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Ending the Tug of War: How Startups Can Help Banks Innovate

Startups can drive amazing innovation by rapidly iterating across ideas and testing with users

Banks face a difficult tug-of-war every day. Consumers demand innovative new services - regulators demand security, compliance and soundness of all offerings. How can a bank resist being pulled in every direction and find a middle ground?

Startups Provide Innovation
Banks can look to startup technology companies for new solutions. Startups are (at least initially) unfettered by regulations, approval committees, and long meetings. This is both a scary and exciting notion for bankers. There are a host of startups in the financial technology space, and bank-grade platforms like FIS's mFoundry originated from small teams working on an idea.

Startups can drive amazing innovation by rapidly iterating across ideas and testing with users. Startup product and service design and usability typically eclipse the made-by-committee-and-regulators look of bank applications.

Banks attend conferences throughout the year looking for innovative new partners. The excitement of possible collaborations is often tempered when you return to the office and discuss the regulatory implications with your business development and compliance teams.

Banks need a way to find compliant startups that do a great job of customer service and satisfy regulatory rules and frameworks.

Startups that Scale for Security
While the early days of a startup are heady times filled with dreaming, those that want to succeed in financial services technology must understand the environment that banks face. You can easily spot the savvier startups within their first 18-24 months - where appropriate they are already leveraging big company processes and practices, to make them look like "real" companies, even if they have only 10 or 20 people.

Signs of a bank-ready startup:

  • External certifications for security (e.g., PCI Level 1 Compliance, ISO 27001)
  • They've read the latest OCC bulletin on third-party provider compliance
  • The founder or management team has a banking or large-scale fintech background

We didn't just describe a unicorn: these startups to exist. The founders know they need a bank partner to launch their product (either as a part of the solution or as a customer). The founders understand what banks need to do from their side and they built their business from the ground up with respect for compliance.

Starting Right Leads to Efficient Compliance
Startups that build solutions that are strongly compliant are often asked: "How can a small company afford that?" While it is difficult and expensive to keep large, older organizations in compliance, smaller companies find it much faster and require much less expense.

The development of Wallaby's digital wallet software began less than two years ago, and included a strong focus on security from day one. Last month, we received our first Attestation of Compliance with PCI Level 1 Security Standards. It required twelve months and less than $50,000 to achieve this because it required so little rework and retraining.

Having participated in PCI compliance audits before, we were familiar with the requirements: We had all the basics like a firewall and anti-virus. We hired engineers for Wallaby with a security mindset. We took the approach that the standards are the minimum. We built our own tools instead of spending thousands on software.

This focus on compliance extends throughout our business. In our short history as a company, numerous partners have audited us. From our financial statements to our office, we keep everything in order at all times.

The Tug of War Ends Here
Innovative customer services and compliance can live together peacefully and productively. It is a key dynamic of working within a regulated industry that is entrusted with the security of people's financial assets. While not every new company is right for banking (and not every bank is looking to partner with startups), we believe there are methods, policies, procedures and audits that can help banks work comfortably with innovative new companies. Together we can provide improved products and services to customers and improve returns for banks.

More Stories By Matthew Goldman

Matthew Goldman is CEO and Co-Founder of Wallaby Financial, Inc. Wallaby Financial is a Pasadena, Calif.-based startup that is working to bring order to your financial life by helping you pay the right way—to earn more rewards and avoid fees, by helping you use the right credit card each time you pay. Previously, Matthew was Director of Retail Strategy at Green Dot Corporation (GDOT), the nation's leading provider of reloadable prepaid debit cards. Follow Matthew on Twitter @magoldman. Learn more about Wallaby at https://www.walla.by/

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