Stephanie Karfias – Mission Lane
Stephanie Karfias understands how difficult it can be for people to get the credit they need, especially in the face of major setbacks.
“Life can be unpredictable. One moment you’re feeling healthy in all aspects. Then, suddenly, you’re in a car accident and sustained serious injuries that result in astronomical hospital bills and a complete disruption from your previous life,” she says.
Nearly half the people in the U.S. have difficulty getting credit, even without enduring a catastrophic event, Karfias adds. As general counsel for Mission Lane, she helps the company to provide access to fair and “clear” credit with terms that are easily understood. That includes taking a chance on people denied credit, as well as offering credit building products, she says.
A first generation American, Karfias takes the mission to heart. Her father and family emigrated from Greece before she was born, and she recalls the challenges of her family establishing itself in the U.S.
“I also remember the time my mom was able to get her own credit card and the significance of the occasion given that women homemakers were previously required to have a husband’s co-signature to get a credit card,” Karfias says. “It’s exciting to be part of a company that works to help provide hard-working individuals with better financial opportunities.”
A new model
Founded in 2018, Mission Lane began by offering a Visa credit card with clear and fair terms and no unnecessary fees. The cards were initially issued by invitation only, but Karfias says cards are now generally open to millions of Americans.
Mission Lane offers instant decisions for Visa cards and increased credit limits over time. The company also offers customers free access to credit scores, tools to help build their credit, and a website and mobile app to manage accounts. The company also looks beyond traditional criteria instead of basing credit eligibility on conventional credit scores and other financial factors.
“We’ve found that incorporating varied data sources and more granular detail of traditional data provides a better view into a person’s individual financial situation,” Karfias says. “When evaluating customers, we acknowledge that one size of measure does not apply to all and understand that financial wellbeing is a personal journey.”
Karfias says the company also must move quickly—and compliantly—as it introduces new products and services. Since joining the company, she’s hired four attorneys and a legal specialist and looks to add more as the company grows. She and her team manage vendor contracts and transactional agreements and advise on laws and regulations.
They also need to ensure they continue to earn the trust of customers and protect their personal information.
“We have the privilege of helping people find their path to credit. They’re sharing personal information with us and protecting it is part of our job,” Karfias says.
That responsibility also entails making product terms and conditions transparent and easy to understand. To do this, Karfias and her team partner with the company’s business units as they develop new products and services.
Building “better” for consumers
Karfias grew up in Chicago and says her interest in law developed, in part, because she took chances and because her parents told her she was good at arguing. She graduated from Vanderbilt University with a bachelor’s degree in economics before earning her law degree as well as an MBA from Washington University.
After graduating, Karfias took a chance and moved to Richmond, Virginia, to become an associate with the law firm of McGuireWoods. She had no ties to the area but says the firm’s partners helped her build her career, guiding her through litigation in areas including antitrust, product liability and commercial law. She also helped develop compliance programs and became a partner in 2003.
“I’m a firm believer that opportunity is what you make of it, provided you are given a chance,” Karfias says, adding that after becoming partner, she took another chance by taking an in-house role as assistant general counsel at Capital One Finance Corp. in 2004.
At Capital One, she was initially responsible for the Company’s credit card litigation portfolio before rising to become senior director and assistant general counsel and shifting her focus to the bank’s financial services litigation, including auto loans and mortgages.
In 2010, at the height of the Great Recession, Karfias was hired to SunTrust Banks where she helped shepherd its mortgage company through a particularly challenging time. Shortly after her arrival, Karfias was asked to rebuild a legal team “and help the company through dark days.” She also represented the company in front of regulators and agencies including the U.S. Department of Justice and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
“It was truly the most challenging and most rewarding experience in my career,” Karfias recalls. “It was all about putting the customer first—and doing right by them.”
Joining Mission Lane in February 2020, Karfias says the transition—moving from the sixth largest bank in the U.S. to a little-known fintech startup looking to bolster its legal and compliance functions—was a daunting one. But she quickly fell in love with the company’s customer-first culture, and the “variety and novelty of legal issues.”
“My passion for the customer and doing the right thing led me to Mission Lane,” Karfias says. “I was also drawn to the highly experienced executive team and the company’s mission to provide opportunities and deliver a better experience for individuals who don’t have access to mainstream financial services. I’m excited to be part of building better.”
View this feature in the Vanguard Spring II 2022 Edition here.
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