HoneyBee CEO Annie Lim Solves Financial Wellness With Fair Loans

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Financial well-being is more than a buzzword for Annie Lim. This is an elusive goal that absorbed and determined her entire life.

Today, Lim is the co-founder and CEO of financial solutions platform HoneyBee, which offers 0% per annum loans of up to $ 1,000 to employees in need, as well as personalized financial coaching. But her path to top management was not easy.

At nine years old, Lim and her family immigrated to Montreal, Canada from Malaysia. When Lim’s father was unable to work due to an unexpected illness, her mother was forced to take on the role of the sole breadwinner for the family of four. Lim has watched her struggle to make ends meet, live paycheck to paycheck, and rely on last-minute loans from employers when money is tight.

“It was really scary,” says Lim, who has developed a distorted view of financial stability. “All I knew about my finances was to save every dollar and not look at my bank account.”

This mindset followed Lim into adulthood. After moving to the United States in 2011 at the age of 26, Lim became the so-called “credit invisible” – a term coined to refer to individuals with no credit history in any of the three major credit bureaus – Experian, Equifax or TransUnion. – and therefore cannot prove its creditworthiness.

She didn’t start creating loans until she got married – when she only did so using her husband’s line of credit. “We never even thought twice about what would happen if we divorced,” says Lim, who is now 38. “I never wanted to bring our minds to this state.”

Read more: How one employee went from financial stress to financial security

But seven years later, she and her husband divorced, and this event proved to be far more devastating for Lim from a financial point of view. Beyond the reality of a sharp drop in her credit rating, Lim faced costly attorney fees and had nowhere to go to help her pay them.

Suddenly, things that she once thought were achievable – a loan, an apartment, a car, and even a job – became unattainable. Forced to start her financial journey from scratch, Lim moved to her parents’ basement in Montreal.

“It was a really humiliating experience,” she says. “[I felt like I] reached the bottom. But when you hit the bottom, there is nowhere to go but up. “

Lim’s experience as a woman and a person of color is hardly unique. The lending space has always disproportionately affected minorities, with lenders denying mortgages to black applicants 80% higher than whites, according to 2020 figures from the Residential Mortgage Disclosure Act. And when women are tested for their knowledge of personal finance, only 38% answered the questions correctly, according to the Personal Finance Index.

The financial literacy statistics – and the significant gap for women – amazed Lim, who knows how much misinformation can affect a woman in a situation like this.

“I talk to a lot of women,” she says. “And finance is the main reason they don’t get divorced because they are afraid of what will happen to them after.”

It was there, in her parents’ basement, still reeling from the events that led her to this position, and with no job prospects, Lim realized that she wanted to find a solution to her own problem.

“Not everyone faced financial problems,” says Lim. “But each has its own story.”

Read more: Financial well-being is an essential tool for DEI initiatives

Remembering hers, Lim knew how important financial wellness platforms for all demographic groups. So when longtime friends Benny Yu and Max Zhoh approached her with the idea of ​​a prototype for financial support through the employer’s channel, she used her own experience to create a structure that would serve her future client base.

Together they created and launched HoneyBee in 2016, the first service of its kind that charges companies a premium and provides loans directly to employees at 0% per annum. In this way, those in need can avoid using more traditional banks, which often punish BIPOC borrowers with high interest rates and an inability to raise their credit rating.

“Employers have a much larger role to play in providing fair and inclusive solutions,” says Lim. “People have different socioeconomic backgrounds and they are not going to talk about it at work, but this is the reality.”

Lim and her co-founders initially launched HoneyBee before raising preliminary seed capital in 2017. The process was tough, says Lim, who offered over 100 venture capitalists and their bank account dropped to $ 200 when they finally got their first. a check from investors.

After she was promoted to Chief Executive Officer in July 2019, Lim was heading HoneyBee’s sales team in the early years of the company, and this transition has not been easy for her.

“In Silicon Valley, and especially in financial technology, men are dominant,” she says. “It is important for women to continue to remove these barriers and obstacles, and it is important that men are our allies. My two co-founders were my number one support in all of this. ”

Walter Balmas, Head of Consumer Success at HoneyBee, was the first colleague to invite Lim to take on a more important leadership role, largely because of her dedication to promoting customer stories as well as her own.

“As a startup, you have to tell stories really well,” says Balmas. “Our storyteller is Annie. After all, she is a person who inspires and lives by what she believes in. “

Read more: Employers fail without financial incentives

These stories have helped HoneyBee attract outstanding talent like Balmas, who previously worked in the student loan sector for nearly three decades. According to Balmas, HoneyBee’s mission will allow it to redefine diversity, fairness and inclusiveness in other companies – HR teams don’t understand that there are financial disparities between demographics unless they implement tools to create change and support marginalized employees.

In the end, Balmas says he feels like his work contributes to something great. His previous work seemed very transactional; at HoneyBee approving a $ 400 loan for an employee has the meaning

“We’re on something,” he says. “We can help [employers] make sure the diverse staff have the tools they need to feel involved. “

This drive to close the diversity gap prompted Lisa Sordilla, vice president of human resources, HR solutions platform Energage, to deploy HoneyBee in her own department.

“Considering the events of last year, the time has come [HR] do more, not just say they support equality in the workplace, ”says Sordilla. “What could you do? Are your benefits fair? That’s important for me “.

Because Energage is a relatively high-salary software company, Sordilla said many of its employees do not need to use HoneyBee’s lending services. HoneyBee’s real value at Energage lies in its mentoring opportunities, because “financially stable” does not always mean “financially knowledgeable”.

“I myself use financial coaching,” says Sordilla. “I set three financial targets for 2020 and met all three. I benefited so much from having an accountability partner in my coach and having someone help me think about things differently. ”

Read more: How a flight attendant improved her weight and well-being with the help of her employer

This kind of feedback sounds like music to Lim’s ears, and proves that her long-held hunch is correct: Many people from a wide variety of socioeconomic backgrounds crave a safe and emotionally safe space to prioritize their personal finances. This is the place Lim wanted but never found.

“I just wanted to be able to ask for help,” she says, recalling the events that brought her to where she is today. “And when I think about my mom when I was growing up, I wish she had someone to rely on, too.”

Lim says that while it has made great strides in realizing this vision, in which no one is in the same position as her, HoneyBee, which now employs 20 people, is far from complete work to achieve its goals.

“We will continue to grow,” she says. “Even when we close the next round of funding and our team doubles [in size]It’s important for me to always maintain our culture and our core values ​​and make sure everyone embodies this as we are growing.”



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