At the Intersection of Technology and Social Impact

By Aria Florant WG’16

“I know that’s what the degree is going to end up costing, but it’s a terrible thing to think about right now. I don’t like thinking about money. Ugh. I’m going to throw up. I’m going to be broke forever.” – MBA Student, Class of 2017

This is a common sentiment among graduate students in massive amounts of debt, which is CommonBond’s target consumer. No one likes student loans, but they don’t have to be as painful as people might think. CommonBond is the bank of the future—a values-driven financial services company that delivers savings, simplicity, and service to borrowers.

Aria Florant WG'16 and Sindhura Sarikonda WG'16. Sarikonda is the winner of the 2015 CommonBond Social Impact Award.
Aria Florant WG’16 (L) and Sindhura Sarikonda WG’16 (R). Sarikonda is the winner of the 2015 CommonBond Social Impact Award.

Before Wharton, I worked for an education-focused nonprofit organization as well as spending a few months researching women’s empowerment and entrepreneurship in Southeast Asia. Both experiences solidified my understanding of the need for elegant technology in effective social change, which is why I wanted to do an internship at the intersection of technology and social impact. CommonBond provided just that.

Product at CommonBond is a small but mighty team of a few product managers and a few more developers. We’re on a metaphorical island in the middle of our startup (read: one big room) Chinatown office, and completely dedicated to the website that makes our company go round.

I was brought on to do both quantitative and qualitative research that led to a set of user personas, which are characters created to represent people who use the site in distinctly different ways. This meant spending lots of time in Google Analytics as well as conducting over 50 user tests throughout the course of the summer. After developing three distinct personas, I wrote a list of recommendations for site improvements that would better serve the needs of each type of user. Throughout the summer, we were able to implement some, A/B test a few, and plan the rest—depending on the amount of development needed to make the changes. Finally, I put a system in place for CommonBond’s product managers to continue doing user research after I leave.

As CommonBond prepares to expand its product offerings, the site will need to serve many more different kinds of people—especially those with less financial savvy than CommonBond’s typical MBA borrower.

I often heard users tell me how stressful student debt feels, how expensive it is to go to school, and how confusing the borrowing and repayment process seems. It was amazing to have the opportunity to sit and listen, with my only aim to figure out how to make things easier for them (and learn a lot about how to conduct a successful user test along the way). The user personas I developed will be infused into the CommonBond process, from marketing to operations—enabling the team to better anticipate and deliver on what borrowers need.

From a personal perspective, the summer was invaluable. My 5-year plan is to return to the social sector, in an organization focused on community development in low-income communities. These are the communities that need technological advancement the most; even those that neighbor the tech titans of Silicon Valley lag behind.

But more importantly, marginalized communities need innovative solutions to deeply rooted and nuanced challenges—like education reform and poverty alleviation. I believe technology has the power to play an integral role in developing solutions, if we know how to harness it. My summer at CommonBond gave me a look under the hood at everything that goes into building a tech product that people will use and love. Undoubtedly, I will take this knowledge back to the social sector and use it to try to solve some of the most pressing challenges society faces today.

Headshot smBio: Aria Florant is a dual degree MBA/MPA candidate at The Wharton School and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. Prior to graduate school, she worked in education and youth development. She is a Sheila C. Johnson Leadership Fellow at the Kennedy School and President of the African American MBA Association at Wharton.