“We’re Giving the Community Access to Affordable Credit in a Time of Deep Need”

Listo cofounder Sam Ulloa, MBA ’05, aims to democratize access to financial services for under-banked families nationwide.

August 06, 2020

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Illustration of two track runners, where one of the runners is helping the other runner leap over a hurdle. Credit: Irene Servillo

Illustration by Irene Servillo

I’m originally from a small town in Mexico called Jalostotitlán in the state of Jalisco. My family and I immigrated to the U.S. when I was a kid, and I grew up in the Sacramento Valley.

Sam Ulloa, MBA ’05

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Portrait by Agata Nowicka

Sam Ulloa is the cofounder of Listo, which aims to democratize access to financial services for “under-banked” families nationwide, particularly those who find it hard to build credit.

At Listo, we focus on three key aspirational pillars. First, we help our customers build credit and save money with affordable, credit-building loans that are significantly cheaper than other alternatives. Second, we help customers save money with affordable insurance to help them protect their assets. Finally, we help customers achieve the American dream by eventually having the opportunity to invest in college-savings accounts, retirement accounts, and other crucial life-changing investments.

We are focused on the underserved consumer of low to moderate income. One of the reasons I started Listo was to make a difference in the community I grew up in. Trust is paramount in the financial services industry, and that’s especially true for the community we serve. We try to build that trust with a unique customer experience that often begins in a brick-and-mortar location and is scaled through our mobile platform.

Listo is stepping up in this COVID-19 crisis. We’re giving the community access to affordable credit in a time of deep need. Many of our customers are frontline essential workers who don’t have established credit, and the vast majority don’t have health insurance or life insurance. These are some of the factors why this community is getting hit particularly hard by the pandemic.

Our initial focus is on the Hispanic market, one of the largest, most underserved, and fastest-growing markets in the United States. They desperately need access to resources and organizations that can simplify the process. We’re working with these communities very closely to provide small business owners with information and access to lenders. We’re also working closely with a philanthropy organization to launch a program that will provide zero-fee, zero-interest loans to small businesses that haven’t been able to access federal crisis funding. And we’re about to launch a program to help our customers get back to work by providing them with access to jobs.

One of the things I would like everyone to know about the communities we serve is that they are hardworking and credit-worthy but have been overlooked by the mainstream financial industry and as a result are actively exploited by predatory financial service providers. We need to level the playing field so that these individuals can survive and ultimately thrive in the economy of the future.

Building a company is not easy. There’s definitely highs and lows. But the thing that keeps me motivated every day is fighting for economic justice. Fighting for people like Alejandro and his family, whose livelihood depends on operating a fruit stand. Because of the pandemic, he had to suddenly shut down his business, putting his family’s livelihood at risk. Being there for people like Alejandro, who so desperately need access to affordable credit and affordable insurance, is what keeps me going.

— Told to Steve Goldbloom

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