For participants in the FinTech Innovation Lab, the pressure is high, as entrepreneurs get the chance to present their new technology ideas before decision makers at large banks.
"It's powerful for somebody to get in front of these CIOs, it's the dream client base," says Chris Wearing, a managing partner at Accenture, which is helping run the Lab. "That's the real attraction here."
The Lab is operated by the New York City Investment Fund, the economic development arm of the Partnership for New York City, and Accenture. CIOs and other top tech execs from about a dozen financial services firms, including Bank of America, Barclays Capital, Citigroup, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, State Street, Capital One, American Express and UBS choose up to six tech firms to participate in the lab. During the 12-week program, the winning firms are partnered with senior bank executives who mentor and work with the entrepreneurs to tailor their products.
"There's no guarantee that the firm will get to pilot the technology at a certain institution, but if an executive at a bank likes it and offers to mentor that firm, it can be a part of a pilot," says Wearing, adding that there's also no limit to the number of banks that can participate in a pilot.
"It's nice to have the specific focus on financial IT, which is a bit different than what you see in Boston or [Silicon] Valley, where the focus is more general innovation," says Andy Brown, group CTO at UBS. Brown became the group CTO late in 2010 and is leading an effort to simplify the institution's architecture and infrastructural landscape. He did not discuss specific technology that bank was looking to obtain from this year's event.
An informational meeting for applicants is scheduled for January 10. To be accepted, applicants must have a working beta version of their technology that is ready to be tested for the institutional or retail banking market. In addition to the mentoring and feedback from the banks, the winning companies will also get $25,000 and work space.
Wearing says for the most part, the technology considered for the Lab is in commoditized areas that are not points of competitive differentiation for banks, typically covering areas like data management, mobile wireless, risk management, social media, collaboration and payments processing. "It's things that the banks can share and cooperate on," Wearing says.
The six participants in last year's lab were Aqumin, a firm that uses interactive three-dimensional technology to facilitate visual analysis and interpretation of disparate sources of public and proprietary market data; CB Insights, which assess the health of small businesses by locating signals of strength or weaknesses in publicly available information sources; Hanweck Associates, an analytics and risk firm that uses graphical processing units to accelerate computations; Lenddo.com, which analyzes social networks to assess borrowers' creditworthiness; Syphr, which offers personalized credit management and financial optimization applications; and Zipmark, a mobile and online payments company that uses barcode technology to accept secure payments.
Several venture firms support the lab, including Contour Venture Partners, RHO Ventures, RRE Ventures, Village Ventures and Warburg Pincus.
The FinTech Lab has competition from Swift's Innotribe innovation unit, which is expanding its startup contest globally, adding three regional showcase events in the U.S., Asia and Europe. The contest is open to companies with a working prototype and less than $1 million in revenue or investment.
In 2011, more than 200 tech firms applied to the Swift contest, which was won by Truaxis, a transaction data management firm formerly known as BillShrink; and GuardTime, a keyless digital signature firm. Each firm received $50,000, and GuardTime says its participation led to more than 50 leads. The 2012 Innotribe regional showcases will be in New York in February, Bangkok in April and Belfast in June.
The Finovate spring and fall shows serve a similar purpose of showcasing new financial technology, as does Bank Technology News with its annual Innovators of the Year and Top 10 Tech Companies to Watch lists.