ZestFinance – Why Work For Us?

For the past 40 years, traditional lenders have used virtually the same underwriting methods to decide whether to offer credit. These methods assume that it’s hard to get a lot of data, it’s expensive to store it, and nearly impossible to use huge volumes of data.

The era of big data has changed all that.

Google-style machine learning meets Capital One-style credit scoring

Traditionally, underwriting has used a handful of variables. ZestFinance takes an entirely different approach to underwriting using machine learning and large-scale big data analysis.

With a team of some of the world’s best data scientists from Google and lending experts from Capital One, ZestFinance analyzes thousands of potential credit variables – everything from financial information to technology usage – to better assess factors like the potential for fraud, the risk of default, and the viability of a long-term customer relationship.

“ZestFinance underwriting models offer a 40% improvement over the current, best-in-class industry score.”

Higher approval rates, lower default

Our big data underwriting model provides a 40% improvement over the current best-in-class industry score. That translates into more accurate credit decisions, which leads to increased credit availability for borrowers and higher repayment rates for lenders.

This new approach to underwriting will enable lenders to expand their customer base, take business from their competitors, and better serve existing borrowers – without affecting their default rate. Alternatively, lenders can use our model to lower default rates while maintaining a particular approval rate, limiting losses and significantly improving returns.

Bottom line: big data underwriting will save you money. Lots of it.

We Can Help You

ZestFinance helps lenders in all credit segments better assess the credit risk of potential borrowers. Our technology can supplement or replace an organization’s current underwriting algorithms. With a proven, transparent method to help lenders measure the impact of our underwriting platform against current models, we can also help you assess results in advance.

ZestFinance’s mission is to save the underbanked billions of dollars. We’re doing that by re-inventing underwriting as the world has always known it.

As it stands today, good people are being denied credit because old world processes don’t take advantage of today’s data rich environment. In our world view, all data is credit data and we should use it all to make better underwriting decisions.

That’s where you come in. To achieve our mission, we need crazy smart, creative thinkers who are passionate about finding new ways to address “old” problems.


  • Our Mission
    We're socially conscious and passionate about saving hard working Americans billions of dollars. The work you do every day will make a real difference in the lives of regular people.
  • Amazing Benefits
    Including healthcare, retirement and unlimited vacation time. Not to mention gym memberships and phone coverage.
  • Free Lunch
    We bring in healthy, delicious lunches every day from Lucques – easily one of LA’s best restaurants.
  • Interesting Projects
    We are working on complex, technically difficult math and computer science. You’ll always be challenged and asked to think creatively to solve tough problems.
  • Agile Environment
    Using short iterations, we develop and release new features every week.
  • Work/Life Balance
    Our experienced team can build market-leading systems – without working 15-hour days. Did we mention we offer unlimited vacation time?
  • Location, location, location!
    Based in sunny Los Angeles, where the temperature is a variation on perfect most days of the year.
  • Fun
    We don’t take ourselves too seriously and believe having fun goes hand in hand with thinking hard. Video games, ping pong, gigantic jigsaw puzzles and monthly game night are regular activities around here.

Douglas Merrill, Founder & CEO

I started my career with a Ph.D. from Princeton and have done lots of different things since then. I worked as a researcher at the RAND Corporation, a security consultant at PricewaterhouseCoopers, and Senior VP at Charles Schwab. I joined Google in 2003, and spent 5 (great!) years there as their CIO and VP of Engineering. I’m a technologist and data junkie at heart, but also love motorcycles, tattoos, and ’80s music. I care deeply about people and animals and support a variety of charities related to drug rehabilitation and animal rescue.

Shawn Budde, Co-Founder & Chief Operating Officer

I started my consumer finance career to help pay the bills while getting my undergraduate degree at Columbia University. Over the next two decades, I knocked around the industry working for all kinds of financial service firms and doing some consulting on my own. In eight years at Capital One, I held as many as five different jobs at a time. Most notably, I was responsible for managing the subprime credit card portfolio, and served as the company’s first chief customer officer. I also squeezed in an MBA from Wharton while working full-time.

Mike Armstrong, Chief Marketing Officer

I graduated from Duke University with a degree in economics and began my career as a U.S. Army Ranger. After the military, I was fortunate to spend eight great years at Capital One where I held various roles, notably General Manager of Customer Segments. I then spent several years helping startups and financial services companies with direct marketing and credit risk management. At ZestFinance, I've found a unique blend of analytical rigor, advanced technology, and amazingly talented people all focused on saving the underbanked billions of dollars.

Kasia Chmielinski, Product

As ZestFinance’s head of product management, I work to ensure our loan system is effective, smart, and fair. Hooked after implementing a household barter system at age seven, I deepened my interest in designing systems through school curricula including engineering and architecture at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, followed by a degree in physics from Harvard University. Most recently, I oversaw the technical outreach for dozens of Google products across Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.

Laura Gowen, Legal

After graduating from law school at the University of California at Berkeley, I worked for a San Francisco law firm, representing financial services companies and as many pro bono clients as possible. Representing people who couldn’t afford a lawyer inspired me to start a consulting practice, and for eight years I worked with nonprofit organizations that promote social and economic justice. In my non-work life, I travel whenever possible (31 countries and counting) and try, sometimes successfully, to keep up with my young twins.

Sonya Boralv Merril, Communications

I’ve been in technology since its dot-com heyday and have managed communications at startups and huge companies alike. I spent 4 amazing years running product and international communications for Google and was ecstatic when the opportunity to help found ZestFinance came along. It’s an amazing feeling to go to work every day and know that what you are doing is changing the game and helping regular people. I spend my time chatting with reporters or plotting how to get more stamps in my passport – occasionally at the same time.

Mike Rasic, Finance

After graduating from Santa Clara University, I went into public accounting with PricewaterhouseCoopers. In my 18 years there (yes, 18), I had the opportunity to work with a lot of fantastic companies, meet tons of amazing people, and obtain an MBA from UCLA. ZestFinance is different from any company I've worked with. We truly want to save our customers money, which isn't something you see everyday in financial services. Outside of work, I love to spend time with my wife and four children and cook from my grandmother’s Italian recipes.


ZestFinance Reviews

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ZestFinance Founder & CEO Douglas Merrill
Douglas Merrill
7 Ratings
  • Helpful (4)

    Great Product. Great Benefits. Great Mission. Magic Lost. Still Believe.

    • Work/Life Balance
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    • Comp & Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Former Employee - Anonymous Employee in Los Angeles, CA
    Former Employee - Anonymous Employee in Los Angeles, CA

    I worked at ZestFinance full-time (More than a year)

    Positive Outlook
    Approves of CEO
    Positive Outlook
    Approves of CEO


    The product is a good one. It's a weird space with attempting to help people, maneuvering around some really tough regulations (props to legal), and sharing a market with some very shady competitors.

    You cannot get better benefits in a startup. Douglas truly understands the importance of strong benefits in tech startup. Zest is competing against talent hogs like tech company's, financial institutions, & other startups that can afford to salary out their employees hence the great benefits package.

    The office environment is a really fun feel. Big open floor plan in the main work area and a handful of meet up spaces, bright colors and lots of windows, great location in the heart of Hollywood, space encourages community and communication, and the tech is constantly evolving.

    There are some really awesome gems (talent) there. They are hard workers that supply structure and really know what they are doing or that are fast learns that add immensely to the product.


    Promotions are almost nonexistent and if you do get one it's not based off accomplishments and successes of projects but the personal relationships you hold the C-level.

    Holding on to bad apples even after it's acknowledged these employees are not pulling their weight, while taking full advantage of the great benefits. Some of these employees go out of their way to sabotage others trajectory, while others fly below the radar for as long as they can, wracking up the equity and free food. They are a liability in many ways.

    Morale is becoming terminal. The volatility of the product (to their credit, they can't control) and the wickedly political office environment can be completely exhausting. There tends to be a major business pivot every 3-4 months leaving the team deflated. Seems like the people that made Zest great are no longer there, not because they left for awesome opportunities but to escape the fatigue.

    Culture is the greatest deficit that Zest has. The culture that we had was magic. It allowed us to build relations between colleagues and customers. It improved communication and understanding of the mission/ goals and winning multiple "best places to work". The original culture has been deconstructed piece by piece with the churn of the original team.

    Advice to Management

    The decision to reduce the workforce a while back was a huge blow. After a couple of critical members were cut, shaking the confidence of the team. The churn that it created has cost more than the salaries that were saved.

    A focus on culture building and office morale is imperative.

    Make those gems in-office as happy as possible (train, promote, and let lead). They are a critical to the success of Zest.

    I would encourage C-level to focus on people management skills, it's great that you're good at being an Exec., but Zest needs great managers.

ZestFinance Interviews

Interview Experience

Interview Experience


Getting an Interview

Getting an Interview


Interview Difficulty


Interview Difficulty




    Business Analyst Interview

    Anonymous Interview Candidate in Los Angeles, CA
    Accepted Offer
    Positive Experience
    Average Interview


    I applied online. The process took 1+ weekinterviewed at ZestFinance (Los Angeles, CA) in March 2015.


    Super friendly staff and process throughout homework delivery and communication, as well as one-on-one case and behavioral interviews. I really enjoyed coming into the final round interview after having done the homework because this process of testing your skills is more realistic than the more case questions or math teasers that you can get on some interviews. Overall, my experience was highly positive because the team and individual interviewers actually want you to do your best so they guide you and make you feel at ease throughout the process. Really enjoyed every moment of it and think it is a very fair process.

    Interview Questions

    • What animal would you be and why?
      What is your greatest fear?
      Answer Question

ZestFinance Awards & Accolades

Something missing? Add an award
Best Medium Size Company to Work for in Los Angeles, Los Angeles Business Journal, 2013

Additional Info

Website www.zestfinance.com
Headquarters Los Angeles, CA
Size 50 to 149 Employees
Founded 2009
Type Company - Private
Industry Finance
Revenue $5 to $10 million (USD) per year

ZestFinance was founded in 2009 by Douglas Merrill, former CIO of Google, along with a team of data scientists from Google and lending experts from Capital One. Together they set about revolutionizing credit underwriting for underbanked Americans.

As it stands today, good people are being denied credit because old world processes do not take advantage of today’s data... More

Mission: ZestFinance applies machine learning and large-scale data analysis techniques to credit underwriting allowing for more equitable financial service offerings to over... More

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