There’s a low-scale war going on right now to get at user-permissioned data. The writing’s on the wall — banks are sharing customer data with the fintech apps their customers are using. What started with being dragged kicking and screaming, banks are now cautiously, slowly embracing the idea of a financial ecosystem, with data moving across the synapses between institutions.
Founded in 2013, Plaid helps connect user banking data to apps that consumers want. The company has raised $60 million to expand its footprint in the financial industry. Hot off the news that Plaid signed an important deal with JPMorgan Chase, the firm’s head of business development and strategy, Sima Gandhi, joins us on the Tearsheet podcast.
Sima runs the team that manages the firm’s relationships with financial institutions and strategic partners. We talk about the firm’s genesis story, how the company works with banks and how these integrations and partnerships enable innovation across the financial sector. We drill deeper to understand the challenges and opportunities in her business development role and how Plaid differentiates itself from other data aggregation firms. She also puts me on the spot when I ask her about the end game for the industry — listen for it.
The following excerpts were edited for clarity.
What does Plaid do?
Plaid enables developers to create great experiences with user-permissioned data. We’re excited because that means the fintech ecosystem sits on our platform. Our clients range from folks like Venmo and Acorns to large institutions like banks. Our two co-founders, Zack and William, were trying to build a restaurant recommendation app. And as they were building this app, they realized they inadvertently solved a really important problem: linking their bank account (or a credit card, in this case) to another application. Plaid was born.
How was data aggregation done before Plaid?
Previously players doing data aggregation were generally focused on the enterprise. It would take months to integrate with the API. It didn’t support the same level of innovation we’re trying to build. With the Plaid API, we’ve had developers integrate in hours. It’s built in a modular way that enables developers to access different information with one integration, in a consistent way. Our goal is to enable developers to innovate by bringing down the barriers of access.
Tell us about the deal you inked with JPMorgan Chase.
We started off the company focused on the developer base. At the same time, we realized to build a platform that was really developer friendly, we needed to work closely with financial institutions to ensure the data we were accessing was done in a consistent and reliable way. It’s not about selling to financial institutions — it’s about collaborating with them. That’s been in our DNA from the beginning.
We’re really excited about the Chase deal because Chase has been really forward-looking when it comes to how to think about consumers’ rights to access their data and what developers need. Together, we’ve solved some really thorny questions we hope will serve as a framework for others to build as well.
You spent years marketing at AMEX. What’s it like being on the fintech side of things?
It’s different. When I joined Plaid, we were still very small. I was one of the first business people. From a personal perspective, when you come from a big company, you have a team. And when someone’s out or they go on vacation, things don’t fall apart. There are redundancies. In a startup, if you don’t do something, it doesn’t happen.
When I look at today versus when I first joined, we’re about 160 people now. The challenges of scaling and building a company are real. The BD team is bigger and that changes what leadership means and how you achieve outcomes for the company.