By Nick Tiger
The fintech space has already revolutionized consumer finance by becoming a hotbed for new, innovative takes on traditional financial products. Fintechs have the power to increase the democratization of finance for the unbanked and underbanked. As the industry matures, some start-ups are now going head-to-head with traditional lenders to deliver better value props for prime and super-prime customer segments. With the explosive growth and so many competing business priorities, it is easy for an in-house product attorney to get lost in all the shuffle, hubbub, and ambition of their product teams.
To ensure better fintech products go to market, in-house counsel must step up their game. An efficient in-house counsel’s ability to effectively challenge and positively influence their product teams depends on successfully embedding with the business - early and often.
Embedding with the business entails strategic positioning of legal’s resources to gain additional information regarding the product team’s agenda and their underlying motivations. I find it fun to think of yourself as a risk-mitigating mole with the agility to maneuver silos to keep a closer pulse on where the business is headed.
Why You Should Embed
Embedding with the business on early product concepts allows you to more quickly identify risks and influence the more malleable business intent (before they’ve spent money and resources on it).
How to Embed.
Your own methods of embedding will vary based on your specific industry, company culture, and personal style. For some, embedding may look like attending weekly product check-ins, creating dedicated slack channels to exchange information, or traveling off-site for larger brainstorming collaborations between legal and the product team. By paying attention to the chatter in meetings, Slack, and talk around the watercooler (literal or metaphorical), you position yourself well to be closer to the center of what is trending in product land.
Before you swing for the fences, know that there is such a thing as being too embedded. Remember that your colleagues expect a fast-paced fintech environment with no unnecessary meetings or arbitrary processes. Seek feedback from your product team about meetings and check-ins to identify if adjustments to your style are needed.
Bonus tip: When you can, log on to scheduled meetings at the start time to chit chat with participants. I know it can be awkward, but I have had many meetings where the “real meeting” occurred in the first 5 minutes while we were waiting for others to log on.
When to Embed. I recommend embedding as soon as humanly possible. Note the keyword: humanly. Even an all-star product counsel cannot be omnipresent as to every single idea that the product team has for each new innovation. However, we can detect new ideas circulating as soon as they become a conversation. When conversations are repeated, they morph into a more tangible product concept. Basically, we cannot know what ideas are in people’s heads, but we can pay attention to patterns of talk.
Tracking Talk. I have had personal success keeping a spreadsheet of product chatter. It helps me avoid surprises and keep a bird’s eye view of product land. If an idea has only been talked about a few times and is innocuous, I only spend a few moments jotting it down. I think of this strategy as “embedding light.” However, it if is a more complex product idea, I recommend investing more time in being detailed. From there, you can begin to set the tone and manage expectations with the product team.
Bonus tip – Do not worry about making your chatter trackers pretty. Frankly, we just do not have time to be English-paper perfect at work and your product team will never even notice.
About the Author
Nick Tiger is a seasoned consumer protection advocate and product counsel in the financial services and “fintech” industries. Nick got his start as a bank teller working toward his undergraduate degree at Webster University in St. Louis, Missouri, USA. He was later promoted to banker and then branch sales manager, where he experienced first-hand the impacts of the 2008 Financial Crisis. To better understand the causes of the Great Recession, Nick attended law school at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, USA. From there, Nick has held leadership posts as a bankruptcy specialist, a debt collector, a professor, an in-house counsel for a major bank, and most recently the lead in-house product counsel for a neobank experiencing exploding growth.
In addition to his identity as a financial reformer, Nick is differently-abled and a proud member of the LGBT community who is passionate about Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). He loves applying the teachings of DEI to gain a competitive edge in solving real-world business problems, particularly for rural American communities. Nick is the co-host of the Pride from Prejudice Podcast: Truths from the New American South. In his free time, he has recently taken to genealogy and gardening.