IN THE NEWS: 10 startups woo potential clients

Executives with the 10 startup companies in Little Rock's financial technology accelerator program presented their businesses Wednesday to a standing-room only crowd of about 350 finance executives, business leaders and investors.

The presentations at the Clinton Presidential Center concluded the second year for the 12-week program that evaluated and refined financial technology business plans.

Fidelity National Information Services Inc., better known as FIS Global, sponsored the accelerator program with The Venture Center in downtown Little Rock. The Venture Center served as the program's training site.

FIS is based in Jacksonville, Fla., but has about 1,200 employees in Little Rock. It has more than 57,000 employees worldwide, about 23,000 financial clients and more than $9 billion in annual revenue. Its clients include about half of the financial institutions in the world.

Executives representing 16 banks visited the accelerator program this year, said Rob Lee, FIS' chief product officer. Four banks are prospects to implement products from the startup companies.

More than 50 FIS employees mentored the 10 startup companies, Lee said in an interview Wednesday.

The 10 companies are eGiftify of London and Little Rock; Alpharank of San Francisco; Alto IRA of Nashville, Tenn.; Bond.AI of New York; Hedgehog of Detroit; Omnetrium of Chicago; Plinqit of Ann Arbor, Mich.; Quotanda of Mexico City; WalletFi of Chapel Hill, N.C.; and Xplanr Analytics of New York.

Lee; Anthony Jabbour, FIS' chief operating officer; and Jack Novielli, an executive vice president with FIS, discussed the success of the 2017 accelerator program.

This year's program went smoother than last year's, simply because of the experience gained last year, Lee said.

Disruptive innovation -- an idea or product that shakes up an existing market or industry -- is critical for FIS' financial institution clients, Jabbour said.

"FIS is really an extension of our bankers' teams," Jabbour said. "We do a lot for them. This [accelerator program] is really a critical aspect of [how we help our clients]."

Some of the FIS banking clients who sent representatives to Little Rock to participate in the accelerator program were from Arkansas, including Bear State Bank of Little Rock. Also participating were PNC Financial Services Group of Pittsburgh, Fifth Third Bancorp of Cincinnati and Royal Bank of Canada in Montreal, Lee said.

Some of the clients were particularly interested in Bond.AI, WalletFi and Alpharank, the three FIS executives said.

Bond.AI has developed an artificial intelligence platform that allows users to meet their financial goals in the shortest time. If needed, Bond.AI's artificial intelligence platform interacts with any other artificial intelligence, whether it's a voice technology from Apple or Google or Amazon.

"Bond.AI is interesting because it deals with the problems of being a consumer in the 21st century," Lee said. "How do you deal with your financial institution? Young people use their phone primarily and many do not even have a computer. They have student loans, credit card loans. It grew out of [founder Uday Akkaraju's] personal quest to simplify his financial life. Banks want to be relevant with that age range of customers."

WalletFi is designed to easily manage recurring payments from one credit or debit card to another.

For many people, when they have a credit card or debit card stolen or reissued, it is difficult to get subscriptions and recurring payments switched to a new account.

"The average consumer has an average of 15 recurring charges on their credit cards," Lee said. "I may have a subscription that I keep paying that I really don't use anymore. WalletFi has a real interesting solution that helps the consumer deal with that."

Novielli said Alpharank has developed software that helps banks understand how social networks drive consumers to make financial decisions.

"The concept is to help banks understand who are the drivers, who are the influencers, why people choose [a bank]," Novielli said. "As banks become more pointed in their marketing, who do they best market to? How does the bank spend its marketing dollar wiser?"

The startup companies in this year's accelerator program will change a number of times over the years, Jabbour said.

"So a key aspect of their success will come from how agile they are and how long can they pivot," Jabbour said. "The ability for them to pivot and move as the opportunity is more clarified will be a critical aspect for them."

FIS said Wednesday that it has entered into partnerships with two startup companies from last year's accelerator program -- Connecticut-based Fundseeder, a risk management and trading verification platform for traders, and Hexanika of New York, software that brings costs savings of up to 40 percent to the regulatory reporting process.

Six of last year's companies were selected to be part of an FIS High Potential Network -- Akouba, Bleu, Flutterwave, Fundseeder, Hexanika and LumoXchange. Some of this year's startups will also be added to the network, Lee said, but it may be a month or so before those are selected.

Applications for next year's accelerator program will open on Sept. 20. The Venture Center received 295 applications this year, about double the number that applied in the first year of the program.

This article was written by David Smith and originally appeared in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.