Why Steve Streit keeps pushing new solutions for Green Dot customers

There is a big difference between the Green Dot Corp. Steve Streit leads today and the one he thought he would be leading when the company launched in 1999.

“We thought this was a card that kids would use to buy things online because their moms and dads would never let them use their own credit cards,” Streit says. “I thought I had invented what I called a credit card for kids. But everybody was buying them but kids.”

When Streit learned that his prepaid debit cards were attractive to consumers who had bad credit and couldn’t get checking accounts or credit cards, he decided it was time to change direction.

“I thought that’s a way better idea than kids buying stuff online,” says Streit, the 2,000-employee company’s founder, chairman, president and CEO. “So we changed the packaging and it caught on much bigger.”

Green Dot now has a presence in more than 90,000 retailers across the country. It allows consumers to buy an FDIC-insured back account right off the rack.

“It’s a productized version of a checking account without the person behind the desk who enrolls you,” Streit says. “But once you have it, it’s just a bank account.”

Streit was a panelist in November at the EY Strategic Growth Forum® in Palm Springs, Calif. He spoke about being a disruptor, growth and keeping the customer front and center.


What is the value of constant disruption in business?

You need to make sure you’re always bringing in new, modern people who say, ‘Hey, that was really stupid. I know you thought it was really cool five years ago, but it’s not cool anymore.’ You need to make sure you’re open to that, to make sure new thinking always dominates the room while not upsetting the apple cart where you make all your money today. You have to be forward looking.

Disruption is a big thing. We’re always looking at new services and new features. Remote capture deposit is the ability to take a photograph of your check and the risk officer will say, ‘Hey, that’s risky.’ The answer is, ‘I know, getting up in the morning is too. But you still do it.’ So this is what consumers want. The question is not whether we’ll do it. We will do it.

The question is how do you do it in a way that is compliant, safe, thoughtful and responsible. As the company gets bigger, you have this built-in resistance to change. It’s a really bad word and people freak out. But it’s important to have that mindset.


How do you find the right people to keep growing?

We’ve really found a sweet spot of recruiting very senior executives who are frustrated with their current big company because the entrepreneurial energy is sucked out of them like a vacuum.

So you say you’re really bright and you’re really thoughtful and you want to get something done. Wouldn’t it be awesome to work for a company that cares about customers and is mission-based? You can actually do it and have that access to senior management to get it done instead of being pushed down.


How do you maintain customer focus?

You have to help your people understand you’re not doing a function. If you mess up at your job, a single mom may not have been able to buy Enfamil for her child at a retail store because you missed a line of code that made their card non-transactable.

This is about a customer. Everything we do is about a customer. If you can just keep that customer focus, pictures of the customers, visits to the office, everybody is mission-based. I don’t care if you’re running internal audit routines for the Federal Reserve or you’re a salesperson.

We certainly take big, bad competitors seriously. But the love of customer and the power of focus is what has helped us succeed.