Fintech boot camps, accelerators, demo days and hackathons are a dime a dozen these days.
But one of the longest running and best, in my view, is the New York FinTech Innovation Lab, a boot camp of sorts for fintech companies that was founded by Accenture and the Partnership Fund for New York City seven years ago. Thirty-five banks, including Bank of America, Capital One, Credit Suisse and Wells Fargo, participate. Every summer, they choose eight startups whose teams spend 12 weeks embedded with senior executives at the banks, learning about their problems and tech needs and honing their strategy for selling into the financial services market. On Thursday, the lab hosted a demo day for the startups.
“We're extraordinarily difficult to sell to,” acknowledged David Reilly, who is global banking and markets chief information officer at Bank of America and who hosted the event in the Bank of America Tower at Bryant Park in Manhattan.
“If you can figure that out for Bank of America, you can figure it out for JPMorgan and others,” he said. The banks also help the startups understand which part of the business they should target, and the regulatory issues they need to figure out.
All the startups shared good ideas, mostly related to compliance, security and data analytics. These were three of my favorites:
Cutting Edge’s security technology is designed to camouflage banks’ internet communications, making them invisible to cybercriminals. Its mantra is, “If they can't find you, they can't attack you.”
“Hacktivists, organized crime, and nation-state actors are more interested in our communications and our data and our IP than ever before,” said mentor Scott Condron, managing director of retail digital strategy at BlackRock. “The existing network infrastructure in place is reliant on reactive defensive fortifications and expansive countermeasures to thwart these attackers. Cutting Edge has created a new defense born of offense.”
Cutting Edge CEO Barbara Hunt led cyberoffensive programs at the National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency.
“When I left the government, I recognized that the landscape had shifted and we can no longer rely on our telecom carriers to protect who we are when we're working on the internet,” she said. “We also can't look to them to help us with a cyber event when we see it.”
The company has built a cloud-based network service called Net Abstraction that obscures and varies customers’ network pathways across multiple providers to protect their identity, sensitive data and critical systems. It operates on top of existing cloud and telecom providers and disguises users’ communication pathways.
Cutting Edge has 30 customers in government intelligence, law enforcement, cybersecurity and financial services.
Nova Credit is building a cross-border credit bureau that lets companies pull credit reports from other countries. Its founders were immigrants who met at Stanford University.
“Nova operates at the intersection of three major trends: global migration, financial inclusion and using new data sources help identify and underwrite consumers,” said William McNulty, operating partner of Capital One Growth Ventures, a unit of Capital One Bank. Capital One, BBVA, BlackRock, Synchrony Financial and Scotiabank all mentored the company. “Many of us see real potential for Nova to help us expand markets and to know more customers. And there's good interest in working through compliance and process issues related to using Nova's data.”
Nicky Goulimis, a Nova co-founder and its chief operating officer, said that, when she lived in London, she had a credit card, a car loan and a mortgage, but her credit history didn’t move with her when she came to the U.S.
“I applied for a credit card and was rejected,” she said. “When I tried to get a mobile phone, I shifted to prepaid. And when I tried to rent an apartment, I was asked for a six-month deposit. Despite having a great credit history in the U.K., I had no financial identity here in the U.S.”
The major U.S. credit bureaus collect only domestic data, Goulimis pointed out.
In the U.S. there are 42 million immigrants, 7 million of whom have the traits of super-prime borrowers, she said. They have good jobs with high salaries.
“Yet despite having all these traits, no one is going after them today,” Goulimis said, estimating that more than $100 billion of lending opportunity is being left on the table.
Nova Credit is a consumer reporting agency that complies with the Fair Credit Reporting Act and is governed by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, CEO Misha Esipov said.
Nova aggregates credit data from bureaus around the world and provides a single application programming interface lenders can use to pull that data. Today the company receives data from India, Mexico, the U.K., Canada and Australia. It has plans to cover China, Brazil, Russia and other markets in the next few quarters.
Lender clients receive classic credit bureau data, such as trade lines, payments and inquiries.
The system allows for global data reciprocity, such that if someone is irresponsible with credit in one country, that bad behavior will follow them to their next country.
Alloy is tackling the more prosaic side of customer vetting: the onboarding process and basic know-your-customer compliance. It calls its software “data-driven KYC.”
“So much of the bad experience people have with banking when they do have bad experiences has to do with what you don’t see — back-office processes and paperwork, things that aren’t fully automated,” CEO Tommy Nicholas said. “One of those is doing due diligence on new customers.”
Client onboarding at banks and card issuers is mostly paper-driven, he said, and costs banks $60 billion annually. And 50% of people never finish the process because of a need to perform extra steps or provide documentation.
Alloy pulls data from sources like LexisNexis, Socure and Experian and lets customers build onboarding workflows on top of those third-party data sources.
It provides analytics of people who are being turned away. It helps optimize the process and finds data sources that could be added.
Jonathan Wells, vice president and head of capital markets technology at U.S. Bank, said, “Our users liked the ability to reconfigure the onboarding process flow in response to events occurring in the real world. They liked the ability to get deep insight into what's happening in onboarding flow, why accounts are being rejected.”
The other startups also demoed useful tech that’s worth checking out:
BehavioSec provides behavioral biometric authentication technology that verifies users by analyzing the way they tap, type, swipe, hold their phone, and such. It calculates a risk score for each user. Anyone with a low score has to go through additional steps. (BioCatch and SecuredTouch offer similar technology.) The software is in production in several banks in Europe. The firm was one of our Fintech Companies to Watch last year.
Detectica offers KYE — know your employee — software that monitors employees. It reads emails, trades, instant messages, and other sources, looks at emotional content of communications over time and finds internal networks between people at the firm. The goal: to help compliance, legal and human resources departments find signs of collusion and employee shenanigans.
dMetrics provides artificial intelligence that “reads” data and documents, and lets you query that data. In finance, it could be used to find customers' life events and find personally identifiable information where it shouldn't be. The company is working with U.S. Bank, KeyBank, Credit Suisse, UBS and Rabobank.
ModelShop’s software helps banks replace their spreadsheets with a data model platform through which data can easily be shared with others as dashboards and reports. “Spreadsheets lack agility and they're error prone; 90% have errors,” CEO Tom Tobin said.
Demyst Data CEO Mark Hookey calls his company “data janitors.” Its software helps clean and structure data, and helps discover what data matters. It could be used to let thin-file customers get products they wouldn't otherwise be able to get.
Maria Gotsch, president and CEO of the Partnership Fund for New York City, said she hopes this program will help New York become the top-ranking fintech hub by next year.
“In 2012, Silicon Valley fintech companies received four times the amount of venture investment as New York fintech companies,” she said. “Last year, the gap was narrowed to 1.08. In my book that means we're basically even. I hope to report we're No. 1 next year.”
Editor at Large Penny Crosman welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.