Neighborhood Trust Financial Partners is excited to welcome Melissa Gopnik as our new Vice President of Innovation. In this new role Melissa will lead the ideation, design, and development of financial products, benefits, and systems that compete and disrupt today’s marketplace of worker financial solutions. Leveraging the expertise and insights from Neighborhood Trust’s financial coaching platforms, Melissa and her team will identify market opportunities for financial solutions that mitigate worker indebtedness and build worker financial security. This appointment is particularly meaningful for Neighborhood Trust as we fulfill our strategy of achieving impact at scale by driving change on both a system and market level.
Melissa brings over 20 years of strategic nonprofit leadership to this role. Throughout her career, she has combined her talents in strategic planning, program and product design, research, and public speaking to promote justice and equity. In her previous role, Melissa oversaw the Innovation Lab at Commonwealth, which designed and tested savings products and new technologies such as blockchain and machine learning.
During her first week on the job, we learned about her perspectives on innovation, worker financial health, and more. Here’s some highlights from our conversation with her:
What are the greatest challenges to workers’ financial health today, and what do you believe Neighborhood Trust’s role is in solving them?
One challenge that I think doesn’t get talked about enough is misunderstanding, which leads to, at best, indifference. People with the power to improve the financial health of households that live on low or moderate incomes, often believe that it is caused by, and can be solved by, individual actions.
I sometimes refer to this as the “Starbucks hypothesis”. This hypothesis says, “If only people would stop buying lattes, there would be no financial insecurity for working people.” Years of research show that individual actions are just one minuscule part of reducing financial insecurity.
The real solution is to change the policies and practices of the major institutions in the employment and financial systems. Neighborhood Trust is in a unique position to correct this misunderstanding based on data and insights about the realities of workers financial lives. This data allows Neighborhood Trust to partner with institutions that have the power to change the trajectory of workers’ financial futures.
What do you believe makes Neighborhood Trust uniquely positioned to drive innovation and change within the financial services space?
What excites me the most about joining the Neighborhood Trust team is their commitment to high-quality direct services to workers and system change. I think long-lasting system change is only possible when it’s grounded in a deep understanding of the root causes.
The best way to build knowledge is through direct service. Through financial coaching, Neighborhood Trust has unique insight into workers’ realities that inform and motivate individuals and organizations as we pursue a more equitable economic system. This data fuels innovation and disrupts the current financial landscape.
How do you approach innovation?
I like to start by demystifying it.
When people hear the word “innovation” they imagine a rare person, who is usually a little odd, who comes up with brilliant ideas out of thin air. Innovation is something anyone can do. It is simply coming up with a better mousetrap- that is one that is both new and useful.
This work is executed best in a group of diverse people who share the same vision and values. Effective listening is essential to successful innovation. We must take the time to hear one another and combine everyone’s ideas to create something extraordinary.
The right tools and structures are needed to hear every idea and create something novel and useful that no one would have thought of on their own. The Neighborhood Trust staff have been innovators since its inception. I am eager to work alongside them to optimize the team’s innovation as we make impact at scale.
Who are your influencers?
There are a few who come to mind.
Linda Hill is a brilliant academic researcher who has great research on how companies can organize themselves to support a culture of innovation. Her work is highly accessible and practical.
Lucinda Garthwaite, the founder of the Institute for Liberatory Innovation (ILI), publishes a newsletter with fresh ideas on ways to implement effective systems change- specifically around DEI. She is a big inspiration, and I am a proud board member of the ILI.
Pascal Auclair is an Insight Meditation teacher. I have attended many of his workshops and retreats. His combination of humor and wisdom is uplifting. Pascal is from Quebec, so his French accent reminds me of home.
How do you spend your Sundays?
I like to spend my Sundays watching my daughter and husband race cars in the solo program of the SCCA. They are both big car enthusiasts. I also like to cook a new recipe to use up whatever I got in my farm share that week.
What is the best piece of financial guidance you’ve received?
Invest in US Treasury I bonds. They are only available to individuals and have a great rate of return.This is advice I received from a younger colleague of mine, who is an enthusiastic first time investor and a former Harvard Business professor, so I figured I couldn’t go wrong.