Plaid People: Nicole Butler
Nicole Butler joined our London office as the third UK/EU team member. Today the office is made up of nineteen Plaids (and counting!). In our latest Plaid People interview, Nicole discusses how an informal brainstorming session led her to Plaid and her approach to navigating the complex fintech regulatory environment as Plaid expands into new European markets.
What’s your official title?
UK Head of Compliance and Money Laundering Reporting Officer - snappy!
Can you tell us what you do in a few sentences?
The risk team enables the business to realize its mission in a compliant and ethical manner. We do this by helping the business identify and manage inherent risks; and implementing policies and procedures that ensure positive outcomes for our customers, consumers and stakeholders. We also represent the business externally and work with regulators, government bodies and trade associations in order to help shape the ever changing regulatory landscape.
How does your work impact people’s financial lives?
Plaid sits in the middle of a consumer-permissioned financial ecosystem. We power over 3,000 different digital applications and services, that are utilized by tens of millions of consumers, banking at over 15,000 financial institutions across the US, Canada, UK and Europe. That’s a lot of touch points! By concentrating on making it easier and safer for consumers to access their personal data and finances, our customers are able to focus on building amazing products that help consumers make more informed decisions about their financial well being and achieve better financial outcomes.
Plaid’s mission is to empower innovators by delivering access to the financial system. What does this mean to you?
It means leveling the playing field and enabling more customers to build products and services that are, at their core, built around better serving our communities and achieving societal and economic growth. Our mission isn’t just an aspirational goal, it drives our principles and guides our strategy. For example, when the pandemic first hit in Q1 2020, we immediately prioritized opening up our platform to businesses working on COVID-19 related solutions.
Tell us about the culture of inclusion at Plaid.
When I first joined Plaid last year, there were only a handful of us working outside of the US within the London and Amsterdam offices. Our bi-monthly All Hands meetings would take place at 22:00 UK time / 23:00 NL time which meant that most of the International team would have to watch recordings of the meetings to keep up to speed with company developments. Now, All Hands happen at 10:00 SF time which is 18:00 UK time / 19:00 NL time, so we can all join in and participate first hand. Changing the time of a meeting might not seem like a big deal, but it felt like a symbolic move by Zach and the leadership team which points at how inclusion matters at Plaid, and how even small gestures can really transform culture for the better.
What do you love most about working at Plaid?
I love helping to lay the foundations for Plaid’s expansion into new markets. The International team is a close knit, cross-functional group that has the luxury of leveraging Plaid US expertise, but with the challenge of navigating the UK and EU regulatory landscape. It really is about as creative as you can get working within the field of compliance!
What sets Plaid apart from other places you’ve worked?
Plaid encourages employees to challenge the status quo and to think big, both in our day to day roles and through initiatives like Plaiderdays, where all employees are given four days off business as usual work up to three times a year, and asked to think outside the box and focus on their own projects that will ultimately help improve Plaid and further our mission. Our working environment is built upon and praises disruption - this lends itself to fostering dynamic and collaborative relationships.
What Plaid Principle resonates with you the most and why?
“Impact”: Plaid is committed to creating positive outcomes for our customers, consumers, and colleagues.
Okay, let’s learn a little more about life before Plaid.
What were you like as a child? What were you passionate about or interested in?
I remember being told at about 10 or 11 years old that girls weren’t allowed to join the school football (soccer) team. I didn't actually want to join the team, but I couldn’t accept the fact that I wasn’t allowed to even try and make the cut because of my gender. So I rallied the troops and we bugged the headmaster until he finally relented and changed the policy. In hindsight, I guess not a lot has changed in that I’ve always been passionate about achieving fair outcomes :)
Describe your journey into law and why financial services?
I qualified as a lawyer during the 2008 recession. After six long years of studying and on the job training, my peers and I were simultaneously admitted to the roll of solicitors, and told that there were no permanent positions available for us within our law firm post qualification. It felt like we achieved everything and nothing all at once.
The stark reality of excessive risk taking within the financial services industry was felt across the west through all echelons of society for several years. It affected everyone, and as ever, it hit the more vulnerable of us quicker and harder. As a result, regulation across the financial services industry started to ramp up, and Compliance Officers all of a sudden had a permanent seat at the table. After qualifying, I went to work for the Financial Ombudsman Service where I mediated banking and investment complaints between consumers and their financial institutions. Being entrusted to direct financial institutions to do the right thing by consumers was both rewarding and depressing in equal measures; and it showed me first hand what happens when regulated firms operate without implementing appropriate systems and controls.
Armed with a textbook of what not to do, I made the leap to work in-house and got frontline exposure to the traditional retail and institutional financial services industry, before segueing into the cryptocurrency and payments sector. My career has felt very organic to date, in that I’ve always looked for roles and employers that allow me to showcase my existing skill set, while enabling me to develop within a new regulatory environment in the financial services ecosystem.
How did you learn about Plaid?
I used to work for one of our clients. As Plaid was contemplating international expansion, Shano and Chris (both on the Plaid Risk team) reached out to me to ask if I could help them get a sense of what setting up shop on this side of the pond would entail from a regulatory and operational perspective. I remember finishing that first call feeling really energized.
What made you want to work at Plaid, and how did you make it a reality?
Well, that initial brainstorming session led to some emails, which led to some more calls, which eventually led to me meeting Shano for a drink in person when I was out in San Francisco. Before I finished my drink, Shano let me know that there was a place for me in his team if I wanted it… and I did.
Plaid is a high-performance environment. How do you unwind?
Listening to music and being in nature; preferably listening to music whilst being in nature!
What’s your single greatest passion?
Knowledge. Knowledge really is power.