To identify fintech startups deserving of special recognition this year as part of the FinTech Forward program, a team of American Banker editors, BAI staff and industry members debated the merits of self-nominees and companies we know.

We used three main criteria for the list: Does a company offer innovative technology? Does it solve a real business problem? Is it ready for prime time? We accepted self-nominations from startups and added other companies we learned about that we felt had great promise.

Who are we? A panel of judges that included American Banker's Penny Crosman, Mary Wisniewski, Robert Barba and Marc Hochstein; BAI's Holly Hughes and Andrew Scoggan; consultant Ray Graber; Heather Cox of Citi; Brad Leimer of Santander; and Alex Jimenez of Rockland Trust.

What it does: Develops software protocol underpinning a decentralized network for value transfer that has garnered less hype than Bitcoin but may have a better shot at widespread adoption. Ripple, led by CEO Chris Larsen, had some ups and downs over the past 12 months. The company, formerly known as Ripple Labs, got hit with a civil enforcement action but landed several partners (including two U.S. banks) and an investment from Santander.

Why it matters: Value proposition will only become more relevant as the Fed nudges the industry toward real-time payments.

Related Article: Santander Invests in Ripple as Startup Expands Services

IdentityMind Global
What it does: Fraud prevention, transaction monitoring, AML/KYC tools, sanctions screening.

Why it matters: Led by CEO Garrett Gafke, IdentityMind Global offers an alternative to derisking — the worldwide trend of banks shedding relationships with whole industries deemed high risks for money laundering.

What it does: Led by founder and CEO Stuart Lacey, Trunomi lets financial institutions and customers create digitized sets of personally identifiable information and securely manage and share them. This accelerates and simplifies onboarding.

Why it matters: Part of Trunomi's mission is "empowering consumers to manage their personal PII and monetize their own data."

Related Article: Rethink Identity So Personal Data Can Stay Personal

What it does: Detects fraud in e-commerce by analyzing merchant, card and bank transaction data. The company, founded by by Nuno Sebastiao (CEO), Pedro Bizarro (Chief Data Scientist), and Paulo Marques (chief technology officer), says it uses a mix of big data, machine learning and human intelligence to identify fraudulent payment transactions.

Why it matters: E-commerce fraud is expected to rise considerably as the U.S. migrates to EMV chip cards, rendering card counterfeiting difficult to impossible.

What it does: Manages client, counterparty data; helps institutions comply with regs such as AML/KYC throughout client relationship.

Why it matters: Banks are struggling to stay compliant with changing regulatory requirements. Fenergo says its tech handles some of the toughest rules, makes onboarding more efficient.

Gro Solutions
What it does: Helps banks refine onboarding for online, native apps and mobile browsers. To reduce the text input — and therefore time — required of the customer, the Gro software uses GPS, imaging, carrier data feeds, and email address parsing.

Why it matters: Banks continue to struggle to offer simple ways to sign up for their accounts online. Gro, led by CEO David Eads, aims to make the task easier and breezier so banks don't lose impatient customers.

What it does: Provides a cloud-based, Salesforce-hosted system for underwriting loans and onboarding treasury management clients.

Why it matters: Competition for commercial loans is fierce and low rates mean banks can't really compete on price anymore. nCino touts an average 34% decrease in closing time.

What it does: Provides an app banks can license designed to educate low-income teenagers and young adults (ages 16 to 24) about financial concepts. One of the app's challenges, called SnapTrack, asks students to take pictures of moments when they saved or spent something. Those images are uploaded to a place where peers can comment on the posts.

Why it matters: The nonprofit is working on a critical problem often ignored by fintech apps: teenagers and young adults who don't understand financial concepts.

What it does: Authentication through a combination of mobile device identity, mobile transaction analysis, browser fraud detection and risk scoring. Customers include 4 of the 5 largest U.S. banks.

Why it matters: Led by CEO Lisa Stanton, InAuth takes a multipronged approach to solving the ballooning problem of securely and quickly authenticating mobile and online customers.

What it does: Provides real-time interfaces into the credit bureaus as well as public record repositories such as Lexis-Nexis to instantly gather thousands of pieces of data on individuals whom auto lenders or their service providers have lost touch with. Users include Bank of America, BBVA Compass, Harley Davidson Financial, USAA, Ally, GM Financial, Ford and Santander.

Why it matters: Automates skip tracing, once the work of gumshoes.

What it does: Tries to identify trustworthy customers through combination of device identification, device-based authentication and real-time risk evaluation. Maintains database of 2.5 billion devices and relationships between them.

Why it matters: Mobile banking and commerce fraud are a rapidly growing concern. The ability to look at device identity and behavior together could prove useful to detecting foul play.

What it does: Provides cloud-based core banking software for microfinance lenders and banks that want to expand into new markets through digital channels. The company works with more than 100 institutions in 30 countries.

Why it matters: Banks often complain their legacy core systems handcuff their ability to launch modern features for smartphones. Mambu, led by CEO Eugene Danilkis, offers an alternative as well as a way to quickly support entrants into new markets.

What it does: Connects software developers to banks and other companies looking to recruit. Untapt lets employers celebrate their brands to woo prospects. The app features company videos that show their cultures and problems they are working on.

Why it matters: As banks continue to struggle to recruit top software developers, Untapt, led by CEO and cofounder Ed Donner, is helping to uncover promising hires.

Related Article: These Ex-Bankers Are Automating the Fintech Hiring Process

Gigaspaces Technologies
What it does: Provides middleware for deployment, management and scaling of mission-critical applications in cloud environments. One client is Sweden's online-only Avanza Bank.

Why it matters: Banks are gradually warming to cloud computing and will have an increasing need for middleware that lets them quickly build their own apps.

What it does: The vendor's latest product, Branch Selling, aims to improve the customer interaction in the branch by using a shared screen customers can see and a guided sales approach that should create a more effective experience.

Why it matters: As branch activity continues to dwindle, so does the number of employees who are on-hand. Leadfusion is looking to help a financial institution's existing staff properly assist banking customers with several products.

What it does: Presents customers' bills or payment reminders on their phone, tablet or PC via email or text message, and allows payment with one click. Banco Santander is a user.

Why it matters: Takes a lot of the pain out of invoicing and paying bills, for both merchants and customers.

What it does: Watches customers' behavior on websites and in mobile apps to verify identity. It analyzes mouse movements, for instance, to determine whether the user is right or left handed.

Why it matters: Frictionless yet secure authentication is a big, important goal for banks.

What it does: Streamlines the new account opening process.

Why it matters: With consumers judging their digital experience with their financial institution against their overall digital experience, products that make banking easy are in high demand.

What it does: Offers software that helps investors and advisors make the complex world of finance easy to dissect. Aggregates and reconciles financial data across various assets classes quickly.

Why it matters: Say an investor wants to know their total exposure to the tech sector. Traditionally, that would be a tall order that could take several days to figure out. Addepar, led by CEO Eric Poirier, says its system helps advisers quickly know the exposure so they can give their clients the best guidance.

What it does: This mobile-first, multi-currency account lets customers make domestic and international funds transfers and handle foreign currency exchange.

Why it matters: The edgy account, which avoids cash deposits, comes from Arkadi Kuhlmann, the man who pioneered the direct banking model at ING Direct. The app, which has yet to launch to the public, offers useful and often no-fee features for travelers.