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Atul Kamra is Managing Partner of SixThirty, the St. Louis region’s leading FinTech venture fund and accelerator. We spoke to him about what’s happening now in FinTech.
FinTech can seem elusive to many people. How would you define it for those less familiar?
FinTech is where data and good design meet money, for a purpose. That purpose could be a far better experience; that experience could make it easier, cheaper, safer to do business or make it more transparent. It could mean serving needs and markets that have not been met or served before. The ultimate value of FinTech is that it gives back time, our most precious resource.
Why is St. Louis uniquely positioned to be a leader in the industry?
St. Louis has one of the highest concentrations of financial services firms outside of New York City. I think the breadth and depth of financial services here is the significant asset that SixThirty can channel for the most promising ideas. We had 150-plus companies, a third of them from outside the U.S., apply to the Fall 2016 program here.
A reason these startups are looking at SixThirty is, in a way, about going back to basics: We believe customer revenue is the best form of capital for a startup.
And, there’s no better validation of an idea than a customer paying for it. I often say good ideas go to San Francisco to get noticed by investors; they come to St. Louis to be noticed by customers. Specifically in financial services, access really matters. If we can shrink the time it takes for these startups to build relationships and their ideas to get attention, that is of significant value to an entrepreneur whose most precious commodity is how he or she spends his or her time.
Where do you see FinTech going, and what is SixThirty’s role in shaping the industry’s future?
I see companies, ideas and entrepreneurs every day who are looking to either disrupt or help the various businesses within financial services. We tend to work with the latter. I see them bringing the art of possibility. My experience with larger corporations and decision makers gives me a sense of how decisions get made, what it takes for an idea or service to get adopted, and sharpen the product-market fit. What we bring to the table is increasing the probability of success.
We have progressed from an industrial to service-based and, now, an experience-based economy. With data and good design, FinTech will help the industry be less product-centric and deliver on the client experience. FinTech is also reshaping the cost, capabilities and mindset at banks: what to own and integrate versus rent and use.
At the heart of it, the main reason why a customer works with a financial institution is trust. What FinTech is doing is making the industry more open and transparent. As that happens, it will be truly valuable for everybody at the table.