A “people-driven view of business” has always been Raul Vazquez’s philosophy. A well-respected leader in search of his next career challenge, he joined Oportun seven years ago because of a deep belief in the company’s mission to empower low-to-moderate income individuals to build a better future by helping them establish a credit score. But he was also intrigued by the opportunity to bring his expertise and team approach to a new industry where he believed he could make a difference.
At Oportun, Vazquez leads a company that is leveraging technology and innovation to provide access to affordable credit to the estimated 100 million people in the United States who are shut out of the financial system because they don’t have a credit score or have been mis-scored by traditional credit bureaus. Over the past seven years, he has helped nurture a sense of mission at the company, aligned and mobilized the entire organization, and applied technology in new ways to fuel remarkable growth and impact.
Oportun has helped 760,000 people establish a credit score and has provided over 3.2 million affordable small dollar loans that have saved customers an estimated $1.5 billion in interest and fees. Those are dramatic milestones within the sector, and have led to a number of awards and accolades for the company’s ability to serve a historically overlooked segment of society.
Prior to joining Oportun, Vazquez spent nine years with Walmart in a variety of roles, including as CEO of Walmart.com and later as executive vice president of Walmart stores across 23 states. His tenure at Walmart provided the core insights and lessons that motivated his search for a new challenge and ultimately informed the foundation of his “people-driven” philosophy at Oportun.
“One reason why I chose Oportun is because I like learning new things. So to go into financial services, which was a brand-new industry for me, was appealing,” Vazquez explains. “When I saw elements of technology and retail in this business, I thought not only was I going to gain something from learning, but I would be able to contribute in terms of the areas of technology and scaling in retail. I’d be able to help address some of the challenges that Oportun was facing.” Plus, as a Latino business leader and CEO—one who recognizes the gravity of that role—he is quick to embrace the impact his leadership has on a company’s community and culture.
Throughout his career, Vazquez has honed his philosophies through a wide range of experiences that have helped shape him into a leader. As a father, husband, son, and boss, he has learned the importance of being willing and open to work with others, being receptive to their thoughts and feelings, and being present and open to learning from any situation or individual. At Oportun, he applies these lessons to unite and guide his team. “I like to have an all-hands approach, which means treating everyone like a peer and having a very open dialogue,” he says.
“It even requires a bit of courage to empower someone else and set your ego aside to be of service.”
This commitment was evident from the very beginning of his time at Oportun. Early on, Vazquez recognized the need to unite every member of the company under a common goal. While its mission was alive and well, he says that Oportun needed to tighten operationally in order for that mission to grow and thrive. He knew that he had to first create consensus and gain buy-in across the organization before he could apply the tactical and technological steps necessary for the company to scale.
“We had to learn to collaborate differently, recognize each other’s strengths, and understand that what we could do together was greater than what we could accomplish alone,” Vazquez says. “We were very transparent about the challenges we were facing and the outcomes we wanted to create. Having the clarity of a specific goal and shared purpose was helpful because it allows conversations with individuals and teams to be in service to that goal.”
After Vazquez rallied his team, Oportun was able to bolster its profitability, expand its customer base to more than 1.5 million people, and enrich its company culture. Since overcoming Oportun’s initial operational challenges, Vazquez has continued efforts to unite his team by hosting monthly “All-Hands Meetings,” which function like open forums that encourage all employees to come together to hear about company updates and voice their opinions or ask questions. Vazquez especially knows how crucial it is to hear every one of those voices. The results speak for themselves as Oportun continues to expand and reach new growth milestones in service to its customers.
“We sought to make decisions together as a team, and that became a very powerful practice, because instead of people being able to see one part of the puzzle, they could see the whole puzzle together,” Vazquez says about the meetings.
To give clarity around the company’s mission and goals, Oportun updated its values to include six critical elements that guide everything the company does: innovation, courage, empowerment, service, excellence, and care. “In updating the values, we really gave a lot of thought to the language that shapes our behavior,” Vazquez explains. “We thought carefully about how to describe each of them, then we sought to demonstrate them. We believe that leadership is something you do by example, so we try to live by those values every day.”
While he says all of the values are important to the integrity of the company, “courage” tends to be the one that stands out. “Everything starts with courage—to be innovative, admit that there is a better way, or open yourself up to criticism,” he says. “You have to have the courage to envision people doing things differently or better than you. It even requires a bit of courage to empower someone else and set your ego aside so that you can be of service.”
For Vazquez, excellence and compassion go hand in hand with being a courageous leader. He considers the perspectives of all members on his team, regardless of their rank. Early in his childhood, he learned from his family in Mexico that there is no blue or white collar—only one community. And at Oportun, Vazquez has made sure his community works toward each objective as a whole rather than as individual parts.
“My job is to be of service to others,” he says. “As a consequence, I need to keep growing and improving—how can I become more wise, compassionate, and effective? Compassion is the combination of empathy and the desire to act. So, when I think about the future, it’s about us making greater strides in achieving our mission so we can be helpful to more people.”