‘We try to think two steps ahead’: A day in the life of Shazia Virji, GM, Credit Services at Credit Sesame
- Shazia Virji is the GM of credit services at Credit Sesame, and a part-time MBA student at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business.
- After a day of back-to-back meetings, she likes to unwind by attending a basketball game, enjoying a live orchestra, or going to an art exhibition.
Shazia Virji has been in fintech for over a decade now. She developed an interest in financial services at an unusually young age. Her parents immigrated to the US from Tanzania, East Africa, in the 1980s. After moving into a new country, a lot of their early struggles stemmed from limited awareness and knowledge of the financial system.
“Growing up in that environment of not being able to do some of the things that my friends were doing, and seeing my parents’ struggles of paying bills, and just having enough to go out on family vacations and things like that – it really gave me the motivation to educate myself on the financial system,” said Shazia. “Going to college, I had to take out my first student loan, and really figure out what borrowing and debt was all about. I learned a lot very quickly, and realized I wanted to empower people – like my parents and like myself – to fully understand the financial system and how it impacts not just immigrants, but millions of Americans who deserve better financial opportunities.”
After graduating from college, Shazia became a wealth management advisor at Ameriprise Financial, helping clients with their assets and investments. It was a good foundational opportunity for her to learn about how financial markets work. But at the end of the day, her role involved “making wealthy people wealthier”, which didn’t sit well with what she felt was her personal mission, and the reason why she joined financial services.
So in 2012, she decided to pivot into the fintech world by joining Intuit Mint as a marketing manager, and helping customers with financial tasks like budgeting and paying their bills on time.
Three years later, Shazia’s fintech experience enabled her to join Credit Sesame’s business development team. At that time, the company was only five years old, with around 30 to 40 employees. This allowed her to witness the evolution of the company and to grow alongside it.
Having been a part of Credit Sesame for almost seven years now, Shazia has worn many hats at the firm. Last April, she was promoted to GM of credit services. The role involves setting the strategic vision for the firm’s credit services unit, which primarily provides customers with guidance and recommendations on credit and financial wellness.
“We’re helping to democratize financial wellness for millions of Americans, and improve their credit health,” said Shazia. “It’s personally rewarding for me to see the effect of my work through customer testimonials, and hearing stories about how we’ve helped people get through the toughest financial situations in their lives. That is what motivates me to get up and go to work every day.”
Here’s what it’s like to spend a day in Shazia’s life.
I usually wake up around 6 or 6:30 in the morning, so I can jump-start my day and be available for members of our team who are in a different time zone – we have quite a few folks who are on the East Coast. The first thing I do when I wake up is check my emails and slack messages on my phone, in case there’s anything urgent that needs my attention.
Of course, I need caffeine in order to function, so the next thing I do is make myself a big cup of tea. I drink that while listening to The Wall Street Journal podcast — I like to catch up on the markets and any news that’s developed in the US or around the world, just to make sure I’m updated on what’s going on outside of my own little bubble.
After that, I’m finally ready to open my laptop and review my to-do list for the day. I’ve actually made it a habit to block my calendar before 9 am and after 4 pm, so no one can schedule meetings with me during those times. This allows me to gather my thoughts and prepare for the day ahead in the morning, and also gives me time at the end of the day to reflect and respond to any messages I received during the day.
I start the week with our staff meeting, where we collaborate as a team on any issues or blockers that need to be addressed before the week really kicks off. I think one of the most valuable skills a team can have is the ability to adapt and be proactive to the changing needs of its business. So we’re always asking questions like, ‘What’s the next big thing in our industry? And the one after that?’ We try to think two steps ahead, instead of just focusing on our day-to-day operations.
Every week, I also have around 5 to 10 one-on-ones with different team members and cross-functional stakeholders. I find these to be the most critical meetings, as they help ground me in the work that’s taking place at all levels of the organization. But I also think they provide a great social opportunity, because a lot of us are working from home right now, and it’s not as easy to just run into people in the hallway or in the kitchen. So I feel like proactively scheduling time over video chat is really important – especially with people that aren’t on your team and don’t report to you. It’s good to catch up and say hello, even if you’re just talking about your family or what’s going on in your life.
I also make it a priority to set aside an hour for lunch every day. I try to be diligent about taking a break mid-day, because I’m in back-to-back meetings all day. It’s a good opportunity to just stop for a minute, nourish myself, and eat something healthy – usually it’s a big salad.
In the afternoon, I need my second dose of caffeine – so I either make a latte at home or go grab some Blue Bottle from the coffee shop around the corner. I usually prefer getting out of the house to get some fresh air and stretch my legs.
At the end of each day, I like to review the priorities and intentions I set for myself in the morning. On a good day, I can close my laptop without any of those nagging feelings about the tasks I wish I had completed, but didn’t get to.
In the evening, I usually clear my head with a walk or by hopping on the Peloton for a quick ride. I finish off the evening with dinner made at home or ordered in. A lot of times it’s ordered in, because it does get pretty tiring by the end of the day.
I usually cap off my night with journaling for a few minutes to reflect on the day. It’s also good at keeping me off my phone before bedtime – I try not to let work stuff bother me at night. I’m usually asleep by 10:30 or 11.
And that’s my day in a nutshell!
Weekends and free time
I’m a Bay Area native – we have a bunch of really great sports teams, like the Warriors, the 49ers, the Giants, and the Oakland A’s. When it’s basketball season – which is usually October through May or June, if we make it to the playoffs or finals – I’m usually at the games or watching them at home, which takes up a lot of my evenings. I love having that outlet, something to do outside of work that keeps me really energized.
I’m also really into music and art – I love attending live orchestras and going to art exhibits. That gets me more into that creative mindset, which helps unlock a different part of the brain than the “logic” part I’m using for most of the day at work.
Currently, I’m also doing a part-time MBA at Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. So on the weekends, I’m typically attending classes in Berkeley and hanging out with my classmates. I’ve taken some entrepreneurship, strategy, and leadership classes that are really relevant and timely for the work I’m doing at Credit Sesame.
At times it can be a bit of a challenge to juggle work with studies, but I feel like I’ve become pretty good at time management. Plus, I truly believe in lifelong learning, which is something that always helps me stay motivated.