Lisha Bell joins us today to discuss her career in the tech industry that spans 20 years. She talks about her experiences in building mobile payments, digital money movement, and her passion for AI and how it could break various fraud patterns.
She also shares her initiative to launch a fund to provide capital to underserved communities. She also provides some parting wisdom on how we can teach our children and expose them to different cultures and love not only people but everything that we’re given.
“If people had something, if you gave people a piece of the pie a little bit, if you gave people access to homeownership, they would have a stake. They would have equity. They would be rooted in and more confident about what they can do and who they could be.”
“We have this kind of society that values your social economic status more than your actual talent and capabilities. And, how do we shift that?”"Let's raise our children to be empathetic and have an understanding and not be presumptive in who or what they think people are, their capabilities, because of what they look like…. And, just teach our children to love not only people,… Click To Tweet
Sean Li: Welcome to the OneHaas alumni podcast. I’m your host, Sean Lee. And today I’m joined by Lisha Bell, Berkeley Executive MBA, class of 2012. Welcome to the podcast.
[00:00:22] Lisha Bell: Thanks for having me, Sean.
[00:00:24] Sean Li: Lisha, you have a very rich background of experiences, but before we talk about your career, we’d like to really hear about your origin story, where you’re from, where you grew up.
[00:00:36] Lisha Bell: Yes. I love that. So, I was born in Los Angeles and I later moved to San Francisco Bay area to be a part of the tech.com movement. But ancestrally, my family’s from the South, both my grandparents are from Louisiana and they migrated to the West. This is during WW2 to work on the shipyards and the ports.
[00:01:01] And so my mother is a native Los Angeles, Californian. So, I’m a second generation LA, which I’m very proud of.
[00:01:08] Sean Li: What got you out to San Francisco to Oakland?
[00:01:11] Lisha Bell: Yeah, so I had graduated during the .com boom of the 2000s, late 1990s, 2000s. And, I was so fascinated about what was happening in the Bay area around the tech movement. So, I was a business major but I quickly knew I needed to get into tech so I took up a minor in computer science for information systems so I could be rooted in that movement and it has served me well. I’ve been here for 20 years doing the same type of work. I was very lucky, I guess.
[00:01:45] Sean Li: I should have had that insight.
[00:01:46] Lisha Bell: It’s rare. I’m doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing.
[00:01:50] Sean Li: So, what did you go into first as a career?
[00:01:53] Lisha Bell: Yeah. So, I started in banking. I joined Wells Fargo in their leadership development rotational program. I was an information technology associate. So, that allowed me to rotate through various parts of the business and kind of learn my way through the company, working on different technology projects.
[00:02:12] Sean Li: I mean, how deeply in IT were you? Were you a programmer or were you more on the operational side?
[00:02:18] Lisha Bell: I used to say I can look at the code, I can read it, but I surely don’t want to do it. So, I actually sat in engineering for most of my career as either, I started initially as a project manager, a business consultant. I was always in this liaison role between the business team and the technology team.
[00:02:37] So, that’s where I straddled most of my career sitting in technology but fortunately never having to cope. I’m so thankful for it.
[00:02:50] Sean Li: Now, I guess, walk us through the progression of your career, up to Haas and then after Haas.
[00:02:57] Lisha Bell: Yes. Yes. So, I told you about me starting at Wells Fargo. I stayed there for 15 years, so I call it my first retirement. But during that time, I did a lot of exciting things. I essentially got to build the team that did the M&A for the Wells and Wachovia merger, which I built cross-functional teams, led HR systems and talent integrations during that time. I was also at Wells Fargo for the subprime lending crisis that happened and navigated that experience for marginalized communities during that time. And I also was one of the first people to launch Apple pay. I have a very interesting perspective on mobile payments, digital money movement, starting from my first project there being bill pay, paying your bills online.
[00:03:44] You know, my mother was like, I’m never going to stop writing and sending checks in the mail ever. So that was a big cultural shift at that time. After the kind of financial collapse of 2009, I decided to go back into business school. Haas eventually let me in after three times of trying. So, they didn’t know they wanted me so I kept persisting.
[00:04:06] Eventually they let me in. And, I went at an interesting time where the company was post-recession at the time and was starting to do layoffs. So, I went back to Haas and I got laid off six months into Haas which was very interesting because I had all this free time and I was able to become a full-time business school student.
[00:04:28] And I moved to New York and I got to travel the world with my classmates. So, I would say that was a really interesting career break for me. So, I went to Haas, I did the Berkeley Columbia program. And, upon graduation, I actually went back to Wells Fargo to do a temporary assignment to work on digital payments.
[00:04:46] And I was the chief of staff for the head of credit. After that, I left Wells Fargo and went to Kohls. And I did retail eCommerce. So, I was basically responsible for essentially the checkout experience related to payments. So, I mentioned launching Apple Pay at Wells Fargo but I went to Kohl’s I launched Kohl’s Pay.
[00:05:04] So essentially, I was in the world of retail which is a way funnier industry than banking. And I stayed there for three years. After that, I went to the startup, put my startup hat, and I went to work for a company called Feedzai, which is an artificial intelligence company that fights fraud and payments.
[00:05:24] So as director of product there, the company’s headquartered in Portugal. So, I spent half my time in Europe and traveling all over Europe, fighting fraud, building strategies, looking at algorithms and models for AI on how we could break various fraud patterns. So, I did that until a classic startup crash and burn.
[00:05:50] And, I recovered. And then I came into PayPal, which is my current employer. So, there I’m working on Venmo Commerce. So, not the P2P send your friends money but actually the product that Uber uses and many large merchants so you can use Venmo as a payment method. And, that’s where I am today.
[00:06:06] Sean Li: So, Uber uses PayPal’s Venmo for their payments?
[00:06:10] Lisha Bell: Yes, they do.
[00:06:11] Sean Li: Wow.
[00:06:12] Lisha Bell: We’re the only way you can get Venmo so you have to call us if you want it.
[00:06:18] Sean Li: That’s amazing. That is amazing. I use Venmo for so many things. And, when you’re talking about that startup, it’s so funny because I was helping one of my colleagues from last summer. He’s been looking into this startup called Bolt.
[00:06:35] Lisha Bell: Oh, yeah.
[00:06:37] Sean Li: Yeah. Bolt has been just a skyrocketing and that’s their huge value proposition, right, is that fraud detection and improving conversion. And, at first, I kind of brushed off the impact of all this because I, so I forgot if I told you, I used to own eCommerce companies like that’s, those were my first businesses.
[00:07:00] Lisha Bell: Oh, okay. Cool.
[00:07:03] Sean Li: So, one of them still around today, actually. It’s been I think over 10 years now. And, I actually use Wells Fargo. Actually, I use authorized.net that was resold by Wells Fargo as our payment gateway. And then, it was just a terrible experience, not Wells Fargo, but authorized.net in it of itself because the fraud detection was so archaic.
[00:07:24] You literally, you check these boxes that said, Oh, do you want the addresses to match? And, if you don’t, then we’re going to let this transaction through and you’ll have to deal with the fraud. And if it’s fraudulent, then we’re not even going to talk to you. We’re just going to take the money out of your bank account immediately.
[00:07:40] Cause we don’t care if you already shipped the product. No, it was just, it just literally became something that’s. it became the status quo that I just accepted as a business owner. I just said you know what, I’m going to build this into my costs, right? 2% is going to just going to be going to fraud. But to hear that you were working behind the scenes and some of the more proactive companies, that they were trying to solve and deal with this stuff, that’s pretty cool. I, that helps me make the connection as to how and why you’re just so interested in finance as well.
[00:08:14] Lisha Bell: And, AI. AI is a personal passion; it’s game-changer of it.
[00:08:19] Sean Li: Wow. That’s pretty cool. Sorry for that tangent. I just had to share it because I know that part of your career.
[00:08:24] Lisha Bell: No problem.
[00:08:26] Sean Li:. And so, um, actually I want to hear a little bit about the Berkeley Columbia experience.
[00:08:35] How did you, how, like, how did that work class-wise? I know that the program went away in 2013 when you graduated.
[00:08:42] Lisha Bell: Yes. Yeah. We actually feel like we’re like the kids of divorced parents. They agreed to split after us and so we feel responsible for that. And we’re sorry, it was an amazing program. Yeah. So, it was a two for one deal is what we call it. So, literally we have professors from both schools and we traveled back and forth across the country, taking classes.
[00:09:07] So you will have one week in Berkeley, the next month you go to New York, the next month you go to Berkeley. And so, it was just crazy. It was actually crazy. Like this is a five-hour flight because most of the people are mostly West Coast. There’s a few New Yorkers and a few folks in the Midwest but essentially just a traveling program.
[00:09:26] And so we would just have these bi-coastal experiences every month.
[00:09:32] Sean Li: San Francisco to New York.
[00:09:32] Lisha Bell: That was great.
[00:09:33] Sean Li: Living the life.
[00:09:34] Lisha Bell: We’re definitely, yeah, we’re definitely more studious when we were in Berkeley than in New York. I will tell you that.
[00:09:41] Sean Li: That’s so funny. It was still an 18-month program?
[00:09:44] Lisha Bell: Yes. 18 months accelerated program.
[00:09:46] Sean Li: Got it.
[00:09:47] Lisha Bell: Drinking out in the firehouse.
[00:09:51] Sean Li: I guess I do have to ask, was there anything particular that you were looking to get out of the MBA, skillset?
[00:09:58] Lisha Bell: Yeah. Yeah, you know, I knew that I wanted to take my career farther than where it was going. And I knew that more education was the path. I knew the people who were in leadership above me all had this degree called the MBA. And so, I knew it was valuable from that perspective. And also, when I was trying to look for roles prior to business school, I spent my last few years in HR and I think I couldn’t, it’s hard to rebrand myself for going into HR when my background was actually payments and technology.
[00:10:37] So I want to rebrand myself. I need, this is one way to do it. And I needed to get out of my California base. And so, having to go to school in New York was definitely disrupting that base and that nucleus. And so, I was hoping for that. I actually didn’t think a lot about the career I wanted after business school, unfortunately.
[00:10:58] So I kind of took business school as just an experience. And I took all kinds of random courses and they probably weren’t as orchestrated but those random courses actually led to what I would eventually be doing. So, I am grateful for that path.
[00:11:10] Sean Li: MBA is what some call the educational sabbatical.
[00:11:14] Lisha Bell: Exactly.
[00:11:17] Sean Li: You know, a topic that we discussed and talked about during our interview prep was this idea of the weight of identities.
[00:11:35] Lisha Bell: You’re right.
[00:11:36] Sean Li: You share with us a little bit about what your career has been like, as a person of color, and more so as a woman of color.
[00:11:45] Lisha Bell: Yeah. It’s a very interesting conversation dialogue as we talk about identities and some people think it’s a social construct in which some identities are social constructs but being black and female is not a social construct that, that’s my DNA. So, I do feel like my background is different than most of my peers.
[00:12:07] I walk into the workspace with my identity is different. Where I come from, my socioeconomic status is different. I’m a first-gen college student. I never knew anybody working in corporate America before me and I’m typically, usually the only one. And I think what that looks like is that people size me up really fast before I even get a chance to speak or state my purpose or say who I am.
[00:12:33] And most of my teams, I was the only non-Indian non-male in development groups. And I think partially I’m discounted a lot about what my architectural experiences, what my payments expertise is, what I know about money, movement transactions, AI & fraud, and you know, I’ve been a professional in this for 20 years.
[00:12:55] So yeah, I actually know a lot about this stuff and I did have a company science minor. So, I actually do get it at a deeper level than people give me credit for. I think that’s part of it. You know, when I was doing AI work in fraud, I went to Tel Aviv Israel and I was held at security at the airport because they couldn’t believe this black American woman was working at this company doing something very suspicious.
[00:13:18] Maybe I was a spy. It just didn’t register because most of the people in that community are marginalized Ethiopian Jews and not in AI startups in America. And so, I think it’s kind of changing the narrative and challenging that when I walk into rooms just because I don’t look like everybody else.
[00:13:41] And in most cases I’m more qualified than everybody else. Most people don’t have MBAs in my job. So, I do feel that as a weight actually and also as a responsibility. You helped people understand how our identities look different. I was talking to one of my leaders who is also a woman of color, she’s Indian I’m black, right? And when we say that, we mean two different things. She has her own experience which is important as an Indian woman of color in tech. And, I have my eyes as a black woman of color in tech and there’s quite honestly less than me and more of her. And so, when we talk about how we assimilate identities, they’re not all equal because we do have a social construct of race in our society that devalues black and Latin X people.
[00:14:40] And, it’s systemic and it’s proven. And, I think we have to understand that when we try to put these narratives to get together about how we show up. So, it is harder for me to show up as the only one in a room in a company that doesn’t support my cultural narrative, my food, all these things that would make it home is not home for me. I’m visiting and trying to find my way. And I think, for everyone to kind of be more aware of those identities and affirm the different identities that are not the dominant narrative is helpful.
[00:15:15] Sean Li: No, that’s very true.
[00:15:16] Lisha Bell: There’s a lot of invisibility to it because if you’re not exposed to different experiences or identities, then we could all live in our bubble. I mean, there’s a reason why I live in Oakland. Because there’s black people in Oakland.
[00:15:31] I couldn’t live in San Francisco. But I wanted something affirming where I planted my roots and see people that look like me because I couldn’t get it in my day to day job, you know? And like all these ways, they’re survival tactics, right. It’s like, you know, you’re in different cultures, do it in different ways.
[00:15:49] Sean Li: Right. I actually remember Marco Lindsay was sharing this.
[00:15:53] Lisha Bell: That’s my boy.
[00:15:54] Sean Li: He was saying he very intentionally lives in Oakland so that he can be an example to the community. And, show them that, yes, I’m black. Yes, I’m a businessman. Yes, I’m all these things and you can too, you can be too, right.
[00:16:10] I think there’s a lot of power in that as well. No, that’s great. So, I think the segue for that is, you know, you shared a little bit with me prior about your interest and passion in providing access to financial services to the underserved. And you mentioned even the idea that you ultimately, you want to launch a fund to provide capital to the underserved communities. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
[00:16:39] Lisha Bell: Yeah. I’ll give you some numbers. People like data. 0.006% of venture funding goes to black women. There’s only about 40 black women who’ve raised over a million of funding in the city of Los Angeles where I am from. The Black and Latin X people only hold 1% of the wealth of that city. And in a city that’s 70% non-white.
[00:17:01] And I share that, those stats to say we are nowhere near where we should be in terms of wealth and access. And so, why is that? Part of the issue is access to credit, access to capital, access to education, very few high-income earners. And all of these things carry different weights and impacts to why we are where we are.
[00:17:26] We have major gaps in our society and impartially, I think what Marco was saying that he chooses to live here when most black people from Oakland have been forced to leave, is a statement. It’s resiliency. And so, people who are marginalized, who are in tech in the Bay Area, for example, don’t make these kinds of wages.
[00:17:47] You know, making minimum wage, trying to live in these very expensive cities that they can’t afford really afford to be here, just making a statement. Because it’s not in their best interest to stay but it’s in the places that they built and they want to sustain and I’m passionate about it.
[00:18:02] My day job is money movement, how to provide access to the unbanked. Venmo was, is a great pie for unbanked people. And I love that about it. And, um, so it was PayPal. And, you know, how do we give people access to move money digitally, to have a place to store money, to have a trusted source. That’s a big issue; trust.
[00:18:22] And so my personal passion is one day to build a fund for black women who are trying to be entrepreneurs to have access in capital, to fundraise meaningful amounts of money. The average black woman entrepreneur makes $36,000 a year. And that’s saddening to me when we know that some white boys walk into a room with a PowerPoint deck and get at least a million and we’re not able to get those types of numbers and investment and partially it’s because of white boys control 99% of the capital in this country.
[00:18:57] And so either you have to give them an incentive to change their minds and hearts or you have to get more people of color on these cap tables who see value in those people.
[00:19:06] Sean Li: Right. You know, your passion for providing access to financing and financial services, how does that play into the black lives matter movement? If at all?
[00:19:19] Lisha Bell: Yeah. So, black oppression is directly related to economic suppression. And so, George Floyd was killed because he lost his job and fabricated a $20 bill. If George Floyd had a job, he’d be alive today. And, the issue why people, some people are looting because they have nothing. They have absolutely nothing.
[00:19:42] They have nothing to lose because society gives them nothing. And, if people had something, if you gave people a piece of the pie a little bit, if you gave people access to homeownership, they would have a stake. They would have equity. They would be rooted in and more confident about what they can do and who they could be.
[00:20:07] And, fortunately, we’ve seen this time and time again. The unrest is not just about black people getting murdered unconsciously. It’s also about the lack of opportunity that black people have and that’s why we were in this vicious cycle that we need to get out of. We need to escape it. We need to be rescued from that because until our social-economic status has improved, it’s a dire situation. And, as you may have mentioned and led to, immigrants have far better experiences typically than marginalized people in this country. And we have to put that in perspective and think about why we aren’t supporting the people who are trying to make it here in meaningful ways.
[00:21:02] Nobody wants to be on government assistance. That’s not the life to have. Nobody wants to live a life of crime or violence or doing illegal activity. Few people aspire to do that.
[00:21:13] Sean Li: I don’t think anyone aspires to do that.
[00:21:16] Lisha Bell: Everybody wants the American dream, right. Everybody wants to have a house and be able to feed their kids and have a safe environment.
[00:21:24] Sean Li: Yeah, that’s so true. I mean, that’s, this is the house that we built. And it’s, you know, the American dream isn’t built for everyone else but Americans. I think that’s what’s really fascinating as an immigrant, you know, coming here and I think even when I talked to my parents about that narrative it’s, they actually helped me realize that they came here because America was strong and great. And, if I do feel like this is a whole another can of worms but there’s definitely a lot more that we need to do for our country and our people.
[00:22:01] Lisha Bell: Yeah.
[00:22:02] Sean Li: I think it really starts with people who have the privilege to do something.
[00:22:06] Lisha Bell: Yeah. How can we make this opportunity for all and not opportunity for some?
[00:22:11] Sean Li: Right? So aside from your plans to launch a fund, what are some other ways we can help seed this ecosystem to create more diversity, equity & inclusion?
[00:22:28] Lisha Bell: Yeah. I mean, you know, vote with your pocketbooks, make statements with your checks, right? Investment. I can’t think of anything more important as investment and it’s not just investment in venture capital. It’s supporting a small business. It’s providing scholarships. We’re in a country where it doesn’t matter how brilliant you are.
[00:22:51] If you can’t afford to go to college, you don’t go. That’s silly. If you’re a brilliant scholar, let’s throw you some free money. We have this kind of society that values your social economic status more than your actual talent and capabilities. And, how do we shift that?
[00:23:08] I believe in affirmative action. I’m a firm of action product myself. So, what if I wasn’t here? What if I wasn’t given that opportunity which I’m very grateful for? I wouldn’t have that. And, we need systemic policies because otherwise, we don’t behave. Like it doesn’t just magically happen.
[00:23:25] You actually need policies and infrastructure. Vote, please vote. I mean, this is how we move things in this democratic society and that’s what we need.
[00:23:36] Sean Li: Yeah. And the other thing that you were mentioning is voting with your pocketbooks, right? And that’s something that my wife and I had a discussion about a couple of weeks back when she was saying, we all have this power that sometimes we don’t even think about in how and where we spend our money and that in of itself, what businesses we choose to support.
[00:23:59] Right. And, as our society becomes more and more transparent, hopefully, this trend continues where people can see, you know, what is it that this X company stands for or that company stands for. That we are conscious about voting with our pocketbooks because we don’t have to buy from that company.
[00:24:22] You know, there’s many times that we don’t buy something. People buy non-GMO, they spend a little bit more money because they believe in this cause. And so, when it comes to other things, this applies to everything. We should make a conscious decision to support financially the businesses that are aligned with us. I think that’s actually a really positive trend. Alright, so I guess let’s hear a little bit about PayPal.
[00:24:50] Lisha Bell: Yes.
[00:24:51] Sean Li: What is PayPal doing and what are you doing at PayPal?
[00:24:55] Lisha Bell: And I think this question is in response to black lives matter. So, PayPal had a major announcement of $530 million commitment to black communities. And as an employee of PayPal, I’m extremely proud of this statement and acknowledgment that this community needs investment. And so, $500 million of that is going to venture capital for long-term sustainment of the ecosystem and entrepreneurship. $10 million is going to small businesses. $5 million is going to nonprofit that’s applied technical assistance and $15 million is going to internal equity. And, I appreciate the holisticness of this initiative. I am a leader of the black employee group at PayPal.
[00:25:44] I am firsthand involved in not only shaping experiences for our consumers but also the experiences of employees at this company. And I take that responsibility. Even as an unpaid responsibility I take it very seriously because I know I’m one of the few. And, so I’m very proud of working on these initiatives and executing in a meaningful way.
[00:26:15] Sean Li: Does it ever feel exhausting that you’re the only flag-bearer or that you are the flag pair?
[00:26:21] Lisha Bell: Yeah. Yeah. It definitely can be exhausting. And, I do hold some privilege that I am, you know, halfway through my career and have been here, been there, done that before and I feel comfortable voicing my opinion because I also vote with my feet. If I’m not supported in where I work, I can go somewhere else and look for that support.
[00:26:49] And, I do feel encouraged that people are willing to listen. I have leaders in my organization that are willing to listen and hear me out and that’s what I call allyship. And, I actually have a few co-conspirators who take it to the next level who actually use their power and influence to make a change.
[00:27:08] My own manager who’s an Indian male was marching for black lives with his kids. And I love that. It made me tearful, considering we have very different perspectives and I don’t, you know, he may not fully agree to stand the American racial construct cause it’s different in India and everybody has their own construct that is unique to culture and identity. And he took a stand to support me and my daughters. And, I just love that bravery and courageousness that the co-conspirators have taken. Again, my non-black colleagues wrote an open letter to CEO about what they thought black employees should have to be successful here.
[00:27:44] And I was like, yes. You know, we see mostly non-black people marching and that is very encouraging and inspiring to see that I am not alone in the voice.
[00:27:58] Sean Li: That’s great. That is inspiring to hear. And, uh, and that’s something that we still have a lot more work to do. I think as a community, as citizens of this nation. This is just the beginning. We still have a lot of work to do. Any parting words of wisdom? This is actually something that I read on your LinkedIn, your letter to your daughters. I think what are some parting words of wisdom to our children?
[00:28:29] Lisha Bell: Yeah. I think if we can expose our children to everything and know that we, as parents, have limitations, and, but there’s so many other people who can help us, bridge those gaps, expose our children to different cultures, different languages. Hopefully one day we’ll be able to travel again and see other parts of the world and be less myopic and have compassionate empathy.
[00:28:56] Like let’s raise our children to be empathetic and have an understanding and not be presumptive and who, or what they think people are their capabilities because of what they look like. And, just teach our children to love not only people, animals, our gardens nature, like love everything that we’re given.
[00:29:19] Yeah. And this is a time of like gratitude, particularly during this season of stillness in corona and just being grateful that we have a community of people who are with us, are walking with us, supporting our neighbors. You know, I really am enjoying the energy of loving and just camaraderie right now.
[00:29:48] So I want to keep it going even when we would turn back to normal. And, I don’t want us to forget that we actually took time to talk to our neighbors again. You know, we did grocery shopping for the elderly. You take all the things, the acts of compassion that have been going on, let us sustain that in a beautiful way.
[00:30:07] Sean Li: Beautiful. Thanks for sharing that. Lisha, it’s been a real pleasure to have you on the podcast today.
[00:30:13] Lisha Bell: Thank you so much. Go Bears.
[00:30:16] Thank you for tuning in to another episode of the OneHaas here at Haas podcast. If you enjoyed our show today, please subscribe to us on your favorite podcast player and give us a rating or review. You can also check out more of our content on our website at onehaas.org, where you can also subscribe to our monthly newsletter. Until next time, go bears.