Using Technology For Good

Using Technology For Good

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- Good afternoon. My name is Theodore, Theo for short. I always go by Theo 'cause ever since I moved to the U.S,

30 something years ago now, everyone always messes it up somehow. I always ended up becoming Theodore, so I didn't wanna be a chipmunk. And so, I figured out just be Theo. I know this is the ESG Conference.

This is not specific to an environmental climate crisis chat, but it's more like how can we use technology for good? So, it's more of the S part of the ESG. I hope you'll still like it. I would try to be entertaining. So, I'll start a little bit with my story. I was born and raised in Hong Kong. I was the only child but my mother had a huge family.

She had five siblings, altogether there were six of them. They were refugees, they resettled in Hong Kong a long time ago, and they lost everything when they moved. My mother had a chance to pursue university with a scholarship. We're thinking about back in the '60s, that was a big deal, but she couldn't do it, because her, along with three of my aunts, they had to work to support the family, so that the two youngest sibling of the family could have a chance to come to United States and pursue the American dream.

American dream is something that we've talked a lot about, a lot. An idea that has morphed as well through the years. I just came back from the Milken Conference in L.A this week. And we also talked a lot about the American dream. What does it mean? What does it mean for immigrants like myself? What does it mean for my children who are little? Make a long story short, at the end of my high school year at the urging of my grandparents, who at the time were already living in New York for a long time, that we must move.

This was back before the handover in the '90s, we must move. So, we dropped everything we knew, left everything that I knew and I went to school in New York, but that was not the rest of the story. I was in high school in Hong Kong, and I had already enrolled in Bucknell University in Pennsylvania. I was gonna be a geologist. I love stones, I love rocks. But then, my high school teacher said something to me in my senior year. He said, "You are so bad in your physics.

You would never ever be an engineer." Now, backdrop, I was in an all-girls Catholic school for 12 years, fairly strict. The teacher was my dad student, that did not help. And I was spending everything, all my time on things that are not related to class was boring, senior.

So, I said, "You know what? I am going to prove to you that I can do it." I changed my school, went to RPI in upstate New York, did chemical engineer degree, aced all my physics, one, two, three Aced all my calculus, went back to school, and here you go, I'm here. I can do it, it was not me, something else. That was also not the end of the story, because I was chemical engineering, I was in school. If I remember it was a one to seven racial, partly any girls in my school.

And I was constantly reminded for the four years in my school that I didn't belong. "You must have been here because you're a woman. You must have been here because you're Chinese.

You must have been here because you need to fill the quota." Yay, I don't think that has changed much. Why did I tell that story? Because I wanna show that our paths are dictate about choices that we make, and choices that we don't make.

I didn't choose to go to RPI, I didn't choose to come in to chemical engineer. And by the way, I spent a year doing that, and afterwards I'm like, "Yeah, I'm done." I wanted to do something else.

It's all the choices that we go through every single day that dictates where we are and where we will be, not just for the immediate impact of what happened, but also the journey thereafter. Is the opportunity cost of doing something and not doing something. And that's why I brought that. Of course, to work the mouse. That was 20 something years ago, back in the '90s. And since then, I've spent more than 15 years in IT doing telecommunications, breaking down systems, tearing things apart, bringing them back up.

I had then had two children. I left my job for a break, and taught me too, to teaches you a lot of stuff. But what brought me to was the realization that apparently, it's really hard to be a working mother in the United States. It's even harder if you're working mother and you're a woman of color. And it's even harder if you're a working mother, woman of color, and took a break.

Because the first question I always got asked was, "Can you still work?" "I'm pretty sure I can still work." "But can you still work the way you did?" "Yeah, I'm pretty sure the kids didn't eat my brain." But, you know? Wallah, we're here where we are. For every action, there is a reaction.

That's something I talk a lot about financial services. What we provide to consumers, there's a reaction. What we choose as consumers, the actions we make, whether or not I wanna drive today, versus taking a car. Whether or not I wanna spend time doing this, talking to you guys versus doing something else. There's always an impact. Things do not happen in a vacuum.

We don't make decisions in a silo. Why does that matter? Because it matters when we think about the future. The future that we are all in, the future of humanity. I gave a talk last year in Sibos for financial services.

And in there they asked me, what is the future of money? We talk a lot about crypto. We talk a lot about whether or not cash is going exist or not? We talk a lot about the physical forms and the digital forms of money. And what I said was the future of money is not in the forms that they exist, but is purpose that needs to be the future of money. What can we do with whatever form that exists, access to clean water, access to clean air, access to whatever dreams that we have, that is the future of money. So, bring you back down to planet Earth for a second, money, makes the world go around.

That's what I learned from my mom at that time when they were so poor, they had to rely on the church to even get food to eat. To where we are now, billion dollar bots thrown into the private sector ecosystem every single day. Last year, AI funding reached record. Last year, FinTech funding reached record.

There's not a lack of money, because apparently, some people are very busy planning space travel. Apparently, I did not even know this. In 2027, if you have an extra $5 million as spare, you can actually go to space to stay for a few days. How's that? But while people are worried, how do you plan your space travel? There are millions of us.

Millions of people on the earth that are worried about whether or not I can even have enough food. Whether or not I'll have a place to stay making trade offs between medicine and feeding their kids. An extra 263 million people got pushed into extreme poverty because of inflation, because of economic downturn, 'cause of everything else. Something I like to say a lot and something I learned through my years working in nonprofit, economic inequality is a policy choice. It's a policy choice. People don't choose to be poor.

And that was just extreme poverty. If we look at just below poverty line, 3.3 billion people on Earth this year are going to be living below poverty. That's half of the populations in the world. Think about that for a second.

This is not getting better. I remember two years ago when we started shutting down because of COVID, and I have my two kids at home, we're homeschooling them. As hard as it was, I kept reminding them we're lucky 'cause we have internet access, we have food, we have a place to stay, you don't have to worry.

And at that time, I remember I think the stats was about one to four children, school children, who were food insecure. So, I asked my kids to think in your class of 20 something kids, think about five or six of your friends every single morning go to school hungry. This is the United States of America, the richest country of the world. And not only that, I think some of these headlines, you guys probably already know.

The richest 1% of the world's population are responsible for more than twice carbon pollution, as 3 billion people who made up the poorest half of human. That picture on the right is from Oxfarm. I love pictures. Pictures say a 1000 words. So, if you just picked 20 of the richest billionaires, they emit as much as 8,000 times more carbon than 8 billion people. Contrast, action, and reaction.

And the wealth and inequality is not just in the United States, it's not just in north America, it's everywhere in the world where it's getting more unequal. If you take that 10 richest people on Earth and ask them to spend a $1 million each a day. So, imagine $10 million a day that they can choose to spend whatever they want. It will take 414 years for them to spend it down, just that 10 people alone. So, not only would it last their kids, their grandkids, and generation after.

And let's talk about the gender gap, my favorite topic. This is the VC funding in the United States for female funders. You notice there's that little dark color in the bottom? That's the amount of funding that goes. The other chart that I show, there's record amount of money going to private sector for AI startups for FinTech startups.

It is still a record low amount of funding going to female founders startup is 2.1% to be exact, it is the lowest it has been in five years. It's not because of lack of awareness. Every day you look in the paper, you see people saying, we need to invest more in women.

We need to invest in more founders from communities of color, from communities that's underrepresented. So, I ask, what in the world is going on there? 136 years to get to gender parity, 268 years to get to economic parity. 268 years. My daughter is nine years old. I don't know how to tell her, she's not gonna see it. Her kid's not gonna see it, neither or her grandchildren. We will not get there.

And as I said, economic equality is a human right. It is a policy choice, it is a solvable problem, it is a human right. And kids are still being disconnected too when Apollo is right there.

And now, are we looking at the right thing? We are so hyper focused on emerging technology, sending people to space. We are so hyper-focused on creating Metaverse. That is the new buzzword in my ecosystem the last year. The metaverse. What is your metaverse strategy?

I don't know what about real people in the real world? I do have an avatar, and my kids love "Roblox." We like those things, but what about their education? What about getting food to people that need it? What about getting healthcare? Going back to the choice question, we have a choice. We have a choice in how we spend our time. We have a choice in how we use technology. And I love tech, I grew up with tech. I love gadgets. We can use technology for good.

And I'm not talking about whether or not we're gonna see robots versus humans, that's all wonderful. I'm talking about doing real things. Re-looking at what we can do with technology.

How can we use technology to improve Health, to improve financial wellbeing, to improve, and hopefully come from crisis? So, let me take you on a journey. And a lot of the stories after, comes from our traveling and talking to different founders around the world, from the stories that people tell us, and from stories that are on our podcast. So, let's start right here in the United States. We still have 12 million adults that are unbanked, 24 million that are underbanked.

So, these are all people that either they don't have access to a bank account, they end up with a cash checking service down the street in dollar general, or they get payday loans, 'cause they can't access to credit. This is the United States, 24 million who are underbanked. And also we can think about immigrants who are not well served because they didn't have a credit history in the United States.

It's really hard to open a bank account. But there is hope though. I hope I didn't dread you all too much in the last few minutes. There is hope, because there is something we call embedded finance. Embedded finance is a huge focus area in the last two years, where we use technology to provide financial services to people wherever they are and whenever they need them.

And this is part of the area that gives me hope. We'll start with Southeast Asia. Southeast Asia has a huge population that has been relying on cash as a means of transaction. A lot of them are unbanked. Fun fact; there are 11 countries within Southeast Asia with very, very diverse culture, history, and religion, is not just one group of Southeast Asian. They all come from different socioeconomic backgrounds, they all have different things, but they believe in and they all have the way of life, but it's a huge group of people.

And this is where a lot of the embedded finance opportunity have started. Now, there are more and more consumers in that region that are using smartphone just like how we do use Uber for Uber Eats, Uber Rides, they use that to get rides, to order food but more. They use it to get paid, they use it to save, and they use it to invest.

And that came from these four companies, and Ants, Tencent, Grab, and Go Jack. So, the first two Ants and Tencent, these are two big tech companies in China, and Grab and Go Jack, they're in Southeast Asia that's modeled asset Ants and Tencent. And if you wanna think about them in terms of the breadth of services they offer, it's a Google, plus Facebook, plus Amazon, plus Twitter, and Instagram combined, and more. Let me start with the story of Grab. Grab started in Southeast Asia. They were a small ride handling company, kinda left Uber in here.

And after a while, the founders of Grab, they noticed something interesting. The people that drive Grab, they didn't have a bank account. They don't have a means to put their money, their earnings. And they also don't have a means to get insurance, and they didn't have a means to invest. And so, gradually over time, they added Grab Pay, Grab Invest, and Grab Insure to help their drivers and solo entrepreneurs that are within the ecosystem.

And that is what I always use an example. In the U.S and in Europe actually, we talk a lot about big tech, we talk a lot about how banks want to get different silos of functions. But I think we're going about it the wrong way, because it's not about land grab. It's not about throwing in a bunch of products for people to get, it's about looking at the people that you serve, looking at what they need, looking at what they don't have, and using technology to get them there, to help, not just the day today, living and earning, but also helping them invest and build well so that they can hope in the future.

They can have hope and aspirations to dream, they can build schools too. Similar story here in Mexico. We talk a lot about Uber, but in Mexico, Uber actually does more than what they do in the U.S. They partner with BBVA, which is the bank to provide services for their drivers.

So, they get debit card, they get paid instantly, they get access to benefits and services. That becomes the life of the driver. Or we can move a little bit more, Architec. Architec is another big ecosystem that's been propping up the last two years that a lot of micro entrepreneurs in Africa and south America are looking at, and focusing on using technology to help them get better using technology to improve the yield. I'll give you an example. We talk a lot about climate change.

One of the impacts of extreme climate is drought. In Africa, if you have a drought, if you're a farmer, your seeds are gone, your crop is gone, and you lose your season. So, what a lot of these companies now start doing, is they use AI and IOT science and technology to see there's a drought.

And once the rainforest starts again, they dispense a bunch of new seeds to the farmers so they can take advantage of the remainder of the season and replant. And that way, they don't lose their entire livelihood. Ali-Pay also has a similar program in China where they use AI to sense the kind of crops that farmers are growing and use that to help them get access to micro loans. And similar with farmers, fisheries that they can use AI to actually help them get services and get their products to market in a more efficient manner. All of these things, is a different way of using AI.

In Hollywood, people talk a lot about AI, talk a lot about "Terminator." This is actually way more fun, because this is improving people's livelihood. This is actually helping people do what they do and do it better. And now, I wanna talk about another trend in addition to AI. Is the trend of aging. It's actually one of my favorite topic.

I spent few years in ARP looking at what does it mean if we have an aging population? Here's the fun fact. Since early 1900s, we have gained an extra 30 years of living, 30 years. That doesn't mean that we're gonna all work an extra 30 years, I hope not. My daughter already asked me the other day, how we are planning to celebrate my half a century old birthday next year, so I'm 49.

But what does longevity mean? Longevity doesn't mean that all of a sudden, we just have a bunch of older people that we need to worry about and think about the burden because that's what oftentimes, people want you to think about. If you go to Google search engine, you look for aging, all you see is physical ailments of aging. But what about other things? What about opportunities? What about we have an extra 30 years to do what we wanna do? What about we have an extra 30 years to rethink how we approach life, and work, and education? We don't always need to do school, work, retire, because now, there are more and more people who start their own business. I started mine when I was in my 40s. The fastest growing demographic of people that are starting new businesses, are those that are after 45.

It makes sense, you have more experience, you have a wider network, you have a chance to pursue something different. We don't have to be tied to a W-2. But there's something else, caregiving.

This is a new study that just came out, 60% of first time caregivers are Gen-Z and millennial. Back quite a few years ago when we first did the study, it was mostly women in their 40s with children. But now, the age of the caregivers are getting younger. I get excited about this because if we look at the news, how often do we see headlines that pit one generation versus the other? How about we rethink it and look at it more from an intergenerational perspective. There are lots of people that said they moved back home the last year to spend time with their parents and their grandparents.

This is a wonderful opportunity for us to learn from each other. I wish I could live with my parents, they're overseas. I had not been able to visit them because of COVID restrictions, it's been almost three years and it kills me.

If we have a chance to do it differently, why not? And that brings the opportunities because every time when I talk to people that are caregivers of their parents, the first question I gotta asked, is how can we do it more efficiently? How can we make it easier with technology? Because a lot of caregivers, they're younger, they're working, they're older, they still working, and people end up taking time off to go take care of their parents and grandparents. What are their tools to help coordinate all these better? I've seen it first time with my grandmother. She was living in Pennsylvania four year ago until she passed away with my uncle. She was well in her 90s.

As I mentioned, we have a huge family of us up and down the East Coast, just coordinating all of the expenses that we need to help take care of my grandmother, coordinating all of the task and business, and all of that. It was a nightmare. I love for self virtue, it was a nightmare. What if we have better tools to do that? What if, instead of all of the beautiful FinTech apps that help you buy more stuff easier. What if we spend a little bit of that brain power and help the people who are helping their parents and grandparents? Or what about gig economy workers? This is one of the fastest surging group of demographics, but they're not well served by the banks because if you're not a W-2, you have uneven income, good luck trying to get a loan from the bank to get a mortgage, or a lot of things that we say for granted.

I opened my small business account when I started my company, it was a nightmare, complete nightmares. And even though to this day, I still raise my hand when people ask who write checks, 'cause I do. That's the only way I can move money from my business account to my personal account, even though they were in same bank. There are lots of things we can do with technology, help gig economy workers flourish. Not just get a right here and there, but help them imagine a path forward beyond driving delivery, help them create a community and ecosystem.

Help them get insurance, help them get tools. We talk a lot about re-skilling, but reskilling's not just for people in corporate. In America, 99% of businesses are small business.

So, I would ask, what are we doing for them? They are the backbone for the economy, but yet if you look at, from the tech solution perspective, from a banking perspective, we are not doing anything for them. People talk a lot about hybrid work, how the future of work is remote. For a lot of the gig workers, that is not the future that they have. So, what can we do? We talk about ESG. What can we do on us part of it? How can we create a pathway for more people to choose a different path to succeed? And I used to title new, A, because I'm a "Star Wars" and B, because it was just "Star Wars" day for, I don't know if any of you noticed? These are all a crop of FinTechs that just started the last two years.

That's what gives me hope, because people are actually paying attention. New FinTech companies, come in and say, "Wait a minute, I was an immigrant. I knew how hard it was to get a bank account to get credit. Here you go, I have a solution for you." Or Daylight, one of my favorite LGBTQ, there are lots of challenges that they have just to get access to basic financial services, and they're there to help service them because these are the people who experience it, and they're the best to come up with solutions.

That can help and bridge the gap. And there are FinTechs startups to help, workers, there are startups that help specifically black and Latino customers. And I think that was another one, I don't have in here on Asian American communities. This is not just banking services, it's a host of other things. When you come to the country, what can you do? Money, of course, is the first and foremost, but what else? What else is what I ask? What else? Our attending Mac Gardner.

He is a fellow alumni of University of Maryland. And I promise him, I will put a slide just for him, a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful person. He has spent 20 years in financial services and wealth management specifically helping people figure out their money. And finally he said, "You know what? We need to start younger. We need to start way younger.

We need to help kids understand what is money, how to save, how to plan those basic concepts that is fleeing." I saw it with my kids when I took them to Hong Kong before COVID the last trip we had. We got them NFC watches, so everywhere they went, they would just tap, pay, and go. No money exchange hands, that's what we always want, right? Ease of use, frictionless payment.

But you know what happened with that? My kids got so used to buying things, beeping and running away, they lost a concept of paying. They lost the concept of the pain of paying that you actually have to open your wallet and take the money out. They didn't know how much they spent. When they came back to the States, they were like, "Thank God we don't have it."

I don't know how much you would end up spending. Or I think about my first experience in RPI, left the school. But the first day I went to school, I still remember this, a long table that waited for us in the union. First day, freshman, you wanna get something that tie you to the school 'cause you feel proud, right? Guess what it was? A credit card.

It was a credit card that promises all kinds of things. It has the school logo, and it has, if I remember I think a water bottle, one of those red ones. Well, sorry, (laughs) That's a credit card. How harmless could it be?

That was my first lesson in money management or not, because apparently it was really easy to rack up all those charges and look at what we have right now? Buy Now, Pay Later, same thing. Walk into the mall, you have all kinds of things it says split in full payments. Split in three, it is easy. you don't have to worry, there's no fees. Well, there's no fees until you're late.

An average consumer in the United States have 5.8 accounts with financial institutions average. Most people have way more. I know I lost count now to 12 or 50. You think about credit card, your loan, your mortgage, your car insurance, your savings account, checking account, all of those combined. But there is no good tool to help us manage all of that, plus all of the Buy Now, Pay Later relationships.

So, banks keep going out different products and services. You have a need, here's another one, here's another one. But what about tools to help consumers manage all of that? What about tools that can help people in the sandwich generation, manage not just a big ecosystem of financial services, but also that for their kids, and their grandparents, and their parents? Remember I talked a lot about financial caregiving. I wish, I wish, my wish, is one of the brilliant people that I sitting here and somewhere else that I'm now talking to, will think up ways that can't help me. In 10 years time, I will be in my 60.

My kids will be in college hopefully. My parents will be in their 80s. Do you know what's gonna happen? All of them is gonna need something. My kids need help in college, my parents are probably gonna need help getting older. I'm in my 60s supposedly, I'm supposed to apply for my retirement, good luck with that.

But with all of these forces together, who can I turn into to say, I need help? Now, I don't need more products. I don't need more loans. I don't need consolidated debt, I need help, so that I know what I'm gonna do in the next 10, 20, 30 years. Just like what Mac is doing, start young.

Start young and let's grow. Let's grow together, the journey does not stop. So, I'll leave you with a question. What role are you gonna play? Because there is talent everywhere. This is a cliche, unfortunately is not.

In my last 15 years working with startup founders, there are so many bright people everywhere. I remember the story of someone who called me. He was in a car, driving from Texas to Palo Alto because he said, he has sat and waited for two years and he couldn't get the support he needs in this hometown in Texas. He had to move his family to California so he can get better access to talent, and capital, and resources to grow, especially not be like this.

I'll go back to what I said earlier, everything that we do has to be tied to a purpose. Purpose is not an after thought, it has to be central to everything that we do. I don't care if in the future we have paper money, we have digital currency.

We have central bank, digital currency, it does not matter, it's purpose. Purpose is what drives us. Purpose is what keeps us around, and purpose is what makes the world go around. So, let's think after we leave here at Milken, the topic, so this week was the Power of Connection. But it's not just the Power of Connecting with people, it's the power of connecting with people, and what you do with those connections after.

How can you map out your road and that for your kids, friends, communities in the next a 100 years? Where do you wanna go? Because there is a lot of possibility for us to do good. And I do talk a lot. I apologize. But in here, you guys picked up a copy, it's beyond good. Is collection of all the stories of entrepreneurs that we have met along the journey. We had cut out 10,000 words from the book so we can fit in stories from people like David Reiling. He is the CEO and chairman of Sunrise Banks in Minnesota, serving communities and immigrants, people that are in the lower third as people call in the country.

People that are poor, people that banks do not wanna serve. I have stories about aspiration of FinTech startup that started by Andrew Trainy, who previously was speech writer for Al Gore. That looks at how we can use capital to be more responsible. So, that's me right there.

And I will stop, and thank you so much for spending your time with me. I appreciate it.

2022-05-20 07:21

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