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Main Street Matters

Empowering Banks for the Future with Accelerator Finalist Agora


By Kevin Tweddle

There’s just something about Legos that inspire innovation. You can use those colorful, interlocking bricks to create buildings, vehicles and even robots—whatever you can imagine, you can build.

That inventive mindset fuels an analogy for ICBA ThinkTECH Accelerator finalist Agora, whose Lego-style platform allows community banks to ramp up their digital services by building on top of their existing infrastructure.

“Today, there’s an acceleration in digital with challenger banks, but it is nothing compared to what’s coming,” predicts U.S. based-Agora CEO and co-founder Arcady Lapiro. “We’re here to help community banks be able to take back the control of their platform and be able to access the right technology.”

No stranger to innovation and its role in financial institution growth, Lapiro was part of the founding team and a member of the executive committee of Group ProCapital—Fortuneo France & Belgium, where, among other responsibilities, he headed the compliance, legal and risk departments; growing the company to more than $40 billion in assets in eight years. He is also a venture partner of BlackFin Fintech Fund and serves as a mentor and advisor to several U.S. and Israeli companies.

“Finding clever and passionate people who are clever and passionate toward community banks is something we need to focus on,” says Tanner Mayo, president of financial data service provider FedFIS. “It’s great that we can tap talent from around the world.”

Agora provides technology tools as the building blocks community banks can use to construct and implement state-of-the-art fintech solutions to integrate with their existing core. An API catalog invites community banks to choose which products and features are best suited to their bank and customer base. Agora also has a team of user experience experts dedicated to customized solutions.

“Agora has conceptually big, high-level ideas, and they are pretty mature…overseas,” says Mayo. Participating in ICBA’s ThinkTECH Accelerator program offers Agora a crash course in the U.S. that will shorten its learning curve and accelerate its product journey, he predicts.

That sentiment is ringing true already. At ICBA LIVE®, Agora will announce its latest product—a complete financial platform for children powered by parental controls. Here’s how it works: a parent goes to his or her bank’s website and requests a child account shared to his or her account, which is opened in real time. The child downloads an app, which then can be used as a debit or virtual card to request $20 to go to the movies, for example. If the parent authorizes the payment from a banking dashboard it will be available in real time. If later the parent discovers that the child has spent the $20 for a purpose other than what was previously agreed, that parent can lock the online transaction to prevent the child from drawing additional money out of the account.

Brad Bolton, president and CEO of Community Spirit Bank, a $144-million asset bank in Red Bay, Ala., points out another innovative product in Agora’s suite of offerings. “Agora offers a unique concept in a prepaid card setup,” says Bolton. “Through an app, you can move money to the card of anyone you want. It’s a very interesting idea to grow deposits” as an alternative to a prepaid offering, he says.

Agora enables community banks to ramp up their digital experience without replacing their legacy core banking systems. All the while, these changes help community banks to enhance their customers’ experience.

I’d say that no matter how you build it, that concept amounts to a creative solution for us all.

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