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Women in Finance: Laura Fitzpatrick, Climb Credit

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Since her early years writing about interest rates and loan options for a mortgage lender, educating people has been central to Laura Fitzpatrick’s work. Today, that focus has taken on new meaning in her role at Climb Credit, a student lending platform that’s expanding access to career-advancing education. 

As Senior Director of Marketing and New Business Strategy, Laura leads a team working to create materials which help students make informed decisions about their education payment options, while also exploring new ways to help them succeed post-graduation. Here, Laura chats with Statement’s Lis Martin about knowing when to say yes vs. no, how women can grow in leadership roles and that moment you know your fintech is succeeding.    

Lis: Tell me about your current role at Climb Credit and how it fits into the company's overall mission. 

Laura: So Climb Credit is a student lender focused on alternative education pathways, like coding bootcamps, trade schools, or other training that people might take as an alternative to college or to upskill later in their careers. My work is primarily to make sure that all our stakeholders know who Climb Credit is, and I’ve also recently taken on a new role to explore growth areas for the business. 

Over the past six years, we’ve recognized that there is an opportunity for us to support our students in other ways after they graduate. In particular, we've heard from many students that while schools do a great job of providing career services, there are still challenges after graduation. If you're coming from customer service and now you want to be a software engineer, you're in a unique place where you're not really an entry-level person, but you’re applying for entry-level roles. We just launched a new platform, ClimbTalent, that will support our graduates and alumni over time and provide talent pipelines to employers who might need to hire skilled workers. It’s such an exciting extension of the work. 

Lis: You started your career in more traditional finance roles. What attracted you to the fintech sector? 

Laura: My first job was at a mortgage company, where I wrote content to educate our customers on financial literacy topics, like interest rates. I had to teach myself finance to teach others, which ended up being a great opportunity. When I left that company, I wanted to transition to a [company] with a clear mission to help others. Climb met those needs and was looking for their first marketing hire, so it felt like a cool opportunity to build something from the ground up. 

At the beginning, I was able to grow quickly because I said yes to every project that came my way. Later on, I needed to change that habit because you can't really keep doing that forever. I got the opportunity to build a team at Climb and to learn how to delegate and prioritize. The growth I’ve experienced has been really phenomenal, both working in a company with a social impact focus and having those leadership opportunities. 

Lis: Have you seen the broader fintech industry step up in recent years to focus more on social impact? 

Laura: Yes, definitely. The main reason I joined Climb was because of the mission. 

Climb has always been focused on education ROI: When you're looking at going into debt for an education, you should be asking, “How is this education going to pay me back down the road?” And I found that really interesting because, quite frankly, nobody told me to think about education that way when I was graduating from high school. It’s been wonderful to watch Climb grow and expand on that mission over the last five years.

In particular, we have an amazing research team that collects outcomes data from all of our students and also reviews schools before we work with them. We want to be sure that students feel good about their education and that they're getting the results that they're expecting. Are they actually getting placed in a new career path after they graduate? It's been just great to see the robustness of that data grow. I think that's when you can see your fintech growing up – when you start having really strong data sets and you can make decisions off of them.

Lis: That’s so great. Switching gears a bit, can you tell me about your biggest marketing priorities for this year? 

Laura:  So Climb is primarily a B2B2C business. It's not often that people are scrolling through their social media and say, “I'm going to take out a $10,000 loan today.” For our customers, we want our materials to function as financial literacy tools that help them to thoroughly understand their options and make the decision that they need. Then from a channel perspective, we make sure that we’re working with our schools and other channels to get in front of people when they're making those decisions. I think that there is certainly a place for direct-to-consumer social media ads and native advertising, but our focus there is primarily branding and building trust with our audience. 

Lis: What has your experience been like as a woman in fintech? Have you seen the role of women evolve during your time at Climb?

Laura: Yes, definitely. At Climb, I've been super fortunate because we've always had really strong female leadership. For most of my time here we've had a female CEO and strong female representation on the executive team. I will say that if you want more women in leadership positions, the first thing to do is to just put women in leadership positions, because then they’ll do it for more women. 

As women, we also have to be really conscious of any signals that we're putting out that we're not ready or don't have the confidence for a leadership position. That actually happened to me early at Climb. I was the first marketing hire and I still had a little bit of imposter syndrome, so I would give a bunch of options to our executive leadership and say, “Which one do you think we should do?” 

I had a coworker who's a good friend of mine pull me aside and yell at me a little bit, in a nurturing way. He said, “You are the leader of marketing. You are the only person here who's educated in this area. You need to tell everyone what they need to do, not ask them.” Having advocates like that was super helpful, somebody who just told it like it was. And honestly, it was really good feedback to hear because I realized, “I need to show that I'm a leader of this company for people to start treating me like one.”

Lis: It's one of those things that you hear and it makes perfect sense, but it's much harder to actually stand up and do it. Good for you. Laura, is there anything else you’d like to share about your experiences as a female leader in finance? 

Laura: I would say that from a marketing and social impact standpoint, one of the things that's been really beneficial is working for a company where I truly believe in the mission and the product. As a marketer, we need to be talking to all our customers and it’s so much easier to do your job if you care about the mission. I would encourage other people in marketing to think about their work that way, too. It’s exciting to see that mindset start to become the norm.  

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