CommonBond is on a mission. A dynamic and ground-breaking lender out of Wharton, the young firm has staked out an ambitious goal: Providing education to all.
To achieve this end, CommonBond has fused finance and technology, with a focus on creating the best possible customer experience. Think of it as the Zappos of the FinTech world. With MBAs accruing average debts of $120K-$1300K at leading MBA programs like MIT Stern and Wharton, the loan process has become as terrifying as the GMAT and as complicated as finding campus parking. Lacking the overhead of a traditional bank, CommonBond offers lower rates and better terms to borrowers. More important, it differentiates itself by pairing a front end technology that accelerates and simplifies the loan process with an unwavering advocacy for the customer.
FOUNDED IN RESPONSE TO HIGH COSTS AND POOR SERVICE
“We keep customers as the center of everything,” says Keryn Koch, the vice president of people at people, during a February interview with Poets&Quants. “That’s what sets up apart and why I love CommonBond.”
CommonBond understands its customer base more intimately than most. It was founded in 2011 by three Wharton MBA students, who were dismayed by the high rates, byzantine requirements, and poor service inherent to securing a loan. Even worse, these exorbitant rates applied to everyone, even MBA candidates from top schools who represented the lowest risk for default. The light bulb went on – and a new venture was born. David Klein, CommonBond’s CEO, even dropped out of Wharton to grow the company. Turns out, Klein’s optimism was more than warranted.
Over the past six years, CommonBond has doled out over $1.5 billion dollars in loans…with just two clients defaulting. According to the firm, students save, on average, $24,000 over the life of their loan. In the process, CommonBond has emerged as the top private lender for MBAs at Columbia, Dartmouth, and Yale. It has also expanded beyond its business school roots to cover graduate and undergraduate education as a whole. All the while, the firm has kept a close eye on its marketplace, ranking in 2018 among the most innovative companies by Inc. and best FinTechs by Forbes.
WARBY PARKER GIVES GLASSES; COMMONBOND OFFERS SCHOLARSHIPS
The firm’s mission may be leveling the financial field and easing distracting debt, but its real passion is impact. True to its roots in education, CommonBond has taken a page out of Warby Parker’s playbook. The firm now funds a year-long scholarship for a student in Africa whenever a loan is paid off as part of its “Social Promise” – an initiative that has paid out over a half million dollars to date. In fact, Klein invites employees join him when he awards these scholarships in Ghana – a chance to witness the fruition of their labors.
You could also argue that CommonBond is as employee-centric as it is customer-driven. One example revolves around something that MBA students can rally around: loan repayment. “For every month you’re here,” Koch explains, “we provide a certain amount of money towards their student loan to help relieve their burden since that is the whole reason that CommonBond started.”
The firm isn’t the traditional large firm that scoops up dozens of MBAs annually, however. Currently, CommonBond employs 100 people, and projects adding another 30 in 2018 due to growth. While its revenues make it an established company, the company still maintains its plucky mindset and spry structure. That creates opportunities for the right MBA candidates. Admittedly, the firm is highly selective when it comes to intern candidates, onboarding just five MBA interns in 2017. However, these MBAs enjoy a far different experience than many of their peers.
ROLES CONSTANTLY EVOLVING AS FIRM GROWS
“Things are a little different for a company like ours,” Koch concedes. “In order to get an MBA internship, it needs to be a role that couldn’t be filled by a full-time person. We don’t hire the same five interns every year because the needs of the business at that moment change. We want the MBA internship to be a really robust experience. We don’t consider them interns; we consider them employees who are ready to get back to school.”
The internship is a whirlwind experience. Over the 10 weeks, MBA interns are rotated through every part of the company, so they can build their network and understand how each piece of the firm fits together. Over that time, the team is looking for very specific qualities. Obviously, a sense of mission ranks among the most prized virtues. However, the nature of the firm – whose fast growth belies the fact that it is still a startup in some ways — requires a very entrepreneurial mindset.
“Since we are growing so quickly, consistently building out new products and going into new segments the projects that we outline in February during the interview process may change slightly by the time they arrive in June,” Koch says. “So we want someone who isn’t afraid of the challenge and OK with not knowing exactly what their role is going to look like.”
FROM INTERN TO “CULTURE CARRIER”
Along with a fearless attitude, CommonBond also seeks MBAs who can take ownership. Koch cites a NYU Stern MBA, Dave Carter, as an example. Despite lacking sales experience, Carter accepted the challenge of launching a partnership division during his summer internship. He became so successful that he continued working at CommonBond while he earned his degree. Now, he heads up partnerships for the firm and has been tagged as one of the future leaders of the firm.
For Koch, Carter is a “culture carrier” who personifies the best of the firm. “Whether they have seen it done before or not, they’re not afraid to take on that ownership – and they’re not afraid to ask for help, either. We hire people at CommonBond who want to help others. If they have the strong attitude, want the ownership, and like the accountability, we’ll see it in the results.”
Recently, Poets&Quants sat down with Koch to learn about the opportunities that MBAs can enjoy at CommonBond. What are the firm’s expectations of MBAs? What are some of the perks to a career at CommonBond? What advice would she give to MBAs looking to work at this Soho-based innovator? Find the answers in our exclusive in-depth Q&A with Koch on how CommonBond recruits and develops MBAs.
P&Q: What does CommonBond look for in a resume and background that many candidates might not expect from a firm like yours?
KK: What I found to be interesting is when people apply to CommonBond or ask questions, they often say, ‘I don’t have lending industry experience’ or ‘I don’t have FinTech experience’ or ‘I only have experience in a large bank.’ First of all, that’s definitely not the case. We really enjoy the perspective of those who aren’t in the student loan space. One of the advantages of having MBA interns is that they are our customer. They have student loans and will eventually refinance those loans after graduation. We are able to get a lot of information from that. Plus, MBAs have the skills to do a lot more beyond the job that they applied for.
What we look for in a resume is someone who has shown leadership in the past at their schools. We look for individuals who ask good questions about CommonBond. They indicate their preference for being part of a team or learning about a new industry. We like someone who is entrepreneurial and eager to learn something new and being able to identify their own projects. Since we are not a gigantic investment bank, that means summer interns are likely being groomed to be a full-time hire in a year. Given how we’re changing very quickly, we don’t offer full-time offers at the end of summer. So we’re looking for someone who is looking to get into a new kind of organization and environment. Many of our interns work in fields like banking or consulting, and have their MBAs sponsored by their employers. We’ve had times where they know they are going back to their previous employer after graduation so they can’t accept a full-time offer from CommonBond, but we’ll still hire them as interns if we feel their entrepreneurial spirit and willingness to learn are a good fit for us.