In our On-Demand Spotlight Series, we interviewed Mo Saeed, the founder and CEO of OrbisPay. It was an honor to host Mo and talk about his journey as a founder of a financial wellness platform. The conversation got interesting as we discussed addressing the bigger financial problem, the similarity between Swiss cheese and startups, and Mo’s take on success.
The landscape of financial wellness is evolving immensely. The socioeconomic stress incurred by the COVID-19 pandemic globally led employees and employers to analyze their working models and be mindful of what works and what doesn’t. The wave of Big Quit which followed the pandemic further highlighted the top concerns of the employees. They wanted to have greater control over their finances and feel financially secure. Moreover, they wanted to work for companies that were and are willing to prioritize the financial well-being of their employees.
“Financial wellness benefits are the most desired employee benefit for today’s workforce.” (BrightPlan, 2022)
However, this wasn’t the case two to three years back. It was insightful to hear Mo talk about the transformation of financial wellness and the role of on-demand pay in the fintech space. He shared how his intuitive desire for making an impact in people’s lives led to the formation of OrbisPay, which is a financial wellness platform serving millions of banked and unbanked users to access their wages on-demand.
An Idea to Build Something
Mo started out working on Wall Street, building and trading applications. He worked with institutional investors, and hedge funds and made money for them. But that wasn’t something that matched his core personality. He always wanted to do something impactful and much more meaningful.
“I really wasn’t sure what it could be, until I attended a conference on financial inclusion at the Federal Reserve Bank in Boston in 2018.”
The conference, held at the Federal Reserve Bank, pointed Mo in the right direction, as it highlighted key financial challenges of most of the US workforce. There were interesting discussions that revolved around the current financial scenario for the US workforce and the facts pulled out were eye-opening. One such thought:
“More than 100 million Americans are living paycheck to paycheck. Most of them do not even have $400 in their savings accounts to cover an emergency” (Federal Reserve Bank, n.d.)
Mo shared how thought-provoking this was for him and the impact it made on all at the conference. Despite being among one of the richest countries in the world, most Americans were facing significant financial stress. That moment left a question for Mo and thousands of other participants at the conference.
“How can we figure out a way to solve this bigger financial problem?”
Solving the Bigger Financial Problem
“Half of all Americans are falling deeper into debt among the rising inflation. 40% of the workers cannot put anything into savings at all.” (Dickler, 2022)
While talking to Mo about these financial challenges, he mentioned that the increasing costs of consumer goods are making it awfully hard for workers to meet their daily expenses. On top of that, when they are met with a financial emergency, they have to resort to payday loans or salary advances that put them into deeper financial holes.
Mo recalled a story of his dear friend Jon, who was once ripped off by a payday loan when he needed money immediately for a car repair. Jon ended up paying 400% as an APR, digging a deeper hole in his pocket. Today, 12 million workers fall prey to short-term payday loans and are charged an interest of 400% or more. (Consumer Federation of America, 2022)
This is the financial gap that has always existed. People have traditionally waited for their scheduled payday to meet expenses. In between pay periods, they rely on third-party payday lenders or on friends and family to meet sudden (or planned) expenditures. While it has been a struggle for workers with little control over earnings, banks and lenders have been making bank by the accrued wages of workers.
Start-ups and Swiss Cheese
Mo is a social entrepreneur and an individual who’s committed to changing the way we do business in the US. While discussing his experience of founding OrbisPay, he gave an intriguing example and compared start-ups with Swiss cheese.
“Both the Swiss cheese and start-ups are multi-layered and have holes at different positions and layers.”
Mo mentioned that capacity building and bringing people on board was a challenge. He continued that start-ups are exactly like Swiss cheese. There are a lot of challenges (holes) that need to be solved (filled) when starting out. However, it is important to identify and prioritize those challenges and solve them one by one.
From the example Mo gave, it might be important to mention here that the Swiss cheese model is often used by analysts as an error identification model. The model illustrates how small hazards (cheese holes) at every step (layer) can lead to a bigger catastrophe. It is often used to back-engineer the reason behind processes that didn’t go as planned. (PSNet, n.d.)
Traditionally the Swiss cheese model is applied in aviation, medical, and risk management fields or before engineering something. However, a lot can be learned from this model when it comes to ensuring an error-free business is set up for its users.
Evolution of On-Demand Pay
Today, the need to get paid on-demand has only surged as both the employees and employers are aware of the benefits it has. Earned wages access (EWA) or on-demand pay is not only helping employees to build financial resilience but it allows employers to hire and retain top talent by simply adding EWA as an extended employee benefit.
“60 percent of employees now want to be paid on-demand and don’t want to wait for their payday.” (Issacobannon, 2022)
It certainly wasn’t the case a few years back. Mo shared that as employers and employees have become aware of on-demand pay, so have the regulators. The on-demand pay framework is continuously evolving as per changing regulatory requirements for each state in the US. Adhering to the developing regulatory frameworks is no problem for Mo.
“There are multiple ways to provide on-demand pay. However, the goal remains the same: to democratize financial wellness.”
Mo emphasized the fact that changing regulations around the EWA model helps OrbisPay better understand how to deliver a compliant financial wellness service. He further added that there’s continuous learning and evolution for everyone. Some providers may be better and much more advanced. In the end, it just comes down to how exactly one deals with the changing consumer and regulatory needs.
“There’s a great learning curve as the concept gains popularity among employees, employers, and regulators. With every new discovery, the concept of wages on-demand evolves.”
Inspiration and Success
In a digital era where we are used to hearing Elon Musk or Steve Jobs as inspirational figures for the majority, it was interesting to hear about what inspired Mo. He shared that his mission to create a difference in somebody’s life is what inspires him and drives him to continue.
“Democratizing financial services through technology inspires me. We have an app that individuals can use to access their earnings, without having to rely on payday loans anymore.”
When asked, Mo was excited to speak further on what success means to him. His response was inspiring.
“If somebody who was facing a financial challenge calls me to say, ‘Thank you. I used your On-Demand Pay app to access my earnings early, and it helped me to build financial resilience’, I win.”
Thoughts on Modern Day Work
The dynamics of work have completely evolved but the pandemic is not the only one to blame.
Mo spoke on behalf of the millions of US citizens that everything in the US is expensive. He further added that even if you have a full-time job, you’re thinking about taking side gigs.
The gig economy is booming. As MasterCard confirms:
“The number of global gig workers is expected to grow from 43M in 2018 to 78M by 2023” (Leadership, 2020)
There are people who are working full-time and also contributing to the gig economy and still don’t have access to benefits. Millions are working for restaurants and delivery services as gig workers and have to desperately wait for their payday or resort to payday loans to make ends meet.
Hence, giving them control is the key. Workers or delivery guys don’t want to wait for a weekly pay cycle to meet their expenses as soon as they’ve delivered.
So, it’s on us to see how we can tap into this and collaborate better with their employers to make sure that they are paid fast, while also helping employers with hiring and retention challenges.
Read, Write, and Talk!
It was a sheer pleasure speaking to Mo. But before wrapping it up it just wasn’t fair to skip over leadership advice for all those individuals who are enthusiastic about seeking their career paths as a CEO.
Mo advised individuals to pursue something they are passionate about. But passion alone isn’t enough. In order to succeed, you need to be proactive and constantly educate yourself not only about your work but also about what’s happening around you.
“Invest in educating yourself and learn things you’re eager about. Include writing as part of your routine. Nobody knows you’re smart until you show them. Lastly, engage in bigger conversations, and be involved within your ecosystem, as opposed to just doing your job.”
To reach a point where people look up to you as a leader, you have to be willing to do all these things and not just confine yourself to one. If you aren’t doing any of these, it’s not going to happen.