Clair - Wesley Cash (Operations Lead)
7 min read

Clair - Wesley Cash (Operations Lead)

Today we have Wesley Cash, the Operations Lead at Clair. Clair aims to democratize earned wage access through advance pay access and integrations with partner payment and workforce systems.

What encouraged you to join Clair?

So it is a bit of a crazy story as to how this happened. I graduated college in May. Last summer, I interned with the Boston Consulting Group, and I really loved my time there. I signed a return offer to BCG and my plan was to graduate in May, spend a few weeks traveling, and then start at BCG in August. Obviously, COVID happened, so travel was no longer an option. Shortly thereafter, BCG had pushed out my start date until November. With my start date pushed out and the inability to travel, I looked for a meaningful way to spend my newfound time. I went down the list of things that I had an interest in doing, but never thought I would have the time to do: helping out with political campaigning, signing up for volunteer work, and trying to find a startup, etc.. So I went on LinkedIn, did some searching around, and connected with another Harvard alumni, who agreed to get on the phone with me and talk to me about Clair. Clair was the first opportunity I found, and it really felt like the stars aligned. I wanted to find an opportunity that would be meaningful for me and something that would provide me an opportunity to learn about what it's like to work at an early-stage company. As I look towards my future, I see that I may potentially go to business school, so getting that exposure now to an early-stage company is something that can be really helpful as I consider what my future may hold. I joined for what was supposed to be just a few weeks or months until the fall. I have a lot of ownership over more work and have really enjoyed it. To ensure I can finish my work here at Clair before moving on to the next chapter of my career, I've deferred BCG until next summer.

I don't have very much fintech experience, per se. I did some financial work when I was at BCG last summer, but ultimately it was very much the mission of Clair that led me to join. I think there are many people who have tried to solve the issue of inequality and liquidity concerns in this country. It's really difficult to solve the issue - it has been  especially difficult for many other companies who have attempted it without the social impact element of their work. Ultimately, what drove me to Clair was the prospect of being a part of a fast moving, exciting company that was also doing something that I think was solving a societal issue. It possesses both a solid business model and practices an admirable, societal effort. I think that's really cool.

How does Clair work? I understand that Clair provides three buckets of products, including Instant Pay Access, API and Mobile Apps, and Digital Banking.

Ultimately, you can think of it as one product from an end user experience. And ultimately, the other two components come back into play when we think about our distribution strategy. The product itself is a mobile banking app -- Clair is a neobank. It is similar to a bunch of other neobanks that are out there. You have a savings account and a spending account, you have a debit card, you can deposit and send checks--all the things that you would need for a bank account without any retail locations. That’s what the Clair app offers, but there's this feature called the earned income access. Essentially what that allows us to do is advance the wages that an employee has earned for completely no charge. And I can talk a little bit about how that works. It's trying to solve the issue of having to take out a payday loan because you have the money, but are still waiting to receive it from your employer. It is an issue of liquidity.

At Clair, we often refer to a book called The Financial Diaries: How American Families Cope in a World of Uncertainty. It studies a lot of households that are living paycheck to paycheck and finds that, for many of these households, they have funds, but they don't have access to them yet. They've worked and they've earned the money. But, they haven’t been paid yet. Let's say you work Monday through Friday, and you're expecting $1,000 from this week's work, but you don't get paid until two Fridays from now. Now, if your credit card bill comes in the next week, what are you supposed to do? Ordinarily, there have been three solutions to that. For option one, you go get another job, which isn't good for the employer, and it's not good for the employee. For option two, you pay your bills late, which obviously isn't a good idea, because you get hit with heavy fees. And for option three, you take out a payday loan, which has these high interest and exploitive fees associated with them. So that's where Clair comes into play.

I understand that the distribution strategy is really important. Can you provide some color on that?

Exactly. So essentially, we're not the first player in the earned wage access space. There are a number of other players here. I think our main differentiator is that, firstly, we are very mission driven. It's a completely free service for end users to take an earned income advance. The second differentiator is our distribution strategy. Many of our other competitors go directly to employers or directly to employees. Going directly to employees is a little bit harder because you don't have access to the data to actually validate that they've earned the money and that the money is coming in. But you can go directly to an employer. Let’s say you go to some big companies. You go to Walmart, you go to McDonald's, you go to Home Depot, and you try to get them on board. And that works -- you’ll have plenty of users on your platform! However, you can only reach the big employers. What happens is the top 20% of companies are able to be served by that distribution strategy, but the 80% of small and medium sized businesses can't get their employees access to earned income advances. And so Clair distributes through time and attendance softwares or human capital management providers. There are a number of different ones that we work with. By working and partnering with these providers, we have access to the data that validates the employee is eligible for a wage advance, and then they offer it to their employers, who then offer it to the employees.

What are the benefits and challenges when working in an early stage company, especially during COVID?

Yeah, one of the challenges is that I didn't meet the team for quite some time. I met them in late August and I started in May. So, you know, it was three months of facetiming and zooming every day without actually ever meeting someone. I think the pros and cons go hand in hand when working in an early-stage company. On one hand, there's a ton of ownership, a ton of influence, a ton of opportunities to kind of get my feet wet and get my hands dirty. I think that's great, especially being a recent college graduate and wanting as much exposure as possible. I've been able to get experience in accounting, in product, in operations, in finance, in sales, and in marketing. I have really been able to go across the whole process. And that has been awesome for my professional development. I think it is also really cool, from Clair's perspective, to be able to have someone who's able to look across all different horizontals. On the other hand, I think that flexibility necessarily comes with a lack of structure. In an early-stage company we're constantly pivoting our strategies. The ongoing joke that I always make is that my calendar invites for our daily stand ups change every day, because as we say, “Well, we should do this every other day. Oh, we have to change this to the afternoon.” And it's great. Having a lot of ownership and a lot of responsibility come with trying to put structure and processes in place that are constantly changing. That can sometimes be frustrating, and, at other times, really exciting!

What would you say are the challenges you have to face as the Operations Lead for Clair?

So there are many things that I've really loved working on. I think the thing that I probably enjoyed most is exploring all about the creation of a digital bank. Ultimately, prior to joining Clair, I had no idea what happens when you swipe your credit card or your debit card. And now, when I walk around, it's like light bulbs going off everywhere. It's transactions going from the program manager to the processor, to the bank, and so forth. It is fascinating to learn about the industry and fascinating to have ownership over the creation of a digital bank. It involves exploring the product and seeing what happens to actually create an app and a product. I feel like learning about the banking spaces made opened my eyes to all of the things that happen behind the scenes. So I think the creation of a new digital bank has by far been the highlight and it's what I've been working on for the vast majority of my time on the operations side

What are other problems you see within the early wage access space?

I think there is so much to be said here about in terms of how employees get paid. I think the idea of a two week pay cycle is just something that is going to come to an end. The idea that one works and gets paid every two weeks is a concept that will be archaic at some point in our lifetime. I think the question is not if, but when. I don't think there's any malevolent intent from an employer perspective that employees only get paid once every two weeks. From their perspective, it's expensive to process payroll every day. It doesn't make sense. But that's where fintechs and companies like Clair come in and say, wait a second, you know, we can actually work together to make it so you still only have to process your payroll payroll once every two weeks, and we're able to provide this service. I think that is what's driving the earned wage access space. It is the desire for things to be instant. If you can get groceries delivered to you, grab a cab right when you need it, and get someone to help you move within an hour, why can't you get paid today, too? COVID has helped underscore the severity of the economic insecurity that many people face in this country. It drives the need for this product more than ever.

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