1.Yolande Piazza, Citi Fintech
Taking over the driving force behind Citi’s relentless financial innovation lands Yolande Piazza at the top of this list. Since her appointment in March 2017, Piazza has been bringing her banking expertise (honed by 30+ years in the industry, the majority of them spent with Citi) to bear on the FI. Piazza has kept Citi Fintech focused on mobile innovation, expanding the mobile features available to retail banking customers as well as partnering with desirable fintechs.
Piazza’s strength is that narrow focus; the group approaches everything “with the mindset that we are either going to build, buy, or partner,” Piazza said in June. In keeping with that goal, the group completed six successful new partnerships and two projects in 2016. Under that same steady hand, the goal is to triple that number by the end of this year. Piazza — or as colleagues call her, ‘Yo’ — doesn’t seem to be sweating this. Bank Innovation isn’t either.
2. Jason Mars, Clinc
At this point, providing an AI-powered banking assistant probably won’t make someone stand out in the industry: but providing a banking assistant powered by artificial intelligence that consumers can talk to “like a human in a room” via text, voice, or Alexa does, as Clinc’s Jason Mars could tell.
Clinc’s Finie assistant was built like a brain, not an AI, in that it understands natural language–so no need for command phrases or keywords–and uses that data to share relevant spending and financial insight to the customer. Mars debuted his assistant in 2016 and has only expanded it since; his startup now powers the USAA Alexa skill for voice banking.
3. Anne Boden, Starling Bank
Launching a challenger bank in the United Kingdom isn’t much of a feat nowadays: but launching a U.K. challenger bank in 2014, gaining a banking license, partnering with fintechs, and integrating mobile payment and third-party services into the bank definitely is. Boden, who started Starling Bank with banking innovation in mind, never really stopped: in 2017 alone, the bank has built out its APIs to include support for devices like Google Home, integrated both Apple and Android Pay, announced a push for B2P payments, and opened a “marketplace” for third-party fintechs to weld seamlessly into the app for better customer experiences.
Boden keeps Starling’s mission in mind with each innovation, and will doubtless continue to do so with the new funding the challenger is seeking; as Boden said of the funding, “This is yet another stepping stone in Starling’s mission to realign the retail banking sector in the interest of consumers. On each occasion I set out to secure further funding, I am reminded of my objective to ensure everybody has an offer of a healthier financial life.”
4. Jim Riccitelli and Thomas Sponholtz, Unison
Designing a new financial category for anything is a chore: before Jim Riccitelli and Thomas Sponholtz started Unison, one might have said starting a new one in real estate was an impossibility. Riccitelli and Sponholtz, who founded the company in 2004, splashed more openly onto the financial stage in recent years with their “home ownership” product; a new way for customers to gain a mortgage and simultaneously a new way investors can invest in real estate.
The biggest challenge for Unison right now is brand recognition, according to Riccitelli, who told Bank Innovation at Finovate that Unison “is something that is relatively new to them and some people have never heard of it at all before this. Riccitelli and Sponholtz are using their recent momentum to drive the company forward, expanding to 16 additional states this year, to 29 states total including the District of Columbia.
5. Andrew Cecere (and Richard Davis), U.S. Bank
U.S. Bank has had an innovative year, thanks in part both to Richard Davis–the bank’s current chairman, who served as its CEO until mid-2017–and the newer guard, Andrew Cecere, who officially became CEO in April of this year.
The bank’s innovation efforts went on seamlessly before, during, and after the switch; Cecere noted that in its retail segment, the bank is “doing very well in terms of small business as well as retail core customer growth” on its 2Q earnings call. Both Davis and Cecere kept fintech innovation moving forward. Like Citi, its efforts are headed by a particular team for innovation marshaled under Dominic Venturo; the team focused on artificial intelligence and mobile banking this year. Most recently, the bank has announced an Alexa integration, joining a select group of banks that presently allow customers to bank via voice.
6. Dan Schulman, PayPal
If seeing PayPal’s Dan Schulman on a list of banking innovators is no longer noteworthy, it’s at least consistent: under Schulman, the payment processor has continued the financial innovation for which it is now famous in 2017. The company announced new partnerships, new features, new innovation labs, and new acquisitions this year, all pretty good signs that Schulman is not likely to slow PayPal’s pace of innovation in the near future. Nor did Schulman take the arrival of Zelle, the banks’ answer to the company’s dominant P2P app Venmo, quietly: as Schulman stated, the company is now also partnering with banks, including Citi and Chase, to “drive more choice, flexibility and value for our joint customers.”
7. Adam Dell, Clarity Money
With PFM apps being one of the most saturated areas in fintech, growing an app’s userbase can be a tricky challenge–for most people, but not for Adam Dell. Dell’s app, is focused on being a financial advocate for the customer, meaning it won’t push or sell particular financial products to its users.
It had 100,000 users two days after its launch in January of this year. Dell stuck to the theory he purported days after his launch, that “If you think about it, consumers really don’t have a lot of leverage; what they really crave is a partner helping them through [their finances].” Dell kept that focus throughout the year, moving Clarity forward through partnershisp with Apple and fintechs like Acorns (which allows customers to create and view an Acorns investment account via the app, should they choose to). The app now has 500,000 users, and it’s not even a year old.
8. Paul Finch, Early Warning/Zelle
Someone has to be applauded for the arrival of Zelle, and it should probably be Paul Finch: the man who heads the parent company behind the purple giant currently taking on Venmo and other P2P services. Finch’s pivot of the network, from Early Warning, a security service, to picking up the payments firm clearXchange, then inventing a new brand entirely with the shorter (and much easier to type) Zelle began years ago, but it was in 2017 that we really saw the rise of the network.
In fact, it seems like we talked about Zelle –the “perfect complement” for an FI, according to Finch— at least once a month, as the service added partnerships, banks, and payment processors to its network, culminating in the release of its standalone mobile app for customers just this month. What will it all mean for Venmo, Square Cash and the banks?
9. Andrei Cherny, Aspiration
Andrei Cherny is looking to serve the growing number of consumers that are becoming more money-conscious: not just about where they’re spending their money, but about where that money eventually winds up going. Cherny’s “social conscious” bank/investment service, Aspiration, created a number of new tools for this purpose over the first half of 2017, and customers responded.
The investment service launched its “impact measure” feature in May, which allows consumers to see economic and environmental impacts of their spend, and following that, Cherny took socially conscious banking one step forward when Aspiration launched its Redwood investment fund in August. The sustainable nature of the fund is in theme with its financial business model; investors “pay what is fair” to Aspiration, because, as Cherny noted back in August, “we’ve found that a lot of people don’t feel like they don’t have a financial partner when they invest.”
10. Zach Perret, Plaid
If FIs want to move towards a future of open banking, the industry is going to need a little help from APIs, which is why Zach Perret has been firmly entrenching his startup, Plaid, into the financial ecosystem over the course of the year.
Perret’s company provides APIs to financial institutions for speedier, more efficient, and well, more modern financial solutions, and Perret has been continuing that goal all through 2017. Perret describes Plaid as “the middle layer between you and your bank,” and it’s a middle layer determined to create a more open financial world.
Just this year, Perret has retained that focus as Plaid has partnered with industry titans like Dwolla for better payments, among others, and has recently launched a new SDK tool to allow enterprises the ability to build banking functionality into their applications.