tangible impact, then join us in our mission! The passion for consumer finance will come. It has for me in expected and unimaginable ways. It’s a special feeling that still gives me chills when one of our members tells us their story and thanks us. It’s the most rewarding thing I have done in my professional career.

If the answer to that is “Hell yes!”, then understand what your impact could be on the company. Every employee affects the business, so think about how the role contributes to the overall success of SoFi. When I’m interviewing a candidate, I always look for someone who can:

  • Be a culture carrier and a SoFi missionary
  • Make their footprint bigger than their foot, run after problems, get to the truth and make principle and data-driven decisions
  • Be gritty and accountable, take care of other people, will always do the right thing”