Anthony Noto, shown during an interview in New York in May, is leaving Twitter to become CEO of SoFi.
Twitter Inc. operating chief Anthony Noto is leaving to become head of online lender Social Finance Inc., dealing a blow to Twitter’s strategy for growth and raising questions about who will run day-to-day operations at the company.
Mr. Noto will take over the top spot at SoFi on March 1. At that time, board member Tom Hutton, who has been serving as interim CEO since SoFi co-founder Mike Cagney resigned from the financial-technology startup in September, will become its nonexecutive chairman.
Mr. Noto’s departure will leave a void at Twitter. Its chief, Jack Dorsey splits his time between the social-media company and Square Inc., the payments company he founded. Shares of Twitter fell 2.5% in morning trading.
The Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday that Mr. Noto and SoFi were in discussions about the CEO job.
Mr. Noto, already known in Silicon Valley from his days as a Wall Street banker, elevated his profile there after joining Twitter as its financial chief in 2014. He took on increasing responsibility, including heading Twitter’s video efforts and taking on the role of operating chief in November 2016. He later shed his finance duties to focus solely on running the business.
Many current and former Twitter employees, drawn to his vision of making a Twitter a significant operator in streaming video, said they had hoped Mr. Noto would one day ascend to the role of chief executive.
Mr. Noto departure comes at a critical time for Twitter. Shares have risen about 30% in the past three months as Twitter could in February report its first quarterly profit ever, according to the company’s most recent guidance.
The effort, though, could stall if Twitter fails to make progress in expanding its base of users. Mr. Noto is seen as instrumental to those efforts.
“Noto has been the most visible and consistent articulator of Twitter’s evolving corporate strategy,” Wells Fargo analyst Peter Stabler wrote in a research note.
Twitter doesn’t plan to immediately name a new operating chief, though it is evaluating whether to fill the role down the road, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Mr. Noto was seen in the investment community as the face of Twitter, Cowen analyst John Blackledge wrote in a note. Outside of Mr. Dorsey, no C-level executive has been with the company more than two years, he wrote.
Mr. Noto’s responsibilities will fall to current members of Twitter’s executive team, the company said in a statement.
A former Army Ranger, Mr. Noto joined Goldman Sachs Group in 1999 as a stock analyst covering technology companies and later was an investment banker, advising tech companies on deals. After a stint as finance chief of the National Football League, Mr. Noto returned to Goldman and ran its technology banking group. In 2013, he helped take Twitter public and joined the firm a year later as chief financial officer.
Now, Mr. Noto is moving to SoFi as CEO after a rocky stretch for the online lender. SoFi, founded in 2011, is one of the most well-financed and ambitious financial-technology startups. The company has raised nearly $2 billion to expand beyond its original business—refinancing student loans for U.S. borrowers—and push into foreign markets and new businesses such as mortgages, life insurance, automated investment accounts and asset management.
Last year, the firm announced plans to open a bank in Utah, which would allow SoFi to provide credit cards and checking accounts, and had signaled that an initial public offering wasn’t far off.
Those plans were upended last August, when a former employee accused a SoFi manager of making inappropriate sexual comments to female employees. More lawsuits followed, and in early September SoFi opened an investigation into claims of widespread sexual harassment in the company.
The Journal has reported that SoFi’s board in 2012 had approved a payment to an employee to settle a dispute she had with co-founder Mr. Cagney. The board said at the time that “there was no allegation or evidence of a romantic or sexual relationship between Mr. Cagney and the employee.” Soon afterward, Mr. Cagney resigned, saying his presence was a distraction.
Mr. Hutton stepped in to run the company on an interim basis. He scrapped the idea of international expansion and of getting a banking license, and instead focused on improving the workplace. At one point, he brought in consultants from McKinsey & Co. to perform a review of the company’s culture, the Journal previously reported.
Meanwhile, the company’s lending operation has continued to swell. SoFi extended $3.5 billion in loans in the third quarter of last year, up 79% from the same period of 2016, according to a letter to investors. Earlier this month, SoFi began marketing the sale of more than $1 billion in bonds backed by student loans it refinanced.
One of the first tasks for Mr. Noto will be to rebuild the executive team, which has been rocked by departures. In addition to Mr. Cagney, SoFi in the past year lost its chief financial officer, chief revenue officer and chief technology officer.
—Austen Hufford contributed to this article.
Write to Peter Rudegeair at Peter.Rudegeair@wsj.com and Georgia Wells at Georgia.Wells@wsj.com