Women in Business Q&A: Toby Alfred, Marcus by Goldman Sachs

Toby Alfred is a managing director and the head of customer acquisition for Marcus by Goldman Sachs®. Toby manages a team in charge of pursuing potential customers and sharing the benefits of a Marcus loan with them through a variety of channels including direct mail, aggregators and digital advertising.

Toby is the former executive responsible for Customer Relationship Management (CRM) at Progressive Insurance where she was responsible for the customer experience and management of the contact centers. Prior to her role in CRM, Toby led Customer Acquisition and managed the award winning progressive.com for over 15 years, from its infancy to the multi-billion-dollar business it is today. Prior to Toby’s 17-year career at Progressive, she was a product manager at Leader National Insurance, an American Financial Group company and held numerous positions in the oil industry working for BP.

Toby holds an MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and a BS in Administration and Management Science from Carnegie- Mellon University. She is passionate about education and has been on the advisory board of HER Ideas in Motion, a non-profit promoting technology education among young women.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?

I grew up in a very modest household in one of New York City’s housing projects. Many of my childhood memories are of my parents impressing on me the importance of education. It was a constant refrain in our home. I could feel my parents’ own sense of frustration over the education opportunities they knew they’d missed. From an early age, I knew I wanted to get my foot on the rung of that ladder, that education would be a way forward in life. To this day, I’m happiest when I’m learning something new and expanding my skills.

Another big takeaway from my childhood was seeing my parents feel they were underappreciated in their jobs. They wanted their work to have more meaning but they weren’t getting that kind of reinforcement or support from their managers. Throughout my career I’ve tried to make sure that recognizing people is an important part of the daily work experience with anyone I supervise. Knowing you’re appreciated can be the difference between a team that performs at mid-level and one that excels.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at Marcus by Goldman Sachs?

I led the digital team at Progressive, from its infancy to the very large organization it is today. We essentially launched a start-up within an established corporation and took it to scale – very much like what we’re doing at Marcus by Goldman Sachs today. The parallels are significant and my experience at Progressive was a lot of what attracted me to Marcus, and Marcus to me, right out of the gate.

Another similarity is that both companies build their cultures around customer service. Marcus, which is an online lending platform for responsible borrowers who have good credit (credit score of 660+), built its entire product experience from the ground up, after interviewing more than 10,000 people across the U.S. Their input was the driving force behind making our website and our product as simple and transparent as possible, while at the same time, making sure that we deliver live, personalized support.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Marcus?

The highlight certainly was the day we went live after a little over a year of hard work building out our product and processes. Creating something new where nothing existed before is one of the most exciting things in life, especially when you’re helping people manage their personal debt. To see the product launch and then address people’s financial pain points was incredibly rewarding. In less than a year, we’ve crossed the $1 billion mark in personal loans, so we know we’re having an impact in the market, and in many people’s lives.

What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?

You’ve got to master the fundamentals. Like in any industry, but more so in financial services, it’s essential to develop a solid understanding of the core business – without it, you can’t progress in your career, not to mention earn the trust of colleagues and clients. Personal finance and money management are among the most important and often stressful decisions people will make in their lives. If you can demonstrate your mastery of the business – if you can lead with confidence and from strength – perceptions of gender, whatever they may be, will be far less of a factor, if at all.

What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career to date?

It’s always about the customer. When businesses lose sight of the customer and lose sight of creating a positive customer experience, that’s when they’re on the path to failure. We spend much of our time at Marcus focusing on the customer experience and discussing over and over, from every possible vantage point, how we can improve that experience.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?

Getting a business off the ground isn’t the easiest way to maintain a work life balance but there are some ways to find time for things you enjoy. My husband and I like to eat together so, even if I have a late night at the office, he typically waits to have dinner with me. Having someone to talk to after a long day is a quick way to relax. I like to exercise before work most days so making sure I get in that personal time before the day begins is a good way to make balance a top priority.

During the winter I love to ski. It’s just you and the mountain which helps me clear my mind and refresh myself, so I

always make sure to carve out some time for a trip.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?

Having a successful career and a family is still challenging for many people. Having a great support system, an understanding manager and, even more importantly, a partner who shares in family chores are what’s needed to be successful.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?

Mentorship has played a big role in my professional life. I was lucky enough to be mentored by a very successful man early in my career. It was mostly guidance on growing and testing my knowledge base and introducing me to very senior executives within the company. He helped establish me as an expert very quickly within our organization which led to senior executives calling me directly when they were looking for help and answers to their questions. It all led to a series of very quick promotions and increasing responsibility, making a difference in my career path.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?

Sheryl Sandberg is my standout as she embodies a successful leader who deeply cares about her organization, its success and the careers of others. Doing this while raising children, now on her own, is incredibly impressive. One can argue that she can afford all the help in the world but she is there to eat dinner with her kids and it’s clear she is deeply invested in their happiness.

What do you want Marcus to accomplish in the next year?

We want to continue to help responsible consumers who are struggling with high-interest variable rate credit card debt. Everyday expenses and unexpected costs like braces for the kids, a leaky roof or a hot water heater breaking down can affect anyone. For many, it’s easy to fall behind and resort to credit cards as a quick solution. Marcus by Goldman Sachs provides an alternative option to help consumers end the revolving cycle of high-interest credit card debt with a fixed-rate, no-fee personal loan.

We also hope to spark a conversation about debt amongst consumers, so they become aware there are better ways to manage it. There’s a stigma around personal debt and if we can help people realize they’re not alone, they may be more likely to explore options other than credit cards that are much better for their personal finances.

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