Introducing Rochelle Gorey, the mastermind behind SpringFour, a fintech company with a social impact committed to empowering individuals and families facing financial difficulties. With a background in the financial services industry and an unwavering determination to positively change people’s lives, Rochelle has successfully developed an innovative platform that connects individuals to local resources, enabling them to regain control over their finances.
A Story of Service and Innovation
Rochelle openly shares that it took some time for her to align her aspirations with her journey. She grew up in different towns across Michigan within a low-income household. Her parents were social workers – educated but not earning much – which resulted in some instability. “There were times when we relied on food stamps,” she recalls, the difficulty of those times still evident in her voice. “My dad was on unemployment benefits for a time; my mom enrolled us in the WIC program. I received free hot lunches at school.” It wasn’t until she was in the sixth grade that her parents purchased their first house through the FHA loan program.
However, Rochelle always recognized the significant impact of her parents’ work: helping others. “From an early age, I’ve had this innate desire to assist people,” she explains earnestly. She proudly recounts winning a contest during fifth grade where she had the opportunity to spend an entire day shadowing her town’s prosecuting attorney. Rochelle’s experiences growing up shaped both her understanding of financial struggles and her drive toward making meaningful changes within communities facing similar challenges.
In 1987, when Rochelle completed her high school education, it was evident that she would pursue her studies at a university in Michigan. She held a strong fondness for Michigan State University. She had initially planned to delve into the field of law and policy, even interning for a state senator, then a U.S. Senator, and a state housing finance agency while a student at MSU. However, during her senior year, everything changed when she took a course on nonprofits. There, Rochelle realized that working for a nonprofit organization was what she truly desired, where she could help direct policy and change alongside a mission-driven organization. .
With dreams of living in a bustling metropolis, Rochelle moved to Chicago with three roommates and only $300 in her pocket. They rented a modest two-bedroom apartment where they faced financial challenges from the start. Rochelle vividly remembers having to make tough choices between taking the bus home or treating herself to a Diet Coke for lunch during those early days.
Rochelle sought out an internship opportunity with the National Training and Information Center (NTIC), led by renowned community activist Gale Cincotta – widely known as the mother of the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA). The interview experience left Rochelle with an overwhelming sense of integrity from NTIC’s mission and values; she resonated deeply with what they were striving to achieve. After completing her summer internship, NTIC extended Rochelle an offer for full-time employment, keeping her engaged for six rewarding years.
The National Training and Information Center (NTIC) was a vibrant organization with considerable national influence. As part of her role, Rochelle traveled often to Washington DC to engage with policymakers, including congressmen, senators, and regulators, and provide testimony during federal hearings. One particular highlight was meeting Alan Greenspan in an ornate marble room at the Federal Reserve. She also took grassroots leaders from local communities to the nation’s capital, ensuring they had a seat at the table when important policy decisions were being made. Through these experiences, Rochelle gained valuable insights into strategy, power dynamics, and, most importantly, understanding the voices of those directly impacted by policies and helping to create opportunities for those affected by policies to have a seat at the table.. It became evident that even if a policy appeared flawless on paper, it could still have unintended consequences if it failed to address community needs or individual circumstances.
Rochelle began her journey with NTIC as a housing organizer on a national scale. Quickly, she rose through the ranks and eventually became Director of Housing. Her close relationship with Gale mirrored that of a mother-daughter bond; they understood when it was time for Rochelle to seek new opportunities. Her next chapter led her to Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago (NHS), conveniently located just around the corner from NTIC’s office – no need for parking lot changes! Rochelle eagerly embraced this role as she desired an organization actively involved in development work, an area she had passionately advocated for throughout her career. There, for several years, she worked with NHS’s groundbreaking director, Bruce Gottschall.
Rochelle says, “I often tell people that I’ve only had two bosses in my entire career, Gale Cincotta and Bruce Gottschall, but I worked with two of the best and learned so much.”
During the early 2000s, Rochelle observed an increase in unscrupulous lending practices. As the head of NHS’s innovation and policy, she witnessed a surge in mortgage delinquencies. To understand this issue further, her team researched to uncover the reasons behind these failed mortgages. During this investigation, they discovered sub-prime lending and its association with hedge funds. Disturbingly, they also noticed a disproportionate number of delinquencies occurring in low-income and minority neighborhoods.
How Can We Help?
Rochelle and her colleague Dr. J. Michael Collins embarked on a venture known as SpringFour, originally named Mortgage Keeper Referral Services. Their objective was to develop a database of housing counseling agencies and other local non-profit, government, and social services organizations that could address the root causes behind a person’s delinquency, providing a solution that banks could use. Each contributed $5,000 as seed money to start the company and begin the research and technology buildout. They then extensively researched cities and available resources, expanding their project beyond housing counselors to include other social services. Their initial product was a call center tool that enabled individuals working in collections or loss mitigation to refer borrowers to external assistance. Rochelle recalls they were unaware they were actually building fintech. They were pioneers in offering direction to financial aid without even having a term for it.
At first, Rochelle and Michael held equal ownership stakes in the company while Michael served as CEO. Rochelle admits she doesn’t recall her exact title but was content with allowing him to take on the CEO role while she preferred working behind the scenes as an organizer. However, when Michael received his Ph.D. and secured a position at the University of Wisconsin-Madison as a professor, he decided to prioritize his academic career.
Rochelle assumed the CEO role, but up until approximately 2015, the business remained a secondary endeavor for her. She was called to action during a conference at the Center for Financial Services (now known as Financial Health Network), where they discussed various aspects of financial health. It suddenly struck her that SpringFour’s comprehensive solution aligned perfectly with the concept of financial health. She realized, “Oh my god, that’s what we do. We are a comprehensive financial health solution. I realized we had to put the gas on this.” Sensing the potential and urgency, Rochelle decided to accelerate their efforts because of the market’s need for a product and service like this.
Motivated by this realization, Rochelle applied for Promontory Financial Group’s Empowerment Award, recognizing innovative financial solutions. In the required applicant interview, Rochelle vividly remembers how she confidently presented their solution and explained its underlying purpose. She recalls feeling fearless during the interview process. “My team and I got off that call, exhilarated, exclaiming, ‘We’re gonna win this award!’”
Rochelle knows that once she started authentically expressing “why” SpringFour existed and highlighting its importance, it propelled growth within their company. This newfound authenticity allowed them to attract more clients and actively engage in conversations about their impactful work.
SpringFour believes that financial difficulties are often a result of external circumstances that prevent individuals from fulfilling their payment obligations. By addressing the underlying causes of these challenges, SpringFour helps people regain their ability to pay and save. Life can throw unexpected curveballs at even the most responsible individuals – be it sudden unemployment, significant life changes, or health emergencies. Unfortunately, many Americans lack emergency savings or any savings at all. Overcoming obstacles on the path to recovery is a challenging feat.
SpringFour’s primary focus is connecting people with the vetted resources and assistance available within their communities. Numerous nonprofits and government programs are designed to help those in need; however, many individuals need to be made aware of these resources or struggle to differentiate between genuine helpers and others. The SpringFour team independently vets and researches every organization within SpringFour and keeps everything up-to-date and accurate. Rochelle aims to break down the stigma associated with financial challenges by making these resources more accessible.
SpringFour employs predominantly women and eight full-time staff members who work alongside PR and tech teams. Although Michael remains part of the company, his involvement is no longer on a day-to-day basis. SpringFour serves institutions nationwide and has curated over 22,000 vetted resources spanning 30 categories. Their reach extends to every metropolitan area in the United States, with a population exceeding 50 thousand. Through its dedicated efforts and commitment to providing support during financial hardship, SpringFour strives to empower individuals and promote economic stability within communities nationwide. With expansion into additional industries, it transforms how banks, credit unions, fintech lenders, servicers, employers, nonprofits, and more respond and treat people with financial challenges. Offering SpringFour in a time of need allows organizations to meet their customers with empathy and offer solutions that get them back on track. SpringFour helps these companies see better business results while helping their customers overcome financial difficulties.
The Future of SpringFour
In the coming years, Rochelle envisions SpringFour and similar solutions becoming a standard part of every organization’s operation and business strategy. Whether these services are aimed at customers or employees, their widespread adoption would make it easier for individuals facing financial difficulties to access the help they need. This shift in approach would send a powerful message: helping those in need is always beneficial.
While some banks offer SpringFour as a resource for their customers, not all actively promote this support during times of hardship. Rochelle believes this is a missed opportunity for these institutions to showcase their commitment to helping customers navigate challenging financial situations. She sees it as an excellent opportunity for positive public relations and brand enhancement within the banking industry.
What would Rochelle tell her younger self?
If Rochelle had the chance to speak to her younger self, she would emphasize that waiting for perfection is unnecessary when it comes to starting something new. Reflecting on her early career, Rochelle recalls her preoccupation with planning every detail of how she would contribute during meetings. Looking back, she realizes she should have had more confidence in bringing value without overthinking.
Rochelle’s journey has led her to this critical insight: even before embarking on her business venture, she was already an innovator. She found solutions and implemented policies, such as spearheading the creation of the first-ever city ordinance against predatory lending while working at NTIC and NHS. This achievement involved collaborating with Barack Obama when he served as a state senator at the time. Advocating for what she believes is right has always been a fundamental aspect of Rochelle’s character and professional endeavors – a quality that forms the bedrock of SpringFour’s mission and purpose.
SpringFour revolutionizes the approach to assisting individuals facing financial difficulties by introducing a groundbreaking remedy for debt recovery and risk mitigation. Numerous heartwarming accounts have reached Rochelle and her team, highlighting the sheer delight and astonishment experienced by customers when their bank extends a helping hand during times of bill payment arrears. It’s only natural that once their financial situation stabilizes and they have more disposable income, these individuals will prioritize repaying the bank or lender who offered them invaluable support in their time of need. Rochelle has always known that when help is extended, the benefits come back four-fold.