Ladderworks is a publishing platform of diverse picture books and online curriculum with the mission to empower over a million kids to become social entrepreneurs. Our current series features interviews by our interplanetary journalist Spiffy with inspiring Social Entrepreneurs, Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Builders, and Changemakers who are advancing the UN SDGs.
Spiffy here with the scoop on the entrepreneurial leaders of Planet Earth. As the only interplanetary journalist stationed on this blue planet, I’m thrilled to present this galactic exclusive with Sid Pailla, the founder and CEO of Sunny Day Fund. Let’s learn what’s happening at Sunny Day Fund and how Sid Pailla is making a positive impact in the world.
Spiffy: Thanks for joining me, Sid! Tell me, what challenge are you addressing through the Sunny Day Fund?
Sid: Thanks for having me, Spiffy! Nearly three in five Americans are unable to handle a $1,000 emergency expense. This financial vulnerability has led to low and middle-income employees being financially stressed, causing turnover, and poor job performance and wellbeing. Currently, employers address this challenge by providing a 401(k) for retirement, offering financial education, and bonuses or grants—all of which have had limited impact. Payroll-deducted, employer-rewarded emergency savings accounts have not only been more effective, but also requested as the top financial benefit by most employees. That's exactly what we do.
Spiffy: What motivated you to do it?
Sid: My family and I immigrated from India and we quickly fell into a financial crisis after the dot-com bubble led to layoffs. When my parents turned to their retirement account for relief, the actual amount they received was 22 cents to the dollar after loss, penalties, fees, and taxes. I used to feel a lot of shame, but then I realized our story was actually very common. Then, I realized from research that the country was pouring over $100 billion to enable retirement savings. So why couldn't we put a fraction of that effort toward peoples' immediate financial future? And so, that shame turned into a fire—to learn, influence, and ultimately help create a new financial benefit category that should've already existed.
Spiffy: How would you say that your organization is working towards a more equitable world?
Sid: A significant portion of total compensation is nested in retirement savings, through tax benefits and matches. But when you uncover who is benefiting the most, it's higher income individuals. And lower-income, BIPOC workers benefit the least—in fact they are two to three times more likely to take out loans or early withdrawals, like my family did, to handle emergencies. (Check out Collaborative for Equitable Retirement Savings and EBRI for more). So, one big component is equitable earnings in retirement benefits and reduction in loans and early withdrawals, which contribute to retirement wealth gaps. Yes, most workers want emergency savings benefits, and it's particularly more requested by low and middle-income, female, and BIPOC worker segments.
Spiffy: Tell me about a recent organization milestone or initiative. What impact does it make on your audience/community?
Sid: We recently analyzed the impact of our program on worker financial health, and learned some fantastic insights. Of our savers, 92% save more than they withdraw, 82% increase their contributions, several withdraw to overcome financial emergencies as well as achieve planned goals, and many have reached out with amazing testimonials. Recently, we have collected employer side impact as well. We have observed 25-33% better retention in participants, reduction in 401(k) loans and early withdrawals, and great net performer score (NPS). We are excited to build on this success with new partnership launches across financial coaching, debt management, retirement savings planning, and financial education. Stay tuned for these announcements!
Spiffy: Please share an experience when you faced failure and didn’t give up. What did you learn from it?
Sid: A first Fortune 50 client that would've 10-timed our revenue overnight told us ‘no’ after an 18 month process—we lost to a trillion dollar incumbent that had better pricing power. The decision made sense, I probably would have done the same were I in their shoes. But we maintained the relationship because they loved our product and our passion. As a result, this community-focused approach, we were introduced into several comparable companies and provided a national platform at conferences. So even though we lost one big deal, we unlocked several more and entire channels for new growth opportunities.
Spiffy: Thanks for speaking with me today, Sid—it’s been an honor!
Sid is the "mission delusional" founder and CEO of Sunny Day Fund, a fintech enabling employees to save for emergencies and more directly from the paycheck. Sid previously was named innovator of the year at Accenture, where his clients benefited from technology and M&A strategy. Sid received his PhD in systems engineering and MBA from UVA, where he also founded a South Africa-focused cloud communications startup. Outside of work, Sid is proud to be a recent dad and a partner to an amazing wife. (Nominated by Josef Scarantino from Hubspot Ventures. First published on the Ladderworks website on January 18, 2024.)
The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of Ladderworks LLC.© 2023 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Daniela Vega. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. For the Ladderworks digital curriculum to help K-3 kids advance the UN SDGs, visit Spiffy's Launchpad: Creative Entrepreneurship Workshops for K-3 Kids and their caregivers here.