Dana Koelbel spent the majority of her career working for traditional financial institutions. In this article, she discusses why she made the leap to Fintech, helps define what Risk means in the digital revolution sweeping the industry, plus shares some of the most challenging and rewarding aspects of her job as Head of Risk Analytics & Strategy at SoFi.
We have a tradition of starting each interview with an icebreaker question to get to know you. So tell us, what’s your favorite book?
Dana: Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen.
A true classic.
Dana, you spent a large chunk of your career in traditional banking before joining SoFi in 2019 - what inspired you to join Fintech?
Dana: The speed at which Fintech, and in particular SoFi, is helping to transform the traditional banking industry was incredibly compelling to me. I saw joining SoFi as an opportunity to build out the areas of Risk that are familiar to me and really make a difference in the outcome. There were two times in my career that I took a chance on a riskier role (pun intended!) - once early in my career when I worked for a small hedge fund and then during the financial crisis when I diverted from banking altogether for a few years. Those turned out to be two of the best learning opportunities I have had in my career. Knowing that there was the same chance I could learn, grow, and make an impact made the move to SoFi an easy decision.
What skills did you learn from more traditional financial institutions that have helped contribute to your success at SoFi?
Dana: Statistical modeling, comprehensive analytics, banking regulations, effective communication, teamwork, retail banking, econometrics and model risk management.
What does model risk mean exactly?
Dana: Model Risk is essentially the potential for financial loss, reputational damage, or poor decision-making and strategy building if the statistical models in use are not accurate, are performing inadequately or are being misused. Model Risk Management provides an independent review of all statistical models in use at SoFi ensuring that they all meet the regulatory guidance provided by the OCC (Office of the Comptroller and Currency) & The Federal Reserve in the supervisory letter SR 11-7.
So tell us what your team does at SoFi and how your work supports our mission of helping our members achieve financial independence?
Dana: My team is responsible for many of the second line of defense regulatory functions of the Risk organization. We cover Model Risk Management, Fair Lending Analytics, Loss Forecasting and Capital Reserve Planning. The work done by the team is an integral part of what SoFi needs to be compliant with financial regulations, as well as providing a truly independent review and check of what is being done in the first line areas to ensure that nothing is being undertaken that would present the company with unnecessary risks.
Whoa, that’s a lot of pressure! How do you manage the stress?
Dana: Not to sound like too much of a sound byte but I am truly fortunate because I love my job; I do try to maintain a healthy work-life balance to keep my stress levels reasonable. Some days I succeed and other days I epically fail, but it’s all about the balance!
What do you want Risk and Analytics to be known for at SoFi?
Dana: Intelligent, detailed and well-executed work. Being good partners and communicators, and staying focused on being effective and efficient.
There aren’t a lot of women in finance or banking….and especially not in leadership positions. What advice do you have for other women looking to grow into leadership?
Dana: As you progress in your career, you will always be presented with different personalities and different examples of what it takes to achieve your goals and to ascend the corporate ladder. My advice is to remain true to yourself and always work with integrity and accountability. It will be recognized and it helps to build strong relationships where your colleagues trust and respect you.
What is your favorite thing about working at SoFi?
Dana: The culture! I love how SoFi makes employees feel appreciated, and not just for their work. Our SoFi Circles (what we call our Employee Resource Groups), organized events for employees, our mentorship program (learn more about it here!), all help create a positive and supportive work environment.
What are some of the challenges you face in your role?
Dana: Coming from a traditional banking background, I was used to all of the risk and regulatory related policies and procedures being clearly defined and very ingrained in the institution. Developing those same types of policies and procedures here as we move toward becoming a bank has been challenging yet rewarding work, but the true challenge lies in the rollout and adoption of the new framework.
What do you think it takes to be successful in Fintech?
Dana: Being flexible, adaptable, efficient, and having great communication skills are all critical skills that drive success in this industry. The pace at which Fintech moves is vastly different from almost any other finance-related industry. You need to be able to make data-driven decisions fast, but you also need to be able to roll with projects shifting and changing. Staying focused on your end goal and continuing to move forward is also important in Fintech.
Can you tell us about a time where you had to overcome a challenge or obstacle in your career? What did you learn from it?
Dana: I have faced several obstacles in my 20+ year career and am sure there will be more to come. One of the things I found the most difficult was 10 years ago when I was promoted from an individual contributor into a manager role. I am very detail-oriented and like to be hands-on, so it was a struggle for me to learn that delegation was a critical part of being a good manager. I realized that I could relinquish some of the control because I trusted in my team to do their jobs well. In doing that, a more productive, cooperative team evolved and we were able to achieve success together.
To close out our interview, who do you look up to and why?
Dana: Hands down my mother. She was widowed at 37 with three children (aged 15, 13 and 7 - me!) and in order to make ends meet, she had to re-enter the workforce after 15+ years of being a stay-at-home mom. She worked many different jobs over the years, all to keep her children in the home they grew up in and to prevent us from having any additional upheavals in our lives. She put the needs of her children first; we never were without the necessities and she gave us all of the love and support in the world. My brothers and I were fortunate to grow up with her honesty, sense of family and knowing how it felt to be so loved. She sacrificed to make our lives better. Her example taught me what strength, grit and perseverance really mean and she is the example I hold myself up to as a person, a parent and in my career.
Sounds like you are a lot like your mom, Dana. We are grateful you’re a part of our SoFi family! Thanks for sharing your story with us.
The individual featured is a SoFi employee. Their personal experiences, obviously, do not take into account your own specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. Results will vary.
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