This month, we interviewed John Waupsh, Chief Innovation Officer and Creative Director of BancVue, to get an inside scoop on the Austin-based company.
BancVue has demoed at FinovateStartup 2008, Finovate 2009 and FinovateSpring 2011. It took home Best of Show titles all three times.
Finovate: What's the biggest mistake you've made at BancVue and how did you fix it?
Waupsh: I started FIRST ROI (now part of BancVue) as a young, immature bull in a china shop. In many ways, I'm still that same guy, just with grey hair. I like to think I learn a little bit each time I make a mistake, but each week I seem to have another... um... growing opportunity.
One of the biggest errors I made was failing to realize I could indeed trust others as much as I trust my long-time best friend, teammate and CEO of BancVue, Gabe Krajicek.
As an entrepreneur, you do everything yourself (or, in our case, with a very small team). You trust each other because you're winging it together. You make mistakes, tweak and you recover together. It's very exciting.
But it's not scalable. We want BancVue to be a world-class, significant company. That means there is no room for brilliant jerks. Each person must feed in to the company, and own its output. It sounds easy, but I can tell you, as one of those guys who was the somewhat-brilliant jerk, it isn't an easy transition. And the transition itself is quite humbling.
Because, if you're doing it right, as the company grows, you add literally hundreds of very talented experts. Each person is 100x smarter than you with 100x the wizardry.
You need to have faith in people you don't know. You need to trust that the brilliant people you hired will hire people more brilliant than themselves who will all be focused on making tomorrow better than today. Usually it works great. Sometimes it doesn't pan out. And other times, those you thought you knew well turn around and stab you in the gut.
Despite the bumps, you need to trust that the company's goals, values and mission grow deep within your teammates.
That's a lot of faith and trust. You may find yourself second-guessing people. That's wrong. Distrust breeds anxiety, stress and confusion. It's terrible for the culture.
Just speaking honestly, trusting my teammates are in it to win it as much as I am has proven especially challenging for me throughout the years.
We have an extraordinary team filled with remarkably experienced people who have done it before in big ways. They get it. They are a tight group of the most forthright, intelligent, and dynamic individuals I have ever met. I'm learning to trust them as much as I trust my best friend. And perhaps more importantly, they're learning to trust me.
Finovate: If you were hired to run technology for a top-5 global bank, what's the first thing you'd do?
For why, I'm going to paraphrase our CEO, Gabe Krajicek, who says it best: "Vibrant, capitalistic competition (in contrast to monopolistic or excessively regulated competition) drives the best outcome for consumers. 99 times out of 100, the person with the best solution also has the most close-up view of the problem. Bureaucracy, though sometimes a necessary evil, is often downright evil. One can rob the passion from an individual by making a person feel impotent to create meaningful change. By robbing the passion of a group people, you rob it from their organization, their communities, their country.
Money is a proxy for power. Community FIs represent the best and perhaps the only viable means by which we could reverse the current trend of more and more power (money) being aggregated in the hands of a few giant companies. Capitalism works best when it is not just a fight among a few juggernauts (who can all too easily manifest their own destiny at the expense of others), but instead an efficient, flurry of diverse, decentralized competitive forces."
You know, on second thought, gimme the reigns to that mega bank's technology team! I'm not a technologist. I'd wreck their shop from the inside within a month.
Finovate: How many branches does BancVue count as clients? What is the aggregate amount of assets held at those branches? How many FI members does BancVue reach through those branches?
Waupsh: BancVue clients represent over 4,500 branches, $245B in assets, with 2MM hardworking Americans holding BancVue-powered accounts (BancVue clients have quite a bit more total accountholders, 2MM of which are BancVue-powered). That's a big network. Most of them will soon Kasasa.
In just a few years, when we have 1,000 Kasasa institutions, we will have the largest reach of any bank in the country. Our network's lending will be more powerful (since it will be decentralized), our consumers will finally be getting what they deserve from their banking relationship, and our institutions will once again be the go-to for banking products and services. Kasasa will deliver a renaissance of banking done right.
Come to think of it, dang... Community banks and credit unions who don't Kasasa may be in the same sad canoe as the big banks.
Finovate: Tell us about how you came to have a passion for financial technology.
Waupsh: If you've ever read my tweets at Finovate, which I know you do secretly, I have a negative passion for financial technology. "FinTech" should be renamed "SLAP" (Solution Looking for A Problem). It's no longer as ugly as it used to be, but holy moly, so much of this stuff is fairly useless.
Well that was harsh. But understand I'm not slighting the hardworking people in FinTech. I do believe these are all very smart people doing some interesting stuff, but often it's put in the context of what a bank IT guy or an ascot-adorned brilliant jerk wants vs. real consumer need.
My long-time friend, who is also the producer on the 2013 Kasasa broadcast campaign, has often quoted his mentor, Alexander MacKendrick, as saying "The audience owes us nothing." What a profound statement.
BancVue doesn't see itself as a FinTech company. We are a consumer company that intrinsically understands the audience owes us nothing.
So why do I attend Finovate? I love the people. I love the companies. I love the technology. Therein, the Waupsh paradox.
Finovate: Why should competitors fear BancVue?
Waupsh: Kasasa. If all of the current Kasasa institutions were one bank, they'd be approaching the 10th largest FI in the country based on number of branches. At Kasasa's current rate of growth, it will soon be in the top five.
Unlike the megas who use their scale to consolidate money and power, we use Kasasa's scale to liberate it. Each account holder is not just a depositor; they are a little nugget of power. Power not aggregated in one place, but instead held by community FIs who use that power to make the communities they love a better place to live.
Those who are like-minded need not "fear" us, but join us. Kasasa is a tremendous win for community banks and credit unions, and even more so for accountholders. We're looking for like-minded companies (including those outside of FinTech) who would like to shake things up and take Kasasa to the next level for our accountholders.
Finovate: Finish this sentence: If I weren't Chief Innovation Officer or Creative Director at BancVue, I would be.....
Waupsh: Chief Father Officer of my daughter Lowen. She is my universe.
Finovate: What is one lesson you have learned from the recession?
Waupsh: Never underestimate American ingenuity. Good and bad, we are a clever people. I have seen there's lots more good than bad in this country. Now, if our government could trust us businesses enough to get out of our way, we'd be a lot better off. Hmmm... There's something ironic there... Is USA simply a start-up going through its learn-to-trust phase? Obama: read my answer to #1.
Finovate: What is the career accomplishment you're most proud of?
Waupsh:It's an unfinished accomplishment, but... Being part of the team that is truly making a difference to households across America. Our Kasasa FIs have given over $60 million in interest and ATM refunds to people based not on the size of their balance (like typical banking), but based on the consumers' willingness to adopt technology. This concept of our FIs treating everyone the way most banks treat only the very wealthy, is a very deeply rooted component of Kasasa.
Kasasa institutions make a profound impact in the lives of everyday people. I think each member of the BancVue team strives to make that their legacy.
Finovate: What is one thing you're trying to do better?
Waupsh:BancVue is a very diverse, cross-functional team of 300 uniquely talented people working very closely together to achieve one mission. When you interact daily with artists, system architects, CFO-types, writers, developers, engineers, product owners, sales, brand people, etc, you're dealing with a cornucopia of personalities. I've learned that when you can engage with all of these different types of personas, you get amazing results.
So, I'm working hard to get there. I'm working with a remarkable executive coach who helps me understand my own self, and how I can interact best with the various communication patterns, personalities, etc across our team. It's transformative.
Finovate: What is one decision you wish you could do over?
Waupsh: Knowing what we know now, I think we as an executive team would have pushed the idea of Kasasa to our clients years earlier. The first few years of Kasasa involved lots of testing and learning - millions of dollars of testing and learning - and now we've got it rocking.
The virtue of Kasasa both at the FI- and the consumer-level is undeniable. It is now very clear to us that the ONLY way for a community FI to survive and thrive over the next several years will be to team up with Kasasa.
I fear that many slow-to-join-Kasasa community FIs will soon find themselves in the same boat as travel agencies, Blockbuster, Kodak, etc. That will be catastrophic for our economy and our awesome America.
Stay tuned for another leadership interview next month on the Finovate blog.