Women in Technology: Laura Sievert
Updated: Jan 12
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 CMFG Ventures Senior Associate Laura Sievert. The Madison, Wisc.-based CMFG Ventures, the venture capital arm of CUNA Mutual Group, is dedicated to expanding investment pipelines, executing fintech investments, maintaining post-investment relationships with portfolio companies, and helping support the success of the portfolio, including developing post-investment credit union strategies.
By W.B. King
With a host of academic interests and goals, determining a major while attending the University of Wisconsin-Madison was just as difficult as choosing a career path, Laura Sievert told Finopotamus.
“I tried over five different majors, ranging from astronomy and physics to accounting and finance. I graduated with a dual bachelor’s degree in marketing and finance,” she continued. “Similar to college, I was faced with many decisions and struggled to find the ‘one’ thing I wanted to do. Becoming a venture capitalist, however, has allowed me the freedom, flexibility and creativity to be part of many different things.”
Joining CUNA Mutual Group in 2017 as an analyst in corporate development, she spent the balance of the last five-plus years supporting the success of the firm’s portfolio companies, many of which are tech-based and geared toward financial services.
“No two founders or solutions are the exact same, which makes each day different. I’m constantly learning something new, meeting new people, and finding solutions to seemingly unsolvable problems,” she noted. “I never expected to work in technology, but I’m incredibly lucky to collaborate with brilliant people, who are passionate about making financial health accessible to everyone.”
When Sievert entered the industry, she said that “consumer fintech” could seemingly do no wrong.
“Neobanks and other consumer fintechs were on the rise; some brought real innovation, while others merely rebranded existing technology stacks. Investors and founders would focus on marketing as the primary way to increase user acquisition but didn’t consider the long-term implications,” she continued. “Prioritizing marketing over product development would prove to be a largely ineffective strategy for companies looking to grow and scale.”
Sievert explained that in the last couple of years there has been an “immense shift” in how founders and investors approach respective expenses related to marketing and talent. This is due, in part, to changing market dynamics.
“This trend is long overdue; however, the pain of right-sizing has been felt across the entire industry,” she said. “Companies today are shifting their focus to the underlying unit of economics and bottom line, not just revenue growth, to be more strategic and remain resilient.”
Among the reasons Sievert was attracted to CMFG Ventures was to be part of an organization that embraces technology and change — not only for fellow team members but for the industry as a whole.
“I have the opportunity to make strategic introductions and form connections through the network of credit unions that our parent company, CUNA Mutual Group, serves, as well as our portfolio companies,” she said. “My work can include, but isn’t limited to, providing guidance on how to partner with credit unions, facilitating strategic partnerships among portfolio companies and our Fintech Solutions Group, or moderating one of our Fintech Forums. At CMFG Ventures, I have the power to make an impact and help shape the future of our portfolio companies.”
Character Driven Investing
While Sievert said she has spent over four years cultivating a network of women in venture capital and technology, there remains a large void.
“When you look at the raw numbers, it has hardly improved. In fact, some metrics show that fewer women founders are invested in today than a few years ago,” she noted. “However, the conversation has greatly expanded, and I believe more women are encouraged to join the industry and reclaim their seat at the table.”
A large component of selecting companies to invest in is driven by the character and drive of the founder or founders, she said. And in certain cases, a woman founder can be viewed as a potential advantage. Regardless of gender, she said it is “incredibly challenging” to found a tech company.
“It requires grit and determination. However, because of the additional challenges that female founders face, female founders need to be absolutely sure of their company and technology,” she said. “This doesn’t mean all companies led by women are going to be a home run, by any means. But you can feel fairly confident that your founder will not settle or slow down for her company. Instead, she will continue to break down barriers, while fostering innovation in technology.”
Mentorship also can play a significant role in the development of a professional career, which is an experience that hits close to home for Sievert. In her view, there are two types of mentors: ones that guide a new professional through workplace struggles, and ones that help with technical struggles.
"In the beginning of my career, I had a boss who set a high bar for my output. He kindly audited my work until all mistakes were fixed, often requiring many iterations. It was incredibly frustrating and painstaking, requiring many late nights and Google searches,” she said.
“Today, I am deeply grateful. Many undergraduate degrees do not provide the technical skills needed in jobs,’ she continued. “Often, the first several years can be overwhelming and demoralizing for a new professional. Having a mentor can help make this transition easier and provide learning opportunities.”
Learning from these important professional experiences continues to inform Sievert’s approach when interacting with colleagues.
“I try to be both types of mentors. Sometimes people need encouragement and a guide to work through workplace politics, but other times, they need someone to look over their financial model and offer suggested language and knowledge,” she said. “One of the most rewarding feelings as a mentor is helping those after me understand and navigate the best path toward actualizing their dreams.”
Growth and Scale Requires Partnerships
As a result of constantly vetting fintech companies, Sievert has a unique view of the industry, especially how it relates to the credit union space.
“We’re seeing an increasing number of fintech startups recognize the true path forward is through partnerships,” she said. “Startups that began as direct-to-consumer solutions have pivoted to partnering with credit unions, providing their technology at scale to members that have established relationships of trust and service.”
Credit unions and fintechs, she added, can offer innovative solutions that directly meet the needs of members. “This is a trend that we’ll continue to see, as more credit unions and fintechs view this as an opportunity for growth and scale.”
What separates credit unions from other financial institutions, she offered, is that credit unions are “actually trying to live out the mission” of helping their communities.
“It isn’t just a marketing ploy. They take a member-first approach to everything, including how fintech partnerships are evaluated,” she continued. “Credit unions are prioritizing partnerships with fintechs that prove a net positive impact to the member, which is why this industry is different from others.”
If you enjoyed this article, you might like reading these Finopotamus articles as well:
Women in Technology: equipifi’s Colleen Shannon
Women in Technology: Inovatec Systems’ Danijela Kovacevic