When meeting Gonzalo Palacio, it is evident that he is passionate about working for a mission-driven organization. Trained as an engineer and now a financial services expert, he chose a career path in which he can have a positive impact in the lives of others.
He credits his family for instilling in him a strong set of values that guide his work as senior vice president of credit card at Oportun. “My mother worked at a nonprofit that provides discounted healthcare, education, and grocery services for working families, as well as down-payment subsidies for first-time home buyers,” explains Palacio, a native of Cali, Colombia. “I had the opportunity to intern at the nonprofit and saw firsthand the joy in members’ faces when they received the keys to their first home thanks to a down payment grant.”
Palacio’s paternal grandparents owned a pharmacy in a small, rural community located twenty miles south of Cali. Growing up, he worked the pharmacy counter during summer breaks, joining in what had become a community gathering place that also served as a vaccine distribution center—vaccines that were usually administered by his grandmother.
Palacio emigrated from Colombia when he was eighteen years old to go to college at Tulane University in New Orleans. He was drawn by the city’s rich culture and the school’s involvement in the community. He enrolled in a five-year program that allowed him to complete a degree in engineering science in three years, followed by an MBA started during his senior year. Palacio’s first job out of college was at Capital One, where he was quickly immersed in a strong culture of data analytics and marketing that brought together financial services and technology.
At Capital One, Palacio honed his expertise in marketing analytics and product strategy, and also had the opportunity to listen directly to customers’ personal experiences with money. “I had a chance to travel the country to connect one-on-one with customers, listening to their stories and having conversations that went deeper and deeper into understanding their needs and circumstances,” he says, “how central financial services are to their lives and what can be done to solve their needs.”
Gonzalo Palacio recounts one of his first conversations with a customer about their experiences with money:
Despite a renewed focus on the customer by traditional banks, Palacio notes, there are many consumers who are left out and that they are typically the ones who have the highest need to access funds in times of difficulty. As senior vice president of credit card at Oportun, he is helping to serve a customer base that has been left behind. Oportun provides affordable personal loans to those with little to no credit history—and, since Palacio joined the company, credit cards.
“Oportun customers are looking for an opportunity to prove their creditworthiness and build a foundation that can help them achieve their own version of the American Dream,” Palacio explains. “Many of our personal loan customers were asking when we were going to offer a credit card. We also saw it in the data—a significant number of our customers, who did not have a credit score before using an Oportun loan, had since opened a credit card at other institutions who now deemed them as creditworthy.
“Our job is to build financial products that help improve the financial health of our customers,” he adds. Palacio established the credit card program from the ground up, starting up the partner ecosystem with the card issuing bank and processor and recruiting a talented team of product, marketing, operations, and technology experts. The pilot program launched in late 2019 and “immediately saw a strong response and demand for the product,” Palacio says.
Oportun has programs to offer credit lines to consumers with little or no credit history, as well as those with no SSN or US ID, where traditional credit card issuers may typically decline such consumers. It is serviced in English and Spanish across all customer touchpoints.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, just weeks after the pilot launch, Palacio and his team immediately came together to help customers by “deferring payments, waiving fees, adding flexible payment options, and proactively notifying customers about their availability. It was inspiring to see the team live by our customer care value to deliver these solutions in record time.”
Now, as both customers and the economy start to recover, the program is scaling at a fast pace with a strong NPS (Net Promoter Score) and credit quality. “We are just getting started,” the SVP says. “Our next product releases will add features to help customers track their credit and learn how use it wisely, setting up faster balance paydowns and new mobile tools designed to solve their needs.”
Palacio cites a customer who responded to a product survey saying, “You gave me a chance when no one else would.” It is not lost on him that believing and making experiences like this possible is a life mission worth pursuing.