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Engineering UnZipped: Q&A with Philip


Philip Laureano


December 12, 2022

Engineering UnZipped: Q&A with Philip

Behind every element of the Zip ecosystem, there’s a team of people fearlessly building for our customers. We're committed to being responsible lenders – but how do we decide which customers are approved for credit from the thousands of people who apply every day?

Meet Philip and hear how his team builds and maintains our AI-led #DecisioningEngine, helping us change the game in a fair and ethical way.

Philip, tell us about yourself, how long you’ve been with Zip and a little bit about your background and previous career

I started as a Developer back in 1999, geeking out on programming by downloading CodeProject articles onto USB sticks and writing projects of my own. In 2011 I got my ‘big break’ when I was asked to speak at the NDC Oslo developer conference, which led to other speaking opportunities and my migration to Australia. I joined Zip in 2021 as an Engineering Manager, where I’m responsible for leading a team of Engineers in our Acquisition and Decisioning team.

I was born in the Philippines and raised in Los Angeles, California. I love music in many forms and I am a die-hard Armin Van Buuren ‘A State of Trance’ listener. I’m a happy couch raver and those beats have been with me for all the critical moments in my adult life.

What are some of the things Engineers in the Acquisition and Decisioning team are responsible for and why is your work so important?

If I had to put it in one sentence, it would be that the Engineers in my team are responsible for keeping everything in balance. We build and maintain the machines that run at the heart of Zip, deciding whether every single customer who comes through our ‘virtual doors’ should be approved for credit or not. This includes everything from verifying an applicant’s identification, checking their credit scores, and reviewing banking transactional data to confirm affordability before we give them a line of credit.

It’s a delicate balance because we have to be responsible when lending money. We want to provide our products to as many customers as possible, but we have obligations to ensure that we only extend credit to customers who will be able to afford the repayments. Our systems consume many hundreds of data points that we use to optimise our lending decisions and we are always looking for ways to improve outcomes.

Our work is important because we want to help everyday Australians stay in control of their finances. That’s why we’re focused on lending just the right amount of money to the right customers and adhere to regulations at the same time.

What are some of the interesting challenges that you need to overcome in order to deliver great outcomes for Zip’s customers?

The greatest technical challenge is the myriad of factors that go into deciding whether or not someone gets credit from Zip. Our systems aim to return a decision in a matter of seconds for every incoming customer.

On the front end, we need to collect all the information from the user while doing this simultaneous ‘tap dance’ of verifying their information and assessing their application in real time and running their credit checks in the backend. We do everything we can to make it a seamless experience so that when they get to the point where they want to hit that ‘submit’ button when they apply for ZipMoney or ZipPay, the process for deciding whether or not they get credit will seem instantaneous.

There are thousands of people that apply to open a Zip account every day, and our team is solely responsible for automating decisions in response 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Working at this scale with thousands of users coming through our door and millions of dollars in credit on the line is both rewarding and challenging. Why? Because there are so many things that can go wrong in any customer application. Because our systems are complex and always on. That challenge is always being able to navigate that sea of services and fix any issues that occur when things don’t go the way we expect them to, something that’s magnified given Zip’s scale.

For example, we might have one critical service that has all of our customer information, and we might have a few customers that call the Customer Experience hotline and say that they can’t apply. Since the Zip Acquisition team owns both the frontend, backend, and vertical solution for the whole customer journey, we have to trace that customer data all the way up and down the stack to see where it went wrong. It’s easy to fix it for one or two customers, but what happens if it’s a problem that affects 100 customers? How about 1000, or 10,000?

In contrast, it’s also rewarding when we see that the credit we give people makes a real difference in their lives. For example, we have supported over 700 women to finance their IVF treatments.

There’s also an ethical component to this challenge. We absolutely want to help everyday Australians make a positive impact on their lives, and we are also legally and morally obligated to be responsible lenders. It’s important that people understand that we will only ever lend money to people if and only if our systems indicate that they will be able to pay it back in a reasonable amount of time.

What do you find most rewarding about your work in Acquisition and Decisioning?

The most rewarding part of my job is seeing the team work together, grow, and thrive. In the year that I’ve been with Zip, two Zipsters in my team have been promoted, and I’m glad to have played a part in their journeys.

As a manager, I feel like it’s my job to get out of my team’s way. I will always encourage them to ‘Own It’, and give them the autonomy to test and learn, and succeed. I feel that’s the best way for people to get to mastery. There’s always something better coming over the next horizon, and we all want to get to that mountaintop, and move on to the ‘promised land’.

What one thing that people outside of the organisation may not know about Zip makes you proud to work here?

Here at Zip, diversity and flexibility are central to everything we do, because we want to build teams that reflect our community. That means working towards a better gender balance, and I’m proud to say we are making progress against our goal of 40/40/20 across all teams (representation of 40% women, 40% men and 20% any gender identity) with women now representing 43% of the ANZ team.

While that feels like a good number for a tech business like Zip, there’s still so much left for us to do, and we will continue to keep up the work to achieve parity between genders across all aspects of the Zipster experience. This includes both pay equity, and career opportunities.

In terms of flexibility, we give Zipsters choice in how and where they work. As a team, some days we’re in the office, sometimes we’re mostly remote. We judge people by the value of work that they do, not where they work from.

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