Introduction – Interview with Odysseas (Founder of WalletHub & CardHub)
Knowledge is power. Nowhere is this truer than in the world of personal finance. Most of us are familiar with the common wisdom of money management – spend less than you earn and put some cash aside – but we routinely struggle with how to incorporate these principles into our day-to-day lives.
This is a problem that start-up founder and money master Odysseas Papadimitriou set out to tackle. In 2008, he launched Evolution Finance after leaving his thriving eight-year career in online marketing and development at Capital One. Evolution Finance’s flagship website, CardHub, became a place where consumers could compare credit cards and decide which terms best suited their needs. A desire to make financial information more easily accessible to consumers drove Papadimitriou to start his company and eventually led him to create a follow-up website, WalletHub, where visitors can now access free credit scores and credit reports. According to Odysseas, “WalletHub is the first and only website to provide daily updates of this all-important financial information.”
With over 15 years of experience in the personal finance industry, Papadimitriou has a wealth of knowledge about the world of credit and capital. The accomplished entrepreneur earned a B.A. in Economics and a B.Sc. in Civil Engineering from Brown University where he graduated magna cum laude. He also holds an MBA from the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University. Papadimitriou took the time to speak with AdvisoryHQ about personal finance, his exciting online ventures, and the principles that guide his own family’s money management.
Image source: LG Photography
Tea Banic (AHQ): When and why did you start Wallethub.com and Cardhub.com?
Odysseas Papadimitriou: The seeds from which WalletHub ultimately grew were sown in the ashes of the Great Recession, as the downturn emphatically validated my belief that consumers’ needs weren’t being served properly by the personal-finance establishment.
So I concluded my eight-year career at Capital One, where I led the company’s online marketing efforts, and jumped into the start-up world at the height of the downturn in 2008. CardHub came first, growing from my condo’s living room to be one of the leading credit-card comparison websites. We then launched a beta version of WalletHub in 2012 and moved our headquarters to Washington, D.C. The biggest milestone, however, was the January 2016 launch of our credit intelligence tools, making WalletHub the first and only website to offer free credit scores and full credit reports that are updated on a daily basis.
I truly believe that WalletHub can make a difference in people’s lives, if for no other reason than money’s status as our biggest societal stressor, followed by our jobs and the economy, according to the American Psychological Association. Every single one of us has plenty to worry about without financial problems, yet those who most need a financial advisor are often the ones who can least afford it. That’s why WalletHub is giving consumers the services of a highly-intelligent financial advisor for free.
AHQ: What other projects or work are you involved in?
Odysseas: WalletHub is committed to the community in which we live and work, so we regularly contribute to local charities such as the Capital Food Bank and the Ronald McDonald House Charities. Furthermore, we’re always on the lookout for promising start-ups, both within the FinTech space and beyond, to partner with or possibly invest in.
Honestly, though, I’m about to have my third child under the age of four. Between that and running a high-growth start-up, I barely have enough time to sleep. So, I’m not in the market for any new hobbies at the moment.
AHQ: When did you first become interested in finance as a career?
Odysseas: While I studied both engineering and economics in school, my plan was to pursue the former professionally. Those plans changed when a couple of my friends were interviewing with Capital One shortly before graduation, and I decided to tag along out of boredom and to practice for what I considered more important interviews down the road. Six years later, I’m heading Capital One’s online credit card marketing. And a couple of years after that, I’m starting my own fintech company.
I guess you could say I took a liking to the subject matter, which is certainly true. But I think helping people is the biggest draw for me. It’s something I’ve always been inclined to do, and I hope that my work at WalletHub enables me to do it at a larger scale.
AHQ: What sparked your interest in personal finance?
Odysseas: Simply the experience of managing my own money played a part, as did my initial time at Capital One. But I’d have to say the recession really solidified things in my mind. It underscored the fundamental importance of financial literacy as well as our societal neglect of the topic and, frankly, the resulting market opportunity for a sophisticated, consumer-first start-up.
AHQ: What are your personal finance tips that you think everyone should know?
Odysseas: Most people are familiar with the fundamentals of personal finance – make a budget, spend less than you earn, and save like crazy – but it’s the day-to-day application that trips us up. That’s why I find it so helpful to make a high-level plan and then automate as much as possible. For instance, scheduling automatic transfers from your checking account to a savings or investment account can help enforce emergency fund building and retirement planning, while automatic monthly credit card payments can help you avoid debt and credit score damage borne from missed due dates.
Those two areas – debt and credit scores – are particularly important these days. People need to make thoughtful decisions about how they will pay for higher education, what institution they will attend, and what they’ll major in, as those choices will dictate their need for student loans and how quickly they’ll be able to repay what they owe. What’s more, far too few of us seem to understand how debilitating credit card debt can be – not just on a personal level, but for the economy as well. We’ve racked up more than a quarter of a trillion dollars in credit card debt since early 2011, including $71 billion last year alone.
Having a significant amount of credit card debt simply puts you behind the financial 8-ball, increasing the likelihood that you will incur serious credit-score damage, which could cost you thousands of dollars per year and close the door on certain employment opportunities and living situations.
AHQ: How do you manage your own finances? Do you have a structured plan, or is your approach more informal?
Odysseas: While you might expect something really fancy, my approach is actually pretty simple. It’s based on three key principles:
- Everyday expenses never exceed our household income;
- We try to avoid frivolous spending, especially on a whim;
- My wife and I sit down to discussion any significant non-necessity purchases in order to evaluate its impact on our overall financial goals.
AHQ: If there was one piece of advice you’d like to impart to readers, what would it be?
Odysseas: Avoid making any purchase that you can’t truly afford, especially if it’s something you don’t need, that will depreciate in value, or that will require upkeep over time.
Oh, and try WalletHub – it’s the first and only personal finance website to offer free credit scores and full credit reports that are updated on a daily basis, and your wallet will thank you for using it!
From working for one of the largest American banks to founding his own personal finance website, Odysseas Papadimitriou has made money his domain. The world was harshly introduced to the murky world of finance after the Great Recession, and Papadimitriou emerged from the crisis as a thought leader intent on making the industry a little less obscure to those it affected most: everyday consumers.
Papadimitriou’s time at Capital One afforded him valuable insight into credit card risk and customer retention. This understanding is clearly demonstrated on both of his consumer finance sites, which provide the perfect blend between user friendliness and expert knowledge. Consumers can access their credit reports on WalletHub and then make informed decisions about future credit at CardHub. Talk about consumer empowerment – not to mention comprehensive problem solving.
By focusing on two aspects of personal finance that are crucial for day-to-day life – debt and credit scores – Odysseas Papadimitriou has created a personal finance platform and community by the experts, for the people.
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