To mark Data Privacy Week, an international effort to raise awareness about digital privacy, Fintech Explained sits down with Plaid’s Chief Privacy Officer, Sheila Jambekar, to discuss the fintech industry’s commitment to consumer data rights and responsible data stewardship, and Plaid’s mission of unlocking financial freedom for all.
Plaid powers the tools millions of people rely on to manage their financial lives. Plaid works with thousands of fintech companies, several of the Fortune 500, small financial institutions, and many of the largest banks to make it easy for people to safely connect their financial data across the apps and services they want to use.
Tell us about your mission as a Chief Privacy Officer and how that role is unique at Plaid, a company that centers consumer control and transparency in its products and sets a high bar for consumer privacy.
Plaid was founded on the belief that people have a right to their financial information — they should get to decide where, how, and with whom it’s shared and be empowered to make the right choices for themselves. I think this sentiment rings true for consumers, especially as they increasingly manage their financial lives digitally. This mission is also what drew me to Plaid.
Given our unique position enabling consumers to connect to thousands of financial apps and services, we feel responsible not only for building products that put consumers front and center but also for building and advocating for a safer ecosystem for all. As Chief Privacy Officer, I get to work with every team across Plaid to help deliver on that– from the products we build to the privacy tools we create for consumers, our customers, and our partners, to our efforts pushing for industry standards.
Plaid is a Champion of Data Privacy Week, an international effort to empower individuals and businesses to respect privacy, safeguard data, and enable trust. It is an extension of Data Protection Day in Europe, which commemorates the signing of the first international treaty on privacy and data protection in 1981. Why is Data Privacy Week important today?
Data privacy is actually even more important today than ever before because consumers live so much of their lives online – and that includes how they chose to manage their money. In fact, half of Americans are using a fintech app on a daily basis. It’s important that as financial services continue to shift to digital – making consumers’ lives easier and more convenient – we must continue to prioritize privacy so that people remain in the driver’s seat when it comes to their financial data.
By coming together with organizations across our ecosystem, including efforts like Data Privacy Week, we can work towards even stronger controls and safeguards for consumers everywhere. We know that consumers’ experiences extend far beyond their relationship with Plaid and that we need trust for our industry to flourish. Powering a safer digital financial system is a paramount priority and one we are excited to continue to support this week and every week.
When you joined Plaid, you talked about the company’s authentic desire to set a higher privacy bar for the industry. How have you helped make that commitment a reality in your first year and a half at Plaid?
During my time at Plaid, I’ve focused on how we can help consumers better control how their financial information is used or shared. As a company, we continue to evolve from back-end infrastructure helping people connect their accounts to fintech apps to a company that consumers understand is involved in helping them securely link accounts and a resource for managing those account connections over time.
Today, we also build tools that consumers interact with directly to help them understand and remain in control of their financial data. For example, last year we launched Plaid Portal, a dashboard that allows consumers to view and control the connections they have made through Plaid. We also launched new tools for our customers and our partners – including fintechs, banks, online retailers, and more – so that they can build their own consumer privacy tools and provide even greater transparency and control for their customers.
We want to continue to lead by example when it comes to consumer privacy. In turn, we hope people can confidently connect and use the apps and services they love.
The Financial Technology Association, of which Plaid is a member, recently released Privacy Principles supporting clear, consistent, and uniform national privacy standards. Why is a federal privacy standard important to satisfy consumer needs and expectations?
All consumers deserve the same level of strong privacy protection, regardless of who is ‘the cop on the beat.’ FTA’s privacy principles demonstrate our industry’s willingness and desire to push forward best practices and advocate for the modernization of federal regulations for our digital age.
Regardless of whether a consumer uses a community bank, a neobank, or a fintech app they deserve a consistent experience and the same strong level of protection when it comes to privacy, safety, and security. They should not be treated differently because of the specific financial services provider they rely on. In an ecosystem that relies on trust, we view strong privacy standards as beneficial to consumers and our entire industry.
Looking ahead, how can the fintech industry best work with policymakers and advocate to establish strong consumer financial data rights and protect privacy for all?
We know how important it is to protect consumers’ privacy and keep their data safe. Like policymakers and advocates, we want to see more than a new compliance checkbox that leaves consumers feeling confused or unempowered or risks not keeping up with changing technology. We want strong consumer data rights that give consumers meaningful control over their data and protect privacy across the entire ecosystem. That’s why we are working across our industry and with FTA to push best practices and privacy standards and advocate for regulation to help ensure people are safe wherever they choose to manage their money.