James Gutierrez On The Power Of Empathy In Inclusive Lending — News Feed

James Gutierrez
6 min readApr 28, 2021


Is there a better way to give people a hand up? Is there anything that entrepreneurs can do to marry the ideal of generating income with the moral obligation to help others? More than 38 million Americans are living in poverty. Those who grow up in poverty find many more barriers to overcome on the road to middle-class comfort than those who have been born into different circumstances. According to fintech entrepreneur James Gutierrez, there is a clear distortion of what “pulling oneself up by the bootstraps” really means, as some are sunk further into the mire than others.

The “system” really isn’t set up for those who start out struggling. This can be especially true in the realms of finance, lending and loans, and funding for small business startups. For this reason, entrepreneurs and innovators in these spaces must leverage their own access and opportunity to evolve the “system.”

In most cases, people who start out behind the proverbial eight ball stay there their whole lives. It’s expensive to be poor. Our society is very driven by capitalism, which puts a lot of value on having money and access to liquidity. If you start out with parents that encourage postsecondary schooling, or are able to stay out of major debt, you have a foot up in the system. If you have generational wealth from parents or grandparents that have built a business, you have an even bigger leg up in the system. It doesn’t mean you don’t have to work hard for what you achieve, but it does mean you have the opportunity to start from a much different place in the same race.

If you are starting out with nothing-maybe coming from a different country or growing up in generational poverty-then you are far more likely to remain in poverty. If you are a minority, that gap tends to be even harder to bridge. This is why James Gutierrez has devoted his professional career to developing tech-based platforms designed to provide banking solutions for traditionally underbanked communities.

The Modern “Poor”

According to the US Census Bureau, 11.8% of Americans were living in poverty in 2018 (38.1 million). These rates are disproportionately higher among some minority groups, with Native Americans (25.4%), Black (20.8%) and Hispanic (17.6%) Americans all higher than Caucasians at 10.1%. If you widen the view past the federal poverty line, nearly 30% of Americans live just on the edge of poverty.

Of course, there are programs that help people who are struggling to make ends meet. There are food programs (like SNAP or WIC), educational programs and grants to help increase jobs. However, traditionally disenfranchised groups find that it is expensive to be poor. Without a solid credit score, they face higher interest rates and fewer opportunities to gain liquidity needed to start businesses, purchase homes, and achieve other dreams.

Stressors, like the current COVID-19 pandemic, impact these groups more than other groups. The families living in poverty are the ones that can’t afford to take two weeks off from work in a quarantine-doing so might completely disrupt what little stability they might have. They are more likely to get sick, and less likely to be able to afford medical care when needed, or even nutritional meals to support a stronger immune system.

The longer individuals are considered “poor”, the more difficult it becomes to change their economic standing, access to opportunity, and overall financial wellbeing. Statistics show that while 56% are able to exit poverty after just one year of being poor, that number plummets to 13% after seven years or more living in poverty. The rate of staying in poverty increases with the length of time spent there. The same studies show that the rate of returning to poverty shows a similar decline with the amount of time spent out of poverty.

Entrepreneurs Are The Key To Evolution

To counter these staggering statistics, entrepreneurs and business leaders should have structures in place that offer a human element. There has to be a better way to bring everyone into a place where they can succeed, and this incentive needs to start at the top.

For entrepreneurs and innovators in the FinTech industry, like James Gutierrez, finding ways to successfully provide financial services to marginalized communities can greatly impact their ability to garner wealth, financial stability, and financial growth.

Thus, for new and fledgling products and services, consider entering markets that have been traditionally overlooked. Consider the value of creating products designed specifically to open up doors for communities of highly talented individuals that merely need access to opportunities to achieve fruitful goals.

Small business loans, and the general lending industry, provide a ripe opportunity for inclusion, but are marred with a tradition of excluding immigrant, minority, and poor hopeful small business owners and operators. Through the use of technology, entrepreneurs in the lending space can leverage the risk versus reward principle to investors in small business loans, providing them with strong incentives to participate in programs that are open to traditionally marginalized communities. This creates an entirely new market opportunity, where empathy for the lack of access to liquidity leads the way, and is simultaneously marked by positive professional outcomes.

Business Leaders Can Set The Tone

Empathy can also be implemented in the operations of already existing businesses. To set the tone of inclusion and opportunity for all, business leaders need to help to alleviate the stigma of poverty, and lift people into better places. Given the opportunity, many would thrive. Inclusive hiring practices, and policies that don’t severely punish individuals are key steps that business leaders can implement to turn their respective businesses into places where all individuals can thrive, grow, learn, and excel.

Though many employers consider themselves as being “inclusive” when it comes to hiring and personnel management, purposefully adding empathy to company ethos would undoubtedly elicit positive changes for all employees, allowing them to reach their full potential, and change their life’s circumstances through stable employment, access to training, and a positive environment.

For example, employees who rely on public transportation, many of whom cannot afford to purchase and maintain a vehicle, may sometimes be more apt to being at the mercy of the public transportation system. If a bus breaks down, or there are weather delays, this individual may have no choice but to report for their respective shift a little bit late. Employees who face this issue certainly don’t take tardiness lightly, and aren’t merely “lazy”.
Thus, when business leaders employ empathy in these particular situations, choosing to understand an individual’s circumstances instead of merely penalizing them, the impact can be momentous for those individuals. It can be the difference between keeping a stable job and eventually saving enough money to purchase a reliable vehicle, or being fired on the spot. There are countless professional examples that warrant the benefits of empathy, and could change the entire trajectory of a person’s financial situation.

About James Gutierrez

James Gutierrez has devoted his professional career to creating products and services to elevate individuals financially, and provide financial wellness that is inclusive in nature. In 2005, he took over as CEO of Oportun, a company that helped Hispanic people in America get approved for loans. Under his expert leadership, Oportun surpassed $1.5 billion in loans and more than 500,000 borrowers. In addition to Oportun, James Gutierrez founded Aura, another inclusive lending vessel aimed at providing products for traditionally underbanked communities.

Currently, James Gutierrez is working to establish a new tech-based venture that will marry technology with inclusive banking. This yet-to-be-named venture will leverage intuitive tech to create a one-stop-shop for a myriad of financial services aimed at increasing financial literacy, financial opportunity, and long-term financial wellness for the LatinX community, and other marginalized communities.

Originally published at https://cargocollective.com.



James Gutierrez

James Gutierrez is a thought leader, entrepreneur, and CEO with vast experience in the evolving realm of FinTech. Additionally, he is an avid philanthropist.