The latest entry in Charlotte’s hot financial-technology sector is Credit Karma, which recently opened its new office in the Ballantyne area. The San Francisco-based personal-finance company employs about 35 people in Charlotte, including software engineers and support staff for Credit Karma’s new online tax-preparation service. The new office can accommodate about twice as many people, though company officials declined to offer specific job-growth projections.
Here’s a quick look at Credit Karma, and why the company picked the Queen City for its first East Coast hub.
What is Credit Karma?
The 10-year-old company has grown from a startup offering free credit scores to a significant player in the fin-tech sector, adding new services and amassing 60 million users as of late 2016. Revenue last year reached $500 million, reflecting 50% year-over-year growth, CEO Kenneth Lin said in June at an industry conference in New York City. Credit Karma has raised more than $368 million, including $175 million in a 2015 round that valued the company at $3.5 billion. Investors include Tiger Global Management, Valinor Management and Viking Global Investors.
The company entered North Carolina in 2016 through its purchase of AFJC Corp., a Cary-based online tax-preparation service. Credit Karma Tax launched this year, filing 1 million tax returns. Also new is a service that helps users find unclaimed money, and a service that offers recommendations for mortgage refinancing is available in 21 states.
The 700-employee company also recently opened an office in Los Angeles.
Lots of Credit Karma’s 60 million users are in the Southeast, company officials said at a media open house in mid-July, but it was access to talent that drove the decision to start the Charlotte office. “Finance is a hard sector to break into,” said Chief Technology Officer Ryan Graciano, and Charlotte, the third-biggest U.S. banking center behind New York and San Francisco, was well-suited for the expansion. Officials said they’ve had success with local hiring.
Charlotte is great for fin-techs “because we have financial experts who can be mentors,” said Mayor Jennifer Roberts, adding that other cities don’t have the full range of expertise offered by Charlotte’s business community. Roberts commended Credit Karma for committing to Charlotte even while House Bill 2 was still on the books.
Feels like home
The company hired the same architect who designed their San Francisco headquarters for its Star Wars-themed Charlotte office. The breakroom, stocked with every snack and drink imaginable, includes a foosball table and beer taps — requisites for any good tech company — plus a mural commissioned by United Kingdom-based artist Vic Lee specifically for the Charlotte site. If you wonder why a tech company stacked with millennial workers would pick a suburban locale instead of a hip center-city neighborhood, just check out the awesome view from the conference room overlooking the golf course at Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge.
Homegrown fin-techs LendingTree and AvidXchange, Charlotte’s promising tech unicorn valued at $1.4 billion, have recognized the depth of industry talent available in North Carolina, with both companies in the midst of expansions and adding hundreds of jobs. Credit Karma should fit right in.