By Charles E. Potts
In our industry if you’re not moving forward, you’re in danger of falling behind. It’s why we created the ICBA ThinkTECH Accelerator program—to foster community bank innovation. And it’s why we encourage community bankers to take part—serving as mentors and furthering their own professional development in the process.
This year’s virtual format provides a unique opportunity for more bankers to take part and experience a new professional development opportunity in the new year that will open their eyes to the possibilities of what the future of community banking may look like.
“It was very enlightening and served as a benchmark for industry innovation,” explains Charles Flurry, First Financial Bank’s chief innovation officer of his experience as a mentor in the ICBA ThinkTECH Accelerator program.
Regional market president for Arkansas Chris Johnson also credits the program with helping to illustrate what innovation could help his bank achieve. “The Accelerator helped us look at where we want to be as a bank in three-to-five years," he says. "We’re now able to better focus on big-picture, innovative thinking.”
When bankers sign up for a session, they are heading into a series of collaborative and beneficial conversations, and that is what ICBA envisioned when it conceptualized and implemented the program three years ago in partnership with The Venture Center and the state of Arkansas.
The flow of events at an Accelerator is designed to capitalize on community bankers’ expertise and knowledge of local markets to facilitate what Johnson describes as a fast-paced and healthy exchange of information in real time that helps the fintechs “adjust on the fly to better meet community bank needs.”
To maximize bankers’ time, ICBA and The Venture Center line up a series of meetings with each of the companies in the cohort over the course of a day. These sessions fall into thirds, comprising introductions, pitches, and a Q&A session. For both parties, that dialogue is highly valuable.
“The most helpful thing was learning what fintechs perceive community banking’s pain points to be and the market solutions they’ve created to address them,” Flurry says.
The direct banker feedback allows the cohort to iterate their solutions based on that input and, ultimately, better meet the needs of potential community bank customers.
“The companies are at the Accelerator for 12 weeks, and if I come a little later in the cycle, they may have had three versions of their offering,” Johnson explains. “The maturity and the growth that happens in those weeks is unparalleled.”
This year’s virtual platform makes the Accelerator even more accessible to a broader array of community banks. While bankers usually have to factor in travel time to Little Rock, the 2021 Accelerator allows for expanded participation, which includes being able to bring multiple employees from different areas of the bank. According to past participants, it’s worth the investment.
“I’m in a relatively new role as the chief innovation officer for the bank,” says Flurry. “In my previous role, the majority of my time was spent learning our processes and systems, not envisioning what our processes and technology should be. The Accelerator is a great exercise for bank management to start thinking about what could be rather than what is.”
For Johnson, attending the Accelerator allows him to tighten the timeframe around his bank’s partnership planning. “I have a confidence level that ICBA and The Venture Center have vetted these companies and believe that they are worthwhile for their constituents," he says. "You’re cutting your R&D cycle in half, at minimum.”
As we all continue to navigate this world of rapid technological transformation, the Accelerator helps community banks identify and understand the value of these newer technologies. Cohort companies can offer critical solutions to solve community bank pain points quickly, as evidenced by their rapid response to PPP loan needs. And their offerings are, in large part, shaped by your input and guidance during the product development process.
With that in mind, we encourage you to sign up and share your feedback during the ICBA ThinkTECH Accelerator 2021 and be a part of the ongoing evolution of community banking. We look forward to you joining us on this journey.
Charles Potts is ICBA senior vice president and chief innovation officer.