Humans of Fundbox: Marlena Stallworth

Author: Dan Biewener | January 6, 2021

Our Humans of Fundbox series gives us a chance to feature some of the amazing individuals who work within our company and let them share what’s important to them. In this post, we’re proud to introduce you to Marlena Stallworth, Onboarding Specialist Team Lead and Employee Resource Group Leader at Fundbox. Based in our Dallas, Texas area office, but working from home like the rest of us during the COVID-19 pandemic since March, Marlena explains what’s important to her about helping small business customers, working at Fundbox, and even fostering allyship and diversity throughout the company.

A smiling Marlena Stallworth, Onboarding Specialist Team Lead and Employee Resource Group Leader at Fundbox
Marlena Stallworth, Onboarding Specialist Team Lead and Employee Resource Group Leader at Fundbox

First of all, tell us a bit about what you do for Fundbox. 

Marlena Stallworth: I was hired in May, 2019 as an Onboarding Specialist, helping customers to potentially acquire a Fundbox line of credit for their business. These are people who’ve input their information to the application process but haven’t completed it. Generally that’s going to be for one or two reasons: either they’re uncertain about the product or they want somebody to walk them through the technical questions.

What are some typical questions people have when applying for a line of credit?

Sometimes our prospective customers ask themselves, “Do I even need this?” They may be concerned about what terms we have to offer and how they would work into their business’s other ongoing payment cycles. Is this really a good fit? Getting clarity on eligibility requirements is pretty common. Will applying affect their credit score? (It won’t.) Or, if they’re looking at how to calculate the interest rate on their own, that part might be a little confusing; that’s because our loans are for only 12 or 24 weeks, not for 12 months, so APR (annual percentage rate) really doesn’t represent an accurate reflection of what we offer. 

What did you learn in your first few months that made you so successful? You’re now the onboarding team lead.

You know, sometimes we’d make maybe 80 to 100 calls, and to me, when you spread that level of activity across a day, I would beg to question what was the quality of the actual conversation. How well were we really taking the time to help each customer? So the next couple months I really thought about how to develop better strategies—not just in terms of the calls, but for all touch points, like emails and the application itself.

I felt like some of the questions we were asking were a little too generalized. And so I worked really hard at getting those conversations to be a bit more personable because I was trying really hard to get people to trust us more as agents for them, not just as reps for Fundbox. Credit is a very personal thing. It can be a very emotional process—because it’s your small business and your money, and sometimes even your employees’ livelihoods. 

I started by taking more time on these phone calls. If the average customer phone call was just a few minutes, mine was maybe 12 to 15. Sometimes I would learn about people’s family members, how many cats they have, how long they’ve been in business, and what their plans are for the future of the business. It would start to make sense why having a kind of safety net in your back pocket would be good for all the things that matter to you at the core of your heart and your business.

How did your background and career path before Fundbox prepare you for what you’re doing today? 

In college I minored in dance, which was my passion since I was three, and I majored in English Education—because I love to communicate with people and tend to get acquainted with people easily. This seemed like the natural course, since I have a lot of educators in my family. But I quickly learned the business aspect of education didn’t mesh well with me from an emotional standpoint, with all the bureaucracy and different political views within the system.

So instead, I got into retail as a manager for a long time. It was there that I realized I just really loved people! From a professional standpoint, that kind of led the way for me. Selling things or services to people, whether it’s a wardrobe or a life insurance plan, is all about figuring out how this is going to benefit them. I’d think, “I’m going to get to know you so well, you’re going to trust me with your life.” And I never shied away from that concept ever.

I spent years in banking, starting back about maybe 12 or 13 years ago. That exposure to investment bankers is what really got me really interested in life insurance. I’ve maintained my license to solicit life insurance and annuities. I think having those tough, detailed conversations with families about what their needs are, whether business or domestic customers, is where I learned to develop more thorough customer correspondence. People want to work through the process. That human aspect is greatly appreciated by customers. I realized working for smaller banks, this acute attention is rarely seen in larger lending institutions. Smaller firms train their people to get to know you better, and that same level of attention can be seen at Fundbox. 

What keeps you motivated, working at Fundbox?

As my manager(s) could tell you, the money is the smallest factor of motivation for me.  I generally use financial metrics to help motivate others. I firmly believe that when you are consistently doing what’s right by the customer, the numbers all fall in place. The process of understanding our customers is motivating in itself.  Employing great listening skills in order to remain keenly aware of why customers choose to work with Fundbox is imperative. Did they find us or were they referred to us? What helped them make that decision? What can we help resolve? How can we help you grow? 

These questions aren’t merely asked for the purpose of completing a checklist. It’s really about building our relationship with that person and I have always been committed to having the conversation—whether it’s somebody that’s a great fit, just a good fit, or not a good fit for us right now. At the end of the conversation, I always hoped prospective customers would feel like they were more educated no matter what.

I enjoy meeting customers where they are and aligning recommendations based on what they’re trying to achieve. It’s important to build up a natural sensitivity to people where they are in circumstances. Having to flex that muscle has become really important during the pandemic because people are not only just facing the concept of how the pandemic is affecting their business; now it’s how it’s affecting their family. Some people just really need to hear that they’re not alone, we’re here for them and remain very grateful for their continued business.

Helping applicants become new customers isn’t all you do for Fundbox. You’re also improving awareness, allyship, and corporate culture here by leading an employee resource group. 

Several instances of injustice against Black people have recently come to the forefront on various social platforms. We know for certain that current racial conditions are not going to improve by one community acting on its own. We know now more than ever that we all need each other to truly see continuous progress. 

Upon the death of George Floyd, the executive and human resources teams approached me and Jordan Eldridge, our Sales Enablement Manager, regarding having an open discussion with the company. It was definitely important to get a real pulse check of our staff’s feelings around racial disparity and inequality. We followed through by leading four segments of discussions in a Round-table forum. This was particularly imperative since we have many employees of different demographics in very different regions of the world, between California, Texas, and Israel. These discussions gave us an opportunity to really gain a respect for the outlook and perspectives of each individual. We need to work as a people, as Americans, not just black, not just white, not just Latin, whomever—we all need to work together to make a change.

First we started the #Allyship channel on Slack [our internal online message board], which allowed us as employees to have an outlet to exchange information across the board, sharing different perspectives so that everybody could see our experiences and continue to learn from one another. Then we developed the Employee Resource Group, forming three different teams: The Pride group,  the Women at Fundbox, and The Melanin Collective. 

Tell us about The Melanin Collective group, which you lead at Fundbox.

The name,  Melanin Collective, is very important because sharing perspectives across cultural demographics is a pivotal aspect. Black culture is embraced and celebrated by people of all communities. We want to impress upon our members that we are all a “Collective of Melanin”; all humans are of color. Moving forward and progressing from a systemic aspect, we all have to continue to do this together. As a group, The Melanin Collective is working to bring many benefits to Fundbox. We strive to identify and help develop internal leaders within Fundbox in an effort to bridge the gap to see more Black leaders represented in our company. Our efforts will lead to higher retention rates as we continue to educate staff  through internal events, panels and more. In the upcoming season, our staff will be growing tremendously. We are working to recruit underrepresented individuals and develop a diverse pipeline of remarkable talent. 

What advice do you have for anyone else who’s considering working at Fundbox?

Keep an open mind and be flexible because even after 8 years, there is still a lot of the startup feel. Change is sometimes the highest constant, especially this year. You should be comfortable with maybe wearing more than one hat at the same time on any given day. I think that that will lead people to a lot of success. 

Also, be yourself. I particularly love Fundbox because I get to bring myself. I not only get to be my true self, my unique personality is genuinely appreciated here. I think that’s the one thing that really stands out if I compare my career experiences. I feel that what is so appreciated about my skill set has a lot to do with my soft skills and integrity, not merely the book-sense and credentials that I brought to the job. 

Want to work with Marlena? Check out our Fundbox Careers page.

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