Josh Rowland, Lead Bank
Lead Bank in Kansas City, Mo. is not on the tip of anyone’s tongue for the most innovative bank in the U.S., but it may be soon. CEO Josh Rowland took the helm of the family-owned bank in 2017 and immediately set into motion a tech overhaul of the bank, including setting up an app store in which to feature as much software as possible from a safety and soundness perspective, from promising startups. In addition, as part of the INV Fintech accelerator, Rowland initiated partnerships with startups such as GoldBean, an investing and financial education startup for new investors, and Finspace, which builds data- and document-sharing spaces for financial institutions and their business clients.
Lead Bank was known as Garden City Bank before the financial crisis. The new name was chosen to exemplify the bank’s forward. Under Rowland’s leadership the bank instituted initiatives such as “Grow Home,” which involves selling the products of its banking customers in its branches. Community banks have to pay attention to their branches, but Rowland’s focus is all digital. His goal, he told Bank Innovation, was to make Lead Bank a digital leader despite its size, and the company is open to talking with any fintech startups that might help it serve its customers.
Gilles Gade, Cross River Bank
Whether it’s SME or consumer, alternative lending is huge. One of the key players in this space is Cross River Bank, a New Jersey-based bank that provides financial solutions to these lenders as well as next-gen payment processors. From consumer lenders like Affirm to personal loan providers BestEgg and FreedomPlus, Cross River Bank has a number of fintechs under its belt.
At the helm of Cross River Bank is its founder and CEO Gilles Gade, one of Bank Innovation’s picks for most innovative CEOs in 2018.
The French-born Gade started the bank back in 2008. Since then he has grown the bank tremendously through what he calls an “innovation-driven,” approach. To put this growth into perspective, under Gade’s leadership, the bank has originated over $2.5 billion in loans and procured over $28 million in VC-backed funding.
As the landscape for alternative lenders picks up pace in 2018, Cross River – under Gades, will be an important component of this emerging industry.
Ken Lin, Credit Karma
Founder and CEO of free credit-scoring company Credit Karma, Ken Lin has taken the startup a long long way since its launch in 2006.
Not only has he managed to increase company’s annual revenues by 50%, but has also diversified its product offerings from free tax filing to credit card recommendations. At the heart of the company’s strategy is offer a variety of financial products to customers without having to ever charge them. This rule seems to be paramount to Lin, whose idea of launching a credit-scoring company came from his dissatisfaction as a consumer for having to pay for such a service.
So far, Lin has managed to keep this free-service strategy intact.
In an interview with Bank Innovation, Jagjit Chawla, general manager of Credit Karma Tax, echoed Lin’s sentiment saying that Credit Karma’s memo is to focus, instead, on building a trustworthy brand which will lead to an expansive user base. And given Lin’s background as a founder of marketing agency for FIs, he has already used these skills to bring the company’s user base to over 75 million.
The banks have followed suit and many now offer free credit to their customers — you can thank Ken Lin for that.
Tom Blomfield, Monzo
From expanding to new markets to raising new funding to integrating with new fintechs and services, 2017 was a busy year for Monzo, and it’s looking like 2018 will follow in the same vein. As one of the first neobanks in the United Kingdom, a country that now seems to grow them like mushrooms, Tom Blomfield has charted some extraordinary growth, and despite younger players in the market, has managed to keep its position as one of the most popular challengers in the country.
The bank was begun a scant three years ago, and has since updated its offerings to include current accounts, support for payments services like Android Pay (now Google Pay) and Apple Pay, and the ability to integrate with other English fintechs like Emma. Moreover, the bank has more than half a million customers on its platform at the moment, and its goal, as Blomfield himself stated in a celebratory blog post, is to bring its service to “one billion people, in the U.K and beyond.”
Blomfield, who was the co-founder and CTO of several banking startups before Monzo, is bringing his startup expertise to bear on Monzo’s growth. Under his leadership, the bank is looking to expand to new markets like Ireland and the United States (though that one is in its very early stages). Blomfield has managed to raise a significant amount of funding for the expansion, a fact that should make 2018 a quite interesting year for the neobank.