A tour in the Peace Corps may not seem like a direct line to a career in finance. At least finance wasn't on Blakey Larsen's mind in 2008 when she completed her undergraduate degree in linguistics and computer science at McGill University in Montreal and headed off to Samoa with the Corps to teach high school computer science.
But in addition to her teaching duties, Blakey had the opportunity to consult for the Samoan Umbrella for Non-Governmental Organizations (SUNGO), an organization that helps locals develop business ventures and advises NGOs. And it was this experience that sparked her interest in financial technology, or "fintech," which includes tools like blockchain, artificial intelligence and machine learning, and mobile payment systems that make financial tasks easier for the consumer.
"Working with SUNGO got me interested in how technology could be used in the financial sphere to keep money 'in the family' – in small, local businesses," she says. "I found the question of how money moves around the world fascinating."
Back in the States, Blakey served as a consultant with Genesis10 and Accenture for a number of years before she realized that an MBA was the next logical step toward a fintech career. When she landed at Berkeley Haas in 2016 she quickly found a variety of resources, including the Fintech Club. The club, for which she served as co-president throughout her time at Haas, supports its more than 150 members by connecting students with prospective employers, hosting company visits, career panels, and speaker series, and educating its members on fintech's many aspects: from payments and lending to investment management.
Blakey’s coursework gave her a solid framework on which to build her fintech skills, particularly Associate Professor Gustavo Manso's Corporate Finance class and her participation in the school's International Business Development (IBD) program. There she worked with four other students to put an innovation strategy in place for Civil Rights Defenders, a nonprofit based in Stockholm, Sweden. She also took advantage of the career coaching resources at Haas.
"Gustavo's class taught me the language of corporate finance, while the Career Management Group helped me figure out how best to pursue a career in fintech, and the club gave me access to company recruiting events," she says.
In fact, it was at a Fintech Club networking event that Blakey discovered NerdWallet, a company that enables clients to compare products available from banks and insurance companies so as to make informed financial decisions. She interned with the firm in 2017, and after graduation, landed a job as a senior associate in the company's business operations.
NerdWallet is a great fit with the Haas Defining Leadership Principles, particularly "Students Always," according to Blakey. "One of the company's values is relentless self-improvement," she says. "There's always more to learn, and NerdWallet has a strong culture of learning, feedback, and support."
Although a career in fintech wasn't what Blakey expected, it's a great fit, she says, offering dynamic opportunities to question the status quo.
"Fintech has the potential to give a more economically diverse population access to financial tools that used to be available only to wealthy people," she says. "And that fits well with the Haas value of questioning traditional ways of doing things."