Interview with Yarshini Vythilingum, Group Lead at Oodle Car Finance
Oodle Car Finance are a fintech designed to support the car-buying process exclusively online. In our latest interview, we talk to Yarshini Vythilingum, Group Lead at Oodle, for an insightful conversation on the evolution of customer attitudes to fintech, the challenges of working in the financial services industry and the ongoing issue of the gender gap and support of women in leadership positions.
How does Oodle Car Finance target the needs of today’s financial customers?
We are on a mission to redesign car buying for real people, in the real world. We believe that car buying today is heavily geared towards the very small percentage of the population that know what they’re looking for, know who to trust and have all of their finances organised and accessible. The reality is that this is not the reality for most people. We know that every customer is unique, and we work alongside our dealers to merge technology with service to create simple, intuitive experiences that recognises the individual.
Right now, our key priority and absolute focus is ensuring that we are there for those customers who are unfortunately grappling with the struggles that have appeared with Covid-19. We pride ourselves in putting the customer first and making sure that we give them the support that they need at every stage.
How do you think customer priorities will evolve over the next 5 years?
I believe the next 5 years will be an acceleration of what we are already seeing today. Customers will continue to desire more flexibility, more control, and, most importantly, to know that they are engaging with a company that is truly on their side, as they navigate through what is bound to be an uncertain and changing landscape. Brexit and Covid creates an even greater level of uncertainty and serves to compound the importance of these things for our customers. With the digitalisation of the majority today’s industries, there will no doubt be an expectation for the automotive industry to have moved to a similar space as the retail industry, aligning itself with the Amazons and the ASOS of the world. Consumers are going to be looking for speed, efficiency and ease of purchase, which will drive the automotive industry to follow suit.
The likes of Cazoo and Cinch, are already starting to make headway in this, but the key will be how the customer can complete a full end-to-end journey to purchase a car, including finance, insurance etc, completely online, with light-touch contact with agents.
In which ways does technology add value to the financial services industry?
All successful fintech businesses over the last few years, have gained their success, growth and brand, not just from being technology-led, but by always having the customer at the heart of their mission. It drives who they are, who they hire, and the products that they build. Technology is the facilitator to allow them to build phenomenal customer experiences to challenge what is known and understood today.
I believe in using technology and systems to support processes and having the people within a company providing the value-added support to the customer’s journey.
The smart use of technology allows us to provide a real step change in the level of service to the status quo. We can get a deeper understanding of our customers’ needs, and in turn provide them with a personalised experience, as a lender and a service provider. Technology allows us to simplify the traditionally complex and laborious experiences, such as applying for a loan and empower the customer through self-service facilities that can be accesses whenever, and however suits them. As we use technology to enhance our customer experiences, we begin to challenge our consumer’s expectation of the ordinary and align ourselves with the expectation of today’s generation of speed and efficiency while challenging what we have become used to in the financial services. We can deliver great solutions, while maintaining effective and authentic experiences quickly and at scale
Is there still hesitation from consumers in placing their trust in emerging fintechs in lieu of more established financial services? If so, how do you overcome this?
I wouldn’t classify consumers within one group, as the view on emerging fintechs will be driven by each individual’s experience and backgrounds.
Whilst there is certainly some hesitation from some consumers, I feel there are others that find the more established institutions harder to trust. The last financial crisis in 2008, was a real pivotal point for consumers, and the trust that they placed with their banks and building societies. Up until this point, the relationship was based on the confidence and trust that had been built over generations. For many 2008 shook that confidence to the core and the emerging fintech, with a clear purpose and none of the perceived baggage, earned far greater trust.
I think this is especially true for those that saw the impact of that broken trust at a young age (today’s Millennials). They don’t feel the same affiliation that their parents, and grandparents would have done, and don’t feel the need to follow an institution. The Millennials and beyond, are looking for something cleaner, and not tainted by what they saw growing up.
Since then, those who were entrenched in banking traditions, of face-to-face interactions, and being able to visit a shop-front and speak to a real person, continued. To overcome this, emerging fintechs need to focus on how we create a brand associated with trust and safety, coupled with the ability to still cater for the service levels and expectations that they want. When dealing with big financial purchases, like a car or a house, they will always want to comfort of knowing that there is a real person at the end of the line helping them make the right decisions for them.
Regardless of the individual experience, building trust with our consumers is key and is all about the promises that we make and how we keep them. Your consumer needs to trust that you believe in your mission and live by it everyday.
Why do you think that leadership roles in the financial industry are still heavily weighted towards men?
I believe its historical, and we are now in a position where we are seeing more women in key leadership roles. More women are taking the opportunity to build themselves into these roles and challenge the stereotype that we have previously seen in Finance. Unfortunately, the switch towards the idyllic 50/50 split won’t happen overnight, but I do believe we are getting there.
We are in a position today to spend more time on questioning how we are moving the equality needle and are we doing enough, instead of the why. We want to continually assess if we are making progress to move us away from being an industry that is traditionally male-dominated.
Today, we see more women in C-suite positions than we have done previously, like Alison Rose (RBS) and Anne Boden (Starling Bank). Traditionally, the financial services industry was built on the importance of building commercial and professional relationships in person, which potentially created a barrier for women who were battling the balance between progressing their career and having a balanced family life. However, things like the 30% club, support functions such as Lean In, and a real generational and societal shift in female empowerment has really helped encourage the growth of female leaders we see today. The extension of parental leave rules has helped many pursue their careers while maintaining a healthy work/life balance. A lot of these initiatives have really only been established within the last decade, for example the 30% club set the benchmark back in 2010, when only 12% of board positions in FTSE 100 companies were held by women. It will take us more than 10 years to really change the industry to shift from being male-dominated, with some predicting it will take us 50 years to get there.
It is a long journey of which we are still at the beginning, but I am confident we will get there and confident that change is already happening. The next generation are being educated to understand and be more open to seeing women in power, to grow and respect it, as well as aspire to be like the female leaders that they see today. The key point to change is for the younger generation to have inspiring and prominent female leaders across society and the industry, to create role models and help us shift the perception.
How does Oodle support women in leadership positions?
We are still a fairly young company, and as we grow we are learning about what more we can do. Today, we are trying to shift the dynamic, and encourage our junior female members of staff to develop into the future leaders of the business. Oodle has always been a company to support the growth of their employees and we strongly believe in having an open culture that allows our employees to be their true selves. Many women in the business, myself included, have had the opportunity to be coached and mentored by senior members of staff, as well as have access to support from initiatives such as Lean In, which has allowed us all to develop our leadership skills collaboratively and within a community of trust and experience. I have always admired Oodle’s Senior Leadership Team’s continued support to ensure that all women’s voices are heard throughout the company.
What has been your personal experiences of the gender gap in financial services?
My experience within the Financial services has been tied to my career at Oodle. As I work in Product in Engineering, the clear disproportion of men to women is as you would expect. When I first joined the company there was a good representation of women in senior roles, but our total percentage of women across the business was low. This is shifting, and though I still feel we could have more female representation at Senior Leadership or C-suite level, I do believe that we are at a turning point in the industry, where a lot of businesses are challenging their hiring requirements from a diversity and inclusion perspective in general, while maintaining the quality of the candidates that they bring in.
Oodle, like many others, have gone through a journey of realisation and importance of female participation in financial services. Ensuring that we continue to hire a diverse workforce, is still a key driver for us today, particularly within our Engineering department, which is a huge passion of mine, personally.
What has been your greatest challenge from your time in financial services?
Challenging unconscious bias and breaking stereotypes is an ongoing battle in businesses today. The challenge comes from both sides – how do we educate people about unconscious bias and make them aware of the unconscious bias that they carry, but also how do we get us to break the stereotypes that we experience. Having worked in two different male dominated environments, I have come to see that assumption that is usually placed on my character as an Asian woman. Most people’s initial impression is that I am quiet, hardworking, and not one to disrupt, but that I require guidance (because of being quiet). While I, like everyone else, am incredibly hard-working, I am not quiet, and am willing to challenge the norm. The challenge comes down to really help break the stereotypes by challenging other people’s perception of us, while also challenging the bias that we face day to day. To do this, we need to work collectively to fight it, leveraging the support of the Allies of people of diverse backgrounds, to grow and create a better more inclusive working environment for us all. One of my drivers, from my own experiences, is to enlighten and break down the unconscious bias we all have, to help us drive change together. Having a strong Diversity, Equity and Inclusion strategy embedded in your company is key.
To find out more about Oodle Car Finance, head to the website here.
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