Interview with Susie Kim

  


 

Introduce yourself! 

Hi everyone! My name is Susie Kim and I am a strategist, designer and serial entrepreneur with over 8 years of experience designing consumer brands and products. I graduated from UCLA in 2015 and co-founded a FinTech company called Pluto Money and have been serving as its Chief Experience Officer. I’m on a personal mission to create a ripple effect of social impact by guiding the empowering Gen-Z (by far the most impact driven generation). 

Go to Boba order? 

Happy Lemon — Black tea with salted cheese 

CoCo Boba — Winter melon tea with winter melon toppings 

Gongcha — Cold Earl Grey Milk Tea with pearl, herbal jelly and pudding

How did your childhood and life experiences growing up in a multicultural environment inspire you to create social impact?

I was born in South Korea and raised in Saudi Arabia and I feel that both countries were quite oppressive towards women as well as minorities (for example, those with different skin colors or different religious beliefs). Therefore, I was exposed to the challenges and difficulties that minorities and underprivileged individuals faced at an early age. I was also inspired by my uncle who was a National Geographic photographer who produced internationally broadcasted documentaries about disappearing minority cultures across the globe. So, I grew up with a mission of making social impact for minorities through creativity. 

What does a social impact mean to you, and how has this related to personal finance and inspired you to create Pluto Money?

In order to make any impact, whether it’s in your personal life or something larger within your community, you have to start at awareness. You have to first understand what the underlying issues are and where you can come in and make changes. Social impact requires a lot of resources, awareness and motivation. Then, I learned that there was a lot of similarity between personal finance and social impact—they were both at the intersection of awareness and action. I learned that Gen Z was a very impact-driven generation and a lot of them wanted to work on a social cause but were scared to make that commitment in fear of an unstable financial future. I believe personal finance can be a backbone of your personal wellness, so I created Pluto to help empower the generation to tackle the issues they care about without being hindered by their finances. 

As a college student at UCLA (the 7th college you attended!!!), what was your experience with financial literacy and money management like?

Yes, UCLA was my 7th college! It really took a long journey getting my degree. 

My dad passed away from cancer at the end of high school and my mom (a public school teacher) couldn’t afford my education and I watched as she sold our family house that my dad had built just to cover a year’s tuition at Emory University. So, I left Emory after my freshman year, went back to Korea to work 5 part time jobs to make up for the tuition while taking classes from multiple online community colleges to somehow continue my education and also founded a successful coffee roastery/ceramic studio which generated over $1M in revenue and expanded to 4 branch locations in Seoul. Then, I came back to the U.S. to study Art History and Italian at UCLA and got accepted to my dream study abroad program in Europe. But when presented with the chance, I honestly didn’t know how I could afford it. I didn’t even know the difference between a checking and savings account or how to build a credit score. I just knew I didn’t want to get in debt or get behind in school. So, I sadly had to give up on the study abroad program at the very last second. 


UCLA Founders School.JPG

How did these experiences inspire you to start Pluto Money? 

During that same summer, I set a personal goal to learn about financial literacy. But, the types of resources I needed as a financial novice college student weren’t readily available. The big name banks wanted me to open new accounts with them but didn’t explain why I needed them. There seemed to be a lot of apps but the budgeting and tracking apps were overwhelmingly confusing and full of charts/terms I couldn’t understand, and the automated savings apps didn’t give me any control or awareness I needed to learn. I quickly realized I wasn’t the only one struggling with financial literacy. So, along with my Co-Founder Tim Yu, I started Pluto to create a solution. 

What was your journey with Pluto Money like?

With Pluto Money, we set out to build the go-to mobile banking and personal finance platform powered by behavioral economics and AI. We provided personalized, gamified actionable steps in the form of challenges based on finances (ex: Spend less on Postmates this month to save for a summer trip to Disneyland) along with peer insights, student-specific tips and hacks for better money management. We participated in Startup UCLA Accelerator, QC Fintech Accelerator in Charlotte, NC, Techstars x Barclays Accelerator in NYC, and Fountain City Fintech Accelerator with our partner NBKC Bank in Kansas City to launch a new feature called the “Pluto Safe”. We officially launched on the App Store in 2017 and garnered over 45,000 users from over 1,500 college campuses. Most recently, we were named Apple’s ‘New Apps We Love’ and ‘App of the Day’ in 2019! 

What are, in your opinion, the biggest challenges facing women in FinTech and women who aspire to pursue these careers?

Honestly, it’s extremely rare to see a female executive in FinTech, not to mention an Asian or a first generation immigrant. I didn’t come from an engineering or finance background—my background is in Arts & Humanities—and on top of that I was a first time tech founder. It’s undeniably tough being surrounded by the all white male executives in their 40’s from JP Morgan or Goldman Sachs at every banking industry conference, pitching to these types of investors about who Gen-Z is and why financial literacy is important for our future generation. But I’m very lucky to have been part of communities such as Techstars Women, #HowSheWorks and Seneca Advance, and have resources such as Female Founders Alliance, Elpha and Girlboss. I really look up to Scarlett Sieber, my rockstar female mentor in fintech, who’s trailblazing the industry for women. I think women should understand their worth and value and what she brings to the team with diverse perspectives and experiences. 

What advice would you give to someone who’s starting her money management journey? What are some good resources? 

  1. Start with a specific financial goal such as “Saving $1500 for a new laptop by December 1st” or “Get my credit score to 750 before next graduation”. These clear goals will help you get motivated.

  2. Break down the goal into smaller milestones to make it more achievable.

  3. Plan a step by step list of actions to achieve the milestones.

  4. Build triggers to keep reminding yourself of your goal and actions to take. 

Here are some great resources to help you get started:

For Students:

For Young Professionals:

 

What are your future plans? 

I see myself continuing to guide, empower and advocate for Gen Z through financial health. I also want to keep supporting Gen-Z’s social impact causes in the best way I can, and to do so while helping inspire/groom more minority women into leadership! 

 


Susie Kim is a FinTech entrepreneur and design strategist. Born in Korea and raised in Saudi Arabia, Susie left her home at age 12 after experiencing continuous oppression towards women and other minorities, with a goal of becoming the voice for the voiceless through empowerment and creativity. Today, she’s on a mission to create social impact at scale through empowering and guiding the next generation of youths, and has been serving as the Co-Founder & Chief Experience Officer at Pluto Money, the first mobile banking and financial health platform for Gen Z college students. 

You can follow Susie on Instagram at @SusietheXO

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