Rodrigo Suarez is the head of innovation at Piermont Bank, a relatively new commercial bank that got its charter in 2019. Suarez has been in the financial services industry for a little over 10 years. He began his career with First Manhattan Consulting Group, consulting and management consulting for financial institutions in the U.S. and Latin America. His projects focused on go-to-market strategy, product development, operational effectiveness, and other aspects of financial innovation. In 2018, he started running INV Fintech, a startup accelerator program in partnership with Fiserv, mentoring multiple early stage companies and significantly expanding the program’s corporate ecosystem.
Suarez started working at Piermont Bank in June 2019. As head of innovation, Suarez drives Piermont’s banking-as-a-service offering but he takes care of the business side of things, helping Piermont’s fintech clients offer banking products and services to their users.
Piermont Bank has transitioned to a hybrid work model, with time split between the office and home. Monday through Wednesday, employees come in and Thursday and Friday are days when they work from home. Suarez wakes up around 6:30 a.m., exercises on the Peloton bike for a little bit, reads the day’s news with a cup of coffee and catches up on a few fintech newsletters he’s subscribed to. Suarez’s workday kicks off shortly after and he keeps a busy schedule, launching into emails, calls and meetings.
He says banks that offer banking-as-a-service will sometimes delegate their work to API providers but Piermont Bank works very closely with the fintechs it partners with.
“The first thing I do is talk to a fintech that we’re either already live with or one that we’re working to implement, or a fintech that’s talking to us because they want to work with us to bring their financial service products to the market,” says Suarez.
Because Suarez doesn’t have breakfast, he takes an early lunch around 11:30 a.m or noon. After a round of calls and meetings, he’ll either have a sweet, green salad or whip something up at home before progressing into the afternoon with another round of calls and meetings.
Piermont operates more like a startup or a fintech than a bank, with a flat structure that promotes heavy communication and allows quick decisions. Suarez’s line of work asks him to collaborate closely with a few other key people at Piermont, like the chief risk officer, chief banking officer and chief credit officer, all of whom come into play as he works to onboard fintechs with Piermont. Suarez often needs their expertise to ensure that fintechs get the right oversight and compliance needed to take them to the market.
Suarez says that the fintechs that take more time and attention are usually those that are transitioning from working with another bank to working with Piermont. Closing a fintech or working with it in the final stage of onboarding requires consistent, close review and finalizing due diligence.
“There are a lot more things that we need to look at to be able to transition their existing client base from the previous bank that they were working with to us, making sure that that transition is smooth, reviewing other parameters that we need to make sure are there from a compliance perspective,” says Suarez.
If Suarez is not onboarding new fintech clients, he’s talking to current ones that are live with Piermont’s service, to check on their progress, make sure that they’re satisfied with the Piermont, and address and review any questions or concerns that have come up since they last spoke.
“I had a call with a fintech that...is bringing on additional users into their platform later this week,” says Suarez. “So that was a good achievement...seeing something that a few weeks ago was more of an idea become now like a reality and something that's actually out in the market.”
Suarez will typically disconnect from work around 5:30 p.m, but because he works with a lot of people on the west coast, he will sometimes go back and answer a few more emails later in the day, or sometimes take a quick call.
Around 6:30 p.m., he and his wife will make dinner together. Being Mexican, the couple gets a little bit nostalgic for their time growing up in Mexico, so dinners are often Mexican-themed. One of their favorite things to cook is black mole, and other times they make tacos or ceviche. Their love of Mexican food is quickly followed by their love of Italian food, and the couple will often source recipes from the New York Times cooking app to make pasta.
Suarez will also walk their dog, Moo -- named for its black and white spots and found as an abandoned puppy when they visited Mexico in November 2019 -- around Fort Greene Park in New York City. The couple will also wind down with a bit of television -- these days, they’re watching HBO’s Mare of Easttown.
As much as Suarez enjoys his work, he’s looking to make a few tweaks in his day to day life.
“One of the things maybe that I'm working to change is to gradually free up more of my time to be able to focus on other activities,” says Suarez. “And [have] a little bit more breathing room towards the end of the day to unwind a little bit right now. The nature of the work is quite intense.”