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  • Writer's pictureW.B. King

Women in Technology: Debbie’s Frida Leibowitz

Special edition celebrating Women’s History Month 2024! Stay tuned for more intriguing profiles throughout the month.

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 Debbie’s co-founder and CEO Frida Leibowitz. With the motto, “We believe in carrots, not sticks,” the Miami-based fintech offers financial institutions a rewards platform for debt payoff.

By W.B. King

While working a side job in college, Frida Leibowitz, focused on becoming a lawyer, realized her interest in technology by happenstance.

“I needed to make money, so I applied for a phone receptionist job at a health tech startup [Parsley Health] that my friend worked at. Somehow someone in the business intelligence team saw my resume and asked to interview me,” she told Finopotamus.  

Frida Leibowitz

“That someone became my boss and I ended up staying in that job until I graduated,” she continued. “Through this experience, I realized that I really enjoyed [tech] building. I enjoyed the chaos, and I was not half bad at it. It was pretty clear to me after that experience that building tech products is my calling.”

In 2018, Leibowitz graduated from NYU Stern School of Business and soon accepted a position with the Goldman Sachs subsidiary Marcus, an online bank that focuses on savings accounts and CDs. She served in the consumer loans credit risk department, then in its cards product division.

By 2021, Leibowitz, along with fellow “Wall Street dropout” Rachel Lauren, decided to buck convention and co-founded Debbie, a rewards platform for debt payoff with the credo: Building a debt-freedom platform for borrowers, by borrowers.

“Now more than ever we are constantly facing the question of build versus buy. There is so much technology out there and so many great products, which can be really great for smaller fintechs like us who want to move fast,” Leibowitz, a noted zillennial, shared.

The Miami-based fintech startup has three credit union clients and supports eight employees, five who are tech-facing.

“Our engineering team is learning to put on the strategy/product hat, while keeping their heads up to find great solutions that we can integrate with,” she noted. “In a similar vein, as there are so many more of us fintechs, we are really learning to work with one another in innovative ways — there are plenty of unsolved problems to go all around.”

Impressed by Credit Unions

Reflecting on her experience at Goldman Sacks, Leibowitz said there were no women in senior leadership positions in her division. When she began working with credit unions, she noticed a distinct difference.

“Ever since we started partnering with credit unions, I have been so impressed to see how many more women serve in leadership positions at credit unions than at larger banks,” she said, highlighting two partners: CFCU Community Credit Union (CEO Lisa Whitaker) and Lafayette Federal Credit Union (SVP of Lending Tina Werking). “It’s encouraging to see women serve in positions that have been historically very male-dominated.”

Among Leibowitz’s mentors are former bosses Alex Hantman and Pritham Pattamatta.

“Alex was my first startup boss [at Parsley Health] who spotted my application for a phone receptionist job and decided to bet on me. He would always find ways to throw me into the water with just enough discomfort that I would be able to really push myself and succeed,” she reflected.

“Pritham was my first boss at Goldman Sachs. From my first day on the job, he took my opinions seriously and never made me feel like I was just a ‘lowly analyst,’” she continued. “We even earned a reputation on the floor for regularly having loud heated discussions (borderline arguments) about strategy, data, life and everything in-between.”

Spearheading a Movement

Growing up in a single-parent, immigrant household, Leibowitz, the first person in her family to attend college, said co-founding Debbie was deeply personal.

“My family had no access to proper financial literacy and has struggled with debt cycle for many years,” the Debbie CEO noted. “I started Debbie because I personally experienced crushing debt and was very frustrated with existing solutions.”

To this end, she said the Debbie app is a “very unique marketplace platform,” which can match young users with a credit union and streamline the onboarding process.

“The goal is to build a single-click experience to apply for membership — we already have all the necessary data, all we need to do is open that account,” she told Finopotamus. “We’re spearheading a movement to attract young consumers to credit unions again. This will be much more powerful when it’s done as a nationwide platform with a united message as opposed to each individual credit union having to fend for themselves.”

In recent years, she said more credit unions are “fixing their plumbing,” noting a renewed focus on account opening, underwriting and digital-first initiatives.

“I always say this to the credit unions we talk to: ‘Once you have your plumbing in order, we’ll bring young folks to your house.’ These plumbing solutions also help streamline integrations with fintechs,” she said. “For example, many credit unions are now using standardized solutions that make it easier for us to plug them into the marketplace very easily.”

Leibowitz offered another use case example. “If you are working with Clutch, Mantl, Narmi or Glide, we can start creating new members through those vendors very easily and scale quickly.”

Here to Help

Noting that digital onboarding and digital banking needs are “basic table stakes,” Leibowitz said rather than “playing tech catch up” with bigger banks and challenger banks like Apple, the credit union industry should focus on its strengths.

“Credit unions are going to win by building technology with purpose, technology that serves members in a very personalized way that large banks won’t build,” she offered. “For example, MSU Federal Credit Union is doing some really interesting work to branch out into smaller digital banking platforms that serve very specific needs.”

By partnering with like-minded fintechs, Leibowitz believes these tech-related credit union goals will not only be met, but expectations will be exceeded.

“These partnerships can help credit unions continue to focus on the thing they do best: serving members with financial services that help them achieve their goals,” she said. “Us fintechs are here to help you build the tech to scale this amazing mission and reach many more consumers in need.”


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