“I’ve realized that I don’t have to be tied to only government—or nonprofits, for that matter. A big impact can be made from the private sector seat,” says Paola Garcia, vice president and head of corporate social responsibility at OneMain Financial.
Garcia’s passion for financial education and empowerment started at a very early age. While she was a high school student in Vallejo, California (located just outside of San Francisco), her school district filed for bankruptcy, which caused all extracurriculars as well as some crucial resources to be cut from the budget. But Garcia defied the limitations that were set by her guidance counselors and other administrators about what a young Latina woman could be, earning scholarships to her dream college: the University of California, Berkeley.
“My mission in life is to extend a hand to the next generation,” Garcia states. “After Berkeley, I wanted to solve the world’s problems in what I thought was the best way to do it, by working in the government.”
She moved to Washington, DC, where she started her career in the United States Department of the Treasury. Her talent, work ethic, and scrappiness quickly got the attention of her superiors and earned her a spot on the White House finance team managing its multimillion-dollar budget under President Obama.
“[This project] is an extension of our company mission, which is to improve the financial well-being of hardworking Americans.”Paola Garcia
Soon thereafter, Garcia went back to school to get dual master’s degrees—an MBA and an MS in education policy. Then she joined Goldman Sachs, where she learned about the power of corporate social responsibility. Soon, the idea that she could make a difference in the private sector began to sink in.
Garcia had first seen the power that private companies had to make a social impact through the scholarships that she had received from businesses like McDonald’s and Genentech, which made college a reality for her. “When you’re a young student trying to build your little savings fund for college, scholarship money goes such a long way,” Garcia reflects.
After gaining more financial expertise at Goldman, Garcia decided to use her know-how to help promote financial wellness even more directly and joined Aura Financial, a fintech start-up company that predominantly served the Latino community. Aura shut down during the pandemic, but shortly after, Garcia joined the company that would expand her reach and allow her to have an impact with hard-working Americans across the country: OneMain Financial.
Garcia was drawn to OneMain’s commitment to financial wellness and the access to capital that it was able to provide for underserved communities. OneMain helps customers meet critical financial needs, including debt consolidation, home and auto repair, medical procedures, and other major expenses with fixed-rate installment loans.
“When we give a loan, we actually sit down with the customer and they go through an ‘ability to pay’ analysis,” Garcia explains. “We look at how much income they have coming in [and] their expenses so that we don’t set up our customers to fail, and we aim to ensure that they get a loan that they can actually pay back.”
In 2021, OneMain issued a $750 million social bond that advances the company’s commitment to financial inclusion. The net proceeds of the bond are committed to serving credit-disadvantaged communities around the country, with at least 75 percent of the loans allocated to women or minority borrowers.
Another initiative to promote financial education and empowerment that Garcia is passionate about is Credit Worthy by OneMain Financial, the company’s financial education offering for high schoolers. The curriculum teaches high schoolers basic financial capability skills, including how to use and manage credit, the importance of building credit, the types of credit and their sources, and how to avoid and correct debt problems. The program was piloted in five major metro areas in 2021, and in February 2022, OneMain announced a $4 million commitment to expand the program nationwide to reach at least 1,500 schools by the end of the year.
The curriculum equips young people with the financial know-how to set them up for success in the future. “I’m really excited about this project because the goal of the program is to bring financial capability to high school students,” Garcia says. “It’s an extension of our company mission, which is to improve the financial well-being of hardworking Americans.”