To identify the fintech startups deserving of special recognition this year as part of the FinTech Forward program, we asked our judges to consider several factors: Is this organization solving relevant problems for the banking industry? Is the organization creating change? Is the solution timely? Does it speak to the challenges the industry faces now?

The following 20 companies are the standouts among a pool of companies that nominated themselves and ones familiar to our judges. The panel was composed of nine judges: Marc Hochstein, Robert Barba and Bryan Yurcan of American Banker; BAI's Holly Hughes, Terri Cable and Tom Hoscheidt; Gavin Michael, then of JPMorgan Chase (he is set to join Citi in November); CarrieAnne Cormier of Avidia Bank and Alex Jimenez of Zions Bancorp.
What it does: Its platform, built on customizable APIs, allows businesses to make sending and receiving international payments from receipt of funds through conversion and payout easy. Its newest features include one that allows businesses to prefund their accounts so payments can be grouped and organized in advance and an API that allows clients to pull funds from their end user's accounts and avoid fees. (Currencycloud CEO Mike Laven pictured.)

Why it matters: Increased global commerce and the on-demand economy have caused a fundamental shift in the way businesses and consumers make payments.
What it does: Payment and accounting software platform for banks to sell to their small-business clients. Businesses are able to manage their finances more efficiently, while banks get to increase fee income and gain insights that could help them identify lending opportunities. The service is set to go live with banks this fall in test markets.

Why it matters: According to an Aite Group survey, 36% of small businesses would switch banks to get business tools its current bank doesn't offer.
What it does: An artificial-intelligence platform for mobile apps and messaging platforms with industry-specific domain expertise that make bots and virtual assistants well versed in the businesses they serve.

Why it matters: As banks explore consumer-facing bots, they must be careful to avoid disasters like Microsoft's Tay. Kasisto's AI is preloaded with millions of banking-related sentences only allowing the bot to transact, predict needs and fulfill most other banking queries.
What it does: With a couple of clicks, account holders can transfer their accounts to a different financial institution, along with their direct deposits and recurring payments. The technology aims to increase acquisition and activation rates, and it allows banks to engage better during onboarding. So far, the company, headed by Cale Johnston, is working with 174 financial institutions in the U.S. and Canada.

Why it matters: If things like direct deposits and bill pay make customers "sticky," ClickSWITCH could be a solvent.
What it does: Built is bringing the complex world of construction lending online. By automating and organizing loan information on a user-friendly portal, it allows all stakeholders to see loan details, which saves time and money.

Why it matters: Banks are expected to fuel the growth of the construction industry to $1.5 trillion in the U.S. by 2025. For that kind of scale, the industry needs a modernized management system.
What it does: With the use of behavioral biometrics, including how hard you type, how long you hold down a key and other interactions patterns, the mobile security platform continuously authenticates users.

Why it matters: As the number of mobile banking users increases alongside the amount of personally identifiable information you can find about a person online grows, authentication needs fixing.
What it does: The program streamlines appointments by managing bookings made in branches, through the call center, online or on mobile devices in real time across the organization.

Why it matters: The buzzword in banking is omnichannel these days, so a solution that promises to bridge the gaps between the digital and physical world should be appealing to banks.
What it does: Makes payments safer through tokenization and blockchain. The technology creates an information layer that sits above legacy systems and provides KYC data for payments. The firm has two proof-of-concept exercises with major global banks.

Why it matters: Compliance costs are increasing, leading to de-risking measures that leave many unserved. A platform for sharing information related to transactions is needed to comply with regulation and develop a safer payment ecosystem.
What it does: InSpirAVE, headed by CEO Om Kundu, wants to help people living paycheck to paycheck spend and save. The platform connects friends and family to give personalized advice and financial support. It also offers accrued savings interest and merchant discounts.

Why it matters: To earn the loyalty of millennials and the new generation of customers, banks need to create engaging platforms and provide discounts.
Alkami Technology
What it does: Its ORB digital banking platform interacts with all devices and banking functions, including retail, commercial and payments. Also, its content delivery system is designed to send real-time promotions for products and services that are tailored to the user.

Why it matters: Since 2012, the number of users of the platform has grown from 14,000 to more than 1.5 million. This year a top-70 bank and several large credit unions began using the platform. Plus the founder uses Star Wars metaphors.
CUneXus Solutions
What it does: With the startup's cplXpress platform, banks can offer consumer loans that are approved quickly using advanced data analytics. In its first year, $200 million in consumer loans were made through the platform and the company has plans to expand into other products. (Chief Executive David Buerger, left, and Chief Technology Officer John Reich pictured.)

Why it matters: Using data for personalization and automation is one of the industry's most sought-after skills given the challenges of building brand loyalty.
What it does: Using nontraditional data, such as Facebook activity and browsing behavior, members of Lenddo's team of data scientists authenticate and score emerging middle-class customers for loans.

Why it matters: Inspired by Muhammad Yunus who launched microfinance institution Grameen Bank, Lenddo understands loan systems based on peer reinforcement and community referrals are effective.
What it does: The global real-time network enables payments in any currency, in any time zone, for any kind of payment. The integrated platform replaces all of the intermediaries in the payment chain — the card issuer, merchant acquirer, exchange agent, clearing bank and reporting software. Livia Klimovitsky Szabó serves as the startup's CEO.

Why it matters: Removing intermediaries means better, faster, cheaper payments.
What it does: The company, which powers digital banking for more than 400 financial institutions, recently launched MOX Pay, an app that banks can offer to their small-business customers. The app lets small businesses have a single-merchant payment app similar to what Starbucks offers.

Why it matters: Any service that gives banks an edge with small businesses is a good thing.
What it does: Founded by the fintech guru Brett King, Moven offers a flexible software platform for mobile banking and provides real-time personal finance management. While Moven has a stand-alone product in the U.S., its partnerships with banks like TD are fueling its growth.

Why it matters: Consumers want their bank to help them plan and manage their finances, while offering them the things they actually need and want.
North Side
What it does: Natural-language understanding and dialogue technology allow North Side's voice- and text-based chatbot to be a personalized virtual banker for customers. (North Side CEO Eugene Joseph pictured.)

Why it matters: AI will likely play a major role in the future of financial services.
What it does: Personalized real-time financial guidance powered by artificial intelligence and predictive analytics that is embedded in banks' digital channels. The company recently added a chatbot solution geared toward millennials that can be used through various messaging apps.

Why it matters: As consumers expect more personalized service, banks can utilize their data to step up to meet the demand.
Self Lender
What it does: A self-service credit-building and savings platform, co-founded and led by James Garvey, where members get free credit scores and credit monitoring.

Why it matters: The goal is to help thin-file customers build credit and savings in a safe and sound way.
Private Wealth Systems
What it does: The personal finance management platform for high-net-worth investors provides transaction-level account aggregation, data normalization, trade-level reconciliation and performance calculations in an omnichannel experience.

Why it matters: Fintech tends to skew toward solutions that make tough businesses, like consumer or small business, more profitable. But it is increasingly moving upmarket to serve wealthier clients.
Yantra Financial Technologies
What it does: A team of former Google and Yahoo executives designs, develops and manages electronic payment systems, such as business-to-business, international remittance, card processing and virtual currency. Suresh Ramamurthi, who also serves as the CEO of CBW Bank in Weir, Kan., leads Yantra.

Why it matters: Payment APIs with a focus on compliance go beyond the superficial, incremental improvements of most fintech startups.