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HIGHLIGHTING FINTECH INFLUENCERS

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MARWAN FORZLEY

There are a handful of market signals one might use to assess whether or not the current fervor around FinTech is a bubble: valuations, capitalization, culture, M&A, or general hype. I prefer instead to consider how well the various areas of the consumer and business financial stack are being served. In other words, how much of FinTech is ‘done'? At the crossroads of small business and accounting, consumers remain wildly underserved by FinTech.

Enter, Veem (fka Align Commerce). Veem provides simple, secure, and trackable payments to over 110 countries and over 300,000 businesses around the globe. This week I sat down with Marwan Forzley, co-founder and CEO of Veem to talk about antiquated AP/AR technology and why he definitely does not see a bubble.

“Businesses are craving simpler processes, especially as we enter a more digital world”

Tell us about Veem in a few words?

Veem provides simple, secure, and trackable payments to over 110 countries and over 300,000 businesses around the globe.

Why/how will your company win? What's the unique edge excluding team?

For us, it’s all about understanding the specific needs of SMBs & delivering a one-stop-shop platform for domestic and global payments. Small businesses are tired of the fees and antiquated technology from legacy payment providers that waste precious time and money. Entrepreneurs care about one thing when it comes to their payments technologies and that’s being able to pay and get paid fast. Delivering that service and adapting to the current needs of SMBs is critical to our success and is our key to victory!

Whats your favorite thing about working where you do?

Providing a valuable service that helps businesses take control of their payments. Small businesses are constantly looking to save costs and are searching for real time solutions to help with their payment needs. An important part of our mission is to help entrepreneurs thrive. By giving them a turnkey solution that handle everything payments, we see ourselves as a partner in their journey.

Are we in a FinTech bubble? Why?

Of course not! There are so many opportunities for fintech companies to disrupt how traditional business is done! From banking to payments, small businesses are looking for innovative and digital solutions that will deliver results in real time. Businesses are craving simpler processes, especially as we enter a more digital world. Fintechs are bridging traditional institutions with new technologies, all of which will deliver big wins for the end user.

 

What do you think about the future of FinTech that your colleagues dont all agree with?

Blockchain technology will transform the way financial institutions operate faster than we think. Blockchain is maturing with more institutional participation than ever before. Small and medium-sized businesses are set to benefit greatly from a decentralized system that will result in lower costs, shared data, and innovations in payments. Multiple industries stand to benefit from this shift and it’s happening all very fast.

Dinner with 3 people from any time across history, who would they be and why?

Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Jeff Bezos. These three people fundamentally changed the world as we know it.

If you could pick any job in the world, what would it be? Aside from your current hustle.

An author! I wrote a book back in 2018 called “Small Business in a Big World: A Comprehensive Guide to Doing International Business” with the goal of helping entrepreneurs succeed in a global economy.

TOP FINTECH INFLUENCERS

New to the FinTech scene? Been here since the beginning? No matter your level of expertise, stay up to date with Empire’s list of top FinTech influencers to keep your finger on the pulse of this vibrant community. Hear from those FinTech thought leaders forging new trails in payments, blockchain, lending, wealth, insurtech, banking, and more.

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“We believe that diverse entrepreneurs provide opportunities for disproportionate returns and represent the markets of the future.”

Powerful truth #1: diversity of thinking is the new frontier. Seven more follow: check out Deloitte’s The Diversity and Inclusion Revolution. After that, try to catch up with our FinTech all-star Harry Alford.

Harry is team co-captain of humble ventures – lowercase ‘h’.  This private equity firm is powered by an inclusive approach to venture capital. The firm focuses on diverse entrepreneurs and those building for diverse audiences. They boast an impressive array of clients who you may know: the NFL, Merck, and Mount Sinai Health System, to name a few.

In his (non-) free time Harry is master-wordsmithing the humble Medium page, while scouting, mentoring, fathering, and advising. A true Gemini – Harry can be in two places at once. Keep an eye on this one and make sure to get an autograph.

 

Tell us about Humble Ventures in a few words?

Humble Ventures is a venture development firm that drives innovation forward in partnership with startups, established enterprises, and investors.

What’s a fun fact about yourself?

I'm an identical twin -- born two minutes before my brother, Thomas. We are still very close and work in the tech space.

If you could pick any job in the world, what would it be? Aside from your current hustle.

Dad. I love being a father to my son, Tatum, and can't wait to welcome our second baby boy this June. There is no other team I'd want to go through 2020 with other than my family.

What's your favorite thing about working where you do?

We focus on diverse entrepreneurs that are solving problems for the fastest growing demographic segments. We believe that diverse entrepreneurs provide opportunities for disproportionate returns and represent the markets of the future. Our venture development model enables us to link inclusion into innovation through our enterprise partners, which makes a lasting impact.

What (other) bank, FinTech, or VC do you have the most admiration for and why?

I have a lot of admiration for Oportun. Oportun provides inclusive, affordable, financial services that empower diverse audiences to build a better future. They serve the approximately 100 million people in the United States who are typically shut out of the financial mainstream because they don’t have a credit score or have limited credit history.

 

Which tech giant will leap into banking first and why? (Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Apple, etc)

Jack Dorsey is positioning his companies, Twitter, Square, Cash App, at the intersection of financial freedom. In my opinion, peer-to-peer money transfer, especially bitcoin, is an engine for inclusion.

Why did you decide to jump into FinTech or entrepreneurship?

I was born into entrepreneurship by being raised by two successful entrepreneurs. I've been able to learn through osmosis and first-hand experience since a young age. My brother and I launched our first company in 4th grade selling used souvenirs to classmates.

Top FinTech Influencers

“Financial decisions can be overwhelming and people want to know that there’s a person behind the algorithm”

According to Forbes, 32% of homebuyers were rejected for a mortgage, well above the official denial rate of 11%. Fortunately, fintech is here to save the day with fully digital mortgage lending. Grab your pre-approval and get going.

If this is your first-time foray into the wide world of home buying, let New York City-based Morty be your chaperone. Officially a full-service marketplace for mortgage lenders, Morty will help you KO that scary rejection rate – kapow! Morty had a recent raise of $8.5M Series A in August 2019, led in part by venture capital fund Lerer Hippeau – with exits such as The Huffington Post and Moat.

Our rockstar for this week is Nora, Co-Founder & COO. While she’s not leading and learning, soaking in everything great about work and life at Morty, she can be found rocking out on the hopscotch court. We just want to know Nora: when are you going pro?

You won’t want to miss this electrifying interview with our good friend Nora

Tell us about Morty in a few words?

Morty makes homebuying simple and transparent with an online platform of lenders that allows homebuyers to shop, compare, and lock personalized rates all in 15 minutes, all online.

What’s a fun fact about yourself?

I have a very strong sense of smell. I can smell cucumbers from a room away and hate the smell of ketchup.

If you could pick any job in the world, what would it be? Aside from your current hustle.

I have a lot of community-based initiatives I’d love to do. The one I’ve been thinking about the most recently is providing micro loans to women to start small businesses. I see small, local businesses as part of the core infrastructure for communities and a fundamental vehicle for them to thrive.

What’s your favorite thing about working where you do?

The people! Our team is jam packed with people of different backgrounds and interests from finance and tech to nonprofit and healthcare. Everyday I get to learn something new from the people around me. It’s pretty dope.

What keeps you up at night and why?

How do we continue to build trust and awareness of Morty at scale? Even people who consider themselves financially savvy tell us about their horrible mortgage experiences and say they wish they’d known about Morty. How can we effectively spread the word about Morty before they go down a mortgage rabbithole?

How do we make the FinTech community even stronger?

More diversity. And not just more women, people of color, and LGBTQ. We need people from more diverse socio-economic backgrounds, different education histories, and business sectors. Finance and money affects everyone; to make sure we’re focused as a community on the right things, we need those diverse perspectives at the table.

What is the coolest thing happening right now in FinTech, in your opinion? Who is doing it well?

I think there is understanding in the FinTech space that technology alone won’t solve our problems. Financial decisions can be overwhelming and people want to know that there’s a person behind the algorithm. We’re seeing transformative FinTech companies, including Morty, really rally around an ethos of technology plus people.

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“It's important that as we all age, we're mindful of how financial technology solutions play into our journey”

Earlier this month, 6 phenomenal FinTech founders shared their vision for financial wellness at the second annual Empire Startups Financial Wellness Pitch Day, brought to you by AARP. From personal finance to digital banking, these innovative and disruptive technologies empower people to live their best lives as they age. Though all were incredible, only one could win, and the AARP Innovation Lab and Empire Startups are thrilled to congratulate The Beans for their first place finish at this year’s pitch day. The Beans is simplifying the path to financial success for the largest and fastest growing segment of the US economy: the Caring Class.

Missed the event? Watch the replay here.

At the helm of AARP’s Innovation Lab is Jacqueline M. Baker, a SilverTech sage, athlete, leadership coach, and weekend Marine Biologist. Jacqueline and I sat down for a round of quick fire questions on AARP’s mission, what inspires her about FinTech, and how she stays driven.

Tell us about AARP Innovation Labs in a few words?

We empower people to choose to live how they want as they age, through disruptive innovation.

What’s a fun fact about yourself?

 I pick up a new sport every year. It keeps me comfortably, uncomfortable and challenges me to always considering trying new things.

If you could pick any job in the world, what would it be? Aside from your current hustle.

Marine Biologist.

What's your favorite thing about working where you do?

Being a part of a committed, smart and innovative team.

Why did you decide to jump into FinTech or entrepreneurship?

It's important that as we all age, we're mindful of how financial technology solutions play into our journey. We commit to this work because not having access to this sound piece of mind through financial security is a challenge to aging well.

What is the coolest thing happening right now in FinTech, in your opinion? Who is doing it well?

The companies that are addressing issues that sit at the intersection of fintech and health tech challenges and solutions. There is a direct correlation to each other.

Fintech Influencers- Marla Blow

“The changing regulatory landscape makes it more important than ever to commit to providing reasonably-priced credit to customers who may otherwise face credit scarcity in the coming years.”

“25% of US households are either unbanked or underbanked” reads a recent CNBC headline. We need a hero, but not just any hero: a banking guru, quant savant, and lifelong financial planner. Welcome, Marla Blow.

Marla is the former Founder and CEO of FS Card Inc., a D.C.-based financial service startup that served subprime customers with alternate lending. She cashed out in 2018 and has landed at Mastercard® as the SVP of Social Impact.

Before becoming an entrepreneur, she worked for a who’s who of banking giants: Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase, and Capital One. She also spent three years at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Marla is on a mission to address credit scarcity and was honored in 2018 as a Fast Company Most Creative People of 2018 and the 2018 Minority Business Leader Awards.

A true inspiration and all-around financial expert, the wonderful Marla...

Tell us about FS Card in a few words?

FS Card is a credit card venture designed to move small dollar loan customers into more affordable products and transform small dollar lending.

What’s a fun fact about yourself?

I spent my childhood in Stuttgart, Germany and grew up playing soccer with German children. The first 5 years of my education were conducted entirely in German, and though I don't speak the language anymore, the love of soccer remains!

Dinner with 3 people from any time across history, who would they be and why?

- Prince: his music is the defining sound of my life and I will never stop missing him
- Octavia Butler: her books transformed my understanding of humanity, it's such a tragedy that there will never be more books by her
- Sonia Sotomayor: she wrote THE most important dissent ever and I she plays poker!

What (other) bank, FinTech, or VC do you have the most admiration for and why?

Flourish Ventures has the coolest and most flexible capital that enables them to be incredibly nimble and active across a variety of market opportunities. I love the work they do!

Which tech giant will leap into banking first and why? (Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Apple, etc)

Apple will jump in first, they have the platform via hardware already in consumer's hands and they have the trust of their huge audience. The success of the Apple Card paves the way.

Why did you decide to jump into FinTech or entrepreneurship?

The changing regulatory landscape makes it more important than ever to commit to providing reasonably-priced credit to customers who may otherwise face credit scarcity in the coming years.

Why/how will your company win? What's the unique edge?

The Build Card leverages advanced analytical techniques and a sustainable product design to better serve cardholders. Specifically, it deploys an up-front pricing approach and emphasizes and rewards responsible cardholder behavior.

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“The explosion of Fintech due to Covid (change in behaviors + performance of stock market) and Gen Z demanding the digitization of everything has made Fintech the fastest growing vertical”

Earlier this month, 6 phenomenal FinTech founders shared their vision for financial wellness at the second annual Empire Startups Financial Wellness Pitch Day, brought to you by AARP. From personal finance to digital banking, these innovative and disruptive technologies empower people to live their best lives as they age. Though all were incredible, only one could win, and the AARP Innovation Lab and Empire Startups are thrilled to congratulate The Beans for their first place finish at this year’s pitch day. The Beans is simplifying the path to financial success for the largest and fastest growing segment of the US economy: the Caring Class.

Missed the event? Watch the replay here.

At the helm of AARP’s Innovation Lab is Jacqueline M. Baker, a SilverTech sage, athlete, leadership coach, and weekend Marine Biologist. Jacqueline and I sat down for a round of quick fire questions on AARP’s mission, what inspires her about FinTech, and how she stays driven.

Tell us about Techstars in a few words?

We help entrepreneurs succeed with venture capital investment and mentorship.

What’s a fun fact about yourself?

I had three kids in three and a half years. I don't know if that's necessarily fun, but it sure is crazy.

Dinner with 3 people from any time across history, who would they be and why?

Roald Dahl - Since childhood been fascinated with his stories. To have a conversation with someone with that intense of an imagination would be magical.

Cleopatra - She showed that women could do it all, and turned gender stereotypes upside down. I'm curious what gave her the courage.

Donald Trump - So I could punch him in the face... just kidding don't put that! Actually yes, put that please.

If you could pick any job in the world, what would it be? Aside from your current hustle.

Interior Designer - I'm a Taurus so I love design and color. I use decorating as my creative outlet.

What's your favorite thing about working where you do?

I get to support the most fearless and intelligent people everyday. As an investor, we have the easy job. It's the founders who put themselves out there for the world to swallow. It's humbling and rewarding to help founders be better. It sounds cheesy, but it's incredibly energizing.

What's your company look like 5yrs down the road?

We will be the largest venture capital investment fund in the world.

Are we in a FinTech bubble? Why?

Yes. There was over $22B of Fintech investment in Q1 of 2021. The explosion of Fintech due to Covid (change in behaviors + performance of stock market) and Gen Z demanding the digitization of everything has made Fintech the fastest growing vertical. It will subside as a next generation won't emerge for years to come and we hopefully don't have another pandemic. I also think certain hot categories will fizzle soon - neo banks being one.

What is the coolest thing happening right now in FinTech, in your opinion? Who is doing it well?

We have seen an emergence in focus on improving financial wellness and acumen for the underbanked. That is super cool for a multitude of reasons. Credit score improvement, alternative credit scoring, fractional investing, BNPL, payroll advancement, 401K alternatives - all of these categories help people who haven't been historically helped and that is super cool. Sunny Day Fund and The Beans are great companies to keep your eye on.

Top FinTech Influencers

“Technology is a reflection of the people who make it. Unhealthy people create unhealthy teams, companies, and products.”

FinTech startups continue to sprout as total global numbers topped 12,000 in the first half of 2019. Investment dollars continue to pour in, reaching over $110 billion in 2018, 120% over 2017 as reported by KPMG.

Enabling the startup seeds to grow is global venture investment firm Anthemis. Named after a genus of aromatic flowering plants, Anthemis invests in growing digitally native fintech companies, with an eye towards sustainable finance. The company has a green thumb — a knack for financing the vanguard of a transforming financial services industry.

Leslie Campisi is the CMO and communications virtuoso at Anthemis. She is a begrudging admirer of Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are. Leslie continues to astound with her yogini-like commitment to financial literacy and personal well-being. When she isn’t on the mat practicing, she is leading her team to new heights.

With warmup over, let’s turn to our interview with Leslie…

Tell us about Anthemis in a few words?

Anthemis cultivates change in financial services by investing in and building early stage, digitally native fintech companies.

What’s a fun fact about yourself?

I appeared on College Jeopardy!*

*The exclamation point isn’t an expression of my excitement, Jeopardy! actually has a “!” in its name. This is what happens when you work in marketing, kids.

If you could pick any job in the world, what would it be? Aside from your current hustle.

Cast member on Saturday Night Live. If we’ve met more than once, I definitely have an impression of you.

What’s your favorite thing about working where you do?

Impossible to pick. How about working for the most badass female investor on the planet?

What do you think about the future of FinTech that your colleagues don’t all agree with?
We’re a pretty opinionated group…I can almost always find *someone* to agree with me. But one thing I’m personally passionate about is the health and wellbeing of founders and fintech workers. Technology is a reflection of the people who make it. Unhealthy people create unhealthy teams, companies, and products. It boggles my mind that more VCs, to name one demographic in the ecosystem, don’t support their founders in taking accountability for their own wellness. I’m doing my part by teaching yoga — for people that don’t “do yoga” — at RISE on Tuesday nights. An hour on a mat might seem like something insubstantial, but the reality of change is that it’s the tiny choices that add up and turn into healthy habits. (It’s free. If you want to get on the list, DM me.
What bank or FinTech do you have the most admiration for and why?

My favorite fintech company right now is Kindur. I mean, have you MET Rhian Horgan? Right? Plus helping people bust down the silos between the government, banks and insurance companies to figure out how much money they actually need to retire — that’s a mission worth getting behind.

How do we make the FinTech community even stronger?

Diversity. Race, gender, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, ability, educational background, all of it. Stat.

Top FinTech Influencers

“You can build a company focused on doing the right thing and make money”

The lending revolution is underway, as FinTech firms rush to tackle our collective fiscal woes. With the much-ballyhooed and oft-cited “$1.5 Trillion Crisis” of student debt, savvy entrepreneurs are founding solutions.

Leading the charge is NYC-based Climb Credit, a new breed of student loan lending company founded in 2014. Climb Credit is conquering the towering mountain of debt by offering loans for high-return -on-investment educational opportunities. Aspiring students can view and compare quality-verified schools that lead graduates to strong jobs with increased earning potential—which Climb Credit then funds with a “smarter” student loan.

At the helm is Angela Ceresnie, mother of two and a financial guru on a quest for lending equality. Angela, and her crack team at Climb Credit, are on a mission to transform collegiate debt through the monk-like use of data. Angela works tirelessly driven by the promise of crushing the nightmare of student debt, once and for all.

Angela is a long-time friend of Empire Startups and always one to watch. Here’s our interview…

Tell us about Climb Credit in a few words?

Leading provider of data on and financing for high ROI, skills training programs.

What’s a fun fact about yourself?

I’m the mother of 2 daughters!

Dinner with 3 people from any time across history, who would they be?

Martin Luther King, Eleanor Roosevelt, Buddha.

If you could pick any job in the world, what would it be? Aside from your current hustle.

Travel and Food Writer / Critic.

What’s your company look like 5yrs down the road?

Career transformation platform – the leading provider of access to life changing education.

What’s your favorite thing about working where you do?

Working with the amazing team.

What keeps you up at night?

Student loan crisis.

What do you think about the future of FinTech that your colleagues don’t all agree with?

You can build a company focused on doing the right thing (mission-based) and make money.

What bank or FinTech do you have the most admiration for and why?

Too many to name – I’ve been really impressed with the team we’ve partnered with at Goldman Sachs – the Urban Investment Group. The team there is sincerely devoted to increasing economic mobility and have been able to leverage the Goldman platform to do so!

How do we make the FinTech community even stronger?

Focus on the companies looking to solve large, systemic problems and help them do it!

Does Libra scare you?

No.

Which tech giant will leap into banking first? (Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Apple, etc)

They all are to some degree.

Top FinTech Influencers

“My favorite thing about ComplyAdvantage is its potential. From the team, to the product road map, collectively we have the capacity to disrupt the compliance industry and eliminate financial crime”

The sticky fingers of finance fraud continue to pluck untold billions from companies worldwide. The World Economic Forum estimates $2.4 trillion in illicit funds circulate throughout the global financial markets each year. 

London-based ComplyAdvantage has set its sights on a grand mission “solving financial crime”. Their API-based uber-smart tech along with some razor-sharp talent susses out the bad actors. Just remember: Everybody runs. The company is addressing a particularly painful pain-point in the digital age: the alphabet soup of finance regulations – from Know Your Customer (KYC) to anti-money laundering (AML) and on to countering financial terrorism (CFT). 

As a former Money Laundering Reporting Officer, Charles understands just what it takes to protect organizations from compliance catastrophe. Under his tutelage, the company raised an additional $30M in Series B funding this year and completed a recent expansion into APAC with an office in Singapore. 

Join us for this hearty interview with our friend and compliance guru Charles…

Tell us about ComplyAdvantage in a few words?

B2B SaaS company building the first global, connected database of people and companies powering world-leading financial crime detection tools.

Dinner with 3 people from any time across history, who would they be and why?

I would love to dine with Alan Turing, Ada Lovelace, and Larry Page. Alan and Ada contributed so much to math and computer science, without them I am not sure where we would be today. Additionally, I would love to dive into innovation and growth with Larry who has created one of the world’s most successful companies off the back of Alan and Ada’s contributions.

If you could pick any job in the world, what would it be? Aside from your current hustle.

My first startup was called The Student Room and at one point it was the fastest growing online student social media platform in the entirety of the UK. Today it is still one of the largest online student communities. That said, The Student Room isn’t Facebook. It would have been interesting to see if roles had reversed, what would have happened.

What’s your favorite thing about working where you do?

We have a bright future. The products that we are building are only the beginning of what we have planned. My favorite thing about ComplyAdvantage is its potential. From the team, to the product road map, collectively we have the capacity to disrupt the compliance industry and eliminate financial crime.

What (other) bank, FinTech, or VC do you have the most admiration for and why?

I am proud of the work that is being done at MarketInvoice. They have built a great team and product. Their Series B is a testament to the work they have done and the future they have in front of them.

Why did you decide to start your startup?

At the last company that I co-founded, MarketInvoice, I assumed the role as a Money Laundering Reporting Officer. The personal and corporate liability of making sure every client and transaction was within AML and CFT regulations was enormous and there were no tools on the market that gave me the power and flexibility to safely automate onboarding of clients and monitoring of transactions. Thus, I left to build something better.

What is the coolest thing happening right now in FinTech, in your opinion? Who is doing it well?

Besides ComplyAdvantage? Challenger banks are interesting to watch. In the UK they have had ample opportunity to come in and take a major part of the market. In the US, that is a different story. You are starting to see Challenger banks partner with traditional financial institutions to get a foot in the door. With N26, Monzo, and Revolut all moving into the US this year, it will be interesting to watch how they position themselves and who captures the market first.

Top FinTech Influencers

“FinTech Sandbox is a Boston-based nonprofit that drives global FinTech innovation and collaboration through access to data to build product.”

FinTech continues its blistering growth with a projected CAGR of 22.17% from 2018 to 2023. The unsung heroes of the rapid rise are the connectors: support organizations dedicated to breaking down barriers for fledgling startups to take their first flight.

Boston-based connector FinTech Sandbox is one such non-profit dedicated to accelerating startups to infinity and beyond. Founders and other leaders get to connect and collaborate within the walls of this adult-sized bouncy castle. Channel your inner nerd with the oodles of quality financial data FinTech Sandbox offers.

Team captain of this enterprise is Jean Donnelly, Executive Director and Six Sigma BlackBelt. Watch out! She’ll karate chop those corporate troubles into order in no time. An inspiration to us all, Jean is a modern-day incarnation of Rosie the Riveter – “FinTech, we can do it!” Yes. we can, and Jean and the team will show us the way.

Without any further ado, we welcome to you our interview with Jean…

Tell us about FinTech Sandbox in a few words?

FinTech Sandbox is a Boston-based nonprofit that drives global FinTech innovation and collaboration through access to data to build product.

What’s a fun fact about yourself?

I started my career working on aircraft engines and manufacturing lines.

Dinner with 3 people from any time across history, who would they be?

George Harrison, Maya Angelou, Jane Austen – wouldn’t they just be funny together?

If you could pick any job in the world, what would it be? Aside from your current hustle.

Captain of the US women’s soccer team 🙂 oh yeah, I have skills.

What’s your favorite thing about working where you do?

Getting to speak with and work with startups and entrepreneurs.

What’s your company look like 5yrs down the road?

We have replicated our data access program for startups focused on underserved to help create needed solutions for the LMI community.

What keeps you up at night?

Making payroll, having empty seats at Boston FinTech Week!

What do you think about the future of FinTech that your colleagues don’t all agree with?

How to reach the LMI community will take the entrepreneurs lifting them up and corporates creating distribution that reaches people where they are at. BOTH will be needed to change where we are headed.

What (other) bank, FinTech, or VC do you have the most admiration for and why?

Grasshopper – having met Minerva Tantoco I can’t wait to see what they do!

How do we make the FinTech community even stronger?

Support each other with intros, it doesn’t take much but can do a lot. Be an advocate, its EVERYBODY’s job, not just the resources that support the ecosystem.

Does Libra scare you? Why or why not?

No – volatility is still too high for everyday folks to engage, a couple of more years…

Which tech giant will leap into banking first and why? (Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Apple, etc)

Amazon – they are already there in everything but charter.

Pick your own fun question! Dazzle us!

Favorite album: Radiohead The Bends, Favorite Author: Nick Hornby

Top FinTech Influencers

“There are brilliant people across the US and the world, but too often the ones that receive support are part of a fairly narrow network or fit a predetermined pattern”

The digital world continues to offer a reprieve from the stormy waters of financial upheaval. Long touted as competition to brick-and-mortar banks, digital banks are poised to surge in the wake of our present woes. Have no fear: all-digital banking is here (and here to stay).

Grasshopper Bank is an NYC-based digital-only bank catering to a select clientele: entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and incubators. Named for a famed American computer programming pioneer, this mean-green-banking-machine banked over $131M to democratize access to capital for innovators.

Our admiral on-deck for this digital voyage is Judith Erwin, Founder and CEO. Judith’s banking prowess and steady hand are sure to steer the ship towards new (and profitable) waters. Her famed success at Square 1 Bank and commitment to diversity has attracted a crew of the best and brightest.

We welcome you on board for what is sure to be a refreshing and engaging interview with Judith

Tell us about Grasshopper Bank in a few words?

Grasshopper is an OCC and FDIC chartered commercial venture bank that supports innovators, entrepreneurs and the companies that support them.

What’s a fun fact about yourself?

I’m a military brat, so I attended 12 different schools between Kindergarten and 12th grade.

What keeps you up at night and why?

Right now I’m thinking a lot about two issues. First, the idea that while talent is widely distributed opportunity is not. There are brilliant people across the US and the world, but too often the ones that receive support are part of a fairly narrow network or fit a predetermined pattern. Second, I’m watching the regulatory environment and any changes that might come about that could impact competitiveness.

What (other) bank, FinTech, or VC do you have the most admiration for and why?

Square. They have succeeded by thinking holistically about their clients’ needs and about ways to bring solutions to underserved communities. More than that, they’ve managed to drive real change in the way businesses operate in a positive, constructive way. In doing so, they’ve brought value to a lot of underserved areas.

Why did you decide to start or join your startup?

I was on the founding team at Square 1 Bank, and stayed there through its IPO and eventual sale to Pacific West. That was a positive experience, but at the end of it I felt like there were things we didn’t get to do as a bank. So when I was approached with the idea of founding Grasshopper Bank, I jumped at the opportunity. Right now, my biggest goals involve expanding access to top quality financial services and supporting entrepreneurs. If you look at the leadership teams at most banks in the US, their CEOs and C-Suite don’t look like me. That lack of diversity can extend to the companies they support, and really limit the sorts of founders who are able to achieve success. We’re working to solve that problem – both through our banking services and with programs like Grasshopper Grants.

What is the coolest thing happening right now in FinTech, in your opinion? Who is doing it well?

The growing focus on data privacy, security, and portability. Banks are starting to understand the risks of letting third party providers access data without controls or guardrails. For example, there have been issues with apps asking for customers User IDs and passwords. That’s basically giving away the keys to all their financial data with no visibility into how they’ll be used.

This is an issue Grasshopper has been focused on since we launched. We don’t share customer data and our customers own all of their data. So it’s great to see more banks starting to focus on this challenge.

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“Fintech has the power to improve healthcare, lift people out of poverty, provide access to credit and improve insurance coverage”

Toronto (or as I affectionately call it, The Y-Y-Z) has long been a hotbed of FinTech. And we’re not talking about just the FinTech mania of the last five years - Toronto has several decades of building core banking and brokerage technology under its belt. When you mix the financial capital of Canada with some of the top engineering talent in the world, FinTech-romance will ensue. 

Split between Toronto and another emerging FinTech capital, Montreal, is Luge Capital, a FinTech-focused seed-stage investor. Luge is run by operators, and backed by a number of large financial institutions, so they’re much more than just capital. 

This week I sat down with Karim Gillani - General Partner at Luge, former PayPal-er, and frequent Empire speaker. We talked about FinTech’s power to improve healthcare, lift people out of poverty, provide access to credit, improve insurance coverage and more. And now I’m somehow hungry for some freeze dried ice cream...

Tell us about Luge Capital in a few words?

Luge Capital is a fintech-focused venture capital fund that invests in early-stage companies in Canada and the United States.

What’s a fun fact about yourself?

I was born in Canada to British parents, who were originally from East Africa, living in Saudi Arabia. Since then, I’ve lived in 9 countries.

If you could pick any job in the world, what would it be? Aside from your current hustle.

I would consider two other jobs:
1. Astronaut, because I love to fly, and I've always been fascinated by the vastness of the universe.
2. International spy, because you get to play with fancy gadgets, drive fast cars, jump out of planes and drink martinis that are shaken, not stirred.

What (other) bank, FinTech, or VC do you have the most admiration for and why?

Besides PayPal (my alma mater), I really admire Boston-based Flywire, led by Mike Massaro. I knew the company when they were very early and loved their mission to help international students make payments for their college education. I've lived the problem myself so I can relate to their customers. Mike has ushered the business to huge success, and they are now publicly listed on the NASDAQ.

Why did you decide to jump into FinTech or entrepreneurship?

Even though financial services accounts for 20% of the GDP in the US and Canada, the industry is still stuck in the dark ages. Fintech companies are pushing the industry forward. Fintech has the power to improve healthcare, lift people out of poverty, provide access to credit and improve insurance coverage. Economic wellbeing is the centre of how people live their lives.

Why/how will your company win? What's the unique edge?

Our Luge Capital team is truly our super power. We’re a diverse group, with diverse backgrounds, and diverse skills. Under one roof, we have proficiency in engineering, technical architecture, finance, law, M&A, business development, sales, marketing and public relations. We all have deep expertise in fintech. We come from companies like PayPal, Nuvei, Osler, FCP, Angelhack and CDPQ. And almost everyone on the team is a former operator or a former entrepreneur, which gives us empathy for the founders we meet everyday.

What is the coolest thing happening right now in FinTech, in your opinion? Who is doing it well?

The coolest thing happening right now is that consumer financial services are becoming much more accessible. Users are comparing banking apps to Uber, Netflix, and Apple experiences. And emerging fintech companies are delivering customer-centric products that remove complexity and unnecessary jargon. The average person likely doesn’t understand how GICs work, how bond trading works, or even how life insurance policies work. The new era of fintech simplifies these concepts and makes them more accessible. Instead of calling a broker or logging into a confusing wealth management platform, you can buy Tesla stock with the click of a button.

Top FinTech Influencers

“I believe that the power of mobile together with strong design principles will change the way customers think about their financial wellness”

Neobanks are here to stay. VC interest in these mobile banking upstarts has ballooned to $3.7B as of 2019, a 60% increase over 2018. These digital challengers skip the traditional banking model of taking deposits and lending capital, instead generating revenue from processing fees.

Berlin-based and Peter Theil-backed N26 is a leading challenger bank making waves. The company landed in the U.S. in the summer of 2019 and has grown at a brisk clip – 250,000 customers in the first five months.

Here to build a transparent banking world is Lindsey Grossman, who recently spoke at CES2020 on the digital revolution in banking – check out her panel talk! Lindsey and her product development gurus have left the ashram to build the future of banking.

Pull up a cozy chair, grab your favorite banking app, and join us for this enlightening interview with Lindsey…

Tell us about N26 in a few words?

N26 is building the first mobile banking platform the world loves to use.

What’s a fun fact about yourself?

I studied abroad in India twice when I was in university, and since then, have spent significant time there in my past roles at Intuit, Stripe and APCO Worldwide.

If you could pick any job in the world, what would it be? Aside from your current hustle.

An architect working to build sustainable cities. Why? I’ve had the great joy to live in large cities around the world including NYC, London, Hyderabad, San Francisco and others and I often think about the impact that public transportation, environmental policy and city planning overall has on our lives.

What’s your company look like 5yrs down the road?

Our goal is to reach 100 million customers and become the world’s largest truly global bank. While this may sound like bold ambition, our offering and its powerful, easy-to-use features have helped us reach 5 million global customers in our first 5 years. As we expand in the United States, we remain convinced about the power of transparency and intuitive design when helping customers manage their money. The next 5 years will bring a depth in the types of problems we solve for customers and the number of places around the world that we help customers.

What (other) bank, FinTech, or VC do you have the most admiration for and why?

I’m a bit biased as I used to work there, but I have major admiration for Stripe. They continue to innovate quickly – and with sustained focus – and they attract top talent who are uniquely known for their ability to deliver results and work as a team.

Why did you decide to start or join your startup?

I joined N26 because I believe in the power of simplicity and transparency to help customers manage their money. N26 is unique in its wide geographic reach and it has large ambitions about the numerous ways it can help customers have better financial outcomes. I believe that the power of mobile together with strong design principles will change the way customers think about their financial wellness and that we can remove the fear and anxiety of understanding one’s financial health. I also joined N26 because of the team… we have employees from all over the world who come together for a single goal: to help create a bank that the world loves to use.

What is the coolest thing happening right now in FinTech, in your opinion? Who is doing it well?

Fintech companies largely understand the importance of speaking to customers in plain terms, helping them overcome the hurdles of knowledge gaps to get to better financial outcomes.

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“I feel lucky to wake up every morning to one of the most diverse teams in fintech history and working on one of the solutions that will impact generations of oppressed people.”

It’s springtime and the challenger banks are in full bloom - but don’t make the mistake of thinking this is too crowded a market. Here at Empire Startups, we see plenty more room to grow in the digital bank space, especially for those concentrating on specific communities. By further focusing their target market, these challengers are able to provide highly tailored product offerings and customer service - not to mention their ability to acquire customers at fractions of what the big boys pay. They can avoid the expensive, monolithic marketing campaigns of the other guys, and reap the benefits of a higher click-through-rate that comes with more targeted messaging.

One of our favorites, First Boulevard, “Unapologetic Banking Built for Black America.” Co-founders Donald J. Harkins and Asya Bradley are individually forces of nature, and together, we simply can’t wait to see what they’ll accomplish. 

I recently sat down with Donald to talk about what drives him, the FinTech bubble, and some of his favorites in the space...

Tell us about First Boulevard in a few words?

First Boulevard is a digitally native neobank building generational wealth for Black America.

What’s a fun fact about yourself?

It took me 28 years to realize that C'mon was short for come on. When reading comics in my youth, I was always confused when Jack Kirby switched to Jamaican accent (ie, See mon).

Dinner with 3 people from any time across history, who would they be and why?

Andrew Carnegie, Harriet Tubman, Mansa Musa.

If you could pick any job in the world, what would it be? Aside from your current hustle.

Middle School Music Teacher.

What's your favorite thing about working where you do?

I feel lucky to wake up every morning to one of the most diverse teams in fintech history and working on one of the solutions that will impact generations of oppressed people.

What's your company look like 5yrs down the road?

After a successful IPO, First Boulevard (along with millions of diverse shareholders) will be a beacon of hope to underserved communities and an example of what can be when people decide to take action and be the change they want to see.

What keeps you up at night and why?

We're in a race against the clock. The wealth gap in America is the worst it's ever been and by 2053, the net median wealth of Black families in the US will fall to $0. Every day we're not in market, more and more of our community is sinking deeper into debt and despair.

What (other) bank, FinTech, or VC do you have the most admiration for and why?

I'm a big fan of what Ohad has built over at TrueAccord. His team has taken on an extremely ugly industry and uses thoughtful tech to help people that need it the most.

Are we in a FinTech bubble? Why?

FinTech is just getting started! With unique customer segmentation becoming a new focus for many fintechs, new features and offerings will undoubtedly be on the horizon - along with even more third-party providers bringing support.

Why did you decide to jump into FinTech or entrepreneurship?

I had the fortune of seeing a tech venture called LittleAfrica.com get developed from the very beginning. I was amazed at how something so simple could make such an impact on the lives of the merchants. That experience helped me recognize the power technology could provide to a variety of problems people faced.

Why/how will your company win? What's the unique edge?

First Boulevard is being built from the inside out by the same market we serve. Having direct access to same unique pain points as our customers provides us the motivation and validation needed to make effective and speedy decisions. Representation is our secret sauce and we hope it's replicated as often as possible.

What are some of your favorite FinTech blog or podcast?

11fs, For Fintechs Sake, Tearsheet.

FinTech Influencers

“We’d much rather have a nuanced understanding of select verticals than try to compete in every deal out there”

The economic effects for FinTech are already being felt – Q1 funding fell to $5.78B from $7.7B. All eyes are on the economy and what’s next. One keen eye is Matt Harris, VC and professional soothsayer with Bain Capital Ventures. In these challenging times, Matt brings much-needed clarity.

Twenty years ago, Matt read the signs and saw the potential of FinTech. For those who want a primer, check out his electrifying read “Fintech: The Fourth Platform”, published in Forbes. More recently, Matt weighed in over at Tech Crunch on VC funding in the post-COVID-19 world. Matt works a partner at Bain Capital Ventures, the VC powerhouse arm of Bain Capital. He’s been involved in many well-known FinTech firms at Bain Capital Ventures: AvidXchange, Flywire, Roofstock, and SigFig, and others. Who is better prepared to help us navigate these stormy waters?

Find your chair and join us as we welcome the Sage of FinTech, Matt...

Tell us about Bain Capital Ventures in a few words?

Bain Capital Ventures is the venture and growth equity arm of Bain Capital focused on enterprise investments in application software, infrastructure software and security, fintech, healthcare, and consumer tech.

What’s a fun fact about yourself?

I’m obsessed with military history. Someday, I plan to write a book connecting the strategy and tactics of insurgency with what I’ve learned about entrepreneurship.

If you could pick any job in the world, what would it be? Aside from your current hustle.

Theater has always been a passion of mine, so I would be a theater critic. It also captures a lot of what I love about venture – learning from the subject you evaluate, forming an opinion about a matter, and meeting inspiring people who challenge the status quo.

Which tech giant will leap into banking first and why? (Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Apple, etc)

The rise in challenger banks and proliferation of consumer-facing companies offering banking products are testaments to the commoditization of core banking elements. Naturally, we can expect any company with deep customer relationships to layer in banking products both to increase usage/retention and gain economics. For some of the tech giants like Facebook, Amazon, and Apple, the leap to banking is hardly a leap – it may not even be a hop given how deeply they interact with their user bases already.

Why did you decide to jump into FinTech or entrepreneurship?

In the 1990s, one of the first formative moments in my career was being part of the Bain Capital team that purchased what later became Experian. It was a great return for the firm, but more importantly, it taught me how transformative data and technology could be in the financial services space. Few investors were thinking about financial technology at the time (the term ‘fintech’ hadn’t even been coined yet), so I was excited to be one of the first investors to unravel the complexity of this industry, both from an intellectual and competitive lens.

Why/how will your company win? What's the unique edge?

BCV prides itself in our domain expertise – we’d much rather have a nuanced understanding of select verticals than try to compete in every deal out there. In the same way that I’ve spent two decades thinking about and learning about financial technology, each of our investors across the team focuses on an industry. This gives us an edge in both the diligence of new companies and the level of support we can offer to our portfolio.

What is the coolest thing happening right now in FinTech, in your opinion? Who is doing it well?

We’ve started to see evidence that financial functionality is becoming a native component of a company’s business and tech stack rather than a primary business model on its own. For example, merchant payments are increasingly embedded in vertical software companies like Mindbody, a business software platform in the wellness industry that also accepts and monetizes payments through its platform. Along that vein is another exciting company which we invested in called Finix, an infrastructure platform that allows software companies to take on these payment processing capabilities.

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“In under 10 minutes a founder can get all of the business insurance she needs to start and then to scale a company”

As our modern-day insurance leviathan continues on life support, a miracle cure is en route: Insurtech. This “defibrillator on the heart of the insurance industry” imbues the world of insurance assessments with technological wizardry. Check out these youthful stats: 300 U.S. startups in 2019, over $1 billion in capital, and 60% growth projected in 2020.

The company recently closed their series B, landing $45M led by Y Combinator’s Continuity Fund.

Our insurtech scrum lead for today is Sam Hodges, co-founder and CEO at Vouch. While not trekking the country from event to event, he can be found conjuring a better insurance world. Watch out he’ll be at Empire FinTech Oct 14. His team is poised to tackle the challenges of scaling the startup mountain. To the summit!

Have a rest from your daily quest, and join us for an interview with Sam…

Tell us about Vouch Insurance in a few words?

Business insurance for start-ups.

What’s a fun fact about yourself?

I’ve made it to the 3 of the 4 last Rugby World Cups (Paris, London, Japan) and hoping to make it back to France for the one in 2023!

Dinner with 3 people from any time across history, who would they be and why?

Leonardo da Vinci, Ursula K. Le Guin, Richard Feynman — I can’t imagine a better troika to explore (and push) the realm of the possible over a bottle of wine or two.

If you could pick any job in the world, what would it be? Aside from your current hustle.

If I wasn’t an entrepreneur (and also horribly out of condition) I’d love to be Jimmy Chin (or his assistant): Professional mountaineer, photographer and film-maker.

What’s your favorite thing about working where you do?

Our team — I feel incredibly lucky to be able to work with a creative, values-driven bunch of folks who are committed to changing the way insurance works, and to helping entrepreneurs be better entrepreneurs.

What’s your company look like 5yrs down the road?

We’re building an insurance company to serve the needs of those who are building the future. We see an opportunity not just to make it easier and more convenient for innovative companies to get the coverage they need to start and to scale, but also to re-invent how underlying insurance coverage works as well. In 5 years we’ll be operating across the US as well as in a few other countries, and we’ll have a wide range of insurance solutions to meet the needs to innovators (in tech and beyond) in these geographies.

What keeps you up at night and why?

I have a 3.5 year-old daughter and a puppy chocolate Labrador Retriever — so usually one of those! More seriously, I worry very seriously about the political discourse we’re having as a country right now — we have many serious problems that we need to solve as a society and the over-simplification, vilification and fear-mongering that occupies most discourse is preventing us from coming up with thoughtful solutions.

What do you think about the future of FinTech that your colleagues don’t all agree with?

Traditional banks, insurance companies and asset managers aren’t going anywhere — some of them are going to evolve to offer direct digitally-native solutions that meet the needs of their customers, and others are going to evolve more in the direction of wholesale providers of regulated financial infrastructure and providers of institutional capital.

What (other) bank, FinTech, or VC do you have the most admiration for and why?

I’m going to cheat and name two: I’m a big fan of both Stripe and Cross River Bank: both provide vital services for other businesses, and represent two different ways to approach financial “infrastructure”.

How do we make the FinTech community even stronger?

Some of the most interesting and rapid changes in global financial services are happening in other parts of the world — the more global we as a community can think, the better we’ll be at learning from each other.

Does Libra scare you? Why or why not?

Conceptually no, but I’ll admit that Facebook scares me on some level.

Which tech giant will leap into banking first and why? (Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Apple, etc)

There’s an argument that Apple and Amazon are already well down this path, so I’d pick one of them, though it’s not clear to me that any of these companies need to set up banks to offer the banking services they want to deliver for their customers — hence the partnerships that have cropped up over the past few years.

Pick your own fun question! Dazzle us!

Favorite sub-genre of literature: magical realism.

Why did you decide to start or join your startup?

I was involved in my first start-up about 14 years ago — it only lasted a few months before it was acquired, but I got hooked. I originally joined that company because I loved the pace and vision, and the opportunity to build something from scratch. I’ve worked on four start-ups since then, and been an investor in many others over the past decade.

Why/how will your company win? What’s the unique edge?

We’re starting with a superior customer experience: in under 10 minutes a founder can get all of the business insurance she needs to start and then to scale a company (ranging from the basics all the way up through more complex liability coverages). On average, companies are saving ~14% by working with Vouch. Beyond this, we’re also working closely with our partners to build completely new insurance programs to meet the specific needs of high-growth businesses doing innovative things. More to come on that soon!

What is the coolest thing happening right now in FinTech, in your opinion? Who is doing it well?

I’m a big believer in “embedded” financial services — at the end of the day, money is a commodity. What people want is the ability to purchase, save and invest in different products and services in their moment of need. As such, I’m a big believer in companies that are building distribution through software and monetizing through a financial product of some kind.

Top FinTech Influencers

“We’re building and defining a new category. We have a unique opportunity to enable a large portion of retirees to feel secure and excited as they enter retirement”

10,000 Boomers retire each day – and this trend will continue through 2030. This 75-million strong ‘silver tsunami’ is a force of nature reshaping retirement. Too soon to talk about retirement? You may prefer a pre-tirement – a process, not a distinct retirement event.

Wherever you are in your journey sailing into the West, NYC-based Kindur has you covered. A modern-day financial coxswain, these folks will steer you and your nest egg to safer waters. A 2018 $9M Series A means the team will retrofit your retirement yacht with anti-Scylla technology. This one-stop digital shop for retirement planning will help make your beach house a reality.

Officer of the deck at Kindur is Rhian. She comes to the retirement space with deep financial know-how and is backed by a team committed to making retirement fearless. Let Rhian and her crew show you the way.

Kick up your boots and join us for this insightful interview with Rhian…

Tell us about Kindur in a few words?

Smart, automated advice for modern retirees.

What’s a fun fact about yourself?

I was born in Wales and grew up in England and Ireland. By the time I graduated high school in the States I had attended 10 different schools. Looking back, I think this helped me learn how to start over (and over), a lesson that certainly was helpful in my journey at Kindur.

Dinner with 3 people from any time across history, who would they be and why?

Bill and Melinda Gates (I watched the Netflix series recently and was so impressed with their ‘second act’), Margaret Thatcher (I met her briefly when I was in colleague and the more I have learned about her unique strengths, the more impressed I am) and the Dixie Chicks (yes, I’m a country girl at heart and have loved their concerts at Madison Square Gardens!)

If you could pick any job in the world, what would it be? Aside from your current hustle.

I’m intrigued by the world of architecture and design. As a consumer building or remodeling can be both one of the most frustrating but also exciting experiences. Its seems like a perfect place for some customer focused innovation.

What’s your favorite thing about working where you do?

We’re building and defining a new category. We have a unique opportunity to enable a large portion of retirees to feel secure and excited as they enter retirement.

What’s your company look like 5yrs down the road?

We’re the destination for baby boomers to retire fearlessly. A community that is the one stop to secure financial wellness in retirement.

What keeps you up at night and why?

We’re helping customers make high consequence decisions that they often can’t reverse. Every day, and night, I’m thinking about how we can help these consumers have confidence in their retirement decision. They all remember 2008 and there is still a trust re-building effort that is ongoing.

What do you think about the future of FinTech that your colleagues don’t all agree with?

We’re still putting a lot of capital against companies that build products for urban millenials…. and there a lot more markets out there that fintech can support. While there is a playbook for urban millenials, we all need to lean in and develop those playbooks together for all the other demographics, or risk them being left behind.

What (other) bank, FinTech, or VC do you have the most admiration for and why?

I’m most impressed with the ecosystem of companies that have become the rails for fin-tech (quovo, plaid, stripe) which enables startups like mine to quickly bring new products to market and allow us to focus on the areas where we can be truly differentiated.

How do we make the FinTech community even stronger?

There is a unique challenge and opportunity in fintech around bringing together domain experience from financial services and a consumer 1st/ tech mindset from the tech community. Its tricky to blend these cultures within a company but when done well can lead to much more powerful solutions for customers.

Does Libra scare you? Why or why not?

Honestly, I don’t have the brain space to think about it!

Which tech giant will leap into banking first and why? (Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Apple, etc)

Well, I think we have seen them all take a version of the first step. I think this will be an interesting lesson around what the end consumer wants– and which companies are best positioned to listen to their customers.

Where do you find your inspiration?

I have two young children (ages 5 &7) and have been amazed to watch their journey with technology– how quickly they hacked Alexa, their ability to grasp early coding concepts, and to binge the new Disney+. Seeing how they navigate technology has taught me a lot about how great UX drives adoption.

Why did you decide to start your startup?

I was helping my parents prepare for retirement and stumbled upon the Barnes and Noble ‘retirement’ section. When I saw the 300 page book on social security I knew there was an opportunity to improve the user experience!

Why/how will your company win? What’s the unique edge?

We’re uniquely focused on designing for this demographic. Its been part of our DNA from day 1 and we’re committed to leading design for the age 55+

What is the coolest thing happening right now in FinTech, in your opinion? Who is doing it well?

I’m excited by the work NYC Fintech Women is doing to rally and grow the female fintech community. If we’re going to be effective building for the diversity of america, it has to start in each of our companies.

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“dv01 is the world’s first end-to-end data management, reporting and analytics platform offering loan-level transparency and insight into lending markets”

A cadre of FinTech firms are out to transform the financial markets. Driven by the excesses of the 2008 global financial meltdown, startups are sensing — and rightly so — that opportunities await. Smarter, better, more accessible capital markets are on the horizon.

One such visionary is dv01. Founded in 2014, this NYC-based company aims to be your platform-of-choice when it comes to lending markets. This sassy SaaS FinTech does the thankless job of squeegeeing that oh-so-finicky financial data. The company recently catapulted forward with a successful $15M Series B. Financial transparency here we come.

Delivering a healthy dollop of elbow grease is Amy Johnson, COO of this lowercase operation. An actuarial science wunderkind, Amy cut her teeth at some of the big investment firms on Wall Street before striking out on her own … into fashion. Fortunately, the capital markets beckoned, and so she returned to empower the team with her hard-won wisdom.

Join us as we pull back the curtain on our interview with Amy…

Tell us about dv01 in a few words?

dv01 is the world’s first end-to-end data management, reporting and analytics platform offering loan-level transparency and insight into lending markets.

What’s a fun fact about yourself?

I grew up on a farm in Central Illinois. I spent a lot of time at the library, which made me dream big! New York is home for me now!

If you could pick any job in the world, what would it be? Aside from your current hustle.

I have worked many years to find my passion, which is growing and scaling companies, so this is pretty far out there…In the winter, I would be a ski lift operator so I could ski the mountain. In the summer, I would work at a beach stand so I could surf.

What’s your favorite thing about working where you do?

At dv01, we are building a modern solution for capital markets at a FinTech start-up that fosters not only innovation, but people and collaboration.

What’s your company look like 5yrs down the road?

Stay tuned! It certainly won’t look like it does today! We are constantly evolving to meet the needs of our clients. I feel we will execute on our current roadmap within the next few years and we will continue to expand into new asset classes and beyond. Follow us on Linked In and Twitter and watch us grow!

What (other) bank, FinTech, or VC do you have the most admiration for and why?

Brex! We use it here at dv01. They are taking an old industry and flipping it on its head. No more personal guarantees for founders and really smart technology that makes card management and expense matching and accounting super easy.

Which tech giant will leap into banking first and why? (Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Apple, etc)

Amazon.

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“Finance will change more in the next 10 years than it has in the last 40. All of Fintech from Paypal to Sila combined is less than 1% market-share of the global financial services industry right now. By 2030 that will grow explosively, and may even get to 10% market-share of a $17 Trillion global financial services industry. There will be several $1T fintech companies by 2030”

In the last year we’ve witnessed a frenzy of venture capital streaming into infrastructure and banking-as-a-service (BaaS) plays in FinTech. BaaS platforms specialize in taking one layer of the financial services stack and making it easier than ever for their enterprise clients to quickly outsource or launch a new offering. Their services can range from shipping a new depository account, credit card, or even leveling up your fraud prevention or know-your-customer (KYC) capabilities.

Essentially powering the thesis that everything will eventually be FinTech, BaaS is hugely popular with investors as it can enable any company to launch financial products. A massive total addressable market and an ability to generate meaningful revenue much faster than the consumer-focused companies they serve, BaaS platforms have caught the attention of the FinTech world.

This week we had the honor of sitting down with Shamir Karkal of Sila. Shamir comes from a long line of banking visionaries, and he is truly a FinTech OG. Shamir is a staunch supporter of the FinTech community and still finds time to leverage his expertise and resources to mentor countless founders, while wrapping the complexities of KYC and ACH into a beautiful and scalable API at Sila.

The Socrates, Gautama Buddha, and Confucius of ACH himself...

Tell us about Sila in a few words?

Making money programmable.

What’s a fun fact about yourself?

I come from a long line of bankers. My grand-father was the Chief Accountant (effectively CFO) of the Imperial Bank of India, which was both the central bank, and the largest commercial bank in India. My parents were both bankers. I learnt to count stacks of cash as a kid running around in bank vaults. Wrote my first check on my 10th birthday. Also wrote my first computer program at age 10.

Dinner with 3 people from any time across history, who would they be and why?

Socrates, Gautama Buddha, and Confucius. They were all alive around 500 BC. Once we figured out a common language, it would be an amazing conversation. My question to them - what was happening in 500 BC in Ancient Greece, India, and China that lead to an explosion in philosophical thought in those 3 cultures.

What's your favorite thing about working where you do?

The culture of the company is amazing, and everybody here genuinely wants to help our customers succeed. But the most fun part is seeing all the cool stuff that customers are doing, and watching them succeed.

What do you think about the future of FinTech that your colleagues don't all agree with?

Finance will change more in the next 10 years than it has in the last 40. All of Fintech from Paypal to Sila combined is less than 1% market-share of the global financial services industry right now. By 2030 that will grow explosively, and may even get to 10% market-share of a $17 Trillion global financial services industry. There will be several $1T fintech companies by 2030.

What (other) bank, FinTech, or VC do you have the most admiration for and why?

Wise (ex-TransferWise). Their execution has been just flawless - great product, high quality customer service, great marketing, and careful financial management means that they are that rare unicorn which is both fast growing and profitable.

Which tech giant will leap into banking first and why? (Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Apple, etc)

Airbnb. They are already there.

What are some of your favorite FinTech blog or podcast?

Matt Levine's Money Stuff. Its more financial services than fintech, but I find it both informative and hilarious. Not a week goes by that Matt doesn't make laugh out loud, or think hard about some market peculiarity.

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“I think the future of banking will one day be entirely mobile. No more need for websites or physical branches. It’ll happen sooner than you think!”

Digital-first banking is on a head-long dive into the hearts of the modern, tech-savvy consumer. Traditional banks are feeling the pressure with U.S. bank closures reaching record highs in 2018.

Berlin-based FinTech startup N26 Inc. aims to answer the question: Do we really need brick-and-mortar banks? If the recent additional $170 million of Series D funding is any indicator, the answer may be a resounding, collective ‘No!’ The European masses and N26 investors agree, resulting in N26 sitting as one of the top-ten FinTech startups by valuation. Will they realize the same success state-side?

Orchestrating the U.S. market foray is US CEO Nicolas Kopp, who is undoubtedly already planning his next conquest: the underbanked of Winterfell. He’s joined by a mighty army of FinTech devotees. Together, Nic and his dedicated band will make certain we never have to ‘stand in line just to hear the bank has closed’ again. 

Keep an eye on this fast-mover. Here’s our interview with Nic Kopp…

Tell us about N26 in a few words?

We are a mobile-first banking app with 3.5 million customers across Europe, now live in the US.

What’s a fun fact about yourself?

I was a snowboard instructor after high school!

Dinner with 3 people from any time across history, who would they be?

Albert Einstein, President Xi and Ned Stark (if we’re including fictional people, that is!)

What’s your favorite thing about working where you do?

Right now the best thing about my job is seeing the first users signing up for N26 in the US. After two years of building out our US operation, it’s really an incredible thing to be able to interact with and learn from our earliest customers!

What do you think about the future of FinTech that your colleagues don’t all agree with?

I think the future of banking will one day be entirely mobile. No more need for websites or physical branches. It’ll happen sooner than you think!

What (other) bank, FinTech, or VC do you have the most admiration for?

Tencent.

How do we make the FinTech community even stronger?

Regular meetings with industry leaders to discuss the top themes that will impact our future growth (ie. emerging technologies, regulatory changes, etc.)

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“The Future Farm is a platform dedicated to creating a better and safer world for entrepreneurs and leaders to build their dreams.”

The World Economic Forum reports a “mental health crisis in entrepreneurship”. Entrepreneurs and leaders are waking up to the unique challenges faced by start-up founders. Four-time co-founder and sense maker Nektarios Liolios left to #buildabetterfuture.

Nektarios is a master-builder with a star-studded start-up resume. He founded three companies in six years: a world-wide FinTech bootcamp, a VC development firm, and a mature markets colab. He is a consummate pro and all-around stellar start-up guru.

After ten years of watching entrepreneurs struggle – and some time away – he founded his fourth startup The Future Farm to offer a platform to help entrepreneurs when it is #timetotalk. No one should struggle alone. We are honored to feature his new podcast, just about to be released.

Power-down that spreadsheet, silence your phone, kick back, and join us for our talk with Nektarios...

Tell us about The Future Farm in a few words?

The Future Farm is a platform dedicated to creating a better and safer world for entrepreneurs and leaders to build their dreams.

What’s a fun fact about yourself?

I am an avid collector of New Balance sneakers. Started in 2000 and had built up a reasonably serious collection until a fire destroyed 250 pairs. Still going at it though...

Dinner with 3 people from any time across history, who would they be and why?

Prince - just to be near him. Mata Hari - provided she's happy to dish the dirt. Harvey Milk - for the LGBT+ legacy.

What's your favorite thing about working where you do?

2 things: The people I work with and the people we are working for. Over my time at Startupbootcamp I have seen too many people struggling with their emotional well-being without any support, resources or even the awareness and language to describe their experience. The Future Farm is looking to change this.

Which tech giant will leap into banking first and why? (Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Apple, etc)

Aren't the Chinese tech giants doing this already? If you look at the waves of FinTech focus, be it Payments, Lending, Investment or even SME solutions… chances are Tencent or Alibaba are already doing this at scale. And not just within China but also in neighbouring countries and via investments in startups around the world.

Why did you decide to jump into FinTech or entrepreneurship?

A strong desire to change the financial industry by supporting the people who do this by building new business, be it with an accelerator (Startupbootcamp), a corporate innovation engine (Rainmaking) or now The Future Farm.

What are some of your favorite FinTech blog or podcast?

Leda Glyptis on FinTech Futures. There is so much noise in the FinTech sphere that is really difficult to find meaningful, meaty content. Leda has a unique way to pick relevant topics and address them in a highly intelligent and honest way that cuts through that noise and show that most of the other stuff is just hot air...

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“While I can’t predict the future, I can say that public companies that are not digital first, and have not benefited from this boom market will have difficulty retaining and attracting talent.”

In a modern-day reversal, the big banking Goliaths have taken to a second round with the Davids of digital challenger banks. Shuttered mobile banking apps like Wells Fargo’s Greenhouse and JPMorgan Chase’s Finn show traditional institutions are aware of FinTech trends and are not down for the count. We see subscription banking as not only the ultimate test of product-market-fit, but a trend that benefits the challenger. This is because consumers are allergic to banking fees, but appear to greet FinTech “software” with open arms.

Surveying the road ahead from her mountaintop peak is Peggy Mangot, now at PayPal Ventures, but with a storied past on both sides of the institutional-challenger divide, including a Y Combinator-backed micro-investing platform called SparkGift.

In need of a vision? Peggy has seen and done it all. Her most recent guru-view points the way to a next trend: family banking – mobile banking for families. When she’s not carving the slopes or basking in the alpenglow, Peggy is crushing internal and FinTech-related investments at PayPal Ventures.

Toss another log on the fire and warm your mittens at our Q&A firepit with our friend Peggy...

Tell us about PayPal Ventures in a few words?

PayPal Ventures, the venture capital arm of PayPal, invests for return in areas of strategic interest to PayPal, including innovation in financial services, commerce enablement and ecosystem infrastructure.

What’s a fun fact about yourself?

I attended Indiana University for undergrad and for two years competed in the Women’s Little 500, an amateur cycling relay track event with single-speed, coaster-brake racing bicycles. We even came in 3rd place one year. The event started in 1951 for men and in 1988 for women.

Little 500 is an iconic event for Indiana University that draws 25k fans and is the basis for the movie Breaking Away. The best part of the experience was the long training rides, with friends, among the farms in Bloomington, Indiana.

What keeps you up at night and why?

EVERYTHING!! I literally had a dream about SPACs a few days ago. The Stonks meme lives rent-free in my head. Exciting, wild and disturbing times…

But seriously, Michael Batnick had a great take on it all when he tweeted this last fall:

This tweet really resonated with me. It is a lot for the average person to process on a daily basis. It is a lot for the average or even highly experienced investor to process and understand.

While I can’t predict the future (more bull or bust?), I can say that public companies that are not digital first, and have not benefited from this boom market will have difficulty retaining and attracting talent. Every mid to senior team member is looking at their company equity vs. counterparts at fast growing public companies or private companies headed to an IPO and strategizing their next move. No one wants to be left behind in this market.

What (other) bank, FinTech, or VC do you have the most admiration for and why?

I’m pretty blown away by my colleagues Peter Sanborn & Jay Ganatra from PayPal Ventures who are brilliant capital allocators as well as generous and kind individuals.

I have huge admiration for early stage Chingona Ventures & Fearless Fund. These teams have high conviction, an incredible network and an eye for talent.

Howard Lindzon of Social Leverage is a big influence & influencer. He’s authentic and down to earth in a world of hype.

Outside of fintech & commerce, the stand-out VC’s for me right now are in clean tech & climate tech. In clean tech, I am a big fan of Matt Eggers of Breakthrough Energy Ventures. In early stage climate tech, I admire Jason Jacobs of the MCJ collective. Both are brilliant, authentic and committed to a better future for the next generation.

Which tech giant will leap into banking first and why? (Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Apple, etc)

In my view all but Microsoft have already leapt into banking – With Apple having a very intentional and disciplined focus on consumer and Amazon on small business. Google’s recent launch of Google Pay is ambitious and feature-rich. The challenge Google will have is customer acquisition & maintaining long- term organizational commitment.

I would argue that the tech giants are already winning in consumer banking and those winners are Venmo/PayPal & Square’s Cash app. The entire neobank or challenger bank discussion simply must start with these players. They are ubiquitous, with high brand recognition, high p2p viral growth, and increasing daily usage. They continue to add traditional banking functionality, including; direct deposit, debit cards, credit and rewards. They are also leading in offering non-traditional offerings, including the ability to buy, hold and sell crypto currency.

Why did you decide to jump into FinTech or entrepreneurship?

In 2006, I was looking to make an industry change. MasterCard had just gone public. Visa was rumored to IPO. There was a step change happening in the industry where payment networks were pulling away from bank ownership & control. I was based in the bay area where even in 2006 there were startups tackling new ways to pay. Pay By Touch was a funded and growing startup with aspirations to bring biometric payments in store – starting with grocery (fascinating story, Google it). Payments were an area of opportunity and growth. By 2007, I was at Visa in consumer debit products working with large Visa debit issuers. I was learning about open vs. closed networks, issuer vs. merchant acquiring and most importantly, this incredible mechanism called interchange. I was hooked. I was fortunate to learn from the best, including, Mary Pat McMahon, Kim Lawrence & Todd Brockman (among others), who I greatly admire. I fell in love with the industry and frankly have never looked back.

Tell us about this picture:

That picture was taken at the top of Sundance Mountain, Utah, a magical place. One of my favorite pre-Covid fintech events was a digital banking conference in 2019 hosted by MX at Sundance. I spent time with my good friends Jane Barratt, Scarlet Sieber and the very enthusiastic MX tribe

The apex of the event was at the top of that Mountain. The sun was setting, full moon rising, small band playing “blackbird”, while an organization that rehabilitates wildlife was educating us and releasing newly healed hawks back to the wild. It was very special. I think fondly about our in-person fintech events and yearn to participate and see you all again.
#nature #fintech #greatpeople

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“I personally don’t give a **** about my wealth number. I do care about seeing technology solutions that actually make a dent on poverty”

“The banking industry is in a digital arms race” quips a 2018 article from Deloitte on digital banking. The future is here, and banks worldwide are scrambling to keep up.

Big, bright, and bold digital banking for the rest of the world. This is the claim of 11:FS, a London-based bank scaffolding and support ecosystem. Heads up! The wealth of information, podcasts, reports, and other miscellany coming out of this firm will bowl over the unprepared. If you are looking for the nexus of digital banking inspiration, then go no further.

Our good friends at 11:FS have finally launched in the US with Sam Maule, Managing Partner, podcast creator, and content curator. Sam doesn’t mince words and cuts right to the chase – a military mind par excellence. Sam and his band of FinTech brothers and sisters are out to change the world. Take the FinTech hill, Sam.

Hold the raucous applause for this one until after you watch their latest feature film. Welcome to the Empire, Sam Maule…

Tell us about 11:FS in a few words?

We exist to change the fabric of FS by unleashing talent to deliver the content, products, and services needed for companies to become truly digital.

What’s a fun fact about yourself?

All 3 of my daughters like to rip me on Twitter. Follow @maul3x to enjoy the abuse. She’s especially talented at this for a 17 year old.

Dinner with 3 people from any time across history, who would they be and why?

Oliver Wilde as he was the life of the party, Prince as he was the party, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg as she is Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

What’s your favorite thing about working where you do?

I can’t choose one. First, just the way of working, the attitude to problem solving. For example, we’re building something really cool for a US bank, a new digital service. That’s involved myself, consulting, research, UX, UI and technology teams and the collaboration has been amazing. No ego, no death by PowerPoint, just a focus on delivering an amazing idea and then getting to build it. Second, I love our community focus and how we bring people together. We’re always looking at how we can add value to the conversation and tell interesting stories. We have Fintech Insider, of course, but we’ve just released a documentary, 11:YEARS, where we interviewed senior regulators, VCs, banks, challengers banks and fintechs to examine how the UK became such a thriving fintech hub post the 2008 crisis. How many other firms can do great research, build digital propositions and, oh yeah, do a documentary?

What (other) bank, FinTech, or VC do you have the most admiration for and why?

Actually quite a few people and companies, too many to list. Off the top of my head – for banking: Melissa Stevens at 5th 3rd, Boe Hartman at GS, Yolande Piazza at Citi. And not because of the products they’ve created but because of their management approach. I believe they understand the value of people, teams, and culture. In the banking space in particular this can easily become lip service. Fintech: Stripe. They are a beast. Pretty much everything they are releasing, and it’s a lot, is top shelf. And Kabbage. Kathryn and Rob continue to build an incredible team. VC: I admire Matt Harris at Bain, Seema Hingorani at SevenStep Capital, Matt Burton at QED, and Shauntel (Poulson) Garvey at Reach Capital (I love edtech).

How do we make the FinTech community even stronger?

Cut the BS. Have the important conversations in an open and honest way. Going back to why I love being at 11:FS we’ve built a strong community through Fintech Insider, and even more with the 11:YEARS documentary, because it’s not about us. Sure, we host it and our name is on it but it’s not ‘ours’ it’s the community’s. We want to have those conversations because we enjoy being part of them but most importantly because we believe hearing from smart people doing smart things benefits the entire community we’re so proud to be a part of.

Why/how will your company win? What’s the unique edge?

We are a consultancy company. We are only as good as the people we have on our team. I always tell my kids “You are the average of your five closets friends.” In the case of 11:FS I seriously bring hat average down as every single person on the team is brilliant in their own right. Our CEO joking calls us “The Avengers” and we always ask the folks we are hiring “What is your super power?” I’ve never worked with so many gifted people who don’t wear capes all the time. Capes are over rated btw. #Fact.

What is the coolest thing happening right now in FinTech, in your opinion? Who is doing it well?

I’m a fan of companies who can directly improve the situations of peoples’ lives. Tala, and their founder Shivani Siroya, is one of my favorite examples of this. Each customers’ unique story of how their loans have transformed their lives is a marketers dream. I personally don’t give a **** about my wealth number (sorry Bloomberg). I do care about seeing technology solutions that actually make a dent on poverty.

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“We’re not just building an investment platform, but working to shift perceptions around wealth and investing”

Fintech is en route to becoming more than a business model, instead a layer – a fourth platform – on the technology stack. The democratization of the financial world is underway, and that means a staggering explosion in accessibility.

Yieldstreet is one of a panoply of fintech startups expanding the reach of the modern (accredited) investor. NYC-based, the company has opened up alternate, institutional-level investing. The winds are at Yieldstreet’s back, having recently secured both an impressive $62M Series B, followed a few months later by a $170M acquisition of Athena Art Finance, bringing art financing to its portfolio.

Founder and CEO Milind has successfully grown Yieldstreet into a force to be reckoned with. A self-proclaimed Boston sports fan and a twitter machine, Milind has already glimpsed the future and is paving the way one brick at a time.

Please welcome Milind to Empire’s interview session – and don’t forget your drink…

Tell us about Yieldstreet in a few words?

Yieldstreet is a digital wealth platform designed to help individual investors realize their next level, by providing access to wealth creation opportunities across a range of asset-backed investments (such as Marine Finance or Commercial Real Estate) that have typically only been available to institutions.

What’s a fun fact about yourself?

I used to have long hair and listen to heavy metal music. My favorite band was Iron Maiden.

Dinner with 3 people from any time across history, who would they be and why?

Alexander Hamilton, to understand how he invented the world’s financial system coming from a disadvantaged background and what drove his innovation and change-maker instinct.

Tom Brady, to know what keeps him motivated, focused, and disciplined when he has achieved the oracle of sports success.

John D. Rockefeller, to learn how and why he put it all on the line, taking the risk with an eye on the future of how he could bring gas lamps to every American home.

What’s your favorite thing about working where you do?

At Yieldstreet, we’re changing the way consumers think about personal wealth and financial potential while helping them reach their next level. We’re not just building an investment platform, but working to shift perceptions around wealth and investing.

What do you think about the future of FinTech that your colleagues don’t all agree with?

The greatest innovations will come from entrepreneurs from outside of financial services, applying new ways of thinking related to technology, product development, and user experience to move the industry forward—such as the impact of blockchain on various aspects of financial services including asset management, payments, and currency.

What (other) bank, FinTech, or VC do you have the most admiration for and why?

I’m a fan of TransferWise. They’re consumer-first, easy to use, and are continuously innovating. While there are many money transfer companies, their rates and consumer experience are, in my view, first class. They recently introduced “Borderless” accounts, a feature that enables them to have a checking account-like functionality in more than 24 countries.

How do we make the FinTech community even stronger?

It’s all about creating more opportunities for collaboration. FinTech-specific conferences are great ways for industry leaders and innovators to meet and move the needle forward.

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“I think about product development in the same way I think about cooking. I do a lot of my planning in advance and then try to deliver an experience that is comforting and leaving you wanting for more”

At last count, a staggering 42% of business payments are still made via check - a statistic we often cite as evidence that FinTech is still in the early innings, and one of the many reasons I was super excited to sit down with my good friend and B2B payments legend, Omri Mor, Co-founder & CEO of Routable. Routable helps companies speed up their business payments using a secure invoice and bill payment platform.

Omri, Routable & Co are hot off their 30M series B announcement last week, which included an all-star group of VCs and angels from the Valley, including Instacart co-founder Max Mullen, Airbnb co-founder Joe Gebbia, Box co-founder and CEO Aaron Levie, Salesforce founder and CEO Marc Benioff, and others. 

It turns out that offering a delightful user experience to the often overlooked controller and CFO of small and medium sized companies represents a massive market!

Tell us about Routable in a few words?

The simplest way to send and receive business-to-business payments.

What’s a fun fact about yourself?

I think about product development in the same way I think about cooking. I do a lot of my planning in advance and then try to deliver an experience that is comforting and leaving you wanting for more.

I also think that scaling a product (from 1,000 users to 1M users) is very similar to figuring out how to scale making dinners for large groups.

Dinner with 3 people from any time across history, who would they be and why?

I'd love to sit down with Marvin Gaye, Alan Turing, and anyone who was born before the year 1500. My main reasoning would be to speak with two geniuses that had their time on earth cut short and have a discussion with someone who doesn't have modern entertainment or technology and learn more about what fascinates them and if our society remotely delivered on their dreams and expectations.

If you could pick any job in the world, what would it be? Aside from your current hustle.

I would happily be a professional surfer. I grew up surfing in Tel Aviv and I sincerely get the biggest grin on my face after an exhausting day at the beach with a beautiful lunch in front of me.

What's your favorite thing about working where you do?

My favorite thing about working at Routable is that everyone here is a product person at heart. What that means is that our current product is never good enough and every department speaks up about ways we can invest more in our customers and servicing their needs. It's hard to build that culture and I'm very fortunate that we're there.

What's your company look like 5yrs down the road?

The largest processor of business payments, and the biggest remover of the "has this been paid?" question.

What keeps you up at night and why?

Why I haven't been able to build a remote control to pause time like that in Adam Sandler's movie "Click". I just never feel like I get enough done in a day and that's what blocks me from enjoying a chapter in a book.

What do you think about the future of FinTech that your colleagues don't all agree with?

That checks won't go away. I'm not sure why, but they're always here and humans love giving each other money by hand and especially for a larger transfer.

What (other) bank, FinTech, or VC do you have the most admiration for and why?

I'm a big fan of the team at Point, they've done an amazing job delivering on the debit card with points concept which I believe is an extremely hard product offering to market.

Which tech giant will leap into banking first and why? (Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Apple, etc)

I think right now it's a race between Amazon and Apple for your credit card, recurring spend, and soon enough bank accounts.

Why did you decide to jump into FinTech or entrepreneurship?

I grew up going to the market (old school market where you haggle with coins) and fell in love with the means of transacting for goods. It's pretty amazing that I get to work on building a better payments experience every day.

Why/how will your company win? What's the unique edge?

We are a product and engineering team with a knack for deep customer development interviews. We listen, we research, and we ship.

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“Cryptocurrency matters, blockchain less so.”

Q2 2019 fintech funding topped $8B with 48 VC-backed fintech unicorns, worth over $187B combined. Despite these noteworthy numbers, VC-backed deals hit a slump, down to a five-quarter low. But don’t you worry.

ValueStream Ventures out of NYC is not deterred. Since 2013, the company has been out there, day or night, rain or shine, looking for the next fintech blockbuster. This early-stage fund is obsessed with B2B platforms and the promise of the intelligent enterprise. Their bingo-board portfolio shows that they’ve done it all.

The company was kind enough to lend us Greg Neufeld, Partner and tennis aficionado. Greg defines the term serial investor, with a seemingly unlimited number of fingers in just about every fintech startup pie. Greg and co. will bring the VC hustle every day – you bring the next unicorn idea. We believe in the fintech magic Greg.

Give a warm welcome to our dear friend, Greg…

Tell us about ValueStream Ventures in a few words?

ValueStream is an early-stage venture firm investing in startups enabling the intelligent enterprise.

What’s a fun fact about yourself?

I grew up singing and was in the NY all-state choir as a bass. I auditioned with an aura from Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” to win the spot.

Dinner with 3 people from any time across history, who would they be and why?

Easy. Robert Moses, Fred Wilson and Pete Sampras.

What’s your favorite thing about working where you do?

Countless opportunities to learn and solve interesting problems each day.

What do you think about the future of FinTech that your colleagues don’t all agree with?

Cryptocurrency matters, blockchain less so.

How do we make the FinTech community even stronger?

By spending time outside of FinTech with entrepreneurs building consumer and other B2B products. There is a lot we can teach one another.

Which tech giant will leap into banking first and why?

Amazon – because, like Starbucks, consumer will willingly move on to an Amazon-enclosed payment system.

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“We hire people who are bright, kind people who work hard and are passionate about supporting entrepreneurs and their teams.”

Internally managed HR is so 20th century. Focus on your business and let HR SaaS companies do the heavy lifting. With such a high rate of growth, soon everyone will be on board.

NYC-based Justworks offers an online platform for companies to manage payroll, benefits, compliance, and HR. Founded in 2012, Justworks wasted no time securing successive series funding rounds from marquee investors like Bain, FirstMark, and Redpoint. An extra $40 million in Series D was added in 2018, fuel to the raging success of a fire that is Justworks.

Founder and CEO Isaac Oates continues to deftly guide the burgeoning Justworks. On his watch, this feisty startup has landed on the SaaS 1000 and Fortune’s 100 Best Medium Workplaces. This isn’t Isaac’s first rodeo: He sold his previous startup to e-commerce giant Etsy in 2009.

Take the bull by the horns and continue on to our interview with Isaac…

Tell us about Justworks in a few words?

Providing payroll, benefits and HR support so that entrepreneurs and their teams can grow with confidence.

If you could pick any job in the world, what would it be? Aside from your current hustle.

I think I’d really enjoy teaching. In particular, helping young people develop their leadership skills is a passion of mine.

What’s your favorite thing about working where you do?

The people. We hire people who are bright, kind people who work hard and are passionate about supporting entrepreneurs and their teams. Just walking into the office is fun. I love the energy.

What’s your company look like 5yrs down the road?

Bigger and doing more things, but still lean and quirky. Our current product (a PEO) is just the beginning.

What (other) bank, FinTech, or VC do you have the most admiration for?

USAA. I’ve banked with them for 20 years. They’ve been way ahead of the curve in terms of both their online product and the kind of service they provide. They’re member-owned so it feels like their interests and mine are the same.

Which tech giant will leap into banking first and why? (Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Apple, etc)

Amazon.

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“Technology, on an infrastructure level, is enabling any company to offer financial services, or as most call it, embedded finance”

For those not familiar with Fort Lee, New Jersey, I’ve found myself there for one of two reasons: when I’ve missed an exit for the George Washington Bridge, or when I’ve hatched plans to take over the world with an embedded FinTech solution powered by Cross River Bank.

Community banks are known for instilling trust and taking a white glove approach to servicing their customers. However, in the digital arms race, many have struggled to keep pace. Cross River Bank decided to play by their own rules, becoming a unicorn that has courted over 300M in investment from elite Silicon Valley VCs to power the next generation of FinTech. If you’ve ever used Stripe, TransferWise, Visa or Coinbase, chances are you’ve already taken a ride on Cross River’s rails.

In their position as an enabler of FinTech solutions across payments, lending, and digital banking, CRB has a unique vantage on trends in innovation - and so it’s little surprise that they’ve just announced Cross River Digital Ventures to “propel the next generation of FinTech startups.” This week we were lucky enough to learn a bit more about Hillel Olivestone, CRB’s Head of Corporate Development. Wonder what he’ll drum up next!?

Tell us about Cross River in a few words?

Cross River is a full stack infrastructure provider for the fastest growing fintech platforms.

What’s a fun fact about yourself?

I play the drums.

If you could pick any job in the world, what would it be? Aside from your current hustle.

Chef / owner of a restaurant - I love to cook.

What's your favorite thing about working where you do?

I get to see and meet the leaders and innovators of the future of fintech. We have an opportunity to be part of the next wave of innovation as its happening.

Why/how will your company win? What's the unique edge?

Cross River is unique - we combine leading technology, a broad platform of products and services, scalability and regulatory framework that supports some of the largest and fastest growing fintechs.

What is the coolest thing happening right now in FinTech, in your opinion? Who is doing it well?

The fact that technology, on an infrastructure level, is enabling any company to offer financial services or as most call it embedded finance. This means businesses and consumers will get the best service tailored to their needs whenever and wherever. Cross River is of course!

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“Banks will never truly go away. They will become more and more invisible as time goes on, but they will always continue to exist.”

Traditional banking continues to tremble as FinTech platforms disrupt the status quo. The digital transformation in banking continues to accelerate, as consumers “expect their banks to act and interact more like top technology brands.”

Novo, a Techstars-backed digital bank arrived on the scene in 2016. They aim to give founders and their pride-and-joy (the business) a fully digital banking solution. The company continues to hustle, raising $4.8 million in a March 2019 seed round. In 2018, Novo unleashed what Business Insider termed a “Pocket-Sized CFO to Empower Small Businesses.” TechCrunch Disrupt audience members oohed and aahed at the marvelous artificially intelligent creation.

Captain of this fair ship is Michael Rangel, founder, and CEO. Michael and his crew have cast their gazes skyward along with great modern thinkers and doers. They envision a universe where modern entrepreneurs can bank on their terms.

Take the next great leap with us as we introduce our friend, Michael…

Tell us about Novo in a few words?

Novo is a banking platform that provides better business checking accounts to today’s companies and is powered by a network of FDIC-insured community banks. Novo is bringing small business banking into the modern age with easy-to-use tools for founders on the go.

What’s a fun fact about yourself?

I still live with my co-founder.

Dinner with 3 people from any time across history, who would they be?

Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Albert Einstein.

What’s your favorite thing about working where you do?
Culture is a massive priority at Novo. I would rather hire a 100% culture fit than a 100% skill fit any day of the week. Working amongst some of the best and brightest minds in fintech is awesome, but what makes it even better is when people look forward to expanding the relationships outside of the office as well.
What keeps you up at night?

Ensuring our culture transcends through the organization as we continue scaling employee and user count.

What do you think about the future of FinTech that your colleagues don’t all agree with?

Banks will never truly go away. They will become more and more invisible as time goes on, but they will always continue to exist.

What bank or FinTech do you have the most admiration for and why?

Venmo (FinTech’s real OG)

Does Libra scare you?

I’ve always steered clear of dating libras.

Which tech giant will leap into banking first? (Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Apple, etc)

This depends on how you describe the word “banking” … as Amazon already offers more “banking” services to businesses than most banks themselves. Who will become a full-fledged bank first? I don’t think it’d be prudent of any of them.

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“Being intentional not only with diversity, but also inclusion, will be imperative to the long-term sustainability of the community and industry”

Fanatical fans of fintech are contending with yet another schism in the ranks: property technology, or proptech. The once-ponderous real estate industry has sprouted tech wings, soaring this fintech hybrid to over $11 billion in VC funding in just 2018.

NYC-based Fund That Flip isn’t your garden variety proptech. Founded in 2014, the company nailed together online lending and short-term real estate debt to massive effect. In August, Series A investors plowed $11M in funding to upscale this property – I would like to upgrade my house now please. Call your local real estate agent and tell them the future of loans has arrived.

CEO and chief architect of this house party is Matt Rodak. Gifted with a green thumb since birth, Matt can be found landscaping beauty and efficiency into this marvelous firm. The path forward for Matt and his team looks bright.

We welcome you to our open house interview with the master-builder Matt Rodak…

Tell us about Fund That Flip in a few words?

We help create wealth and improve communities through investing in real estate.

What’s a fun fact about yourself?

I started my first business at 14, a landscaping company, that I sold to help pay for college.

If you could pick any job in the world, what would it be? Aside from your current hustle

College professor.

What’s your favorite thing about working where you do?

Everyday is something different. As the company grows, my job changes completely every 6-8 months.

What keeps you up at night and why?

Keeping people within the org aligned around the same goals. Empowering them to excel at their jobs. Ensuring that they love coming to work everyday!

How do we make the FinTech community even stronger?

Finance and Technology are both known to be less diverse industries. Put together, the challenges are even more severe. Being intentional not only with diversity, but also inclusion, will be imperative to the long-term sustainability of the community and industry.

Does Libra scare you? Why or why not?

No, not really. I’m a strong believer in free markets and skeptical consumers. I think the free market and consumer skepticism will act as a balancing force for Libra or any other large crypto movement.

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“The next 10 years are going to prove to be better than the last 10 from a Fintech standpoint. Big, durable companies will be built, and not just in the US.”

Undaunted by the prospects of economic calamity, fintech VCs have continued to bet big on the FinTech revolutionary wave. Now, even household giants like Walmart are looking for a slice of the FinTech pie. Our guest this week, founding partner of QED Investors Frank Rotman, is well-ahead of the curve.

Rotman lives as a FinTech superhero-of-sorts: by day he steers QED Investors and by night his alter-ego pontificates prolifically about investing on his blog, Confessions of a FinTech Junkie. The man has much to say and you have good reason to listen: he’s landed on the Forbes Midas List for venture capital three times, most recently in 2020.

A brief perusal of QED Investors portfolio yields a who’s who of names: Avant, Credit Karma, LendUp, and SoFi, among others. Undoubtedly Rotman and the team are well-prepared for the inevitable growth of financial services markets worldwide.

Kick off the New Year right with our first-of 2021 Q&A with our dear guest Frank...

Tell us about QED Investors in a few words?

QED Investors is an Early Stage Fintech Focused VC Fund.

What’s a fun fact about yourself?

I have a comic book collection...a big one...25,000+ issues and counting. I've been collecting since I was 7 years old and never stopped.

If you could pick any job in the world, what would it be? Aside from your current hustle?

I'd write all day. I love putting thoughts down on paper and get immense pleasure watching a story take form word by word.

What keeps you up at night and why?

I don't sleep much and never have, so it doesn't take much to keep me up at night! But as for worries, they tend to revolve around exogenous events and how to un-do bad advice that's being given to Founders.

Are we in a FinTech bubble? Why?

No. The next 10 years are going to prove to be better than the last 10 from a Fintech standpoint. Big, durable companies will be built, and not just in the US. There are huge opportunities remaining in the US, but LatAm and Southeast Asia are geos to watch.

Why/how will your company win? What's the unique edge?

We aim to be the VC firm that gives the best advice to fintech companies. Our Investment team is more than a dozen strong and chock full of ex-operators and ex-entrepreneurs. Our backgrounds and experience help us guide companies in a way that's very differentiated from the typical VC.

What are some of your favorite FinTech blog or podcast?

It's not entirely Fintech focused, but I'm a big fan of Matt Levine's daily newsletter. Some of the best written content out there!

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“As the Fintech industry matures, we are in a unique position to provide the core banking infrastructure to Fintechs and Financial Institutions in all of the Americas”

By 2022, 65% of Americans are predicted to be using digital banking. Powering the digital banking bonanza are FinTech firms dedicated to building the alphabet soup of tools and technologies.

NYC-based Arcus sprang forth from the famed Silicon Valley seed accelerator Y Combinator in 2013 to build the financial platforms of tomorrow. The company is “bankifying” the user experience – an enigmatic way of saying the company provides payments as a service (PaaS) infrastructure to power FinTech and the banks of tomorrow.

Co-Founder and all-things-revenue Iñigo Rumayor knows a thing or two about striking the right balance of pursuit and passion. He has assembled an all-star troupe driven to make banking as a service (BaaS) and the digital revolution available to everyone.

Unplug from your news feed and join us for this rousing interview with our dear friend Iñigo…

Tell us about Arcus in a few words?

Arcus provides a fully integrated core banking infrastructure that powers Fintechs and banks of the future.

What’s a fun fact about yourself?

I can walk and dance with a full glass on my head.

If you could pick any job in the world, what would it be? Aside from your current hustle.

Software engineer.

What’s your favorite thing about working where you do?

The ability to meet smart people from all over the Financial Services industry and working with bright people that teach me something new every day.

What’s your company look like 5yrs down the road?

Banking as a service through out the Americas.

What keeps you up at night and why?

Ways to continuously keep my team happy.

Why did you decide to start or join your startup?

Because I really believed in the idea and long term mission. I was still in college and the opportunity to start something from scratch excited me.

Why/how will your company win? What’s the unique edge?

As the Fintech industry matures, we are in a unique position to provide the core banking infrastructure to Fintechs and Financial Institutions in all of the Americas, including North America and Latin America.

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“Despite all of the tech and communication tools, nothing works quite like old fashioned in-person quality time to generate a real community”

Americans are facing a savings crisis, reports CNBC. 41% of working adults set aside 5% of their annual income or less for emergencies or financial goals. Fintech to the rescue! Technology plus the nudge of behavioral psychology combine in app form to help people reach banking nirvana.

The mobile-first banking app Qapital is in a league of its own. Split between Stockholm and NYC, the company landed a somewhat recent $30M Series B to grow the company. The company is making big waves with new offerings, such as a Qapital Visa debit card and investing with Qapital.

This week, we’d like to introduce you to Katherine Salisbury, Co-founder, and Chief Strategy Officer. Previously a legal force of nature, Katherine divides her time between her elite sports management agency, soccer fandom, her family, and personal finance stardom. Goaaaaaaal.

Grab your chips and chair and join us for our interview with Katherine…

Tell us about Qapital in a few words?

Qapital is a financial app that uses behavioral economics to help people become masters of their money.

What’s a fun fact about yourself?

I majored in Slavic Languages and Linguistics in college but I can’t speak any slavic languages.

If you could pick any job in the world, what would it be? Aside from your current hustle.

Maybe an economist or a doctor.

What (other) bank, FinTech, or VC do you have the most admiration for and why?

Lemonade is one of my favorite fintechs at the moment. It’s an app that is making home and rental insurance easy and accessible. Just as we’re doing with saving, Lemonade flips the old insurance model and makes the entire process simple and transparent – and happy, too. There’s a cause-based component to Lemonade that shifts insurance from something groan-inducing to something happy.

Plaid has been a massive gamechanger for financial services, and Visa’s recent acquisition attests to this. Our team met Zach and his team at Web Summit in Dublin when we were both seed-stage companies, pre-launch. It’s been incredible to see the impact they’ve made over the years in enabling millions of people to connect their money to valuable tools for effectively managing it.

How do we make the FinTech community even stronger?

I think events like Money 20/20 where people can meet and get together are key. Despite all of the tech and communication tools, nothing works quite like old fashioned in-person quality time to generate a real community.

Why did you decide to start or join your startup?

Qapital was born out of frustration. George and I tried time and time again to save, but it was too difficult to keep track of everything through a single savings slush fund. After turning to multiple banks, one finally allowed us to open different accounts for each of our savings goals. It was a better way to visualize and control exactly where our money was going.

However, the frustration of manually managing 17 different accounts eventually got to us, and we realized that there had to be a better way to integrate and streamline the system, to make savings self-driving and automatic. Through our partnerships with our CTO and co-founder, Erik Akterin, and behavioral economist Dan Ariely, we created Qapital, an app that aims to help people save more effectively and chart their own course to money happiness. Through goals, tips, and tools rooted in behavioral psychology, Qapital helps users become masters of their money.

Why/how will your company win? What’s the unique edge?

Qapital is powered by behavioral psychology and modeled around an individual’s specific goals – its about how to visualize, organize, automate our money but also about how to take the emotion and weaponize it to our own advantage rather than it being a hinderance to financial success. Most money apps focus on accounts but we believe we need more than traditional banking products in app-format. We need a whole different way to relate to and engage with our money. Many self-improvement tools when it comes to money lean on shame-based approaches around spending and saving, but Qapital believes a happy relationship with your money starts with the ability to put it towards what brings you lasting contentment and financial peace of mind.

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“Rather than tech giants invading banking, banking and fintech are permeating the experience provided by tech companies”

 “The unstoppable rise of fintech”, from $1.8B in 2011 to $30B in 2020, anticipates McKinsey & Company. This is just the beginning. The future is a blinding beacon of possibility and change. Showing us the way this week is Scarlett Sieber, one of the premier voices in financial services, and a sought-after fintech luminary.

Scarlett’s most recent position is Managing Director, Chief Strategy & Innovation Officer at Catalyst Consulting Group (CCG), but don’t be fooled. This fintech powerhouse does it all: senior editor at Money20/20, senior advisor at NASA, board member, Techstars mentor, and the list goes on and on. In her non-existent downtime, she even speaks internationally, writes for leading magazines (Forbes, HuffPost), and hosts her very own show Tech Tuesdays. We love her passion and commitment.

It is our distinct honor to bring you this interview with Scarlett…

Tell us about CCG Catalyst in a few words?

CCG Catalyst is a consultancy serving banks, credit unions, and fintech companies.

What’s a fun fact about yourself?

I grew up in a small town and went to a small school, one that did not have enough girls to create a basketball team. So, I played on the boys basketball team and competed against other schools that were all male. We were the only co-ed team. This started my love of defensive play, specifically blocking shots and I fouled out of a fair amount of games 🙂

If you could pick any job in the world, what would it be? Aside from your current hustle.

Another career I always saw myself doing and loving was in sports, specifically basketball. I am such a fan of the game and I love the passion and dedication surrounding it. There are many ways this dream develops, whether through being a female coach directly next to the action and the chaos, or as part of a team franchise strategizing about how to enhance the fan experience and further build out the community. So many possibilities!

Does Libra scare you? Why or why not?

Libra doesn’t scare me but it certainly scared the world’s central banks, several of whom announced plans to issue their own digital currencies after the Libra announcement. I admire Libra’s mission of financial inclusion. When you travel the world, you see how many people struggle just to get by without access to a safe and functional financial system. No matter what ultimately happens with Libra or Facebook, this effort is shining a spotlight on a huge need.

Which tech giant will leap into banking first and why? (Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Apple, etc)

All the tech giants are already involved in banking to varying extents! I think there is no need to fear that one of the tech giants will actually become a bank — they have all shown to varying degrees their willingness to work with banks when they cross paths with financial services. Google partnered with Citi and the Stanford Credit Union for its checking product, Apple and Goldman Sachs launched a credit card, and more coming soon. Technology is allowing banking, or if you prefer, fintech, to become part of our everyday experience, within other applications. So rather than tech giants invading banking, banking and fintech are permeating the experience provided by tech companies.

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“I believe that Betterment has grown because of its fiduciary mission: where big banks let consumers down, Betterment puts them first.”

Robo-advisors continue to have outstanding success: AUM over $1.1 trillion, 19.8% YOY growth, CAGR of 25.6%, and an average AUM per user just shy of $5,000 in 2020. Living under a rock and don’t know about robo-advisors? Automated digital financial advice and portfolio management for ultra-low fees.

The first to the robo-party was Betterment, launching in 2008 and landing at TechCrunch Disrupt in 2010. Betterment continues to be a juggernaut of the self-guided digital wealth management services, nudging its wards towards financial freedom. The company recently completed a successful foray into the wide-world of checking accounts – yowza!

With us today is Jonathan Stein, Founder and CEO of this wildly popular trailblazer-of-a-robo-advisor. When not dreaming of railroad efficiency, Jonathan is shouldering the weight of the Betterment world (without breaking a sweat).

Hurry up and take your seat, the interview train is about to leave the Empire station...

Tell us about Betterment in a few words?

Betterment is a smart money manager that offers everyday cash management services, alongside their core investing and retirement solutions.

What’s a fun fact about yourself?

I'm from Texas and have two daughters, Sasha and Sydney.

Dinner with 3 people from any time across history, who would they be?

Marie Curie, Ben Franklin, Adam Smith.

If you could pick any job in the world, what would it be? Aside from your current hustle.

I’ve got the only job I can imagine wanting, but I would enjoy trying to upgrade Amtrak’s service to make it one of the best train systems in the world. The US needs it.

What's your company look like 5yrs down the road?

Because we were the first robo advisor when we launched in 2010, providing a personalized approach to automated consumer investing has always been part of our DNA. Since then, we’ve evolved to manage every part of our customers' financial life, from investing for retirement to saving for a safety net. In 2014, we established our 401(k) arm, Betterment for Business, which offers transparent, low-fee retirement plan administration for employers and personalized advice for employees saving for retirement––all with a more tech-enabled approach to auto-enrollment and auto-escalations. In July 2019, we launched a high-yield brokerage sweep account, Cash Reserve, that comes with $1 million in FDIC insurance. Just this month we also launched our no fee Checking account that comes with a beautiful blue debit card.

As we look to the next five years, and ten years, we see there’s so much more we can do beyond investing, and that’s why we introduced smart cash management with our Checking and Cash Reserve products. We want to make every dollar work for our customers, and that means setting a new precedent: the burden should be on financial companies to simplify everything to the point where you have to do very little to know your short-term costs are covered while you’re also saving and building funds for the long-term.

In the last five years, customers overwhelmingly told us that they needed an everyday cash advisor that could help them save for the future. In the next five years, we will continue to include customer feedback into the platform’s evolution every step of the way. Features we’re planning to make available soon for our Checking customers this year include mobile check depositing, joint checking accounts, and physical checkbooks. We’re also making it easier for our customers to switch over accounts for direct deposits, and replacing the inscrutable lists of names, numbers, and abbreviations of typical account statements with simplified, easy-to-read transaction information—all within 2020.

What do you think about the future of FinTech that your colleagues don't all agree with?

In my previous work as a banking consultant, I learned that most of the profits come from checking and savings accounts—fees and balances—and consumers are not getting a fair share of the earnings being made on that money. I think that moving forward, this is going to change: we’ll see a shift in the way that consumers receive earnings on their personal accounts. This is also why Betterment doesn't charge any fees on our Checking and Savings account, it's whats right for the consumer.

What (other) bank, FinTech, or VC do you have the most admiration for and why?

I admire a lot of companies in the Fintech space. From consumer-facing products like PayPal and business-facing ones like Stripe, and even incumbents like Jack Bogle and Vanguard ––we’re experiencing almost unprecedented innovation across the field at a time when consumers need it most.

Why did you decide to jump into FinTech or entrepreneurship?

During and shortly after the 2008 financial crisis, I heard so many people say they lost everything in the markets and didn’t know what to do. Many had been wronged by large financial services companies that were putting their own financial interests ahead of their customers. I recall a bus ride where I explained the concept of Betterment to the person next to me who was in a tight spot financially; my mindset wasn’t to sign them up right there but help them get to a point where a service like Betterment would eventually make sense.

When I told my idea to Vanguard’s Jack Bogle, Bogle responded, “you’re going to help a lot of people out.” This meant a lot because he was the person I most wanted to emulate, mainly because he put his customers before himself. I believe that Betterment has grown because of its fiduciary mission: where big banks let consumers down, Betterment puts them first.

Today, our products are a proposed solution to the problem that investment managers and banks still silently agree that saving each month is the client’s responsibility. Students today are graduating with more student loan debt than ever before, and no other part of life is becoming cheaper. Houses, cars, kids—they’re all becoming more expensive, not less. Betterment believes that the everyday American deserves a cash advisor, perhaps more than any other kind of financial advisor. Advice should go beyond “set a budget,” and instead, use innovative technology to automate savings, nudge customers toward long-term goals, and drive empirically better behavioral outcomes. And to show how in demand something like this is, Betterment’s Cash Reserve, our high-yield brokerage sweep account, received more than an astounding $1 billion in deposits within the first few weeks of launching.

Why/how will your company win? What's the unique edge?

When I started Betterment in 2010, there were no others, but the market grew increasingly saturated throughout the 2010s. Several advisors were formed after 2010, and the latter half of the 2010s also saw several legacy financial institutions establishing their own advisors. We’ve also seen an increase in the popularity of zero-fee trading apps as well as the rise of challenger banks. So although it’s become a far more competitive space, Betterment will continue to differentiate itself by managing the full financial life of our customers, providing unconflicted and human advice. Our versatility sets us apart from our competitors: we’re an automated investing service, a 401(k) plan administrator, and a smart money manager with more than 500,000 customers and over $22 billion in assets under management. Most fintechs usually offer just 1-2 of these services, but Betterment is a one stop shop for building wealth, retirement planning, and other personal financial goals. And unlike the big banks, Betterment is a fiduciary with a duty to put our customers’ interests first. Betterment doesn’t sell its own funds and has no vested interest in pushing portfolios towards a specific fund or path. It’s why I founded the company to begin with––to provide as much value as possible to everyday Americans.

What is the coolest thing happening right now in FinTech, in your opinion? Who is doing it well?

The fact that we’re seeing Fintechs work to provide customers with their COVID-19 stimulus checks as quickly as possible proves to me that we’re an incredibly adaptable industry that isn’t afraid to shy away from challenges, even complex challenges like the long-term financial impact of the pandemic. And with COVID-19, we’re seeing an uptick in consumer engagement with personal finance products across the industry. We’ve found that customers have been directing their stimulus straight to their Betterment accounts with 25% investing stimulus checks to build wealth, 20% depositing into their emergency fund, and 15% prioritizing retirement funds.

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“Over the next five years every technology investor will have to have an appreciation for what embedded financial service functionality within a company's core product can do to its business model”

J.K. Rowling, Mark Twain, and even Dr Seuss put pen to paper under a pseudonym. It’s far less common in the overly transparent, occasionally intrusive, personal brand-building, social-media era. Anyone using a pseudonym, we thought to ourselves, must truly be in it for the love of the game. Or rather, for the love of FinTech. 

This week I caught up with the author behind a curtain of John Street Capital. The folks at JSC tweet FinTech goodness @JohnStCapital and move to Medium when the twitter threads get unwieldy. We love the mystique, but at the end of the day, regardless of who’s behind the handle, we’re happy to have them in the FinTech community.

Why did you decide to jump into FinTech or entrepreneurship?

The financial service, insurance, and real estate industries account for 20%+ of global GDP but several years ago were accounting for <5.0% of venture funding. Many of the best investments are those with economic moats which can be established via intangible assets, high switching costs, network effects, and cost advantages which are prevalent across financial services in companies like V, MA, ICE, NDAQ, FIS, FISV, SPGI, MCO, etc...

These businesses are difficult to start, usually require the procurement of regulatory licenses and require significant up front investment / capital, but at scale are incredibly attractive businesses with strong moats, in end markets with economies of scale & a history of consolidation / M&A. From 1990-2020 the top performing stock in the S&P 500 was Jack Henry ("JKHY") +248,379% (a 29.8% CAGR) outperforming AMZN (29.1% CAGR) over that time period. While there was plenty of capital for US based B2C companies, there was limited interest in B2B companies, rearchitecting financial market infrastructure domestically, or creating new financial rails globally in regions such as Africa, LatAm, MENA, or SE Asia which presented a significant opportunity for specialization.

What's your company look like 5yrs down the road?

FinTech is constantly evolving and today there's been a big focus on the concept of embedded finance or the trend that "every company is a FinTech company." Whether it's Google Pay in India, Facebook looking to launch Diem (the old Libra), Instagram commerce, WhatsApp Pay, Apple's foray into Apple Card, Apple Pay, and more recently BNPL, or every vertical software company looking to embed payments / lending or both, FinTech is everywhere. Over the next five years every technology investor will have to have an appreciation for what embedded financial service functionality within a company's core product can do to its business model.

Are we in a FinTech bubble? Why?

If every company is becoming a FinTech company, and every investor is starting to explore FinTech it would seemingly suggest we're in a FinTech bubble but I don't believe that's the case. Today there are 155 companies in the world with a market cap greater than $100B, with V, JPM, MA, PYPL, BAC, ICBC, China Merchants Bank, Ping An Insurance, AXP, BLK, SCHW, Bank of China, Commonwealth Bank of Australia, BX, TD Bank, China Life, HDFC Bank, SQ, and Allianz or 19 total companies the only financial service companies. In the future that number likely approaches 50%+.

There are few sectors with multiple trillion dollar + segments including alternative assets ($14.0T +), banking (global market cap finished 1Q21 at $9.0T+), insurance (trillions of dollars of market cap / 10's of trillions of life / non-life premiums written per year), Payments ($2.0-$3.0T in revenue per year), RE ($17.0T in US CRE alone), and trading (trillions of dollars of equities, fixed income, and derivatives traded per year).

The market cap of FinTech unicorns is a fraction of the addressable market opportunity, let alone the expansion possibilities as these large tech co's embed financial services. There are definitely pockets of excess / froth, and for entrepreneurs it's one of the easier segments to raise capital from largely price agnostic investors at the earliest stage, but I would be surprised if some of the best returns over the next decade aren't from some FinTech companies receiving funding today.

What are some of your favorite FinTech blog or podcast?

There's a lot of really good FinTech content out there. On the podcast front anytime 20:VC or Invest Like The Best have FinTech operators / investors it's always worth a listen, FinTech Insider by 11:FS, Payments on Fire by Glenbrook, are also good listens. In terms of blogs / newsletters, a fan of FinTech Today, This Week in FinTech, and anything out of A16z, Anthemis, Bain, etc...

Dinner with 3 people from any time across history, who would they be and why?

Excluding family & friends...

1) Alexander Hamilton- Given the FinTech theme have to give a hat tip to the founding father of FinTech Alexander Hamilton. First secretary of treasury, established the first two de facto central bank's, the U.S. mint etc... Bank of New York Mellon which is still going strong today. Would love to get his perspective on what's evolved over the past 200 years.

2) Michael Jordan- the greatest competitor in any field of all time. His on the court accolades speak for himself, despite the flack he got for playing baseball he still played Minor League Baseball for a year, was a global icon creating one of the most valuable apparel company of all time, became the first billionaire player in sports history, and of course now a sports owner in his own right. Learning about what makes him tick / win would be a masterclass.

3) John D. Rockefeller- Growing up dirt poor in 1839, by the time he passed away in 1937 he amassed a wealth that was ~1.5% of US GDP in a field that was out of consensus at the time (oil was much less interesting than steel, banking, or rail initially). Nearly 90 years after his death his family continues to do great philanthropic work, despite the fact that inherited wealth is usually toxic. He was focused on family, work, charity, and having a good time.

If you could pick any job in the world, what would it be? Aside from your current hustle.

Sports Agent. Jerry Maguire & Ari Gold were both fan favorites and outside of being a full life cycle investor that would be the only other job I think could keep me going; unless of course I grew a foot, and could throw 100 mph left-handed, than I'd ask Stevie Cohen to give me a contract.

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“Business builders have always been like rock stars to me, and being one myself was my greatest aspiration”

A bright spot these days is the acceleration of FinTech innovation in the wake of COVID-19. Investors and entrepreneurs are working to keep pace with the surge of digital demand. Our guest for today understands funding, finance, and how to get people excited about both.

A true financial guru, Alexa von Tobel is as prolific as she is a prodigious personal finance persona. You may remember her from the cover of Forbes, one of Fortune’s Most Powerful Women, or for her leadership and sale of LearnVest to Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co for a cool $250M. Did we mention the countless other media appearances, expert articles, Inc. entrepreneur in residence, and everything else – mind blown. Our personal favorite though had to be her New York Times best-seller Financially Fearless.

Her first vision was to help bring empowered financial literacy to many. Today Alexa and her dream team at Inspired Capital invest in early­-stage tech ventures.

Join us as Alexa adds some spice with “non-boring” financial technology advice...

Tell us about Inspired Capital in a few words?

$200M early stage technology venture fund, focused on supporting the next wave of exceptional entrepreneurs.

What’s a fun fact about yourself?

I was a competitive diver in high school and college! In many ways, the lessons I learned as an athlete have helped shape me as an entrepreneur — like understanding the importance of having a great coach and the rigorous discipline required when trying to achieve something.

If you could pick any job in the world, what would it be? Aside from your current hustle.

I feel like that’s exactly what I got to do in founding Inspired Capital! Talking to incredible founders and helping them build their companies is what I was doing in my free time, and now I get to do it 24/7, with some of my favorite people alongside me.

What's your favorite thing about working where you do?

Getting to work with the Inspired Capital team. I’m really in awe of the group we’ve assembled — they’re some of the most genuine, smart, hard working people I’ve ever met, and we have deep, longstanding bonds between us. I consider it a true blessing that I get to go to work every day with these people.

What (other) bank, FinTech, or VC do you have the most admiration for and why?

There are so many to choose from in the Inspired Capital portfolio alone! To name our most recent FinTech investment, I’m incredibly bullish on what Finix is building. They are offering payments infrastructure as a service, empowering companies to own, manage, and monetize their own payments. I think embedded FinTech solutions are going to gain tremendous traction over this next decade.

Why did you decide to jump into FinTech or entrepreneurship?

I think I’ve had entrepreneurial qualities from the time I was a kid (instead of opening a lemonade stand, I took art off my parents walls and decided to have an “art sale”...). In all seriousness, business builders have always been like rock stars to me, and being one myself was my greatest aspiration.

When I founded LearnVest back in 2008, “FinTech” was not the buzzword it is today. Jumping into the industry was about a deep-seated passion for helping bring financial literacy to households across the country.

What are some of your favorite FinTech blog or podcast?

I love to consume as much FinTech-related content as possible, and some of my favorite content comes from top tech outlets that go deep on a FinTech topic. To name a few: Fintech Today, TechCrunch’s Equity podcast, The 20 Minute VC, The Information, and Venture Stories by Village Global.

I also have a podcast with Inc. called The Founders Project. It’s been an honor to interview some of the best brains in FinTech, including Max Levchin (PayPal, Affirm), Daniel Schreiber (Lemonade), and Henry Ward (Carta).