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By Rebecca Beyer

When Erlinda Arriola ’18 first began to consider going back to school for her MBA, some friends thought it wasn’t necessary—she was already on track for a great investment career. But Arriola felt pulled to do something more, and her Ventures, Corporate Development, and Credit teams at Synchrony, a consumer finance bank and spinoff of GE Capital, was supportive.

“I thought I would need to enrich my experience, not just with the academic foundations for how to be a competent and reputable investor but also for the perspective of what a leader should be,” she explains. “What resonated with me about the Yale School of Management was the idea about preparing leaders for business and society.”

Almost immediately after she enrolled at Yale SOM, Arriola says, the MBA for Executives program began to pay off. In particular, she says, a class on fintech with Yale alum Dr. Stephen C. Daffron helped change the way she approached her due diligence work in early-stage venture capital investments.

Daffron taught her to ask some key questions, she says. “How big is the problem the product is trying to solve? Which industries are affected? How much do those industries spend on that type of service? From him, I learned how to form an investment thesis and execute an efficient and thorough due diligence.”

Using that process as the underwriter, Arriola guided Synchrony’s investments in three early-stage companies that are each now valued at more than $1 billion: Socure, an identity verification company; Greenlight, which aims to help families discuss and manage finances with their children; and Payfone, a mobile authentication service provider.

Three years after earning her MBA, Arriola credits her time on campus—the lessons she learned in the classroom, the connections she made with classmates and industry leaders, and the insights into ESG investing that she received during a corporate sustainability program in Geneva, Switzerland—with leading her to some of her greatest career successes.

“You’re around industry practitioners and seasoned executives from global institutions,” she says. “I had very experienced classmates that I could talk to and learn from.”

Arriola grew up in the Philippines. Her parents wanted her to be an economist, and Arriola took to the subject early, reading the Wall Street Journal when she wasn’t in school or competing for her country as a top junior and amateur golfer in international and national golf tournaments. She pursued and completed an industrial economics degree at University of Asia and the Pacific. While there, she worked as a research assistant for Dr. Jovi Dacanay, a senior economist known for her expertise in industrial organization of banking and social Economics, and her mentorship inspired Arriola to consider graduate studies in the U.S.

After completing her economics degree, Arriola joined a boutique financial advisory services firm co-founded by an active angel investor in Silicon Valley and a former Wall Street investment banker. From there, Arriola joined FactSet, a financial data and software company where she was the lead product manager for technology, media, and telecommunications industry team, and also helped launch operations teams in India and the Philippines.

In 2013, Arriola joined GE Capital, where she was a lead underwriter for the corporate credit risk management team. Her team eventually became a part of Synchrony. In 2016, she began her studies at Yale School of Management. She says that balancing her school schedule with full-time work was tough. To stay on track, Arriola organized her professional deliverables and extra-curricular activities in quadrants; when her plate got too full, she had to choose something from the lowest-value quadrant to drop. But the effort was worth it.

In addition to Daffron’s class, she says, she enjoyed the Future of Global Finance class with Dean Emeritus Jeffrey E. Garten, which explored the history of the global financial system; the roles of central banks, commercial banks, financial regulators, international organizations and other financial institutions; the future role of technology in finance; and long-term issues in infrastructure, green, and social impact finance.

“Jeffrey helped us analyze the situation: who were the key decision makers and stakeholders, what were the potential economic and geopolitical repercussions of doing A, B, or C,” she remembers. “The thought process is very applicable—not just to a global financial crisis, but to decision making as a leader of a global team or at a corporation.”   

Through Yale SOM’s membership in the Global Network for Advanced Management, Arriola arranged for students from other member schools to visit Synchrony’s headquarters and discuss innovation opportunities in the credit industry with the company’s leaders. She also participated in a Global Network program on sustainability development, learning from policymakers about key performance indicators used to measure corporate sustainability programs and activities. That experience turned out to be helpful for her current job at Fitch Ventures, where her investment focus areas include enterprise fintech, credit risk, and ESG/climate tech industries. 

As the venture capital arm of Fitch Group, owned by Hearst, Fitch Ventures makes equity investments in innovative and emerging technology companies in the financial services industry to help accelerate their commercial growth. It has made 10 investments and completed three exits. One notable exit was TruValue Labs, a San Francisco-based early-stage ESG startup that uses artificial intelligence to measure ESG activity at companies and that has since been bought by Arriola’s former employer, FactSet. Another recent investment in ESG is in Diginex, which aims to help companies tackle challenges in ESG reporting, supply chain management, and corporate environmental responsibility.

“My investments always have a social touch to empower founders and build a long-term partnership with the startup,” she says. “The best entrepreneurs I ever met are the ones who have diverse experiences and solve a problem that they personally experienced that is urgently needed by a massive market.”

Arriola is also a scout at HearstLab, which invests in early-stage, women-founded startups, and a mentor for the Cartier Women’s Initiative, which aims to empower women entrepreneurs who have a focus on social or environmental impact in emerging markets. She says she loves her work in venture capital investing and the opportunity to mentor female founders and entrepreneurs.

“What I love is making a positive impact with founders and teams of a startup,” she says. “It’s not just the capital that matters to startups. It’s more about the mentorship and partnership journey. The biggest fulfillment happens when they achieved their organizational and personal goals. Their learnings and successes keep me going as an early-stage VC investor.”