A day in the life of Dwolla’s community experience manager

Account support managers of fintech companies are the unsung heroes of finance. Sales reps may get the glory, and executives get to speak at all sorts of events (like Money’16), but when things go south and servers go down, all eyes are on the support team.

Bobby Godbersen is the Community Experience Manager of Dwolla, a Des Moines-based digital payment network provider. He works under the VP Sales and Strategy, and is in charge of building the team that supports their growing list of White Label API customers.

Here is a glimpse into a day of his life:

4:45 a.m.: Daily alarm goes off and it’s time to hit the gym.

6:15 a.m.: Fix breakfast (2 eggs and toast) while I watch SportsCenter to get my morning update on the world of sports.

7:15 a.m.: After eating breakfast and getting ready, it’s time to walk to work. I throw on my headphones and hit shuffle on Spotify’s TGIF playlist (because every workday should feel like Friday).

7:30 a.m.: Enter office (Yep, only 15 minute walk to work. Love Des Moines!) and it’s time to catch up on items I missed from the evening. Check Slack for outstanding messages. Slack, a real-time messaging platform, allows us to create individual communication channels for our White Label customers.

8:30 a.m.: Sync with the account management team to get up-to-speed on any emerging issues with our White Label customers. I also use this time to get an update on our recently-signed customers who are going through the on-boarding and review process for their applications.

9:00 a.m.: Initial call with a newly signed White Label customer. These kick-off calls introduce a new customer to their assigned support team and it’s our chance to learn about their business model, payment needs, and objectives in their words. This particular partner is building an application to make consumer saving easier by telling Dwolla’s White Label API to transfer small amounts of funds each week from an individual’s checking account to a savings account.

Our bank transfer API automates a lot of the traditional functions and requirements of bank transfers for customers, so we really act like advisors trying to maximize the efficiency of an integration. It’s also why I’m joined by Spencer, our lead dev support engineer. More on him later.

9:30 a.m.: I race over to Cleveland (rooms at Dwolla are named after individuals depicted on U.S. currency) for another customer meeting. This one is technical and Spencer leads. He discusses best practices and answers questions about the APIs core endpoints: create an account, link a funding source, create transaction, and webhooks (for real-time notifications from the webserver).

10:00 a.m.: Time to catch my breath and go through emails. I have three more calls this afternoon and need to make sure everything is in order for each.

11:00 a.m.: Weekly meeting with the marketing/communication and sales team. Marcom is looking to feature one of our recent customers in a case study. Sales provides feedback on what type of featured use-case would resonate with prospective customers. We select the ideal candidate for the case study and I schedule a call the following day to introduce our marcom team.

11:45 a.m.: Spencer gets an SOS from a developer on the customer’s dedicated Slack channel. They plan to push integration live to production tomorrow for their own internal stakeholders, but something isn’t right. We schedule a call for 12:00 p.m.

11:50 a.m.: Spencer and I meet quickly with our liaison to the Platform Team to cover our bases (i.e. “assume you’re wrong first”). Nothing is out of order on our end. All services are up.

12:00 p.m.: Jump on call. Spencer and lead developer for White Label customer identify the problem quickly. It’s on their end, but it’s not an easy fix. Spencer has time to stay on and work through.

12:15 p.m.: Lunch time. I eat at my desk while going through my twitter feed and any priority emails.

1:00 p.m.: Weekly cross-functional meeting with sales, legal, product and compliance teams. Product discusses the updates to the new Dwolla Dashboard & Admin, a new tool that helps partners to manage customers, view transaction details and discover business trends. Based on customer feedback the product team rolled-out advanced filters for searching and new graphs for viewing transaction volume between customers within an application.

2:00 p.m.: I join Ben S., an in-house information security expert, for an infosec review of one of our new White Label customers. The session offers a 360° assessment of the customer’s entire platform, and focuses on vulnerability, encryption, authentication, and application security.

2:30 p.m.: I have 30 minutes before my next call. Time for a quick foosball match. It helps clear my mind while also keeping my skills sharp for our weekly Friday tournaments.

3:00 p.m.: Outside of the on-going support, we try to carve out some time with willing customers to get product feedback. Today, we’re speaking with a customer discussing their desire for Same Day ACH. The conversation focuses on their business processes and whether or not Same Day will achieve their objective (to improve customer relations). It does.

3:30 p.m.: Check emails. Prepare for 4pm meeting, by compiling notes from recent customer interactions.

4:00 p.m.: In the last step of the review process before an integration goes live, we conduct a quick audit and demo of a customer’s integration for compliance purposes. In addition to ensuring compliance, we love to see the end result of a customer’s integration with our API. Integrations can last as little as a week to as long as a few months, depending on the needs and resources of the customer. This particular client took two weeks and one developer to complete a fairly complicated integration.

5:00 p.m.: Prior to kickoff meetings, an account manager and technical integration lead will meet with the sales rep to discuss the use-case of a newly signed customer. Sales leads this meeting by providing an overview of the customer’s business, integration details, and desired timeline for launching on White Label. Today, I’m sitting in with Megan, one of our new account managers, as she goes through this process with Sales for the 3rd time.

5:40 p.m.: Check the Slack channels and emails one last time. No fires. I walk home and change for my weekly sand volleyball match.

7:30 p.m.: Our work team, “The Sand Dwollas”, lacks experience but makes up for it with enthusiasm and a unique sense of humor. I return home with a win under my belt as well as several grains of sand.

9:00 p.m.: My sleep schedule has been described as that of a 90-year-old nightowl. I’m asleep by 9:30 pm.

 

How Dwolla is moving the industry closer to real time payments

Who would’ve thought a company based in Iowa would be on the forefront of real time payments?

Des Moines-based Dwolla has positioned itself at the forefront of emerging payments. Founded in 2008 by Ben Mine, Dwolla was born out of frustration with the costs to transfer funds online. The firm specializes in ACH, the cheapest way to transfer money short of driving a garbage bag full of cash to your friend’s house. Dwolla provides users with services inside the holy trinity of payments: sending funds, receiving funds, and facilitating fund transfers.

Although bank transfers are pretty cheap, they still has a pretty big issue: speed. Credit card transfers are instantaneous, but bank transfers can take at least two to three days to clear. Dwolla has been focused on trying to modernize the payment industry and speed up bank transfers, launching a real-time transfer service to its clients in 2011 called FiSync.

“We’ve been busy pushing the industry ahead trying to find what the modern payment system in the U.S. looks like,” remarked Jordan Lampe, director of communications for Dwolla. “The U.S. has the largest economy but the most antiquated bank transfer system. We’re working with the Federal Government moving the industry to an infrastructure that’s more modern and compatible with today’s needs.”

Dwolla started working with the U.S. government in 2015, when, along with Paypal, it became the first technology featured in the U.S. Treasury Department’s digital wallet. Users can use Dwolla’s platform on Pay.gov to pay non-income tax fees online.

Dwolla also submitted a proposal to the Faster Payments Task Force, an organization that worked with the National Automated Clearing House Association on accelerating the speed of ACH. FPTF and NACHA worked together in developing a same-day ACH rule to be rolled out in September 2016, allowing banks to eliminate the old 2-3 day transfer times and turning bank transfers into same-day transactions.

The task of trying to speed up an antiquated system brimming with regulations isn’t an easy task, and Dwolla had to incorporate over 500 pages of operating rules and guidelines into four endpoints into its platform, know as White Label API. In doing so, the tech firm believes that bank transfers will become more appealing to customers.

“Bank transfers are becoming sexy again, and we’ve been in the middle of it for six years, and are no longer the weird people in the cornfields of Iowa talking about real time payments,” said Lampe. “People are looking at us and saying ‘hey, they may be on to something’. We’re going through this bank transfer renaissance and we feel we’re at the center of it.”

Dwolla still has a long road ahead of them until bank transfers become the majority payment method. According to a 2012 Federal Reserve Payment Study, ACH accounted for 18% of payments, lower than both credit (21%) and debit (38%) cards. The good news for ACH lovers is the size of ACH transfers, as bank transfers accounted for 61% of total fund transfers.

Dwolla also has experience with emerging technologies, including blockchain. Through its work with the U.S. government, Dwolla has insight into the U.S. financial hub, and from this perspective, it’s unlikely that a fully integrated blockchain solution will emerge in the near future.

“The essence of the battle we’re fighting among payments is that we can’t even agree on one financial standard of monetary movement,” said Lampe. “If we can’t all jump on the same page of documentation that’s been around for 20 years, what makes us think we’re gonna get anywhere close to blockchain in the next 10?”

Dwolla isn’t ignoring blockchain. It’s looking for ways that the technology can be integrated into existing systems. One hypothetical example of an opportunity for the firm is applying blockchain to the clearing and settlement process to turn the two-step process into one. By learning how to speak blockchain, Dwolla can also help companies with digital assets communicate better with banks through APIs.

Instead of trying to entirely redesign the payments infrastructure, Dwolla is part of a group of new technology companies taking on the existing archaic system to modernize and extend it with emerging technologies. Customers who choose to use competitive platforms or payment providers may still end up benefiting from these types of innovators.

“Even if people are not interacting with us on a daily basis, we’ve created a conversation that nobody can ignore anymore,” he said. “Financial institutions sitting on Mt. Olympus that used to feel protected are realizing they need to get their hands dirty on what the customer needs.”

Photo: Flickr

Why USAA Bank is investing in check technology

Checks, money transfer orders transcribed on a sheet of paper, have been a part of the banking industry since antiquity. Of course, when you needed to pay your landlord in gold bullion or pay off your chariot loan in brass coins, using these lightweight sheets of paper made sense.

However, with various types of digital payments now a swipe away, paper checks hardly seem like payment’s best hope. “The future of checks is bleak,” says Bill Winterberg, founder of FPPad, a financial technology publication for financial professionals. “Many of the shortcomings of paper checks, like the potential for forgery, account information theft, the ease of losing or misplacing paper, delays in processing paper, are addressed and improved by electronic payment gateways.”

Winterberg isn’t alone in his eulogization of checks. A study published by the Federal Reserve in 2007 showed a steady decline in check payment and writing between 2003 to 2006. More recently, a 2012 white paper published by Digital Check found that Americans write only about a third as many checks as they did 20 years ago, and even suggested the year 2030 as a tentative expiration date for checks.

If checks are headed towards extinction, why did USAA launch a new mobile app in July 2016 that enables visually impaired users to deposit checks with their smartphones? The fact is, the reports of checks’ death have been greatly exaggerated. “While members are using checks less and less often each year, our [email protected] function is the most popular way to deposit a check among our members,” said Prianka Advani, assistant vice president of USAA Bank.

USAA, which provides banking, insurance, and investment services to military personnel and their families, was an early leader in the remote deposit of checks, introducing [email protected] video capture technology to the market back in 2010. The bank’s mobile check app has over 1 million unique users, and through October 2015, had processed more than 9 billion transactions. Not bad for a dead payment option.

[email protected]’s technology certainly makes check transactions more accessible. The latest version enables members to deposit up to 10 checks in the same session to different USAA accounts. Still, if USAA sees members do most of their day-to-day banking on USAA and the mobile app, why continue to invest in check tech?

“We are committed to being there for our members no matter how the trends in money movement shift,” said Advani. “Currently, processing checks is still a need that our members have.” USAA stays on top of customer trends by listening to its employees and providing an atmosphere where ideas can grow into innovations for its members.

The idea to add voice-guided technology to the bank’s existing [email protected] capability, for example, came from a software developer who acts as an accessibility advocate. She submitted the suggestion through an internal innovation contest held annually at USAA.

Still, USAA isn’t living in denial. It’s witnessed a growth in digital payment types across the board, which is why alongside its constant improvement of check tech, the financial institution is focusing on other money movement options including person-to-person payments, real-time payments and digital payments.

The problem is that banks are in an uncomfortable limbo when it comes to checks. Like cash, checks are set to fade from existence. However, its successors, digital payments, haven’t quite come into their own yet.

“It seems inevitable that the ongoing rise of digital payments will slowly but surely lead to the end of paper checks,” explained Michael Kitces, publisher of Nerd’s Eye View and partner at Pinnacle Advisory Group. “The mechanism, however, remains unclear.”

Kitces envisions a number of different digital alternatives replacing checks, including direct ACH transfers facilitated by banks, smartphones as ACH-driven payment devices, or ACH functionality facilitated from a blockchain by a third-party intermediate.

“Simply put,” said Kitces, “the fact that checks may be on their way out for something ‘digital’ doesn’t mean we know what that digital medium will be. Yet.”

Until then, banks will have to keep a close watch on present trends to give customers what they want. Right now, they still want checks.

Photo credit: frankieleon via Visual Hunt / CC BY