Alecia Chen – Climb Credit
With nationwide unemployment still high due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many people are looking to further their education. But as the economy continues to sputter, the cost of higher education remains high, and potential learners struggle to identify which programs will help them improve their skills and career prospects.
That’s where Climb Credit hopes to assist. The New York City-based company provides student financing at affordable rates, with the aim of giving more access to education. Loans are only provided for programs Climb Credit has vetted for educational value, and the process has aided over 25,000 students. In fact, many of the schools the company works with don’t provide financing at all.
“Our mission is to expand access to career-advancing education, and my role is to make sure we’re doing it legally,” says Alecia Chen, the company’s general counsel and interim head of People Operations.
Since joining the company in February 2020, Chen’s developed its legal and external affairs and developed a more robust human resources infrastructure.
Building a framework
Chen says she’s been good at juggling the urgent needs of Climb Credit, like closing transactions and reviewing new products, with further developing the company’s legal department. She’s creating department metrics to measure success, considering what legal technology to implement, and which matters to handle internally or with outside counsel.
In the past year, she developed a process for managing new vendor and school contracts as well as marketing materials, which she says has both improved efficiency and led to better record-keeping.
Additionally, Chen has worked to develop the company’s external affairs strategy. She’s most excited about work Climb Credit is planning in 2021 to further enhance its measurement of student outcomes. This includes partnering with others who share these goals to develop benchmarks for return on investment for students and professional vocational schools.
Compliance is also a big part of the overall legal strategy.
“Our primary focus for the rest of 2021 and beyond will be around regulatory compliance, including our policies and procedures, monitoring and testing, and employee training,” Chen adds.
Providing more opportunities
In addition to her legal role, she leads the Climb Credit human resources department. It’s been a new experience and challenge, she notes, and so far, she’s learned how the “people” function needs to be involved in all major business decisions.
“I definitely have a lot of respect for the difficulty of this role,” Chen says.
One of the biggest challenges is establishing and embracing an open feedback culture at Climb Credit, she explains. The company has provided guidance for managers about how to have better one-on-one relationships with their direct reports, and Chen and her team continue to urge employees to give each other feedback.
Right now, she is busy planning on the company’s eventual return to the office and how employee interactions will look after COVID-19.
“We’ve been operating successfully as a remote business for a year now, and we plan to incorporate this type of work environment into our future operation,” she says.
Getting the credit
Chen graduated with a degree in international relations from the University of Western Ontario and got her law degree from the University of Toronto. Her legal career began at Milbank, Tweed, Hadley and McCloy in New York City, where she was an associate in the firm’s finance practice.
After nearly four years, she moved to Dechert LLP as a corporate and securities associate, before moving in-house for OnDeck as a senior associate general counsel and head of operations strategy and solutions. Chen stayed at OnDeck for more than five years before taking a five-month sabbatical to travel the world. She joined Climb Credit in February 2020.
Her sabbatical took her to various places in Asia and Europe, and included trekking in Nepal, attending a Muay Thai camp in Thailand, touring northern Vietnam by scooter, and visiting Greek and Roman ruins in Sicily.
She feels very fortunate to have had the chance to travel pre-COVID. Chen’s time abroad allowed her to reassess her career and personal goals. She is a big advocate for using less traditional methods to achieve career objectives, and is excited to work for an organization that enables others in this regard.
Right now, with the pandemic still raging and unemployment at higher-than-normal levels, students are looking for any possible edge to advance their careers, she says. And it’s her job to ensure the legal framework is in place.
“Far too often, students incur debt without access to better outcomes,” Chen adds. “I’m excited about the work Climb Credit is doing to vet schools and programs and to drive toward systemic transparency in the educational space.”
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