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Inside FIS’ fintech accelerator

  • FIS has announced a new cohort for its fintech accelerator.
  • Tearsheet sits with the head of the accelerator and a founder of a participating company to understand how it works.
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Inside FIS’ fintech accelerator

We’ve spoken to a lot of innovation program execs on this podcast. From corporate venture investing to accelerator programs, traditional FIs, in various ways, are trying to leverage the innovation that’s happening in fintech. This hasn’t been lost on the providers, either. FIS runs its own accelerator that gets early-stage fintech firms in front of its clients to help solve their problems.

FIS Banking Product Officer Spencer Jones joins me on the podcast along with Laura Kornhauser, CEO and founder of Stratyfy, a fintech company in the current cohort at the accelerator that develops AI-driven predictive-modeling software for FIs.

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The following excerpts were edited for clarity.

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The FIS accelerator

Spencer Jones, FIS: It’s our fifth year. And I would say we’ve learned a little bit more each year on how to be more effective and more focused. And so we’re excited about the fifth year. I think it’s our best year ever, our best cohort. And we’re very excited about how we continue to mature this.

I’d point out two things about the accelerator: one is that the accelerator is about us bringing solution sets to our clients that we may not have at the moment, we may not be investing in or may not invest to build on our own. And we recognize that these accelerators are solving whitespace solutions for our clients. So, we choose to work with early stage companies to try to help them mature their companies and also expose them to our client set to get real time feedback, go-to-market problem solving, pricing — those types of things to help them be better companies and also help our clients at the same time.

The other thing about the accelerator is that this is the first year we’ve done it virtually. We couldn’t be more pleased and proud of the team to be able to pivot what is typically considered face to face and and late nights and working together and sitting around scrum tables — to redo all that virtually, it’s pretty impressive.

Innovation as a combat sport

At the end of the day, innovation is a combat sport, bumping up against others, bumping up against great ideas — that’s the purpose and point of the accelerator. You have to interact with folks. And so when you think about all the different offerings that FIS has, there are places where we’ll choose to invest like a shareholder, and we’ll put dollars in play. And we’ll take capital positions in companies. And we’ll act like an investor. There are other places where we’ll invest our own capital to build solutions. There are other places where we’ll white label partnerships. And we’ll sell those solutions to our clients and meet their needs.

And there’s other places, like the accelerator, where we’re taking young ideas, young problems, ideas that haven’t even completely matured yet, but we know there’s something there, we know, there’s a problem to be solved. In the case of Stratyfy, it’s about an example of unconscious bias — these are areas that need focus. And you start combining those with AI and some other components, and you want to accelerate those ideas.

So we’ll take young companies, and we’ll say we want to learn, to expose those young companies to our clients, to our business partners, to our product partners, and to our technology partners. And we’ll start bumping those ideas back and forth. Why do you think about it that way? Why do you think there’s a problem that way? If you went to market, how would you go to market? Which one of our clients sees this pain the most when they spend time with customers? Do they see the problems the same way as some of the young companies see the problem?

And usually, it’s a back and forth, some of the young companies realize how to position their solutions differently to fit a real world need by our clients. And sometimes our clients realize, Hey, this is a problem I didn’t realize I had. And I’m glad that you’re bringing these early ideas to me.

From the perspective of a fintech company

Laura Kornhauser, Stratyfy: We’ve been part of other accelerator programs and find what FIS offers is so unique. I think a lot of that is the almost multidisciplinary approach that FIS is taking to not just innovation, but to this accelerator. What we find really powerful as one of the companies is that we are getting an opportunity to explore partnerships within FIS. We’re already having discussions around POC opportunities and have multiple discussions in progress with multiple lines of businesses. We’re also getting in front of FIS customers. To date, we’ve already met with 12 banks. And by the end of the program, we will meet with maybe another 20. So, that’s a really unbelievable opportunity.

And then we also get exposure to VCs. We get exposure to subject matter experts, and it’s all around that goal of really accelerating go to market and accelerating your sales. I think that that is such a unique angle that the FIS accelerator takes in this program versus many other accelerators where it can be a little one-size-fits-no-one. We have a champion within FIS, Nicole, who is absolutely fantastic. She’s helping us bang down doors, bang down walls and make things happen. We have The Venture Center, which helps run the program, which kind of serves as the glue between all of these folks that we’re meeting both internally at FIS and externally with their banking partners.

Participating virtually in an accelerator

I think it’s extraordinarily impressive how FIS adapted the program for the virtual environment. Instead of saying, Hey, we’re going to take the same program and just make it over ZOOM as opposed to in person, they flipped the script a bit. We had a pre-accelerate program where for almost two months, we were focused on really developing relationships with our FIS champion and internally within the organization. That pre-accelerate program was meant not to just jumpstart those conversations fast, but also to really prepare us to be in the best position possible on day one, once we start having meetings with banks. So we’re not walking in without having that guidance and that tutelage from our champion and folks we’ve met within FIS.

Face time with customers

Spencer Jones, FIS: The reason that the accelerator has the name accelerator is because we want to take young ideas and accelerate them into exposure to our clients, so that they can meet real time needs that they have at the moment. It’s not intended to be an investment vehicle. It’s not intended to be an investment fund, like venture capital. That’s an entirely different model and different approach.

As we’ve evolved, that purpose and clarity has helped. As we meet our cohorts, we’re trying to say to them, we have a large distribution of clients with varying needs. So as we pick cohorts, we’re trying to meet needs that we know and needs that we don’t. Clients are able to say, yeah, that’s been on my mind, but I’ve never really said it before.

We take a global view on things. Open banking is accelerating out in other parts of the world differently than it’s accelerating in the US. And so we want our cohorts to be international and global in scope. They learn from each other. Whether it’s San Francisco or New York, or whether it’s Singapore or Turkey, we want to make sure we’re bringing diverse points of view to a global mindset to solve global problems for our clients.

Evolving cohorts

Historically, [the way we chose companies] was a little bit more associated to — we have a business line called X and we’re looking for solutions that fit that business line. What it’s now turned into is we have market problems that could apply to five or six different businesses in five or six different markets around the world. As an example, we’re not trying to solve fraud, we’re trying to solve artificial intelligence that drives better decision making that can be applied to fraud and that can be applied to other things.

As you think through some of these, you find yourself solving multiple problems. So we’re not trying to build a digital solution, we’re trying to think through local development, which would allow digital capabilities for an assistant or an assistant channel. And so you find yourself thinking about the problems that need to be solved in the market, as opposed to here’s the product that could be bought.

Stratyfy’s voice of customer

Laura Kornhauser, Stratyfy: In our space, there’s there’s a lot of talk around how to use AI. How can you use machine learning to enable better decision making? There’s a lot of interest in that from from customers. Folks are very focused on how they can leverage this technology to really enhance and improve their operations. What we really find is that a lot of tech companies out there say that they offer transparency. But when they say that, the type of transparency they’re talking about might not really resonate with folks across the organization. It may only be transparency for, let’s say, the data scientists in an organization. And many organizations are really looking for something that doesn’t just translate for those data scientists, but also can make the way to the folks that are typically the ones actually making the decisions, which are the folks frontline, at the business, on the business side.

They’re looking for something to drive better business outcomes, that helps them increase the inclusivity of their product suite — something that we’re very focused on — something that helps them say yes to more customers without increasing risk.

Looking ahead for the accelerator

Spencer Jones, FIS: Some of the areas around open banking would be the most impactful. I think the days of closed environments are gone. I think the days of having 12, 18, or 24 month investment horizons are gone. I think you could be competing with somebody tomorrow and cooperating with them today, and trying to figure throughout how to compete and cooperate at the same time in an open environment.

And I would argue that fintechs today are solving problems that nobody contemplated five years ago, and they’ll be solving problems five years from now that nobody will contemplate as well. Clients are more and more dependent on these fintechs as opposed to competing with them. And you see that across the industry. There’s a lot more cooperation across the fintechs, the banks, and the suppliers. I don’t see that slowing down.

Stratyfy’s near term goals

Laura Kornhauser, Stratyfy: We are extraordinarily focused on bias mitigation, and have been focused on it for a while since the founding of our company. We believe in the level of transparency that our solutions provide. There’s been a ton of talk, focus, and chatter around this. And we believe we actually have the technology and the product built that can help begin to to solve this unbelievably large and challenging problem.

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