By: Sarah Phalen
President and CEO
Innovation is part of the INB DNA. When we opened in 1999, we did so with the best in customer-facing digital banking and back-end processing. We’ve worked hard over the years to maintain that digital edge, so our latest step shouldn’t be a surprise. We recently partnered with Silicon Valley’s Plug and Play, a global, innovation platform that connects technology startups with investors and corporate partners.
I learned about Plug and Play when I was attending an OCC (Office of the Controller of the Currency) Office of Innovation event in Chicago. Anytime you attend a conference like this, the results can be hit or miss. In this case, it was a hit when I had the opportunity to meet someone from Bremer Bank out of St. Paul, Minn. I learned that Bremer was working with Plug and Play and how the relationship was making a difference for their bank. Thanks to this connection, we got an invitation to be part of Plug and Play’s FinTech Expo in May.
At the Expo, we saw 60-70, four- to seven-minute presentations by entrepreneurs looking for corporate partners. We saw Plug and Play partner companies whittle the list of presenters down to 25 or 30. For the next few months, these “winners” worked at Plug and Play. During that time, they could meet with partner companies and use other consulting services to polish their products and presentations. Ultimately, these startups made another presentation in July as part of Selection Day.
We can see how the process works to take startups from the ground level to full-fledge company standing on their own or to being purchased by an organization. Plug and Play successes include PayPal, Lending Tree and Dropbox. So, there’s quite the track record!
INB has several goals from the partnership, but the overarching one is to serve our customers better. We can take our pain points to Plug and Play -- or explain what we’re looking for -- and they match us to software developers. We then get to talk to these partners to help them create a solution that will work for our customers. It’s a wonderful opportunity to merge a need with a solution.
Not only will we meet entrepreneurs through the formal process, but we’ll also meet them when we attend Plug and Play events. We’ve already begun talking with two start-ups, Clearnomics and Eloquent Labs. Clearnomics will provide our staff with financial information, and Eloquent will help us implement a chat bot to provide customer service in off hours. For both projects, we’re working on proof of concept.
Another goal of working with Plug and Play is simply to take the opportunity to learn what we don’t know. With the speed of change, it’s hard to do our “day jobs” and keep up with what’s going on in the world of FinTech. By joining Plug and Play, we learn something that we didn’t know each and every time we visit or talk to the member companies or the Plug and Play staff.
Of course, you get out of something what you put in, so a third goal for us is simply to meet new people to assure we reach our goal of finding customer solutions using technology. The networking has already been beneficial. We have already made connections with the heads of innovation at a number of financial institutions. By understanding how they use FinTech, we can make our best decisions.
Time on Our Side
To assure customers are getting the best, easiest banking experience, we want to bring new technologies into our business as quickly as possible. To assure that happens, our COO Tom Gihl will manage our relationship with Plug and Play. He reminds me that while INB is by far the smallest bank to join Plug and Play, the staff says our size is advantageous. Tom tells me, “We’re gold because while big companies offer a big prize, the process of going from one step to another can take a long time. And time is their most valuable asset.” At INB, we pride ourselves on making quick decisions, and, with that in mind, we’re told, ‘Everyone will want to talk to you.’”
I’m looking forward to the results of those discussions.