How Luvleen Sidhu of BankMobile Revolutionized the Banking Industry

Seeing as Luvleen Sidhu calls both Harvard University and the Wharton Business School her alma maters, it’s not exactly surprising that at 29-years-old she became the co-founder of a company that has far surpassed all initial expectations. BankMobile, the first no-fee online and mobile bank in the country, launched under its parent company Customers Bank in January 2015. It began with the goal of landing 25,000 accounts in their first year and by the end of 2015, they found themselves with 100,000 customers.

Luvleen’s own experiences with banking were the ultimate catalyst to form her new business: “Personally, I felt the frustration of banking, which is what motivated me to revolutionize this industry. I remember waiting in line for over 20 minutes to open my first bank account and was denied a ‘wow experience’ that was centered on customization, simplicity, and advice.”

After two years of conceptualizing and planning, Luvleen’s business launched and was soon met with open arms by those who felt the same frustrations. And, most importantly, Luvleen believes it is “improving the financial quality of people’s lives.”

Read on for more about Luvleen’s career rise, the strategy behind her company’s launch, and what BankMobile looks for in prospective job candidates. (It could be you!)

Name: Luvleen Sidhu
Age: 30
Location: New York, New York
Current title: Co-Founder and Chief Strategy Officer
Education: Harvard undergrad and Wharton Business School

Let’s start at the beginning: Tell us about your initial career goals.
Growing up, I always wanted to go into medicine, for one overwhelming reason and that was to help others. I felt this need to serve humanity and better people’s lives. To me, medicine was the vehicle to do that. However, when I entered college the classes required to become a doctor became a chore to go to, and I wasn’t feeling a sense of excitement. I realized then, I needed to find another industry that I felt passionate about but where I could accomplish my end goal, which is to serve others.

What drew you to finance when making the transition from the idea of medicine? 
I decided to try finance, and ended up with an internship at Lehman Brothers in their sophomore rotational program—I absolutely loved it! It definitely was a competitive internship and I believe my passion for using finance to help empower individuals, alongside my grades, involvement in extracurricular activities, and attendance at networking events on campus were what helped me land the job.

Have you faced any specific challenges when it comes to being a woman in the finance (and now tech) industry? What advice would you give to women in male saturated professions?
While the financial and tech industry is indeed a mostly male dominated industry, the good news is that the challenges I face are not exclusive to me being a woman. Just like any business you have to prove your idea before anyone takes you seriously.

At first people thought we were crazy for wanting to start a completely digital and fee-free bank but after a year in business and 100,000 plus customers banking with us a lot of the naysayers are some of my biggest supporters—and I’m OK with that. I want to be recognized for the real impact that we will have on the financial lives of Americans, so being the underdog or under the radar is a good position to be in. It means that I can focus on what we are building and not be distracted until we achieve it.

…being the underdog or under the radar is a good position to be in. It means that I can focus on what we are building and not be distracted until we achieve it.

Take us through your career history. What were you doing before you started BankMobile?
My first job out of school was at Lehman Brothers. My first day on the job was actually the Lehman bankruptcy, which was an interesting way to start my career. I remember walking into the building on my first day of work while employees were walking out of the building with boxes because their careers at one of the top financial firms was coming to an end.

Although reflecting back I view the downfall of Lehman as a tragic day for so many people, it was an opportunity for me to see the negative consequences of a financial crisis on the lives of Americans. This now serves as a driving force for building BankMobile into a financial institution that improves the quality of people’s lives in meaningful ways.

After working at Lehman in their investment management division, I worked at Customers Bank leading the company’s business development ventures. I then went to business school at Wharton, and that’s where my keen interest in strategy and entrepreneurship blossomed. It was there that the idea for BankMobile was formed and began to come to fruition.

I remember waiting in line for over 20 minutes to open my first bank account and was denied a ‘wow experience’ centered on customization, simplicity, and advice.

Tell us more about BankMobile! What is it and why is it changing the way we bank?
Personally, I felt frustrated by banking, which is what motivated me to revolutionize this industry. I remember waiting in line for over 20 minutes to open my first bank account and was denied a “wow experience” centered on customization, simplicity, and advice.

As I continued to learn more about banking, I soon found out Americans were charged over $32 billion a year in 2014 on just overdraft fees, which is more than what they spend on buying vegetables! Additionally, I learned there are over 68 million under-banked individuals in this country who do not have access to affordable financial services, and they spend 10% of their income on fees for alternative financial services.

These statistics astounded me! I knew there had to be a better business model for banking—one that could provide all Americans with an affordable and financially empowering banking experience, so they could build the financial foundation needed to achieve dreams.

Within one year, our completely branchless bank has over 100,000 customers! And by July 1, 2016, it is predicted that we will have 2 million customers. This is exponential growth in an industry where bank branches open a net of 0.7 accounts per week. Most importantly we are improving the financial quality of people’s lives.

How long did it take from the conception of BankMobile to launch?
We spent about two years conceptualizing the idea for BankMobile, gathering market research to really understand millennial customers’ pain points and needs from banking. After we conducted market research and crowd-sourced ideas on how to build the product we began developing the technology needed to create a branchless bank. And the rest is history.

What advice would you give job candidates applying to BankMobile? How would a prospective employee stand out among the rest? 
Passion for our mission! We hope to financially empower each customer and change the landscape of financial services to one that is affordable, effortless, and value additive to our customers’ lives. Nothing is more important than passion and believing in what you are creating.

If you fall down, don’t dwell on the setback! Look to the future you want to create and take a step in that direction.

How did you secure funding for your business?
Thankfully, we were able to get funding from our parent company Customer Bank.

Tell us more about that partnership. How were you able to leverage the relationship to grow BankMobile? Are there specific marketing tactics you currently utilize? 
BankMobile is owned by Customers Bank and they have a program with Higher One, which works with students in college. Through this program, Customers Bank will merge with BankMobile to acquire these millennial consumers, which is BankMobile’s target market.

BankMobile has an excellent relationship with customers and continues to broaden reach to our target markets through social media efforts, as well as constant engagement with the consumer. We have a financial empowerment coach that sends out weekly tips to customers so they can track their finances. We’re also extremely engaged on our social media platforms and have “BankMobilists” (brand ambassadors) on college campuses to advise students to sign up with BankMobile—to bank freely and live more green!

What advice would you give to your 23-year-old self?
I often look for inspiration from Daisaku Ikeda, a Buddhist leader I admire, who has had a great impact on my life philosophy. One of my favorite quotes of his (which I always read when I need encouragement) is this: “Those who never give up in defeat, who possess an invincible spirit, are never gloomy or downcast. Be positive and undefeated. Always hold your head up high, look to the future, be self-assured, challenging everything confidently and positively with an invincible spirit.”

My best piece of advice is to never give up and always push your life forward in a positive direction. If you fall down, don’t dwell on the setback! Look to the future you want to create and take a step in that direction.

Luvleen Sidhu is The Everygirl…

Starbucks order?
Tall vanilla latte

Digital or paper planner?
Digital! Of course, in keeping with the  BankMobile theme, it’s also eco-friendly!

Morning ritual?
For glowing skin and a healthy immune system I alternate between having warm water with lemon or warm water with fresh turmeric each morning. Twice a week I also do a DIY ayurvedic inspired facemask made of chickpea powder, yoghurt, and a bit of water. I also do a 30-minute session of Buddhist chanting. Once I complete that I get ready for my day and make a healthy shake comprised of vegetables and fruits. Throughout my day, I have warm water with chlorella during the day to boost my energy and supply me with some major nutrients.

If you could have lunch with any woman, who would it be and why? 
Michelle Obama. (I am definitely not making any political statements with this choice.) I find her to be a graceful yet powerful woman who is authentic, articulately voices her opinions, executes on her beliefs, and has great fashion sense!

If I didn’t work in finance I would _______?  
Be a doctor—I always thought I would be growing up! It is so rewarding to make a positive impact in another person’s life, especially when it comes to health, the most fundamental need.

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