2016 Innovators to Watch: 16 to 20

16. Taavet Hinrikus, Co-Founder, TransferWise

hinrikusTransferWise is one of the UK’s few fintech unicorns (Funding Circle is the other), and has been a dominant player in an increasingly crowded space for years. That space is of course international money transfers, plagued by lack of transparency, slow transactions, and high fees. Co-founder Taavet Hinrikus came from Estonia and was struck by this problem immediately. His company, founded in 2011, raised another $26 million this May, and helps customers save as much as $34 million a month, Hinrikus says.

Hinrikus was employee number 1 at Skype, and built TransferWise on the same peer-to-peer principle. He takes pride in the internationality of his team, which is comprised of 40 nationalities, and the multilingual, multicurrency makeup of London, which is a particular strength of its fintech scene. Hinrikus feels this acutely. “According to a 2015 UN report, 244 million people are living in a country different from the place they were born,” he wrote in a recent blogpost on the possible exit of Britain from the EU. TransferWise is the first among equals of the companies that help these 244 million connect with their loved ones. That’s fintech with a heart, and a brain.

17. Heather Cox, CEO, Citi Fintech

coxHeather Cox leads Citigroup’s mobile first bank, Citi Fintech, and will work to advance the direct bank in wearable and IoT, and whatever else it does, which remains an intriguing mystery. Citi is unique among American megabanks to create a separate mobile brand, making Cox, its first CEO, a new breed of banker.  Cox was formerly the bank’s chief client experience, digital and marketing officer, and before that led Capital One’s card division. Although the world hasn’t seen much of what Citi Fintech will eventually offer, Cox has said APIs and partnerships will play a major role — a promising start, and not what might be expected from a large bank. One example is Uber integration within the banking app. This has been discussed for years — Cox may be first bank CEO to see it through. Historical note — Citi may have coined the word fintech several decades back — appropriate, then that it is the first bank to claim it as part of its brand.

18. Matt Wilcox, Senior VP of Marketing Strategy and Innovation, Fiserv

wilcoxNot everyone who is moving fintech forward is in the limelight. One such behind-the-scenes force is Matthew Wilcox of Fiserv.

In the four years Wilcox has been at the financial technology giant he has assumed a prominent role in its innovation activities. There are few Fiserv innovation ventures today that he does not at least touch, if not manage. Yes, it is mostly behind the scenes, but since they involve Fiserv, they largely have the potential to recast banking innovation. Arguably, Wilcox’s most public endeavor over the last 12 months has been as Fiserv’s point person for the launch of Bank Innovation INV, the sister accelerator to this blog. (Disclosure: I personally work with Wilcox on INV matters.) INV is working toward pushing banking innovation forward, and it has Wilcox looking outwardly for Fiserv innovation, not just within the broad-ranging innovation group he helms. It’s a limelight all his own.

19. Scarlett Sieber, SVP of Global Business Development, New Digital Businesses, BBVA

BBVA just may be the most innovative bank in the world (and not only because it bought that famous neobank.) Its U.S. arm built a realtime core and hooked up Dwolla’s FiSync to serve it. Its in-house venture arm was so successful it was spun off to become Propel Ventures. The bank’s fintech innovation challenges are becoming must-attend events. These events, and much of BBVA’s interactions with the fintech scene, are run by Scarlett Sieber, a startup entrepreneur hired by BBVA to run its outreach in the fintech community. A mainstay on every fintech list that involves influence, impact, women, or generally being cool, Sieber bridges the world of startups and global FIs with ease and good humor. She is also interested in the ethics of banking and the good fintech can do, advocating for financial, inclusion, empowerment for women, and human rights generally.

20. Marley Gray, Director, Strategy for Cloud & Enterprise, Blockchain at Microsoft

marleyArguably no company has gone more all-in on blockchain than Microsoft, and it makes sense. After years of losing out on the innovation front to Google and Apple (but still raking in tidy profits and essentially owning enterprise software) Microsoft saw the potential for blockchain and the distributed ledger space to be the next big thing for its corporate clients, and give Redmond a nice window into the burgeoning crypto startup scene as well. This has brought such blockchain heavyweights as R3 CEV and Ethereum, as well as a host of smaller players, onto Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform.

“We want, and frankly our customers want, access to every blockchain,” Gray said in February. “It could be two guys in a garage that forked bitcoin and had this genius idea and people want to try that out. We don’t want to have any barriers.” Gray’s latest endeavor to advance Blockchain-as-a-Service at Microsoft is Project Bletchley — named for the site of the British codebreaking effort during World War II — which introduced “blockchain middleware,” that is, data and analytics services for blockchain companies, and cryptlets, to aid interoperability between blockchains. Microsoft and Gray are at the heart of the growing blockchain infrastructure that is slowly assuming a critical role in financial services.

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