AuthorityMagazine interviewed NIU management alumna Elizabeth Karwowski as part of its series on immigrant success stories. Karwowski is the Chief Operating Offer and Chief Customer Officer of CredEvolv, a fin-tech platform that revolutionizes the way consumers achieve and maintain good credit. We reshare the interview in full below.
“Of course, the keys to success in this country are going to be different for everyone. I will say the most significant measure of my family’s success is collaborative determination. As an immigrant family, we didn’t have much to begin with, but we always had food on the table and a warm, clean home. To make sure there was always an adult at home to look after the kids, my parents worked different shifts. My dad worked days as a receiving clerk, and my mom worked nights as a supervisor for a cleaning company. We didn’t shop at fancy places or eat out. Many of our clothes were either hand-me-downs or from the local thrift store. I started babysitting at 12 to save enough money to buy a car at 16, and that work ethic was inspired and encouraged by my parents. My family is proof that immigrants help make this country strong.”
Is the American Dream still alive? If you speak to many of the immigrants we spoke to, who came to this country with nothing but grit, resilience, and a dream, they will tell you that it certainly is still alive.
As a part of our series about immigrant success stories, I had the pleasure of interviewing Elizabeth Karwowski.
Elizabeth Karwowski is the Chief Operating Offer and Chief Customer Officer of CredEvolv, a fin-tech platform that revolutionizes the way consumers achieve and maintain good credit. She was most recently the CEO of Get Credit Healthy, Inc., the company that was acquired by CredEvolv. There, she developed a proprietary process and software that seamlessly integrates with lender’s Loan Origination Software (LOS) and Customer Relationship Management Software (CRM) to create new loan opportunities and recapture leads.
Ms. Karwowski began her career with Ernst & Young and RSM McGladrey. In 2004, she left to start her own mortgage company, Trust One Mortgage Corporation. She received her Fair Credit Reporting Act certifications from the Consumer Data Industry Association in 2009 and has since worked extensively with HUD counselors and agencies.
Throughout her career, Karwowski observed the pain points of both lenders and consumers and gained valuable and unique insights into the everyday challenges they face.
This led her to develop GCH360 — the platform on which Get Credit Healthy (and now CredEvolv) operates — as well as build a team of Advisory Board Members from across the finance and technology sectors to help grow the platform.
GCH360 was instrumental in increasing the number of applicants who desire and, more importantly, qualify for the financial products offered by lenders and banks. In the last year before its acquisition, Get Credit Healthy helped its partners create over $200 million of new loan opportunity and increased efficiencies by 400%.
Ms. Karwowski graduated with honors from Northern Illinois University with a degree in Business Management. As a recognized credit expert and author, she has been featured on NBC and Fox News, and published in Scotsman’s Guide and Today’s Chicago Woman.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
Asthe child of immigrant parents, I grew up in a very ethnic household, and a big one at that. We were a loving family of 5, with my mom, dad, sister, brother and myself. Being an immigrant family, life was never without complications. My parents were constantly working and, even then, times could be very lean.
I still remember going to McDonalds at the age of 10 with a friend. Because we never ate out, it was such an amazing treat. Every day before she went to work, my mom would cook our meals for us, so we never went hungry. And there was always peanut butter and jelly just in case.
It was as a senior in high school when I took my first vacation and paid for it myself. At the age of 12, I babysat every weekend and saved enough to buy my own car when I was 16. I put down $1,500 and my parents helped with the rest. I don’t know how they did it. I still remember my white Pontiac Grand Prix. Working hard to get ahead was a family trait all of us shared.
Talking to my parents now, I realize that they worked this hard to give us an opportunity to go to college and enable us to provide a better life for our eventual families.
Was there a particular trigger point that made you emigrate to the US? Can you tell us the story?
My parents both had to make the decision to emigrate, and I am an incredibly grateful for their bravery. My dad came here from Poland at the age of 14 with his entire family. My grandfather was imprisoned in Poland and forced to work in a coalmine for four years, and before he was released, my grandmother made the decision to apply for a visa in an effort to give her three children a better life. Luckily, my grandfather was able to join my grandmother in America, but their time apart was incredibly difficult. My mother came to America at the age of 21 by herself. She took one of the last ships to sail overseas from Poland to Canada. She was the youngest of 10 kids growing up on a farm, so this was a very big decision for her. She initially came to visit her brother, but within a few months, she met my father. Six months later, they were married. They will be celebrating 50 years in April 2022.
Can you tell us the story of how you came to the USA? What was that experience like?
As mentioned, my mother came over to America on a ship. At this time, the journey was far from luxurious — she was stuck in a cramped middle cabin of the ship for the 11-day journey from Poland to Montreal. From Montreal, she took a Greyhound bus to downtown Chicago where she was welcomed to her new home by her brother.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped make the move more manageable? Can you share a story?
When asking my parents, they of course said each other. It’s difficult to understand the difficulties in my parents’ lives — so much is rooted in their relationship to their homeland. I mentioned before that my grandfather was imprisoned and forced to work in a coalmine for four years. This was in 1952 when the Communist Party tried to take over Poland. For refusing to be a Communist, my grandfather was ripped from his family and the only way he could survive this part of his life was by suppressing every emotion — he became very cold. Once my grandmother passed away, my father was left with my grandfather who could do little to express support for his son. When he met my mother things finally changed, and life in America got easier. He said that she used to share the food off her plate with him, and that action was a love he hadn’t felt since he lost his mother. Fifty years after finding each other, they’re still inseparable.
So how are things going today?
Very well, for my parents and myself. When I think of my upbringing, I realized that it’s made me a big believer in setting goals. I used to make huge plans for myself and would be disappointed when they weren’t realized. I think now, if my parents have taught me anything, it’s that I should be constantly be working toward something, but not afraid of having to adapt as I face new challenges.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
The simplest answer is through CredEvolv. Our company is built to give our prospective borrowers support for their unique needs. We’re helping credit-challenged individuals get a grasp on a system that they have been excluded from excelling in for a litany of reasons including, in some cases, being new to this country. My parents were left completely blindsided when it came to understanding the credit system in this country, and CredEvolv ensures that everyone can get the help they need.
You have first- hand experience with the US immigration system. If you had the power, which three things would you suggest to improve the system?
Speaking as the child of immigrants, my experience is technically second hand. However, one thing I truly believe is that everyone who becomes a citizen needs to go through an educational course/training to understand how the credit system and banking system works in America. Obviously, the system has changed in the time since my parents immigrated, but I find it to be a serious downfall of the immigration system that new citizens are left unprepared to participate in the economic structures of this country.
Can you share “5 keys to achieving the American dream” that others can learn from you? Please share a story or example for each.
Of course, the keys to success in this country are going to be different for everyone. I will say the most significant measure of my family’s success is collaborative determination. As an immigrant family, we didn’t have much to begin with, but we always had food on the table and a warm, clean home. To make sure there was always an adult at home to look after the kids, my parents worked different shifts. My dad worked days as a receiving clerk, and my mom worked nights as a supervisor for a cleaning company. We didn’t shop at fancy places or eat out. Many of our clothes were either hand-me-downs or from the local thrift store. I started babysitting at 12 to save enough money to buy a car at 16, and that work ethic was inspired and encouraged by my parents. My family is proof that immigrants help make this country strong.
We know that the US needs improvement. But are there 3 things that make you optimistic about the US’s future?
I’m not sure if it’s three things specifically I’m optimistic about. Mainly, I am made optimistic by the people, especially immigrants, who haven’t given up on this country. I think the last few years have been a real wakeup call for many that the United States isn’t the country that they were brought up to believe. It’s easy to be fatalistic about that, but there are still so many people who are investing the time to make America better. We have a more diversified legislature than ever — including a lot of immigrants and first-generation Americans. We have people invested in pushing the United States toward a brighter future and they make me optimistic.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this, especially if we tag them.
It’s not a conventional answer, but I would have loved to have lunch with my grandmother (my dad’s mom) or anyone that is still living from the holocaust. Given my deep connection to Poland, I would love to better understand how they found the strength to push forward during the most difficult times. What gave them the courage to survive!
What is the best way our readers can further follow your work online?
They can learn more about the valuable service we provide, and how we’re helping people achieve the American dream and build life-long credit well-being, at CredEvolv.com. They can also follow us on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/credevolv and Facebook: https:www.facebook.com/credevolv.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
Published on October 12, 2021 for AuthorityMagazine at medium.com.