In what is a recurring feature, Finopotamus spotlights innovative women who are positively impacting technology applications in the credit union industry, and beyond.
For this issue, we visited with Baker Hill’s Director of Implementation Analysts Jennifer Foraker. The Carmel, Ind.-based company delivers lending, risk management and analytics solutions aimed at driving growth and profitability for financial institutions.
By W.B. King
While working as a loan operations manager for Rabobank in Southern California, Jennifer Foraker learned about Baker Hill when the bank became one of the company's clients. While technology applications were integral to her work in areas such as compliance, loan origination systems and data warehousing, this new working relationship gave rise to a eureka moment.
“I saw how the right technology can have a meaningful impact on loan operations and risk management. This is what sparked my interest in shifting to a career in technology, which has been incredibly fulfilling,” Foraker said. “I get the opportunity to help other community banks and credit unions improve their lending and risk management processes, which in turn, allows these organizations to better serve their communities.”
Prior to joining Baker Hill in 2019 as a solutions consultant, Foraker had a career in the financial services industry dating back to 2002. From being a head teller to junior escrow officer to a loan specialist, she has been able to gain “tremendous insight for what financial institutions need within their lending process” – from originating loans, managing portfolio risk and streamlining workflows.
“In these roles, I was often focused on finding ways to operate more efficiently, especially when it came to risk management,” she continued. “It’s difficult for many community financial institutions to be proactive when managing risk because gathering and analyzing the right information from several different systems and workflows is time-and resource-intensive.”
Citing her father as her first mentor and champion, Foraker has been fortunate to have had many other mentors at the banks where she worked, as well as some at Baker Hill.
“Given the impact my mentors have had on my professional life, I always try to pay it forward by encouraging every single person I work with – no matter what their title is. Everyone is human, so I strive to make each interaction personal and positive,” she continued. “When we approach work in this way, it is much easier to achieve our goals and overcome whatever obstacles we may be facing.”
Shrinking the Gender Gap
When Foraker accepted the position of director of implementation analysts in July 2021, she realized that her career trajectory has afforded special insights into the ever-changing FI space. Since graduating Barton Community College in 2003, where she made the national dean’s list, women, she said, have assumed more and more significant positions in the industry.
“Progress is being made for women in tech, but there’s still so much opportunity for improvement, especially when it comes to leadership positions,” she said. “Over the span of my career, I’ve seen many organizations that lack diversity in leadership, but Baker Hill is unique because we have more women leaders than most companies.”
As a director for Baker Hill, she added that it is “inspiring to see so many other women making a significant impact across the company,” including the company’s Chief Financial Officer Anna O’Nan.
“While there is still work to be done for the tech industry as a whole, it is encouraging to attend conferences and virtual events where there are sessions dedicated to helping more women advance their careers in tech,” she said. “Creating a space for these dialogues helps shift corporate culture and ultimately, shrink the gender gap.”
Baker Hill has nearly 150 employees and as of March 2022, nearly half, 48%, are women, Foraker explained.
“Generationally, millennials account for 44% of Baker Hill’s employees, followed by Gen X at 39%. Baby boomers account for 11% and Gen Z accounts for 6%,” she said. “Our team at Baker Hill represents a range of demographics and it’s part of what makes working here special. Each person brings a unique perspective to the table.”
Leveraging Partnerships with Tech
Citing a recent KPMG report that found that more than $27 billion has been invested in fintech and digital innovation over the last seven years, Foraker said this metric tracks with her experience.
"Throughout my career, I’ve seen fintech companies gain traction in virtually every part of financial services. I expect this trend to continue because more technology providers now support better integrations through APIs, open banking data and more,” she continued. “As a result, it’s easier to connect different technologies and software systems across an organization, which in turn makes it easier for community financial institutions to adapt their processes, products and services to the latest and greatest technology.”
For Baker Hill clients, she added that these integrations allow the company to leverage partners that have expertise in specific areas, such as loan documentation or data analytics.
COVID-19 ramifications, she offered, have also created new ways in which technology applications can be used to streamline operations – both in-house and client-facing.
“The pandemic forced technology providers, and the financial services industry overall, to be more agile than ever. For example, with the CARES Act and Paycheck Protection Program, there was huge demand for small business loans,” she continued. “Community banks and credit unions needed a way to meet this demand with faster application processes and faster, smarter loan decisioning.”
It All Comes Down to the Member Experience
When asked what separates credit unions from other financial institutions, Foraker responded: service.
“I have been a member of several credit unions throughout the years and each one has delivered an incredible member experience,” she said. “I never feel like a number – every interaction, whether it’s digital, on the phone, or in a branch, feels personal.”
Baker Hill, she explained, supports its clients throughout the entire lending process – from origination to portfolio risk and relationship management.
“We help these organizations deliver a fast and convenient digital lending experience for their members while streamlining their back-end processes as well. It is no longer sufficient to simply replicate a paper-driven loan application process online,” she said. “Instead, we believe a true online loan application should integrate into your workflow and support your entire lending process from start to finish, including underwriting, risk management and reporting.”
Noting a NCUA statistic that found nearly five million new members joined federally insured credit unions in 2021, Foraker believes this will only strengthen the credit union movement and service offerings.
“As membership and loan portfolios grow, we expect more credit unions will assess their lending processes, their strategies for risk monitoring, and their overall borrower experience,” she said. “By doing so, credit unions can continue positioning themselves for sustained growth and stay competitive with the larger banks.”
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