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Episode #25: Wole Coaxum

Episode 25

Wole Coaxum, the founder and CEO of Mobility Capital Finance (MoCaFi), talks with David about MoCaFi’s work to bridge the racial wealth gap as well as the advantages fintech has in better serving a diverse group of consumers.

Coaxum, a former Wall Street executive, also discusses his move to become an entrepreneur and how he envisions the banker of the future.

Wole Coaxum's headshot

Featured Guest: Wole Coaxum

In 2014, as Ferguson, Missouri, erupted in protests following the shooting death of an unarmed Black teenager, Wole Coaxum, an Oxford-educated African American financial executive, sat in his office at a Fortune 100 company and considered ways to close the economic gap.

Two years later, he launched Mobility Capital Finance, Inc., or MoCaFi, as a digital banking platform that would target the more than 50 million unbanked and underbanked people living in the country.
By 2020, the platform had enrolled more than 25,000 users, raised millions in seed rounds, and partnered with major multinational companies in addition to several cities and municipalities. That same year, as MoCaFi unveiled an upgraded platform, Wole was featured in the New York Times business section as “Trying to Correct Banking’s Racial Imbalance.”

Most recently, MoCaFi was listed on the Forbes Fintech 50, Most Innovative Fintech Companies of 2021. Forbes also featured Wole in a story, “Ex-JPMorgan Chase Exec Has a Plan to Narrow Racial Wealth Gap in Every Major U.S. City,” which highlighted MoCaFi’s innovative financial-services-as infrastructure platform for municipalities and organizations.

Before starting MoCaFi in 2016, Wole served as Managing Director at JPMorgan Chase, where he held a series of leadership positions in Business Banking, Card Services, and Treasury & Securities Services. Before joining JPMorgan in 2007, Wole was a senior executive of Willis Towers Watson. He served as Chief Financial Officer & Chief Operating Officer of Willis North America and Chief Executive Officer of Willis Canada. He started his career at Citigroup, working in investment banking, asset management, insurance, and corporate functions. Wole has been recognized for his consistent track record of developing and implementing a broad array of high-impact and strategic initiatives which achieve measurable results.
Wole currently serves as a Trustee of Phillips Exeter Academy .

Wole has a Master of Business Administration degree with a concentration in Finance from New York University, a Bachelor of Arts degree with a major in History from Williams College, and studied Politics, Philosophy, and Economics at Exeter College, Oxford University. Wole lives in Westchester County, N.Y., with his wife Kim and their two daughters Quinn and Avery.

David Reiling Headshot

David Reiling

David Reiling is an innovative social entrepreneur focused on empowering individuals through community banking and financial technology. David is the Chief Executive Officer of Sunrise Banks and has been in the community development banking industry for more than 25 years.

Featured Music

Clouds Echo in Blue

"Long Forgotten"

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Episode Transcript

0:00 – Wole Coaxum
In the Black community in particular, the home ownership rates, and since the Great Recession have moved backwards several percentage points. And it’s increased in other communities quite significantly up to 10 percentage points. And we find ourselves today in a place where the home ownership rates in the Black community today are what they were when President Johnson signed the Fair Housing Act of 1968. So, we know that home ownership is an important part of the wealth building journey and the intergenerational wealth building journey.

0:34 – David Reiling
Welcome to the NextGen Banker podcast where we explore what’s next in banking and talk with the innovators responsible for creating positive change in the financial sector. I am your host, David Reiling, and I am very excited today to welcome Wole Coaxum to the show. Wole great to be with you today. Thanks for being on the NextGen Banker podcast.

0:53 – Wole Coaxum
Oh, it’s my pleasure. Thanks for having me.

0:55 – David Reiling
Well, Wole for our audience we’ll give a little background because I like your story and I’m sure there’s more here. But you’re the CEO and founder for Mobility Capital Finance or what’s known as MoCaFi, a financial technology company working to provide resources and tools for Black and Latinx communities to close the wealth gap. Previously served as managing director of JPMorgan Chase where you held many leadership positions in business banking, card services, treasury and security services. And you are also an executive at Willis Towers Watson in the North American division.

1:32 – David Reiling
So Wole, I got to ask you many years in the corporate finance world at JPMorgan. So, you’re going from the big corporate to be a social entrepreneur one day. How does that happen? Where is the why? What sparked that decision?

1:45 – Wole Coaxum
Yeah, that’s a great question. So, for me it was really– it comes from a couple of places. First, I had the great pleasure of growing up in a household of entrepreneurs. And as we all have family influences in terms of thinking about the world. And spent a lot of time as a young person thinking about how do you build organizations that can have real change. And spending time talking to my family about why do some organizations last and others don’t. And particularly in the Black community. So that’s a little bit of the background.

2:15 – Wole Coaxum
And then I fell into finance out of school and loved it. And learned from just terrific leaders in terms of how financial services can change the lives of individuals, communities, and countries. And so, I ended up following that path, as you just described, for many years. And then I had my George Floyd moment after the death of Michael Brown. And I was just so struck in that moment in 2014 around the imagery that I saw in Ferguson, communities were just in a lot of pain.

2:50 – Wole Coaxum
And the pain in those communities was really based on a social justice issue. But I also thought it was an economic issue because without access to opportunity, without access to resource, it’s really hard to move your community forward. So, I thought I am– the social justice agenda in the Black community is quite strong. The economic justice agenda is an area that could use some help and I thought I would use my time and talents to move it along in that way. And so that’s how I decided to move off the corporate ladder and move into the entrepreneurial space. And it’s been a great ride ever.

3:28 – David Reiling
I just have to smile as you make that transition. And the crazy that is the entrepreneurial world. Is there anything that really kind of shocked you from making that transition? Is there any one thing as you sit there, you’re, like, wow. I never knew entrepreneurs did this.

3:45 – Wole Coaxum
I don’t know if I was shocked. I mean, I was expecting you to realize you went from a big platform to a small platform where you just make it up as you go along from whole cloth. I expected that. What I didn’t fully expect was a phrase that I got from the book The Alchemist. And the gist of it is– the whole– when you put something out there the world conspires to help you make it happen. And I guess the biggest thing that I learned in like through my journey so far is going out and trying to accomplish this mission and build this company.

4:20 – Wole Coaxum
People came out and said, how can I be helpful and where can I play, or is there an introduction I can make, or is there an investment I can make. And I wasn’t expecting that quite frankly. And it really has been a joy, quite frankly, to see all that come together and supporting what we’re trying to build at MoCaFi.

4:41 – David Reiling
Now, that is very cool. There is good in the world. There is hope, isn’t there? So, I have to take you down a little path because tackling the problem from a mission standpoint of addressing that wealth gap. There’s a lot to that and just kind of want to do that fly by. What are those challenges, opportunities, and strengths of MoCaFi that you see kind of bringing to the table? And let’s start with what are those biggest challenges that you think you have to overcome in regard to addressing and serving the racial wealth gap?

5:12 – Wole Coaxum
That’s– large measure, it’s because of our partnership with Sunrise Banks that were able to come up with products and services that allow us to do this. I think we spent the first couple of years of the company trying to figure out how do you get to large numbers of people at scale because the communities are– they’re not monolithic. They have different points in terms of connectivity. And how are we able to do it in a world where the days of spending money on Google AdWords and the days of spending money on Facebook post is not over. But there’s not a lot of appetite for those kinds of investments and so getting to the consumer.

5:53 – Wole Coaxum
And then we figured out this idea of financial services in infrastructure. Working with cities. Working with counties. Working with states and hopefully working with the federal government over time. Who their mission is they’re serving these individuals that we want to serve? And what we figured out is we can help them become much more efficient in terms of getting dollars and resources to that community and that gives us an opportunity to market our products and services to them. So that was the big hurdle and we’re proud to say that we think we’ve at least come up with one framework to address it that we can do it at scale and at a low cost.

6:29 – David Reiling
Yeah, I would just commend you in terms of harnessing that opportunity and looking at it from the scale standpoint. It’s one of the things that I see that you’ve done that others sometimes they just don’t understand. And that is you can’t think about this in terms of 100 or 1,000 people. This is a 10,000. This is millions of people that we want to help. Scale has got to make the difference in terms of making change and really addressing the root part of the issue.

6:57 – David Reiling
In my opinion there’s a secret sauce in MoCaFi. I feel it. I touch it. Every time I talk to you as well as any one of your team members, there’s a spirit and energy there. What would you say the strength is of MoCaFi because you’re on fire in my opinion in terms of really going after it?

7:17 – Wole Coaxum
Well, I greatly appreciate that. I think part of this– what’s so exciting is people have a chance at MoCaFi to bring their entire selves to work and we really encourage authenticity in that regard. We also– people are working towards helping other people. And I think there’s a real satisfaction in terms of being able to wake up every day and knowing that you’re helping other people move forward.

7:45 – Wole Coaxum
And then I think the third piece is really around an ethos that says we are a company that can do this in a sustainable way. And we were trying to do it where we were building a sustainable business model that can outlast me and outlast other people. And that’s really exciting because you’re able to work on something greater than yourself. And I think the team embraces that and really relishes in that as part of our culture.

8:13 – David Reiling
Yeah, that is awesome. And I can see it and feel it in how you bring products to market, and services, and how you connect. So, let’s touch a little bit on the fin-tech space. Because obviously a big part of where I’ll say banking is going and financial services are going. But it seems to be a piece of the puzzle in terms of creating equity that wasn’t there before. Can you speak a little bit to how you as a financial technology firm are really kind of tapping into that, the power of technology in expanding to get to that scale you’re looking for?

8:50 – Wole Coaxum
Yeah, that’s a great question. I think of– I ran several treasury services sales teams when I was at Chase– large corporate upper middle market. And Treasury services is the business as you know that helps companies and governments move money efficiently and optimize that. And we bring the same idea to MoCaFi, and that we’re trying to use technology to help two sides of the coin. One side is the underlying consumer who is– and we’re able to build products that address their needs.

9:23 – Wole Coaxum
We’ve eliminated the idea of financial deserts by turning retail stores where people are at their bank branches. We’ve enabled it in such a way that we can open accounts for individuals who may not have an itinerary, may not have a Social Security number. We’ve created mechanisms– we don’t check the check system. So, your past is not the determinant of your future in terms of access to banking. And so that’s using technology in an innovative way to help me meet people where they are. At the same time, we’re able to take the efficiency of technology to municipalities and to the government sector and say, hey.

10:01 – Wole Coaxum
And it became really clear in COVID. Checks going to people who don’t have bank accounts is not the most efficient way to get large amounts of money to people. And giving somebody a gift card and hoping that they are able to really move themselves forward isn’t the most effective way to do it. And so, we’ve brought the tools that we have at our disposal to help the cities and other places become much more efficient. Bring down their cost, improve their quality of service. And it’s one of those instances where everybody wins. But that’s all facilitated because of the technology.

10:36 – David Reiling
Yeah, it is really that spark and maybe overused phrase– but the win-win that happens there it is synergistic. My guess is that if you can do this for one municipality you can do it for another. You can do it for a city, a school district, a water district. You can begin to reach the pockets, and purses if you will, of the people you’re trying to get to that certainly aren’t going to walk into a bank. But the fact is you can meet them where they are. Either on the job or through that service that they’re getting.

11:06 – David Reiling
And you really– you said this before. This is not a monophyletic group. So, you got to meet them at that place and that’s where I think you’re really leveraging that technology to make impact.

11:18 – Wole Coaxum
100%. You got to meet them and then put people on a path. And what we’re really banking on is once you put them on a path to digital services and responsible digital services, we can put them on a path to responsible credit and products of that nature. That will also reduce their costs and allow them to use financial services to move themselves forward and build wealth in their communities.

11:46 – David Reiling
Definitely. And I think one of those steps that I’ve seen recently with MoCaFi is the introduction of looking at home ownership. And I think you have a partnership with Rocket Mortgage in terms of that connection. Again, you may start out in one spot but then you’re going to the home ownership, how’s that working out?

12:04 – Wole Coaxum
Yeah, so it’s working out well. We’re getting great feedback. We just launched last month. We call it the Blueprint. And the Blueprint is one of these neat tools that allows you to bring– download the Blueprint app and start to build your own personal budget to build your overall balance sheet so you can see on a real time basis what your personal balance sheet is. You can link all your accounts, your MoCaFi account or another account, and all that information is constantly being updated to get real time visibility.

12:35 – Wole Coaxum
At the same time, you can see your credit score, and you can see how that’s improving over time, and what you need to do. And you can rent– you can take your rent and report it on our platform and that will impact your scores for giving tools to do that. And there’s a whole financial literacy piece to it as well. When someone decides, hey, I wonder if I’m ready to buy a home. They can hit a button and say readiness and that will then take all the information that’s in their blueprint and then say, oh, you know what? You are ready.

13:03 – Wole Coaxum
Your credit score meets this. Your amount of– your debt to equity ratio is this. Your income is this. And then we can take all that and make that information visible to one of our partners and they can make a loan. And we wouldn’t make it visible to the partner unless we know that individual qualifies. So, it becomes a very nice mosaic, if you will, in terms of the customer experience, which takes away from people applying for something not knowing if they’re going to get it and being sort of unsure. We take all that out. And we’ve had some good success so far early days. But we like the way we’re headed.

13:38 – David Reiling
Yeah, I like it a lot. And from the standpoint of the access to it and people really understanding hey, here’s where I am in the process. That’s usually the biggest mystery. And if they don’t get a yes right away, they’re like, well, I don’t know what else to do. It’s just it defeats the hope in the process and in their spirit. But then as you make that more transparent, you make the process more convenient. Obviously, you’re pulling in data in places that didn’t have it before to positively impact that credit Bureau, make them– help them through that process. So, by the time that package gets delivered their probability of success is high and that is really good for everyone.

14:16 – David Reiling
Particularly in a mortgage, which is– it’s usually how do we whack the stack of the foot of paper that we have to produce. So, I commend you for that. That is really– and looking at the communities that you’re serving, gosh that home ownership piece is such a strength in terms of not only wealth building but community building. So yeah, really cool.

14:36 – Wole Coaxum
Well, just one thing, David, just to your point. It’s really interesting. That in the Black community in particular, the home ownership rates and since the Great Recession have moved backwards several percentage points and it’s increased in other communities quite significantly up to 10 percentage points. And we find ourselves today in a place where the home ownership rates in the Black community today are what they were when President Johnson signed the Fair Housing Act in 1968.

15:02 – Wole Coaxum
So, we know that home ownership is an important part of the wealth building journey and the intergenerational wealth building journey. And so, we just want to do what we can to help move people forward to address some of this gap that’s much too wide.

15:17 – David Reiling
Yeah, definitely. So, I have to ask, because just having that entrepreneurial mindset myself, what’s next on the agenda for MoCaFi? What’s the next trick in the sleeve? I love it.

15:30 – Wole Coaxum
Just keep executing.

15:32 – David Reiling
Got it.

15:34 – Wole Coaxum
You just keep executing. I think one of the things– we’re in the middle of a fund raise. And the markets are speaking to us in terms of what they like about the strategy, where they think we can do better and where we should continue to do more of. And what really gets investors excited is good execution. So, I’ve got lots of ideas and but at the same time we’ve got a community to serve. I’ve got a team to take care of. I’ve got investors to demonstrate that you can make investments in communities and not have to have extractive pricing. But you can really leave something that’s better than when you found it in a way that’s sustainable in a commercial way.

16:22 – Wole Coaxum
So that’s right now the big thing. I wish I had a better answer for you but that’s where it’s at the moment.

16:27 – David Reiling
This is groundbreaking. Your leadership in this area is so important to the next Wole that’s going to come along. It’s the inspiration that you can do this. It can be sustainable. We need more Black businesses and they need to see the success. And we all do. It’s all inspirational. And so, I appreciate your effort in that. You say that so eloquently but balancing all those balls between investors, and execution, and people growing, and regulations, and all the rest of it is a juggling act. You can hardly realize in terms of trying to keep the bunnies in the box there.

17:10 – Wole Coaxum
Right. But that’s what you signed up for when you decide to be an entrepreneur, you got– I think I might add juggler to my business card and my title.

17:19 – David Reiling
Absolutely. So, Wole, l got one last question for you and this is– it really comes down to somewhat of the purpose of this podcast. And that is you had worked at JPMorgan. I have worked at Citi know there’s really good people that work in banks across the country and across the world. And maybe this is my fishing expedition to try to lure them out of the big and into the social entrepreneur, or into the space of what can a bank do for good.

17:47 – David Reiling
So, when you think about the banker of the future what do you think the Next Gen banker looks like?

17:54 – Wole Coaxum
That’s a great question. I think the Next Gen banker– I think you need people in the large institutions like JPMorgan and Citi because they play a critical role in the economy and moving communities forward. You need some folks to leave those places. Because you can’t start a technology, a fin-tech company if you don’t have any banking experience. And I think it’s a strong case for diversity at the larger traditional banks because A, you just run better businesses when you have more diversity. And that diversity then leads to future entrepreneurs who can build off of their experiences there. And I think that the future banker is one that is diverse, continues to be diverse, because our banking industry needs to reflect the mosaic and diversity of our country.

18:46 – Wole Coaxum
Second, it’s got a really– an individual who’s got to appreciate technology and how to use technology in ways that are innovative like we’re talking about. Here in the third, I think it really is someone who has to be empathetic to the communities that they serve and not lose sight of the fact that what we do every day from a banking perspective is helping people get homes and helping people put food on the table. And helping people through difficult times that they can’t anticipate.

19:15 – Wole Coaxum
And we all find ourselves in a moment where we have a need for a helping hand and we in financial services can play an important role in that. And being empathetic we’ve got to leave communities better than we found them. So, I hope that those are some of the characteristics that we’ll see in the bankers of the future. And I’ve been interacting with a lot of young people lately and I’m very confident that those folks are out there and they’re going to carry our work forward.

19:43 – David Reiling
Yeah, that’s fantastic. We sometimes lose sight of that real economy of hey, that feeling that you get when you buy your first home, or your first car. That first move forward is huge for people. And so, there’s great benefit and joy in doing that work. And so Wole, I thank you for joining me today. So happy to partner with you. It’s always great to be with you and hear your perspectives on things. Appreciate your time today.

20:10 – Wole Coaxum
It’s my pleasure. Thanks, so much for having me. It’s a privilege.

20:13 [MUSIC PLAYING]

20:15 – Becca Hoeft
For this episode’s musical feature, we’re showcasing Clouds Echo in Blue. Clouds Echo in Blue is the newest creative offering from the choir’s Derri Daugherty. Clouds Echo in Blue creates ambient electric guitar driven music that showcases delicate and sparse soundscapes as well as coursing melodic songs that drive with whimsical passion. Here is long forgotten from clouds echoing.

20:43 [MUSIC PLAYING]

21:29 – Becca Hoeft
That was long forgotten by Clouds Echo in Blue. You can find more about the band on Facebook at Clouds Echo in Blue. If you would like your music featured on the NextGen Banker podcast just email david@nextgen-banker.com with a link to your music and website. Thanks for listening to the NextGen Banker Podcast. We’ll see you next time.