2018 Innovators to Watch: 44 Executives Shaping the Future of Banking

PREMIUM – Every year Bank Innovation assembles a list of 44 innovators that caught our attention in digital banking and fintech. These are the people Bank Innovation believes to be this year’s movers and shakers in the industry, paving the way with forward-thinking technologies and ideas. This year the list contains a variety of innovators ranging from chief innovation officers at major banks to leaders at smaller fintech establishments. Challenger banks, artificial intelligence, and voice banking have been popular topics for the industry, some of our picks reflect this trend, while others are people trailblazing in areas that have not yet grabbed the attention of the industry at large, but will likely do so. The shine has come off blockchain and cryptocurrency lately, but there are still several innovators in this field that made the list.

So, in no particular order, say hello to our 2018 list of 44 Innovators to Watch:

1. Lara Druyan, Managing Director, Head of Innovation, West Coast, Royal Bank of Canada

Lara Druyan joined RBC in 2016 as Head of its West Coast Innovation Lab. She began her career in finance but was dissatisfied being an investment banker so she moved to software product development. “I did product management,” she told the audience at Bank Innovation 2018 in San Francisco. “Which, for banks, I’ve found, is not something that a lot of people really understand, what Silicon Valley-style product management is.” RBC hired Druyan to bring her product management experience to its innovation team, and because of her big bank experience and deep tech knowledge and connections. “I’m running a startup at a really large financial institution,” Druyan said. Her team deals with all aspects of innovation, from venture to re-imagining client onboarding and associated analytics, analyzing voice to capture interactions and power our systems, and exploring AI solutions that can read unstructured data and make it actionable. Sometimes, even if you’re still in banking, you have to stop being a banker to get things done.


2. Nicolas Kopp, CEO, N26 USA

Nicolas Kopp is the U.S. CEO of German challenger bank N26, responsible for bringing N26’s mobile-first banking app to the U.S. market. As one of the firm’s early employees, Nic joined N26 in 2015 as head of business development and operations. In this role, he built the team from the ground up, established the firm’s partnership with TransferWise, and was instrumental in developing the exclusive N26 Black account. Previously, he spent five years in London and Hong Kong in investment banking at Morgan Stanley. Nic holds a bachelor’s degree from University of St. Gallen in Switzerland and a master’s degree in accounting and finance from the London School of Economics.


3. Mark Jamison, Global Head of Innovation and Design, Visa

Visa may be part of the old guard, but the payments giant is far from sleeping. Visa has a hand in just about every innovative payments solution that comes to market. At the helm of these innovation efforts, which quite literally span the globe, is Mark Jamison. A payments veteran with past experience at BBVA,  Capital One, and Charles Schwab, Jamison oversees Visa’s network of 10 innovation centers where new product development and design teams are building the next generation of digital commerce and payments platforms. Jamison’s team is working with startups and other major payments players on tokenization, biometrics, the blockchain, the Internet of Things, and artificial intelligence. Under his leadership, Visa isn’t being disrupted by new entrants — just the opposite. It’s working with other innovators to move payments from plastic cards to digital payments.

4. Rene Lacerte, CEO, and Founder, Bill.com

Rene Lacerte is a serial entrepreneur, currently the CEO and founder of Bill.com, a cloud-based cash flow management software for SMBs. The idea came to René Lacerte when he was still leading his digital payroll services company PayCycle. Prior to that, he founded PayCycle, not an exercise startup, but rather a small business focused cash flow management firm. Lacerte has been working in the small business space for some time now. He worked as product manager at Intuit for over five years, where he led the company’s payroll strategy.  Lacerte graduated from Stanford University, where he studied, among other things, qualitative mathematics. Based in Palo Alto, California, Bill.com currently has over three million members. He formed Bill.com with a handful of members in 2006, today it has over, 200 employees. Bill.com moves over $52 billion in payments volume annually. Its customers include four of the top 10 U.S. banks and most of the top accounting firms.


5. Dan Schulman, President and CEO, PayPal

With his deep experience in payments and mobile technology, Dan Shulman is leading PayPal to reimagine how people move and manage money, and how merchants and consumers interact and transact. Prior to PayPal, Schulman was at American Express where he led the payment giant’s global strategy to expand the company’s alternative mobile and online payment services. PayPal has been in the limelight recently with its growth initiatives, including its $2.2 billion acquisition of iZettle and its $400 million purchase of Hyperwallet. At the center of this transformation from a mere payments button to be one of the biggest mover and shaker in the payments, space is Schulman. In 2018, Schulman has big plans from PayPal and its various subsidiaries, including P2P platform Venmo. Perhaps unusually for a Silicon Valley CEO, Schulman also has a deep interest in improving access to financial services to the underbanked around the glob. With PayPal’s growing reach, Schulman has a great opportunity to get something great done in payments.


6Harit Talwar, Head of Marcus, Goldman Sachs

Harit Talwar is head of digital finance at Marcus, Goldman Sachs‘s consumer lending platform. He oversees all the operations relating to business. He joined Goldman Sachs in 2015 as a partner. Prior to joining the firm, he was president of U.S. Cards for Discover Financial Services as well as chief marketing officer and a member of Discover’s Executive Committee, where he played a key role in driving overall strategy. Before that, Talwar was managing director of Morgan Stanley’s Consumer Banking Group International. He also spent 15 years at Citigroup, working in India, the Middle East, the US and Europe. During this time, Harit held a number of senior roles including general management and country management positions in cards, loans, and retail banking. Harit is a board member and trustee of the American India Foundation and serves on the Marketing Advisory Board of the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. He previously held various leadership position with the Chicago CMO Summit; the American School of Warsaw, Poland; the College of Lake County, Illinois; Children’s Memorial Hospital, Chicago; and Pratham UK.


7. Eyal Lifshitz, CEO, BlueVine

Eyal Lifshitz grew up watching his father, who owned a physical therapy clinic, struggle, waiting on checks to clear and payments to process. He set out to improve small businesses’ access to credit and financial management services by staring Bluevine in 2013. Back in 2014, the company funded its first small business with $5,000. Today Bluevine offers lines of credit up to $200,000. Lifshitz told Bank Innovation that last year the company surpassed its goal to originate $500 million in loans. Prior to Bluevine, he spent nearly three years at VC firm Greylock IL’s investment team. And before that, he served as an associate at research and consulting firm McKinsey & Company. He graduated with an MBA from University of Chicago Booth School of Business. In business lending, appearances can be deceiving. “Often some of the largest, most creditworthy customers take the most time to pay,” Lifshitz noted.


8. Raghu Rajah, Vice President, Digital Banking, Engineering & Product Management, NCR

Artificial intelligence is the tech topic of the day in financial services — it has displaced blockchain as the buzziest buzzword, but it is doing real work already? Raghu Rajah, a veteran of the banking and startup worlds, leads the AI effort at Digital Insight, an NCR company. Where many see AI as a threat to existing bank jobs, Rajah believes “it will create many more new jobs, and enhance existing jobs,” he told Bank Innovation. Rajah also points out that AI is not a new thing that sprang out of the earth in 2015. “A lot of what AI is has been there from the 60s,” Rajah said. What has changed is what Rajah calls deep learning — using neural networks to do tasks previously considered impossible for computers to achieve. These tasks include “computer vision” — using the powerful cameras embedded in so many devices to identify things as subtle as a customer’s mood. Every large bank is working on AI in some capacity, he noted, and while AI’s effects may not be splashy on the consumer side, people have shown a willingness to talk to bots in order to get information and increasingly, advice. The cutting-edge stuff, Rajah notes, is seldom the most commonly used — but things change fast. Yesterday’s cutting-edge tech is today’s everyday use.


9. Timo Weber, VP of Strategy and Internationalization, solarisBank

Timo Weber is the Vice President Strategy & Internationalization at Berlin, Germany-based  solarisBank AG. SolarisBank is a pan-European banking platform with a banking license. Most recently, Polish bank Alior hired solarisBank to help it create a standalone challenger bank. At solarisBank, Weber works on developing banking and payment business models. He leads the strategic business direction as well as the global expansion of solarisBank. Speaking of global expansion, Weber has big plans for solarisBank. “A big part of our effort this year will be focused on expanding our partners to 100,” Weber previously told Bank Innovation. SolarisBank’s current roster consists of  50 partners. The company formally launched in March 2016. Prior to solarisBank, Weber was part of the Group Business Development of FinTech company builder FinLeap and worked in Merchant Development for payments company, PayPal.


10. Carolyn (Gullo) Criscitiello, Head of Digital Payments, HSBC Bank

When Carolyn Criscitiello is not traveling between conferences talking to the banking and fintech community about real-time payments coming to the U.S. or other payment trends, Criscitello is busy heading the digital payments department of one the world’s largest banks- HSBC Bank. At HSBC, part of her job consists of keeping her pulse on subjects such as APIs, tokenization, blockchain, and the Internet of Things in the context of payments. “So many exciting things are happening in the payments space, be it with Zelle, or realtime payments,” she previously told Bank Innovation. In terms of trends for the coming months, Criscitiello is paying attention to the implications of AI in voice banking as it pertains to payments. Realtime payments and the impact it will have on the way banks interact with their customers is also something that she is looking forward to, she told Bank Innovation. Prior to HSBC, she served as head of the innovation center at M&T Bank, where she developed strategy, capability and executed a sustainable framework for the bank’s innovation.


11. Brett Narlinger, Chief Revenue Officer, Green Dot

Green Dot is a bank unlike any other, a tech company with a bank in its back pocket. It can also make deals like no other — banking Uber drivers, and powering Apple’s P2P play, Apple Pay Cash. The bank epitomizes the bank as a platform, and running this effort is Brett Narlinger, a veteran of the payments industry now turning his attention to making business at a new kind of bank. Green Dot has a hybrid retail (mostly Walmart) and digital marketing strategy, but no branches. (The bank actually owns one branch in Bonneville, Utah, which is how it got its license.) Narlinger’s background is in sales at payment companies such as First Data and Mercury Payments (acquired by Vantiv in 2014). Banks looking to play in the tech field should stand up and take notice. Narlinger will be forging a new way for banks to earn revenue — can others follow or is Green Dot one of a kind?

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