ICBA Accelerator: Fueling Community Bank Innovation


By Kevin Tweddle

Fostering community bank innovation has been a major driver for ICBA over the past few years as we seek out ways to help our members incorporate new technologies into their infrastructure with the overarching goal of helping them do what they do best: build relationships.

With this in mind ICBA, in partnership with The Venture Center, announced the ICBA ThinkTECH Accelerator program, an outlet for community banks to directly engage and partner with early-stage fintech companies. The response has been phenomenal and led to our recent call for applications for ThinkTECH Accelerator 2.0, which will be held again next year in Little Rock, Ark. The mission remains the same: to identify potential fintech partners and eliminate market-entry barriers to address community bank business needs. And like its predecessor, community bank feedback will continue to be a cornerstone of the Accelerator program’s success.

“For our bank, the Accelerator really provides a focus on next-generation banking,” says Chris Johnson, Little Rock market president for the $1.1 billion-asset First Financial Bank based in El Dorado, Ark. Johnson, who previously joined ICBA as a mentor to the Accelerator cohort, said the experience “keeps us asking questions on how to improve the customer experience and provides banks of our size a way to have our own R&D team.”

“You have to wrap your head around what it is and how it helps your business,” added past Accelerator attendee Brad Bolton, president and CEO at $148 million-asset Community Spirit Bank in Red Bay, Ala. “It’s a very unique experience to sit down one-on-one with these forward-looking companies at the Accelerator.”

While participating bankers don’t design solutions as they would with an in-house tech team, their input is pivotal to driving critical dialogue early in product development.

The Accelerator adds another element that expedites time-to-market: it ensures key stakeholders have a seat at the discussion table. “I thought it was a great idea to include regulators, auditors and core banking providers,” remarked Johnson. “The issue of ‘can we do this?’ was quickly addressed, and we could get past it immediately. This approach cuts down on the time from idea to proof-of-concept to pulling the trigger,” he explained.

As the financial services industry continues to change at a break-neck pace, community banks are looking for offerings that address internal process/back-office issues, customer expectations, or preferably, some combination of both.

“We’re looking for a focus on how our back-office will communicate with our customer-facing solutions, not separating the two,” said Johnson. “As we move forward, that boundary between back-office and customer-facing products will blur more and more, and ultimately, the customer experience is what’s going to drive our success.”

With that in mind, we are seeking applications for fintechs to join us in Little Rock for ThinkTECH 2.0. If you know a company who may be a good fit, please refer them to our team. Or, if you’re interested in joining us during the Accelerator bootcamp, taking place January – February 2020, please reach out to me. We want you to have the opportunity to share your feedback first-hand during the program. 

In the meantime, we’ll keep you updated as this cohort shapes up. Because we’re committed to finding the best fintechs and continuing our industry’s forward momentum.

Kevin Tweddle is chief operating officer of the ICBA Services Network.