Jan. 25, 2022
It’s hard to believe that we recently kicked off our fourth ThinkTECH Accelerator and even more astonishing that the caliber of companies applying to help community banks’ greatest pain points continues to improve. But as I’ve been known to say, if you want to remain relevant than you must continue to push the limits and challenge the status quo.
Community banks understand this intrinsically and their enthusiasm and passion to continue to break through traditional barriers helps advance ICBA’s innovation objectives. In turn, this attracts like-minded fintechs eager to learn and refine their offerings to suit the needs of community banks and their customers. This year’s cohort will have complimentary access to ICBA Community Banker University’s Principles of Banking curriculum, but even before final selections were made, there was a noticeable uptick in general understanding of community banking and the challenges and opportunities therein from our pool of candidates.
“The companies’ community banking knowledge and preparedness coming into the interviews this year was much higher than ever before,” agreed John Buhrmaster, president and CEO of $597 million-asset 1st National Bank of Scotia, N.Y., and an accelerator Selection Committee member since its inception. “That tells me that the smart people out there know about the ICBA ThinkTECH Accelerator and see the advantage of working with community banks.”
The committee received upwards of 200 applications from around the globe, spanning all aspects of community banking. “Thankfully, we planned accordingly with our largest and most diverse Selection Committee roster, which allowed for an expanded view of problems to solve,” said four-time committee member Kathy Strasser, executive vice president, chief operating officer and chief information officer at $1.7 billion-asset IncredibleBank, in Wausau, Wis. “We had people who knew what questions to ask to explore these companies’ pricing models, implementation plans, partnership approaches, and beyond. Banks can have a lot of faith in the selection process.”
This deep expertise gave way to a tightly focused group of topics to address, zeroing in on the areas of lending, back-office automation, data and business intelligence, financial wellness, and cybersecurity. Even with this targeted approach to selection, this year’s application pool was so competitive that it led to 11 companies being chosen to participate instead of the standard 10 [see sidebar].
And it wasn’t just quantity, the quality of the applicants was consistently strong. These companies came to their interviews ready to roll into the Accelerator boot camp.
“We saw more mature companies and more seasoned founders,” summed up Buhrmaster. “This is the most developed cohort we’ve had, and they were the best prepared for their audience that I have ever seen.”
Though they have a firm foundation, over the course of the program, these companies will continue to evolve their offerings based on feedback from community bankers. We hope you’ll consider bringing your team to find out more about what they have to offer, and provide guidance to help further refine these offerings so by the time they’re ready to unveil their offerings during ICBA’s ThinkTECH Showcase, they’ll be suitably ready to hit the ground running.
“We are the lifeblood and backbone of communities, and as such, we need to keep innovating,” said Strasser. “Given the pace of change, it’s exciting to have these fintechs that are going to help us. Community bankers should be encouraged about this opportunity.”