In the early 2000s, Einat Steklov moved to the U.S. from her home country of Israel to enroll at the Columbia University Business School in New York.
She was juggling a full-time job with a good, stable salary and was a disciplined spender — but without a U.S. credit profile, she found it nearly impossible to capture any real buying power.
Around the same time, Rishi Kumar was having a similar experience in Massachusetts. He’d moved from India in pursuit of an MIT engineering degree, and while he came from a well-off family in his home country, that wealth didn’t translate to the U.S., at least as far as credit bureaus were concerned.
MIT, fortunately, had a robust program to help international students get their stateside banking in order — but without that support, Kumar’s road to building credit would have been much longer.
Years later, when Steklov and Kumar met through a program that helped hopeful entrepreneurs’ network, they instantly clicked — and upon realizing their shared experience, set out to create a solution.
In 2015, the duo launched Kashable, a startup that partners with companies to provide financial education, low-cost loans and credit checks to employees. Kashable acts as the employee’s sponsor, enabling workers to build their line of credit and repay their loan stress-free.
Sixty percent of Kashable’s repeat borrowers have seen an increase in their credit score, and 80% of people that started out with no scores at all are now building their position in the financial ecosystem.
“I’m not disputing the credit scoring system as a system — I think overall it’s good,” Steklov says. “What is not so clear to me is that people that don’t fall into these prime credit brackets are a risk. What we’re looking to test is the hypothesis that if we actually lend to people that have a stable paycheck [regardless of their credit score], these people should be able to pay off a loan.”
To make sure they weren’t accidentally setting customers up for failure, the founders put some thoughtful safeguards in place. For example, employees can’t take out more than one loan at a time and have to pay off their first before getting a second or third.
From the start, Steklov and Kumar were sure to prioritize DEI efforts, both within their own company and in the way they serve customers and work with other employers. Bad credit doesn’t discriminate — but the Kashable founders know that lenders often do: Black applicants are denied mortgages at a rate 80% higher than that of white applicants, according to 2020 data from the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act.
“When you think about the population overall, people with poor credit also correlate strongly toward the minorities,” Steklov says. “So when Kashable opens up to people across the credit spectrum, by definition we’re supporting diversity initiatives, and we see that in our applicant pool.”
Despite the issue being so widespread (and the potential customer base being so large), Kashable is nearly uncontested when it comes to employee-ready resources in their field. That’s because, Kumar says, that memory of feeling financially stranded all those years ago feels fresh in both his and Steklov’s memories.
“Most of the people that have the tools are not afflicted by the problems that we’re looking to solve here,” Kumar says. “You can sit there with a big box of wrenches and screwdrivers, but what are you going to fix? You need to know something about the world in order to know what to fix.”
In the years ahead, the founders plan to further deepen their expertise and Kashable’s offerings, and are considering partnering with Kashable-approved financial coaches to provide more personalized advice for employees looking to strengthen their financial standing.
“We started with lending because it’s the immediate band-aid when people come to you,” Kumar says. “In the ER, if somebody comes to you with a gaping wound, you’re not going to tell them to start treating it with yoga — you have to patch that up first.”