Lifetime of Achievement: Zach Perret

Zach Perret recognised as a young man that millions of people were facing financial exclusion – and decided to be something about it by launching Plaid

Over the past 11 years, Plaid has become one of fintech’s most recognisable names and biggest success stories. 

In truth, it is something of a fintech facilitator, allowing other firms in the industry to connect to their customers’ bank accounts – covering no fewer than 12,000 financial institutions across North America and Europe. 

Plaid is, ultimately, focused on democratising financial services through technology, empowering millions around the world to live a healthier financial life.

At the very top—and heart—of proceedings is CEO Zach Perret, who co-founded the company alongside a colleague back in 2013. 

His relentless drive and innovative ideas have resulted in immense growth and ensured Plaid now finds itself in the upper echelons of the fintech universe. 

Sure, there have been difficult periods and experiences to overcome, not least the collapse of a deal that would have seen Plaid sold to Visa for more than US$5bn, but Perret has always emerged with key learnings under his belt and a desire to improve. 

Shaking up the market

Hailing from the relatively small village of Clemmons, North Carolina, a young Zach Perret witnessed first-hand the financial injustice facing millions of people across the US as members of his community struggled to find suitable lending options. 

The seed for Plaid was, it seems, well and truly planted as Perret went off to study at Duke University

After graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry and Biology, he jumped straight into a professional career by taking on an Associate role with the consulting giant Bain & Company, where he met William Hockey.

The pair both worked extensively with financial institutions and were united in their belief that the sector was desperately lagging from a technological standpoint and still presented a host of barriers to financial inclusion. 

“The sentiment came through that consumers were frustrated with the quality and prevalence of financial products they were able to have access to,” Perret told the Financial Times in 2023

And so, in 2013, Plaid was officially created to shake up the market and provide everyday consumers with a transparent, high-quality product. Soon after, in the hope of expanding and recruiting a deeper pool of talented engineers, Perret and Hockey moved the operation to San Francisco. 

The mission stays the same

It wasn’t all smooth sailing in the early days for Perret, Hockey and their fledgling venture. 

Their big idea—to build an API that would link customers’ bank accounts with exciting new fintech applications seamlessly—was initially shunned at virtually every turn by banks and investors. 

The alternative was to go directly to fintechs. Venmo, which was fast becoming something of a byword for sending money between friends and family, was an early adopter of the API because leaders recognised they needed an improved system for connecting their own tech to a user’s bank account. 

Perret has admitted in the past that he had to overcome some reluctance to take this approach but soon saw the results. 

Speaking to CNBC back in 2018, he said: “It was a great proof point to see tonnes of people using Plaid at scale inside of Venmo, which then helped launch us into a lot of other applications.”

It’s certainly true that a prosperous relationship with Venmo appeared to be the catalyst that would truly propel Plaid into the mainstream. 

The wider financial services community was taking notice and, in early 2020—just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit—payments giant Visa agreed to buy Plaid for a sum in the region of US$5.3bn. 

However, after the US Department of Justice launched an attempt to block the transaction on the grounds of it potentially damaging competition within the sector, the parties mutually agreed to call it off. 

Perret recalls this topsy-turvy few months as being the toughest period of his life, but things were looking up when, in April 2021, Plaid sealed a US$425m Series D funding round which boosted its valuation to US$13.4bn. 

Today, the firm is working with numerous Fortune 500 companies, including many of the largest banks in the world, to make it easy for people to connect their financial accounts to the apps and services they want to use.

“The mission barely changes,” Perret continued, during his conversation with the Financial Times. 

And with Perret at the helm, Plaid will surely remain steadfast in its bid to fulfil this mission for many years to come.

 

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