By Kevin Tweddle
I’m pretty good at making predictions about the financial services industry, and I’ve had a decent track record of getting it right each year. But if you’d asked me a decade ago if we’d be where we are today as an industry, I can’t say I would have known.
Community banks have always been innovative and ready to tackle whatever challenges come their way, but even I wouldn’t have ventured as far to suggest community banks would embrace a fintech incubator as they have or participate in a network showcasing leading fintech firms 10 years ago.
Yet here we stand on the precipice of the second ICBA ThinkTECH Accelerator program and a burgeoning ThinkTECH Network—all to align the promise of fintech with the digital needs of community bankers.
I’ve said it before, but it warrants repeating: Fostering innovation is critical to ensure community banks continue delivering high-tech, high-touch service. So, as ICBA looked ahead to how we could help community banks strategically align resources in support of innovation, we knew we would need to make an investment in the future.
We mulled over and picked apart some hard questions:
- How can ICBA support community banks innovation today and going forward?
- What can we do to help our members innovate amid this digital transformation?
- What can we provide that any one community might struggle to accomplish alone?
Then, we spent a year soliciting feedback from community bankers and assessing the market and here’s what we learned:
Community banks were open to partnerships, but had difficulty fitting the puzzle pieces together to reveal with whom they should partner. Recommendation sites like Angie’s List or Home Advisors were readily available to help with home repairs, but there was no Consumer’s Reports or Yelp for community banks to find solutions for their individual challenges.
So, ICBA created the ThinkTECH Network, powered by Bank Director’s FinXTech Connect. The curated directory helps community banks find relevant fintech company solutions, all of which have undergone rigorous due diligence to demonstrate a history of financial performance and an existing roster of bank clients.
But then we learned that finding a suitable solution doesn’t always equate to finding the right solution and over time it became clear that ICBA needed a process to develop solutions designed to address community bank pain points. Thus, the ThinkTECH Accelerator program was created, with a simple mission: to bring the very best fintech solutions to market for community banks.
We’ve seen a lot of success thus far with our inaugural cohort alumni, and we’re looking forward to continuing the community bank innovation journey with the ThinkTECH Accelerator 2.0 kicking off in January. Because, when it’s all said and done, we want to help our members leverage technology to solve real-world problems.
The ThinkTECH program overall has enabled ICBA to step up to the plate to help community bankers flourish in this fast-evolving digital age. We understand the challenges posed by limited time or resources, so we are putting our money where our mouth is to provide financial support to nurture solutions meticulously crafted to meet the unique needs of community banks.
With these programs in place, I’m willing to confidently look a decade ahead. I know we’ll see community banks thriving, supported by partnerships with fintechs whose missions align.
Kevin Tweddle is chief operating officer for ICBA Services Network.