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Linda Loof: Small Acts Lead to Big Changes
14th October 2021 • Working On Wellbeing • Salary Finance
00:00:00 00:30:24

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In this episode, we hear from Linda Loof who talks about the part she plays in making the world a better place by helping underserved communities with her expertise in the financial services industry.

For the full show notes, head on over to:


https://www.salaryfinance.com/us/podcast/Linda-Loof-Small-Acts-Lead-to-Big-Changes

Transcripts

Anita Ward 0:00

Welcome to Working On Wellbeing, where we share stories of purpose-driven people doing good in the world. We'll meet changed agents, entrepreneurs, students, teachers, and big thinkers to learn about their wow moment and how it got them to where they are today. This show is brought to you by Salary Finance. And I'm your host Anita Ward, cultural anthropologist, and Chief Development Officer at salary finance.

Welcome to our show everybody working on well-being today we're live from Sioux Falls, South Dakota. I'm assuming you're home today, Linda, and we're with one of my favorite people in the world is Linda Loof. She's the SVP from one of my most favorite companies in the world, by the way, Meta Payment Systems. So welcome to the show. Linda, I'm really excited to have you today.

Linda Loof 1:00

Thank you for having me, Anita.

Anita Ward 1:02

Of course, I'm Italian. And Italians have this concept of consigliere. And it's someone that you turn to when you need guidance and a level head. And I have known Linda now for about, gosh, seven years, hard to believe it's been that long. But Linda's been a consigliere to me so many times. And she's that valuable friend that you have who just keeps the level head. But what's so important about it is it's she knows our industry, she knows financial services, she knows payments, and I don't know it as well as she does, because that's whole different rails - forgive the pun. But you successfully traverse the payments and financial services world. Linda has worked with me and I've seen her work with CEOs at one minute. And then next minute, we're in the community in flip flops handing out gift cards, and she's just got this grace around this. So she won't talk about herself, because she's way too humble. But I have never seen a better servant leader who does it with humor, who does it with kindness, who encourages people on you inspire me. And for me, it's that authenticity. But Linda, also, started her career in banking, right? I think it was bank first. But it's always been in client relations. So I share that framework because coming from the client relations side takes empathy. And for the last, I'll say 20. But she looks like she's 22. So I don't know how that happened. But for the last 20 years, she's been in leadership roles at Meta Payment Systems and client services in business development in partner services. And now she takes care of all their strategic accounts. So it's quite a pedigree, but I started with her character for a reason because it's this loving leadership. That's so critical. And I hope we dive down into it because there's no way to talk about financial services and financial literacy and financial uplift, without really thinking about empathy and authenticity. So thank you so much for coming today, Linda, and for sharing your time.

Linda Loof 3:19

Well, thank you, Anita. With an introduction like that, I hope people are not disappointed in what I have to say.

Anita Ward 3:26

Just exemplifies what I'm saying. So there's a lot of directions, we could take the conversation, but if it's okay with you, I'd like to start in Sioux Falls. Because it's sort of the credit card capital of the world. And it's we can take that and a lot of different directions. But it also seems to be a pretty well-kept secret. So I might be moving in with you Like, it's the fifth-best place to live in America and the healthiest city in America. So did you grow up there? How did you live in Sioux Falls?

Linda Loof 4:02

Yeah, I'm born and raised here in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. And I've traveled all around the country in some parts of the world, but it is home to me here. I am one of nine children. I'm number eight out of the nine. And so I grew up in a really big family. And interestingly enough, in this day and age, we all still live within 45 miles of each other. We are all still here in this nucleus of a place. And I would love it here. I think it's a great place to be and a great place to raise a family. It's not a big city. But we have some of the amenities of the city. We're not out in the wide-open space, but we have wide-open space very close to us. So I think it's kind of the best of everything.

Anita Ward 4:50

So nine kids. Number eight. I will tell you I've never raised one but what's like it with eight kids in your family, and, we're talking about financial literacy. Did you talk about money at home? How did your parents go about that conversation?

Linda Loof 5:11

We talked about it only, in the context of not having any financial literacy is not something that I was really familiar with until I got into my professional career. But we grew up in a house that - for all of the lack of material things, we always had a roof over our heads, and we always had food to eat. Sometimes it was the generosity of others that helped us to be there. My parents were both from bigger families from farm families. And when they were first married, they have four children, they bought a farm. So I could have been another a different story altogether. But at that point in time, my dad had some health issues, and they started then, and he had them on and off for the rest of his life, which then caused financial hardship for my family. And so we lived, I eight out of nine, I lived a little bit different life than my oldest brothers and sisters because, by the time I was growing up, my dad was not working and my mom was working a minimum wage job. She worked for a small family-owned business for 35 years, she retired making less than what is now minimum wage, but I think back and I think I didn't realize how poor we actually were. So that's a testament to the way that my parents found ways to make ends meet, I think it's a testament that our financial freedom wasn't our happiness. But I do know that it was difficult in a lot of ways, having very little financial leverage if you will. As I said, we didn't talk about it, though. And as I got older, what I knew was that you needed money to live in the world, we live in a society on which our economy drives everything. And so I knew that you needed to make money to survive. I didn't ever put the importance of wealth in my mind. I just thought you go to work, you get a job, you work hard, you earn a wage, you pay your way, is really how I started my adult life.

Anita Ward 7:16

Yes, so I think about you and I've traded stories in the past. I grew up a similar way without really a home but moving between cousins and friends. And but my mom, I would put her against any CFO that I know, because she could make that dollar last, right? So even though you don't really think about it, as a child, you see these ways that your parents make ends meet. So are there any lessons that you learn from that early age that is something that you're telling your kids or something that flips around? And you say, what I saw was this, and this was pretty compelling for me because I always think about my mom making $200 which lasts a month.

Linda Loof 8:07

No, I don't think I could do it today either. But we do talk about it with our kids because we and we contrast right? We talk about the life that we live today is not the life that I grew up in. It's not the life that many people have. As I said, I think the lesson I learned there is that material - money makes life easier, but it doesn't make life better necessarily. It isn't happiness, it's not really what you should strive for, it certainly gives you freedom and gives you options and choices that you don't have if you don't have money. But like I said, we lived a happy life. So the lessons for my kids are - don't take for granted. And you need to work hard and earn your way but be smart with what gives you are given in this world. And if it's financial, because you find a career that you make a good living at, and you have material, that's fine. But that's not the purpose that we're here for.

Anita Ward 9:03

I often talk about the difference between having wealth or having money, but also just basic financial dignity. A lot of people that you and I work with, don't really have even basic dignity around money. I had this wild moment when I was a kid, where an employer leaned in and helped me understand what my paycheck was and why I needed a bank account. And that changed a bit of my life and really started to take me down to the financial dignity path. Did you ever have one of those moments where you think - this changed where my journey went? Or this change the trajectory of what I'm thinking because I always remember that as having shaped me and put me into financial services. Was there something that compelled you in a similar fashion?

Linda Loof 9:56

Not one particular thing. I think for me It's like what I said, money is a means to an end, but it's not my purpose. So it wasn't anything. Earning money never drove me to do what I do. I like the reward that I get when I work hard, and I do a good job and I use that money to do things that are meaningful and matter to me. And I think part of that is even my parents with nothing, they were generous with what they did have. And what I learned from that is that generosity takes many forms. Sometimes it is material, sometimes it is giving money to a cause, sometimes it is supporting it financially. But lots of times, it's empowering people, it's lifting them up, it's helping them understand and believe that they too, can do things in their lives to create those options for themselves and those choices.

Anita Ward:

That is going to be a well, though the payment industry discussion. I think that's the heart and soul of that. So when we first met, we bonded over this shared commitment to financial uplift and underserved communities and for women. And last year was miserable. I mean, the pandemic was horrible. But it didn't fall evenly across our population. When we first met, we got together. And with this sort of shared commitment around financial uplift, we were both focused on helping underserved communities. And flash forward five years or six years and a pandemic hits, everybody in life gets incredibly miserable. But it becomes worse for people of those same populations. And I talk about how 73% of African Americans and Latin lack emergency funds, and 48% of that same population has trouble paying their bills every single month. 60% of payday loans go to women with a very high proportion, that being women of color. And all of this resonates deeply with me. So when you reflect on that, why is it deep to you? And what do you think we should be doing about it? And should be we'd be dealing with this as employers and the payment services, industry and financial services, and all of us as providers? How can we start to address those socio-economic issues? And why do - I get on a soapbox, and you get on a soapbox and say, we've got to do something we have to do it now?

Linda Loof:

Well, I think that as a financial service, as an industry, we are in a place a unique place to actually do something about this. And it is about education, it is about financial literacy, it is about empowering, empowerment. But that starts with, I think you said at the top of the hour, it starts with empathy. It starts with putting ourselves in the shoes of the people that we're thinking about. And, I'm not one of that demographic, but I told you about how I grew up, there are things in my life that I can relate to struggles that people have when they don't have money, and they don't have financial freedom. And I think that we work in an industry that can make it really difficult for people to access the tools and an education they need, and even have visibility to the things that are available, we can make it easy, or we can make it hard. And I think that as an industry, we need to strive to make it easy. That's the role we play, we need products that can generate the revenue that can continue to allow us to develop the products to bring them to the people that need them. The industry needs to exist the way that it does, but we need people that think about who we're doing this for and how we know how we need to be delivering things to all of the different populations. So our industry needs to embrace all of those different things and have them have people that empathize and understand and can articulate the different problems that different groups have because it's not the same across the board for everybody.

Anita Ward:

Yes, it's also quite different when you get down to a local level. So it's one thing to have broad strategic initiatives. But as you get to the small community in Austin and the situation is really quite different. So we have to have these strategies, but we have to be able to execute at a local level. And in my mind, perhaps where the payment industry is effective because you are operating in many ways at a local level at an individual level.

Linda Loof:

Yes, I think that's right. Well, I think as an industry I mean, there are partners that we have in this industry. And there are people in this industry that have a national footprint that have a broader view. But we need to think about how do we serve those communities? And it's the individuals in those communities, but I think also need it's how do we serve the small businesses and the community banks that are in those communities, they understand the people in that community better than anybody else can they understand the needs that are there, they can help translate the services and the products that are offered to that local population to your point. And that's why I love what I do because I get to interact with people all over the country in all of these different areas, I get to learn a little bit about their particular situation, concerns, and struggles, and then work with partners who can bring solutions to the table that helps at that level. So I think that that is part of what the financial services industry needs to think about as well. I think you're right.

Anita Ward:

Yes, I think that if you look at the businesses in general, they're starting to evolve into a much deeper role for an employer. And so at salary finance, in the payments business as well, it's just a salary link payment. When I think about how do we leverage payments, there's also this evolution of the employer model, whether it's the small business of helping or the large businesses you're working with, and your strategic accounts, or the companies that we work with that self-finance, there's a new and different role for an employer or for a business, to uplift employees and uplift community through employees. Are you seeing that, as you're thinking about your strategic accounts and their role as employers or their role as community leaders? Is it changing? And has 2020 had some kind of an effect on that? I think just by shining a light on the inequities as well.

Linda Loof:

Yes, I do think that's true. We're working with companies that have the population they serve might be employers, the interesting thing is it's all range of employers, ut you have access to people that you wouldn't otherwise. And you can work with employers to deliver information and products and services to people that you would never find outside of that channel. I do think that should be capitalized on, I think that it's a golden opportunity to reach more people is really about how do you get to the people that need this? And honestly, employers probably have another perspective on the employees that support their companies or work for their companies that we would never, that we would never have they can, they can again, identify issues or concerns or problems that we wouldn't, we wouldn't be able to figure out on our own without that sort of perspective. So I do think that's right. As far as 2020, in the impact match, I'm not sure how to answer. I think what has happened, obviously, for me that from where I sit, what I think has happened is that a bright light has been illuminating the importance of the small business owner, for the community, the lack of a cohesive approach for the small businesses to help them. Anita, you and I have worked together on a couple of different things where we've talked to entrepreneurs and small business owners, and we've been in workshops together, we've listened to these women, in particular, this is the demographic we're talking about, but they're vital to our country and our economy. And I think that 2020 really underscored and illuminated that reality for people who didn't pay attention to it before. I think it's now got some awareness. What we're doing on this has not been seen yet, but it's certainly the direction we need to go.

Anita Ward:

Yes, I agree. One of my favorite memories is working with you and the women executives from MasterCard on those workshops for young women and entrepreneurs. And I will never forget how important it was when we went through a day of mentoring and leaning in around women and providing support. But the awards we gave them at the end were about $1,000 and it made all the difference. I remember those tears, happiness, and joy, and the way my mother was able to make $5,000 stretch and change her business. In a way, I think the idea of financial welfare and looking to entrepreneurs is also a visual initiative. So we're talking about diversity, equity, and inclusive initiatives. But I think in a lot of ways we do it locally, in our case, from women to women, where that can't happen. It's not only a matter of being mentors, but ultimately they need access to affordable capital. And that's part of what we gave them. It's a bit of that holistic piece you're talking about, which is an education piece that provides knowledge and resilience. But also you're making products and services available to people who have in many ways been marginalized, either because of illiteracy around finance, around finances, or credit scores, or any number of obstacles that they have to work their way through. So what do you see in the future around this? Are you seeing us in payments, starting to open those doors, and having those conversations? And are you optimistic about the change on the horizon for inclusion?

Linda Loof:

While I'm always optimistic, I don't think that is my nature, I always believe that things will be better tomorrow than they were yesterday. And I think there are so many people, more people than not who believe that as well and are striving to make the world a better place. I do think that there's just not an overnight solution for anything, but I've seen in my time in this industry, I've had the privilege of working with some really brilliant, really brilliant people in financial services, really smart, really motivated, really driven, and they run companies, and they build from startup to IPO to I've seen everything and but what's most impressive to me, are the people who do that work, but have a vision for how they can make the world a better place. There's one gentleman in particular who was the CEO of a company that we work with, and when started he looked at what they were doing, and the mantra was financial services for people on an underbanked the underserved population, they were doing good work with the products that we're putting in the market, but he thought there's more that we can do. To your point, Anita was - he looked in his community and said this community has supported this company, and these people that work here, and we want to give something back to them. So they started a program, where they started giving back to the community, and that transpired into a scholarship program that they started which my company was grateful to participate in and I was personally allowed to participate to meet some of the people that were recipients of these scholarships. Also, you're talking about people that $500, or $1,000, was given us the scholarship to help them either get a certificate or finish a degree or do something that would, that would better their lives. And that $500, or that $1,000 had an exponential return in the way that it changed their financial lives. And that was you asked about aha moments, that was an aha moment for me. Because I always thought about changing the world, you have to cure cancer, or you have to save a population but the reality is that we each have a part to play in that and where you end up in your life, you're given certain gifts, and you need to know what those gifts are. But you need to use your circumstance to make the world a better place. And so the people in the financial services industry, like this gentleman I'm talking about his circumstance and his situation, he looked around and said, This is what I'm gonna do with that, and it changed people's lives. And then what happens is the ripple effect, because that the person that got the scholarship and got their certificate and doubled their income now turns around and does something for their community or somebody else, and then it goes on from there, which is I'm going on a bit, but that is what excites me about the work that I do every day.

Anita Ward:

Yes, and that's what excites me too. When you think about it as unbanked individuals. I can't imagine how do you navigate day to day without a bank account and I happen to know the gentleman you're talking about which I know that they are offering a prepaid card, and I'm a big fan of the [inaudible] and interventions that people need to make, whether that's not looking at credit score and underwriting personal loans using their factors or re-evaluating credit scores completely, or offering prepaid to help people find their way to financial dignity. And there's a wonderful story which was my favorite memory with you right in Austin. You can tell the story, but I remember getting public transportation I remember coming down to the elevator after you invited me to do this. I remember having on a pair of heels, and you send me back up to my room saying none, and you have no idea what we're doing today. So could you share a bit of that story because it exemplifies what people are doing?

Linda Loof:

I do love that day. We were out in the community, we were paying it forward or giving back however you want to look at it. But we were really just going out and finding people that were going about their daily lives and activities. We were finding ways to just make their lives a little easier. Buying groceries, paying bills and putting gas in cars and things that are every day that we take for granted. For some people, it's a real struggle with how are they going to pay that bill today? Or how are they going to buy groceries that week? And so we were just spending a day in the community and doing that. Then we met a woman who we felt compelled to go to her and offer to buy her groceries that day. We learned a little bit about her life and her family and what was important to her. And the funny thing was as we were walking her out to her car and loading her groceries into her car with her. She asked "Who are you with again?", and we told her who we were with. And she said, "Oh, I know that name. I used one of those prepaid cards at my daughter was in Chicago, and she was stuck there. And I use one of those prepaid cards to load some money to it for her so she could get a bus ticket and she could come home to me." It was that moment that I went, Wow. So this thing that I just think is banking, and what we're doing in the office every day, and it had a life-saving impact on this family and this woman, and I can't imagine having my child's 1000 miles away from me that and being helpless to get them back to me and back to safety. That was something that made me stop and think I need to understand the struggles that people have, I can't relate to that but I knew that it was life-changing for her. It is about understanding the products and the services that we put in the market need to be accessible to the people that struggle the most to get them. And we just need to do a better job of understanding where they're at so that we can go there, get there with them and help them.

Anita Ward:

Linda, I don't know how I could even begin to add to that I started with this idea of the consigliere and I can't tell you how grateful I am that you included me that day. Because it's exactly as you said, suddenly, what was a product or a service, or an initiative or a strategy, in our business-speak was a lifeline for somebody in the community. And that changed my thinking. So you'll always be my consigliere. And you'll always be my dear friend and the one with the biggest heart and the greatest empathy. And I think you will change the world of payments. And I do think that you will be that conscience to our industry. So thank you so much for joining us today. And I look forward to the next time we can connect in one of those communities together. Thank you so much.

Linda Loof:

Thank you, Anita. I will look forward to seeing you again my friend.

Anita Ward:

Thanks. I'll see you soon.

Linda Loof:

Okay, take care.

Anita Ward:

Take care buddy. Until next time, just keep working on your wellbeing. Bye.

Thanks for joining us for today's episode of working on well-being brought to you by salary finance. I'm Anita ward. At Salary Finance, our mission is to improve the financial health of working Americans by providing access to socially responsible financial products in the workplace. You can learn more about how you can partner with us to help improve your employees' financial well-being at [salaryfinance.com](http://salaryfinance.com) Don't forget to subscribe or follow so you don't miss an episode.

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