In this episode, we’re announcing the winner of Tearsheet’s first annual bank + fintech partnership award.
I’m happy to say that TD Bank and Hydrogen won this year’s award. To talk about the partnership and how the two firms created a solid foundation for collaboration, we have Jacob Matthews, AVP head of digital continuum, sales and client engagement and US wealth technology at TD Bank joining us, as well as Mike Kane, co-founder of Hydrogen.
I’ll let them tell the story of the genesis of the partnership, the nature of the collaboration, and the success factors that have both firms looking out into the future with deeper work.
Tearsheet would like to thank TD and Hydrogen, everyone else who applied for the award, and our industry judges that helped make this happen.
Tearsheet is also launching its 2019 Innovation Program Awards. To learn more and apply, go here.
TD’s goals headed into partnership
First of all, TD is very excited to have won Tearsheet’s Bank + Fintech Award along with Hydrogen. Let me take a minute to provide background on our initiative.
We have a fantastic online platform called WebBroker that provides tremendous trading tools. When speaking to our customers, we needed to enhance our offering, specifically to provide a way to fit these trading tools inside a financial goal-based plan. So, that means we needed to help our clients build a plan that helped them achieve their goals. TD’s goal was to take the complexity out of the front end and build an easy to follow tool for our customers.
With that context, we needed to parter with a company that would help accelerate this vision and launch this product we’re calling GoalAssist. We were looking for innovation and agility and we saw a partnership with a fintech company as a main driver for banking transformation.
What TD was looking for from a partner
TD was looking for a partner that would help advance our capabilities while providing a way to test and validate product and service innovations. The need to integrate and foster these innovations was crucial. We feel a very effective way to deliver technology solutions at the speed and agility of the market and our customer demand is through a partnership.
We were looking for a partner whose business model can work with TD, has a competitive advantage in the marketplace, and honestly, was as passionate about our vision as we were. We evaluated various fintech startups that were active in the space. We engaged with over 20 innovative fintech startups, both near and far.
What Hydrogen was looking for from a partnership with TD
Hydrogen is an innovation and acceleration driver for enterprises. We have a SaaS platform where enterprises like TD can quickly build innovative financial technologies with. Think of it like a toolkit or building blocks that really accelerate the build that would typically take a long time for a firm the size of TD, which has 25 million customers at this point.
You need to be organizationally ready to use a platform like Hydrogen. Not every bank is — you have to have that innovation focus. And that needs to come from the top down. Early on, we engaged with senior executives at TD and saw their focus was on driving new innovative tools and solutions to their customers. You also need to have buy-in from the business units. TD is a good example — there was a lot of due diligence done to get ready to implement these types of solutions.
So, when we look to do a partnership of this size, we really look to see if there is buy-in internally and whether a firm has put forth the right resources in planning. Most importantly, our partners need to understand their customers and what they need. A lot of banks come to us and want the reverse — for us to tell them what their customers should be using. You need to know what your customers need and what you need to do to stay competitive in the market. That’s how you drive innovation.
TD has been a perfect partner in these three aspects.
Why TD chose Hydrogen over other options
Early on in our engagement, Hydrogen demonstrated an understanding of our business and our customers’ needs. Even as a startup, they showed agility in being able to work quickly. They also showed that they could work effectively with an organization the size of TD.
It was also important for us to have the fintech’s technology brought into our environment, where it can be accessed through APIs and further integrated and scaled across the organization. Of all the firms we looked at, Hydrogen was quite unique in this regard.
Another reason we chose Hydrogen was that we could partner together to build out their roadmap. At the end of the day, they brought creativity, innovation, transparency and the agility TD was looking for. Lastly, Mike and his team shared our passion to bring this vision into the marketplace.
Hydrogen’s expectations heading into the partnership
It’s sometimes difficult for fintech firms to partner with large banks because it’s such a different experience running a 50 to 100 person firm than it is running a bank with 50,000 to 100,000 employees. There are layers of bureaucracy.
If you can compartmentalize what needs to be done and be very organized from the beginning, these types of engagements can work. You need to get all the roles and responsibilities in place — for example, we had corporate governance involved from the beginning. That’s something that we see that makes for successful partnerships in fintechs working with large banks.
What’s unique about our platform is that we can help TD on its innovation journey over multiple years. It’s not about solving one particular problem or launching one component for customers — we can work together over many innovation cycles.
Having open communication and being open minded with partners on your own roadmap is very important. We share with our clients what we’re working on 12 to 18 months from now. We have workshops with them and are very engaged with them because we see this as a long term innovation exercise.
How TD prepared internally for the partnership with Hydrogen
To fully appreciate the success of this partnership, you have to realize that the TD team is based in Toronto and the Hydrogen team is in New York City. That, in itself, poses its own unique challenges — how two firms can work on a complex problems from different locations.
From TD’s perspective, we were in a good position. We had already adopted modern development practices, had an Agile mindset, and embraced DevOps practices. We appreciated though that we need to be flexible in our approach and that it should work for both firms. This was more about tweaks than massive changes because TD and Hydrogen shared the same views around jointly building a product.
We had business and technology groups from both firms working together. We were both willing to share ideas and change direction based on our inputs. We had multiple technology bootcamps and working sessions with people from both teams. This really helped develop a joint strategy and plan.
Team building was also a key factor. We hosted Hydrogen in Toronto multiple times and they hosted us in NYC, too.
For us to really leverage Hydrogen, we worked together to build TD Wealth’s own backend API platform, which can communicate to existing TD platforms and infrastructure. This was a huge benefit for us because it allowed us to quickly navigate and build capabilities faster.
Constant and proactive communication was the glue that held us together. Along with the Hydrogen team, there were multiple TD teams involved. The coordination across all these teams was no small undertaking. Ensuring all teams had the same information and were working toward the same goals was key.
From TD’s perspective, this project wouldn’t have succeeded without strong executive leadership. I’ve been doing this for awhile and I’ve never seen such strong engagement in a project from senior executives. They didn’t just provide the vision and walk away — they were there to remove roadblocks and provide directions and solutions when needed.
Future plans for the partnership
The partnership is going strong. After an initial launch, we’ve seen a huge demand for this product from our customers. We continue to work with Hydrogen on the next phase of the roadmap. We’re not resting on our success and are working jointly to continue to innovate. I do believe that the structure and process we put in place at the beginning of the initiative will enable us to keep moving and see success in the future.
We continue to engage our customers and get feedback on the product. We are translating that into a joint roadmap. From this, you’ll see us launch new, innovative products. This will help our customers meet their investment needs. We’re very excited to continue this journey with Hydrogen.