Over the next year or so, we’d like to highlight various Personal Capital employees from our Denver and San Francisco offices to share their background and stories. So often we think of financial institutions as large, faceless organizations. As a technology-assisted registered investment advisor who cares deeply about our product and our clients, we’d like to highlight our “Personal” in Personal Capital.
Name: Ehsan Lavassani
Education: B.S. in Software Engineering from Tehran Polytechnic
Role at Personal Capital: VP of Engineering
How long have you been with Personal Capital: 1st employee, so as old as Personal Capital itself, 5+ yrs
Hobbies: Biking and swimming with my kids!
Family status: Married to Amene, Cyrus 4yrs and Ilene 7months
Investment Style: Personal Capital’s Smart Indexing Strategy
Why did you decide to join Personal Capital?
Simply put, I saw an opportunity to be a disrupter in the financial industry while creating a service that would serve families and improve their lives. This combination doesn’t come by often.
It all started with a breakfast with Bill Harris, our CEO, at Buck’s of Woodside, one of the iconic Silicon Valley cafes. I had done two other ventures with Bill Harris, each unique in its own way, but when he said over breakfast “I want to start a new kind of bank” I had to be part of it!
I loved the idea of creating a financial institution, from ground up, that would shake an industry, benefit millions of American families and become the model for others to follow and copy in the years after our success.
Being the first employee I got to experience the romanticism around building a small startup with a grand vision: we started in a shared office space where my desk was a slab of wood placed on top of two file cabinets; I spent a few months creating “proof of concepts” and in the coming year, we pivoted two times until we found the perfect way to build this new type of financial institution.
I joined because I knew in this company I could not only get to imagine the future but make it a reality.
What stands out about Personal Capital compared to its peers?
What sets us apart is the way we use both data aggregation and machine learning technologies and certified financial advisors to model a family’s financial life. No one ever had the data, the technology and the people to do this: combine the power of an abstract computer model with the intuition and expertise of certified financial advisors to help families understand their current financial situation, and help them optimize it for the next stages of their life and continuously monitor its progress, notifying them when an adjustment is needed.
What sets us apart is our brilliant engineering and financial advisory teams. We try to understand as much about the user and their financial life from their data as we can, but that only covers the quantitative and analytical part of the modeling, and not the emotional aspect of their money. We capture that not through a typical questionnaire, but through a free consultation with a certified financial advisor.
What is your favorite part about working there?
The amazing thing about working at Personal Capital is that when I leave the office each evening, I’m pumped with more energy, enthusiasm and optimism than when I came to the office in the morning. I think that’s because I get to build a noble service with great people; it can’t get any better than that. Everyday I work with the most talented engineers that I have ever worked with; building sophisticated services that empower thousands of American families take control of their money.
Which tool on the Personal Capital Dashboard was the hardest to build?
Building tools is relatively straight forward. What’s hard is building tools that adhere to the principles of a next generation financial institution. We’ve built our business around “users,” which puts a lot of pressure on us to build great technology that reflects the same principles as the user.
The technology behind so many of the financial intuitions is built around a “product.” A single user’s data is fragmented across many subsystems, making their already complicated financial life even more complex. We, on the other hand, create a holistic model of the user’s financial life. It takes a lot of engineering creativity and might to architect this holistic and aggregated view across the many providers and even our own subsystems.
The other challenging part of it was being able to present these complex models in simple and intuitive user interfaces across different devices. This is why we have customized every aspect of the user interface to fit our business principle: user is in the center of our application and her data is aggregated around her.
If you weren’t working at Personal Capital, what would be the next best thing?
If I wasn’t working at Personal Capital, I’d start a non-profit organization that finds new ways for technology to help make our world a more democratic one.
There are number of organizations dedicated to civic technologies, but almost all of them are focused on short-term civic engagement and making governments more effective. What’s missing is finding ways for civic technologies to empower the citizenry to shape long-term political evolution and direction of the nation.
Thanks everyone! You can follow me on Twitter @EhsanLavassani