For the past seven years, Marta Miyar Palacios has tapped into her longtime passion for nonprofit work at a business that takes its role in the community seriously—Oportun, a financial services company that leverages its digital platform to provide responsible consumer credit to hardworking people.
The current vice president and assistant general counsel for commercial, global, and IP spent five years of her early career working on behalf of both the American Diabetes Association and the Day Labor Program of San Francisco. But she noticed a trend in the nonprofit world that challenged her to find another way to give back to her community.
“In my own experience in nonprofits, you spend maybe half of your time doing the good work of the organization,” Palacios explains. “But you also spend so much time asking for financial support for the organization. I knew there had to be a for-profit avenue that could still accomplish this kind of work.”
Palacios’s desire to give back to her community stems from her years watching her parents help others after finding their own success: her parents started out doing work designed for non-English speakers (e.g., work as janitors and elevator operators) and attended school at night to obtain their US degrees as well as learn English. “They taught us to value education and help others less fortunate,” Palacios says. Both her parents established successful careers in accounting, and they used their resources to help others. The young Palacios followed in their footsteps.
It would take a number of years before Palacios eventually found her way to Oportun in 2014. Her Stanford JD would help open the gateway to several prestigious private law firms, where she built out extensive international and complex litigation experience, but her desire to connect with her community continued to drive her to find a company aligned with her values and mission.
The Oportun of today is a far different organization than the one Palacios joined years ago. “The legal department was just the general counsel when I joined,” Palacios recalls. Now, the department encompasses a multitude of legal professionals. And as the legal department has grown, so has the Oportun footprint.
At present, Oportun operates in three different countries. Palacios acknowledges that may be a small purview at other companies, but says it’s enough to challenge her skills and never have a predictable day.
“There’s a matrix of law and practices that you get when working internationally, and you have to have some visibility for it and learn how to navigate it,” the VP explains. “I already had several years of international experience in different areas, and I think that, as well as being bilingual, was part of the desired skill set that brought me here.”
On Palacios’s watch, Oportun has expanded and evolved its Mexico operations and has also launched a technology center in India. Palacios has advised the company on the transformational changes underway in Mexico while also aiding the opening of the India location. “It’s so important to provide a cohesive approach as we continue to grow,” she notes. “Achieving consistency across cultures when you’re operating in different countries and time zones can be very challenging at times.”
Bridging the Gap
Over the past seven years, Palacios has witnessed Oportun’s commitment to the communities it serves, both in terms of the affordable financial products it provides and the many nonprofits the company helps support. Oportun supports a variety of community organizations, including the Chicano Latino Youth Leadership Project, UnidosUS’s Financial Coaching Program, and DIY Girls/Social and Environmental Entrepreneurs.
Altruism, Palacios explains, is part of Oportun’s day-to-day business focus. “There’s a shared value in the purpose of Oportun and our mission,” she says. “We are here to help our customers get more access to credit, obtain credit scores, and start that path to receiving access to mainstream sources of credit.”
As Palacios knows, many members of the Hispanic community, including immigrants, are often forced to deal in a cash-only economy. As a result, their access to larger opportunities—such as buying a house or going to college—is limited.
Marta Miyar Palacios on recognizing privilege and providing opportunity:
Oportun acts as a bridge for those who have traditionally not had access to credit of any kind. And while Palacios’s work doesn’t entail working directly with customers, she is helping support the organization in its efforts to provide new means of economic participation for millions of customers who had been excluded from the financial mainstream.
“Oportun is the perfect marriage of a lot of the areas I’m interested in,” the VP says. “I am able to do the legal work that I love while also serving a mission that reflects the lens through which I view the world.”
Inspection at Any Time
A global expansion is challenging in and of itself, but the COVID-19 pandemic has provided still further challenges for the international legal team at Oportun. Mexican law, Palacios explains, allows for spontaneous inspections to ensure that companies are complying with COVID-19 regulations. “If someone shows up at your doorstep, you can have an inspection,” she says. “At that moment, you need to be prepared to show that you’re complying with all of the health and safety requirements.”
Such experiences were made even more difficult by how regulations and requirements frequently changed throughout the crisis. But Palacios says the international legal team came together to form a cohesive, overarching strategy that protected workers and met the evolving guidelines.
“There was a period of time where we were working very, very hard,” Palacios admits. “It was an even bigger endeavor on the operations side, but we were there to support them.”
“Support” is an underappreciated word, yet it seems to lend itself to so much of Palacios’ journey. From watching her parents make their way in a new country to her nonprofit work and international legal endeavors, the VP continues to find value in the support and service of others. And at Oportun, she truly gets the best of all worlds.