Rochelle Gorey leads SpringFour, a Certified B, social impact fintech company that helps the financial services industry limit risk by empowering improved payment performance and increased customer engagement.
Trusted by BMO Harris Bank, Capital One, M&T Bank, OppFi, Enova, Avant, Oportun and more, SpringFour’s solutions provide financial resources to millions of consumers.
Rochelle’s more than 25 years of experience in public policy and government relations led her to the fintech industry. SpringFour has won numerous awards, including the 2015 Promontory Financial Group’s Empowerment Award for Financial Innovation; 2017 Top Venture for the Points of Light Civic Accelerator Program, winner of the BMO Harris/1871 Fintech Partnership Program and named a finalist for the BAI Global Innovation Award in 2017 & 2019; finalist for the 2018 FinXTech/Bank Director’s Most Innovative Solution of the Year and Women Tech Founders Social Impact Founder of the Year Award; 2019 finalist for LendIt’s Partnership of the Year Award and named a Startup to Watch in 2021 by Chicago Inno. .
Rochelle was named a 2022 Finalist for Fintech Woman of the Year by Lendit.
Links and resources
B corporation : Entity managing certifications of companies as B corporations
Rochelle Nawrocki Gorey: Thank you so much. I’m excited to chat with you today!
Rochelle Nawrocki Gorey: SpringFour is a certified B Corp, as you mentioned. It is a social impact FinTech company — a financial technology company. We created our company all the way back in 2005, really before I think there was FinTech. I certainly had no idea what FinTech or financial technology meant, I was just really looking to solve a problem.
So we’ve built a powerful database of over 20,000 vetted and curated financial health or financial wellness resources. I’m trying to really understand why somebody cannot pay and connect them to local resources that can help them reduce their household expenses, increase cash flow, and get them paying and saving again.
So we built technology that’s utilized primarily by the financial services industry to help their borrowers connect to those resources.
Then from there I moved on to work at Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago. I worked with another pioneer there and I did a lot of work around putting together programs and partnerships between financial institutions and nonprofits, which led me in the early 2000s to do a lot of work on foreclosure intervention because the subprime market was taking off.
Then in 2005 we had this idea that we needed to do a better job of connecting people who were experiencing financial challenges with programs and resources that could help them and understanding that when people experience financial challenges, they don’t talk about it, they don’t share it. There’s a lot of shame attached to it and banks weren’t set up to know how to help their borrowers in that way.
Rochelle Nawrocki Gorey: I think I was kind of naïve. I had a lot of experience putting together these big partnerships and getting major financial institutions, essentially to do what we wanted so I thought, “Oh well, this will be fairly easy, right? Like we’re going to create this technology. I know it makes sense. It’s going to help the banks out. It’s going to help their customers. Let’s just go and do it!”
Of course it hasn’t been that easy or that fast but really just this idea of somebody needing to build the technology that can make this happen was important and I was absolutely convinced that it was the right thing to do and that it made business sense. So, I mean, number one, I knew that it made business sense.
Banks really don’t want to see their borrowers go into delinquency, default, foreclosure. They do lose money. We saw an opening where it really wasn’t in their wheelhouse to do that, nor would it make sense for them to do that. So, we just decided to do it and you don’t know what you don’t know, right?
But I just thought we would try and I think because I had always worked from the nonprofit side, I really felt strongly that I wanted it to be a business. I wanted it to be a for-profit business where the banks would pay for the solution because frankly, I felt that they had helped create the problem that we were trying to solve. So I thought it made sense that they should pay for the solution.
Rochelle Nawrocki Gorey: That’s a really good question and I like how you related it to the fundraising of a nonprofit because when you work for a nonprofit, you can’t do anything until you have funding.
I believe that’s how I’ve always approached everything we do at SpringFour — we have to have a way to pay for it and I don’t think that’s the approach of a lot of organizations today, particularly FinTech companies or startups. It’s like, “Well, I have this idea. Let me go raise a bunch of money and then I’ll see if it works.”
I’m not of that school at all. We’ve always, and this is how we run our company. You figure out how to create something that somebody’s going to pay for and then you put that back into the business and you use that to do your product enhancement or bring on your next team member.
I’m very fiscally conservative or responsible with our company and our revenue. So that’s just the way I believe in it. I think it’s important to note when we started SpringFour. I didn’t have this idea that, “Oh, we’re, we’re a startup. We’re a FinTech.” It was just like, “No, we see this problem. I think we have a solution and we’re going to build it a little bit but then we’re gonna go get somebody to pay for it.” To me, that’s how business should be done,
Rochelle Nawrocki Gorey: I think that’s kind of sexy and it’s exciting and you get written up a lot, you know, I think the media’s very interested in that story of raising capital but at the end of the day that doesn’t create a sustainable business and they’re just taking a bet on you among many other companies and they don’t have to see you succeed for them to succeed.
Rochelle Nawrocki Gorey: Yeah. One of the downsides to not raising capital is that your growth is very slow but I also think that’s good in that we didn’t have a ton of glitches. I think that a lot of people who have big budgets bring in big engineering teams and tech teams and they try to build everything all at once instead of moving slowly and really understanding all of the pieces.
Moreover, working with banks, they have such a high reputational risk and the fact that they’re going to work with a company like ours is everything. It has to be perfect but that’s not to say that sometimes we might have something in our data that needs to be changed or whatever.
But for the large part, we just moved very conservatively, very slowly and made sure everything was right at the beginning. It was a very, very small project, very small pilots that we were doing and so today we have a database that we’re in 625 cities across the US and growing.
This makes me laugh. But it is important for people to hear. It’s like — if you have a vision and a passion, you just have to go out and sell it. Your authenticity and your belief in what you’re building will come through because I look back on it and I remember pitching to a very large bank, like a top five bank, and I was like, “We have five cities but our customers are all over the country.” That’s not really the best solution for a lender that large but I had that crazy belief that what we were building was the right thing. So, at the time, I didn’t think that was crazy but I look back at it now and it almost makes me cringe.
Rochelle Nawrocki Gorey: We sort of did, I mean, we kind of laid out like what our thought process was. It was a business plan but we didn’t really go out and get funding back in like 2000 or 2005 or 2006 with that.
So my co-founder and I, Dr. Michael Collins, he and I were doing consulting together. I kind of left that out, but I had left my job and we were consulting and we were working for large mortgage servicers and foundations all around this idea of asset building and foreclosure intervention.
We put together a very light business model, and I think it’s important to keep it fluid too, just because you have something in your business model or your plan doesn’t necessarily mean you have to stick to that because it’s evolving and you’re learning as you go. I’m not one of those people that is very rigid in writing everything down and going and following a strict plan. I feel like I’m more of like the creative type where I’m like, “Oh, okay!”
Rochelle Nawrocki Gorey: Well, I mean, there were a few things that that were very important to us when we were building our company that are still true today, which I’m very proud of.
Number one is we were never ever going to charge a consumer who was experiencing financial distress. To charge the money to access what we were building from someone who was experiencing financial distress felt like it was just wrong and that wasn’t something we were interested in.
Secondly, all of the resources and nonprofits and government resources that go into SpringFour, we were never gonna charge them to be in our system as well.
There are lots of things like us but there are those models where an organization gets paid or pays to get listed. We wanted to be a trusted third party for this information and then the third thing was we were never gonna charge our bank clients on the number of referrals that they made or the number of referrals that they utilize SpringFour for because to me that would create a real disincentive for them to help their customers.
We wanted at the end of the day, everything that we do is around “How can we help as many consumers as possible?” And all of those things are still true today and I’m really proud of that because it says that we knew from the beginning what was important to us. We knew how we wanted to create impact.
I didn’t know about social impact companies when we started our company but I’m very clear on the fact that we are a social impact company and we always have been from day one and looking back on it, I think that’s pretty amazing and I think that’s because we were rooted in the community. We didn’t start our company because we wanted to start a company and make gazillion dollars and then go sell it. There’s nothing wrong with that, but that wasn’t our mindset.
Rochelle Nawrocki Gorey: We’re a certified B Corp. I believe it was in 2016 that we became a certified B Corp. So it was much later on in the process of becoming a company.
I’m not sure what the year is that certified B even came into play but I will say, I think it’s probably difficult for a company. Like if there are people who are interested in that, I think you kind of need to establish yourself as a company first. There’s a lot of paperwork involved and a lot of documentation of who you are as a company and why you do things.
Let me back up a little bit. To be a certified B corporation, you have to commit to increasing social and environmental standards. So, for our company, environmental is much less of our measurement because for the most part, we’re a remote company. Our impact on the environment is very small.
But you could imagine that if you were a large company and doing lots of things to lessen your environmental impact, you’ll have a high score on that and ours is more on the social impact side of our business. But you have to do a lot of documentation and I just think until you’re really, I don’t wanna say a real company, but until you have a lot of your processes and plays that’s not going to make much sense for you.
Essentially, we learned about it and we thought, “Wow, we’re already a social impact company and it would be good to have a stamp of approval that says to our clients and the world that we are an impact company.”
So why not try to get this stamp of approval for our company?
Rochelle Nawrocki Gorey: Yeah. You can’t fake it till you make it with the certification before.
Rochelle Nawrocki Gorey: No, it’s a very rigorous process. You go through an online assessment and questionnaire and then you have a follow up with staff to go through all your documents. You submit all of it. It takes a while and now there’s a requirement even that you have to legally change your corporate status to a benefit corporation.
Rochelle Nawrocki Gorey: Yes. It’s every three years that you pay a fee for the administrative costs of certification.
Rochelle Nawrocki Gorey: Well, I have a COO — my right hand person who is also a partner in our company. So, he does the majority of the finance.
Also, almost since day one, we engaged a CPA and she does all of our accounting work. We utilize them for our payroll and bookkeeping and they guide us on all the kinds of issues that you don’t even know exist until they come across your desk.
In my role as CEO, I feel like I’m really helping set the stage strategically, I’m our visionary about what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, where we’re going. I do a lot of the preliminary sales work, really trying to get people interested in our company, telling them what we do and why we do it.
So the finance, of course as CEO you’re helping make decisions about where you’re spending money, what your budgets look like, and all of those things but I would say that for me, that is not my primary focus. Thank goodness!
I think it’s also really important to understand what you’re good at and what you’re not good at and that is not my area of expertise. I mean, I have a Master’s in Urban Planning and Policy. I don’t have an MBA. I think that is completely fine.
But there are times where I do wish I had a little bit more of that expertise or understanding of all the ins and outs of P and L and balance sheets and things like that. But I don’t want anyone to think that if they don’t have that then you can’t start a business, you just have around yourself people who are smarter than you on those things.
Rochelle Nawrocki Gorey: It was $10,000, but yeah, good point, it was still a very small amount of money. Right away we did engage with a lawyer and a CPA for incorporation and getting all of our legal documents in there. But I think it’s important if you can, to find people that can help you because then they scale and grow with you.
So, when we first started out, we didn’t have our CPA doing as much as they do now for us because we couldn’t afford it and then as we’ve grown they’ve taken on payroll as well. Heck for the first several years nobody was even getting paid, so there was no payroll.
I think like just asking people, other small business owners, who do they utilize for certain business functions is necessary. I also think that it’s even easier today. There are all kinds of online companies now that you can just utilize for HR functions or accounting or payroll.
I think I tend to be attracted more towards small business owners, mom and pop type providers. Our CPA firm is a woman-led CPA firm. She also happens to be an attorney. So, she can also provide some legal advice when we need but has been helpful in connecting me to attorneys at the right time as well.
Rochelle Nawrocki Gorey: Well revenue number is one. Bringing in new sales and revenue and just knowing how much money we need to have in our bank to cover our payroll is important. Those are the numbers that I pay attention to in the retention of our clients and figures like that. Then working with my CEO, you know, he provides me with the reporting and then we have meetings to talk about where we’re at and where we need to be.
I do think that we tend to hire, I don’t want to say later, but we are just really careful about when we hire. We also have a substantial amount of subcontractors that work with us that do some of our work — our data or tech work.
So, thinking smart about who needs to be hired, like for us, it never made sense to bring in an in-house tech. I think a lot of startups go out and hire their tech teams. But if you’re not developing and building that tech every day then I don’t know if that’s the best use of money.
But as far as our vision goes, I think that every single company ought to have a financial health strategy and part of that strategy is connecting people to resources when they need them. So, that is my vision. COVID 19 and the pandemic really helped uncover the fact that a vast majority of Americans are not doing well financially. In fact, I would argue that there is not one person that has not had the effect of the pandemic affect their finances.
The vast majority, yes, we have been hurt financially. We know that when businesses help their workers and their customers, it is good for their brand. It’s good for their company. It’s good for their employee morale and it helps people get back on track.
So, to me that says that every company ought to be looking at and engaging in financial health and wellness opportunities. We need to move the focus from just product, product, product, to what are the services that go around products when we’re offering products to consumers.
Rochelle Nawrocki Gorey: That is how I think about growth because I am really motivated about making a change in how we’re dealing with this situation in our country. So, I’m not, I suppose, like looking at it like, “Well 20% of this market, if we could capture or 10%, then we’re doing really well.”
We’re bringing innovation and change to the industry and in order to do that you have to ask yourself “What is the big picture that you’re trying to change? What is the problem that you’re trying to solve and get people to connect on an emotional level?”
I think that’s when you’re able to create positive change,
Rochelle Nawrocki Gorey: I’m just a firm believer in bringing people on your team that have expertise that you don’t, that you can trust and build relationships with and that are connected to your mission that share the same passion for what you’re trying to build. I’m really quite comfortable with not being the expert in that.
To understand what that means and for what it means for our company and our growth and where we need to be and things like that — then yes, absolutely. Connecting with mentors and other people that have bigger companies and maybe have raised capital or are in corporate America versus us and our small company and learning from that and trying to figure out good tactics and good practices to have in place is useful.
This is one of those things where the majority of people are uncomfortable and you just have to make certain that the ones you are negotiating with don’t know that. You have to be very confident in whatever you are negotiating. I think you have to remember your value and what you’re bringing to the table.
For us, we have to think about everything that has gone into whatever is part of that proposal today. If somebody wants to purchase SpringFour products today then they’re not just getting this stagnant thing that we just built yesterday. They’re getting 16 years worth of our hard work and they’re also capitalizing on our track record and reputation and the trust that we’ve built. I think there’s a price to be had, a price on that. So that is a part of when we price things out and our negotiation.
Also flexibility and really listening to your customer is important and if they’re telling you something, figuring out a way that you might be able to say, “Okay, let me take this back and come back to you with some ideas” so that they feel heard because everybody wants to feel heard.
I also think it’s good to present choices. So, never just give somebody one price tag because everybody wants a triplicate of choice. That’s like an old thing. You don’t want to be seen as the cheapest. You don’t wanna pay the most. So you’re probably going to come in the middle. I actually learned that from my husband who’s in sales but I will say what I realized is that I have been in sales my entire career because I worked at a nonprofit and I did advocacy and I had to go find funding, you know? It’s sales but it’s just a different sort of sales.
Rochelle Nawrocki Gorey: I think it’s a lot easier today than it was 15 years ago but definitely at the outset, at the beginning it was really about tapping into your existing network. So I was working with my existing bank clients or bank contacts at the time.
But I think today there’s a lot more entities available around like women, women founders, like tapping into those networks is important but I’m also a firm believer in never burning any bridges and always really being helpful to people within personal and business arenas. So, if you do that then I think you can reach out to people and you can connect to them and you can ask for help.
I think by nature, women want to be helpful and we want to share connections and we want to network. I think that’s crucial and I’m a connector. So, I want to try and help connect people.
You know where it makes sense and just be of service. Like I think our team and I try to impress upon our team at SpringFour the question of, “How can we be in service to our clients or to our contacts?” Because everybody likes that and everybody is looking for ways to grow whether it’s their own individual company or their own individual career path or just the deal they’re working on.
But I do think you have to get outside yourself, take some risks, go to events, and put yourself out there and know that it’s okay to ask for help or ask if somebody knows someone or if they can help connect you. I think just making sure you ask people and I believe people will tell you if they don’t want to help or if it doesn’t feel right to them but most people will say, “Oh yeah, sure, no problem.”
Rochelle Nawrocki Gorey: I don’t know. I think I play both well. Like I really like my alone time but take me to a conference or a cocktail party or a networking event and I’m definitely an extrovert.
Rochelle Nawrocki Gorey: Oh for sure, I’m definitely tired.
Rochelle Nawrocki Gorey: I think so. I also appreciate a good networking event because that is how you get things done and that’s how you meet people. Especially if you’re bringing a brand new idea to someone or something. I mean, we’re not like Coca-Cola or McDonald’s. We don’t do ads. We’re not a household name. So, you have to get out there and hustle. You do have to connect with everyone you know on LinkedIn and make a conscious effort to grow that presence and join things.
I joined the Women Technology Program out of 1871. I joined 1871, which was for startups and different things like that to help put my company on the map and to try to grow my professional network and basically have more eyes on SpringFour and what we’re doing.
Rochelle Nawrocki Gorey: I would say that if I had to describe myself, I would say I am not a patient person. But when I look at what our company has done and is doing and how long it’s taken us, I’m like, “Wow, we are really patient people.” If you’re trying to sell into a major financial institution or corporation and you’re bringing change, that is not something that happens quickly. We have deals that have taken four years and then you have other clients whom it takes 60 days. It just is all over the place for us. But it has taught me patience. So that’s number one.
Number two is somebody once told me that “No” doesn’t mean “No” until they tell you “No”, which I think is really helpful. Especially in the current day and age where you get ghosted or people don’t reply to you. But now that I’ve learned, “Well, until they tell me — no, it’s not a no.” It is true.
I just keep thinking of ways to keep in touch with people and it’s not a matter of “Have you made a decision yet?” or something all about SpringFour. It’s like, “Oh, I saw this article. I thought you might be interested” or we’re always putting together our pieces of research or information or sharing an article with a client or potential client that we think would be helpful and kind of doing it that way.
The power of delegation and building a team and giving your team the power and ability to be an important integral part of your company is necessary. I think that’s really important. I want to empower everybody on our team to have their area of expertise and be able to contribute to our company and make decisions and feel good about their job.
Rochelle Nawrocki Gorey: I do think it is so relevant. I think the fact that we are an impact and mission oriented company has a lot to do with being a woman and wanting to create impact. I think, I don’t have the stats, but there are some stats out there that when you look at men and women, like the type of companies, a man chooses to found versus those that women found is definitely more on the impact side — the more of the “We wanna change the world type of companies versus male dominated companies.”
I think it has made things difficult. I will say that there have been many times where I wonder where our company would be if we were a male led company. Especially in FinTech as you don’t see many women-led FinTech companies and with the results that we have and the companies that we’re working with, I’d like to see who those other companies are that stack up against us. But we haven’t really tried to raise venture capital because that isn’t what we wanted to do for our company.
When I look back at my career and starting this company, I wish that 15 years ago, I would’ve had the confidence that I have today because I didn’t and I didn’t tap in early enough to my authenticity and passion for what we do and that passion is helpful. It’s helpful to our journey and it helps sell what we do. I think at the beginning I was just so nervous about having the right business answer and having a presentation be a certain way or just thinking that it had to be a certain way.
Rochelle Nawrocki Gorey: I think you have to understand that you should be tackling a problem that needs to be solved. Without that, it doesn’t make sense to go down that road of creating a company.
Then it should be something that you do feel passionate about because like I said, I think it does help sell. It helps you stay committed on those dark days or like ride all the ups and downs and then go out and validate that.
Rochelle Nawrocki Gorey: Well, you have to go out and you have to ask. You have to find other people that are experiencing that problem.
Rochelle Nawrocki Gorey: Yeah. Although, I do have a personal connection to it. I did not come from a family with a lot of money and we did have to rely on outside resources at different times growing up and I always felt really embarrassed and ashamed. I always wanted my family to have more money and I always tried to hide that part of myself.
I think that’s where that connection to remove the stigma attached to financial challenges came from. Things happen to people every day and it’s not a result of anything that they did wrong or did right. I mean, you know, tomorrow one of us could have a medical catastrophe and with the way healthcare is, that can ruin you financially. That’s nobody fault.
Rochelle Nawrocki Gorey: Oh, it’s like what I said earlier that this is something that is part of every company, just like almost every company today provides access to health insurance or benefits for mental health counseling or being your whole health – whole self.
I think financial health and wellness is really important too. It affects every other aspect of our lives so we need to catch up as an industry and help put those things in place that makes everybody have a better or an increased opportunity for financial health because it’s better for everybody.