Episode #27: South By Southwest 2022: A Recap of Our Time in Austin

Episode 27

Even though the festival took place in March, we’re still talking about what we learned at South By Southwest. The Sunrise Banks team heads to Austin every year to hear about emerging trends in finance and the latest in banking technology.

In this episode, Becca and Bryan play interviews we conducted with festival goers this year about fintech, democratizing finance and what the next-gen banker looks like.

Becca Hoeft

As a marketing, public relations and corporate communications leader, Becca (only her mom calls her Rebecca) started her career in consulting and has been involved with six startups ranging from film, fashion, technology and food, with her first startup being a social enterprise importing leather fashion accessories made by single mothers in Nairobi, Kenya. Speaking across the country, she is known for leading award-winning teams and has received recognition from the Cannes Film Festival for Best Media Campaign, Hermes, MSPBJ Women in Business, and most recently, the Top Women in Communications awards. When the day is done, you’ll find Becca behind a good travel book planning her next adventure, plunking a tune on the piano or laughing with her blended family.

Bryan Toft

Bryan Toft is Sunrise Banks’ Chief Revenue Officer. In this position, Bryan oversees commercial banking/lending, treasury management, mortgage and fintech partnerships. He has been with Sunrise Banks for more than a decade. From 2014-2017, he served as president and CEO of Community Bank Owatonna.

Bryan has held a variety of roles at Sunrise Banks including credit analyst, commercial loan officer and EVP regional manager of commercial lending in Minneapolis.

Bryan received a B.S. in Computer Science from Buena Vista University and an MBA from the University of St. Thomas. He is a board member of the Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce, Twin Cities Metro CDC and Charter School Property, Inc.

Featured Music

Michael Gungor


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Episode Transcript

[00:00:00] Interviewee 1: But I think one of the questions that a lot of people ask is why should I come to South by Southwest? And should I come to South by Southwest? And what I always tell people is it’s really hard to find the right people. So events like this are a perfect place to bring the right people together.

[00:00:17] Becca Hoeft: Welcome to the NextGen Banker podcast, where we explore what’s next in banking and talk with the innovators responsible for creating positive change in the financial sector. I’m Becca Hoeft, chief brand officer at Sunrise Banks. And I am joined today by my colleague in crime, Bryan Toft, our chief revenue officer here at Sunrise Banks.

[00:00:39] Bryan Toft: Thanks, Becca. Today is gonna be a little different with this episode. Uh, no guests today, but we are gonna be featuring some conversations that you had at South by Southwest in March.

[00:00:49] Becca Hoeft: And just a reminder, don’t forget to check out our musical feature at the end of the podcast. Uh, where NextGen Banker features musicians from all over the world, all over genres.

Be sure to check it out at the end of this episode.

[00:01:03] Bryan Toft: Many people have probably heard of South by Southwest. Uh, although most people have probably think of it as a music festival. There’s actually, uh, tech and more specifically FinTech portion of the festival as well. So I wanted to ask you a little bit about that, cause I know you and a couple other folks from Sunrise got to attend South by Southwest.
So tell us a little bit about like, what is it like? Is it, is there music, is there technology what’s happening there?

[00:01:28] Becca Hoeft: All of the above. I remember it the first time I went and this was probably 2017. Um, I went down to Austin, Texas, and so South by Southwest attracts, I think in 2019 attracted over 400,000 people who attend the conference and then the conference outside of the conference, so to speak.

Um, but you’re right. It is a convergence of technology, film, music ,education and culture. And, just to like paint a picture. I remember the first time walking down sixth street and all of a sudden the street shut down and there was an electric car rolling in a huge bubble, like a plastic bubble down the street with a marching band.

Okay. Imagine all your senses being ignited. It’s highly energized. It is a very different conference and not a traditional conference that, um, we’ve all been to in the past.

[00:02:37] Bryan Toft: Yeah. A couple of other attendees told me that they had a chance to create their own NFT at this. So this is really future focused.

Is that right?

[00:02:46] Becca Hoeft: Yeah. And in fact, um, I think it was Jason Henrichs from Alloy Labs and Provoke FM who’s told me that you go to South by Southwest because that is where the future is and it’s futuristic from all aspects. So not only are there some, uh, film debuts that are happening there. And so you have kind of that Hollywood side of stuff with film and music, but this is where the cutting edge technology companies are.

This is where fintechs are. This is where venture capitalists are. And it’s a really wide range. I mean, I met a lot of executives down there, but I also met a lot of founders and people who were really excited to be there and learn from each other and, um, essentially make an impact. And I’m hoping we can talk a little bit more about that later, too.

[00:03:41] Bryan Toft: Yeah. And, uh, you mentioned it a little bit. It’s, it’s a traditional conference in some ways, but not in others. So they do have a conference center, but then what’s outside of that? What, what did you experience tell us, do you have any stories about?

[00:03:54] Becca Hoeft: Oh yeah. So I, I mentioned the car and the bubble and the marching band.

So at the end of sixth street, What I noticed is that brands were taking over different bars or different houses or different buildings. And it was very experiential. So for example, there was a brand that had taken, it was Mashable, which is an internet news brand, and they had taken over this unoccupied building and created an experience. So in one corner you have puppies that you’re petting. And the other corner you’re trying to, you’re seeing the latest technology to share communication. And then in the far corner, there was a Polynesian bar serving drinks. So it was very eclectic. And then, um, this past year in 2022, It was interesting, of course, being after the pandemic first in person, since the pandemic and seeing houses, um, like the European Union taking over a very large building and with the Ukraine war and Russia recently occurring that they had.

There were a lot of conversations about what can we do internationally? What can we do in the US? So very focused in, on using innovation and solutions. And then, like you said, there’s, you know, NFT companies were there. Ripple was there where I could get an avatar of myself and put myself as an NFT or non fungible token out on the blockchain. So it’s just like you have you buy a ticket to go to the actual conference sessions, but then there’s these different panel discussions and different experiences outside of the actual conference center in these houses.

[00:05:46] Bryan Toft: That’s great. It’s one thing to read about NFTs and read about web three and it’s a whole nother to actually get your own and experience it yourself.

So maybe we should transition to the interviews. You had a chance to talk to some interesting people down there, and we’re gonna play a few interviews and then discuss what comments they had. Should we jump into the first one?

[00:06:05] Becca Hoeft: Yeah, let’s do it. And just to give a preface. So we were walking around South by Southwest, across the city and we were talking to people as we met them, whether it was at FinTech, um, events or houses that had FinTech startups there or FinTech mid-size companies. Um, we had talked to people on the street, so it, it was quite a myriad. Um, but it was pretty exciting at the same time. So, yeah, let’s go ahead and start at this first attendee is gonna talk a little bit about why it’s beneficial for those in the financial industry to check out South by Southwest.

And here’s what they had to say.

[00:06:44] Interviewee 1: But I think one of the questions that a lot of people ask is why should I come to South by Southwest? And should I come to South by Southwest? And what I always tell people is it’s really hard to find the right people. So events like this are a perfect place to bring the right people together, very heavy on the VC side.

Um, you get, uh, some emerging fintechs, uh, some banks I would say in terms of FinTech and a lot of crypto, right? So that’s where it definitely skews. Um, if you’re looking to raise capital, this is a great place to come if you’re a FinTech, because you have a lot of people desperate to find the fintechs and they aren’t a ton of, there’s not a ton of, uh, competition in that sense.

[00:07:27] Bryan Toft: So in that clip, he talked about finding the right people and connecting with others. When you were at South by Southwest, what kinds of people did you have a chance to meet and, uh, who were you connected with?

[00:07:40] Becca Hoeft: Yeah, you know, I think I was amazed. I first off, I tried out my new digital business card and I feel like I used it so many times and I filled up my paper card holder as well with just so many new people and not just from the US.

Um, I was just looking at the South by Southwest stats and there’s about 20% of attendees who are from outside of the us. So I was meeting people from all over the world. As this gentleman told me, there are a ton of veteran capitalists and a lot of FinTech and just a handful of banks, but it was really fun to be there as a bank because to hear all these great things on these great ideas and these great businesses, fintechs that were starting and what they were hoping to accomplish, it was very energizing.

I don’t know if you picked up some of the music in the background, but, um, and the, the crowds that were there, but it was just such an energizing few days in Texas.

[00:08:49] Bryan Toft: I love that excitement. And when you talk about, you know, emerging fintechs and he talked about banks and, and crypto, you know, there’s all this, all these things happening in FinTech and financial services.

And it’s probably one of the most exciting times to be a part of it. And South by Southwest just seems to enhance that.

[00:09:10] Becca Hoeft: Bryan, have you been the South by Southwest?

[00:09:12] Bryan Toft: I have not.

[00:09:13] Becca Hoeft: But did I, do I remember that you had friends who live in Austin? And so what, from a local perspective, what’s their, uh, what’s their take?

[00:09:24] Bryan Toft: Yeah, like a lot of people, uh, have friends in Austin. And the, the funny thing about Austin they say is nobody’s actually from Austin, everybody’s a transplant to Austin. But their take was, they got out of town. It was such a big conference and big event from the music to the tech, to the film that they usually took vacations outta town at that time, because it was very overwhelming.

[00:09:46] Becca Hoeft: Yeah. I mean, it was, I have to admit it was overwhelming, but like I said, there’s this certain vibe that, you’re seeing the future and the possibility like the window of possibility was opened. So another person we, I talked to at South by Southwest was this gentleman, um, by the name of Shanzaib . And he was from England and Shanzaib talked about his FinTech and his work to make people financially healthier.

And this is what Shanzaib had to say.

[00:10:18] Interviewee 2: Right. So networking with other like-minded individuals and really just trying to find ways to help Americans alleviate financial stress. And so my whole goal is just finding other people in similar situations and networking. And so, yeah, that’s, what’s what I’ve been, uh, really thinking about.

[00:10:32] Becca Hoeft: And did I hear you are launching a new company very shortly?

[00:10:36] Interviewee 2: Yes. Yes. So it’s called Stately Credit and it’s a financial wellness platform that specializes in providing affordable salary linked loans as an employee benefit.

[00:10:46] Becca Hoeft: So Bryan Shanzaib, you know, was talking about his new FinTech and how he was using the employer channel, essentially in order to provide credit.

Have you seen this before this concept of employer channel?

[00:11:01] Bryan Toft: Yeah. In fact, David wrote about it in his book FinTech 4 Good, um, TrueConnect , which is a partner of Sunrise, uh, does offer employer channel small dollar loans. In the form of true connect, there’s no credit check.

Uh, it’s pre-payroll deducted. So as your payroll comes out, your loan gets paid. You don’t have to do it yourself. It’s taken care of for you. And there’s an inherent sort of trust I think that an employee typically has with an employer and so if you’re if you’re going to a third party to go and get a small dollar loan, you may not see some fees.

You may not see part of the interest rate. You may not read the 30 pages of terms and conditions. But as we’ve seen, trust is a big part of financial services. And so generally people trust their employer, otherwise they probably wouldn’t be working there. And so, uh, I, I like that delivery channel of an employer.

And so what Shanzaib a was looking to do was Stately Credit, uh, I think it’s great for financial services and wellness. The reality is a lot of people do live paycheck to paycheck and they have things that come up. The usual example is your car breaks down. You still need to get to work. So how are you going to get your car fixed so you can get to work?

Um, I, I, I also think there’s, there’s other things happening in the, the employer channel. We’re seeing credit builders, we’re seeing earned wage access or other opportunities for people to borrow, um, money at a relatively low cost. Sometimes for hours they’ve already worked in that earned wage access, um, concept.

So I do like that channel of allowing your employer to offer as a benefit, some financial services.

[00:12:52] Becca Hoeft: Yeah. And I know from whether it’s TrueConnect or some of these other employer channel FinTech offerings, that the story, the customer stories that come out are really powerful. I think you, um, alluded to one around my car breaking down.

I’ve heard stories around employees using this emergency fund for that. I’ve heard it being used. Um, Because their health savings account isn’t necessarily full if it’s in the beginning or the middle of the year. So they use this, you know, products or type of product to be able to meet that immediate need without breaking the bank, so to speak.

Do you see this? Do you, do you think there’s a trend here happening with employer channels? Do you think there’s a future in that if you had a crystal ball?

[00:13:44] Bryan Toft: Yeah. I think look at the great resignation. People are looking for reasons to work at a company besides just a paycheck and companies are trying to figure out ways to offer benefits that are outside the norm from health insurance, dental insurance, and, and that’s it, 401k.

So, uh, financial services could be one of those benefits along without a lot of other things. So we’re seeing, I think a lot of employers start to look at those things and say, how can we keep our employees? How can we create a culture and how can we help them to meet their needs just outside of work as well.

So I do think it’s a trend and I do think employers are looking to do that. Uh, and I think it’s important that for people that are listening, whether you’re a banker or an entrepreneur, That you should think about that for your employees and talk to your HR.

Like, what are the options for additional benefits for where I work?

Uh, because there are a lot out there and, um, they’re relatively low cost and they’re easily accessible and they can help a lot of people.

[00:14:43] Becca Hoeft: So one of the things Bryan, that you’re alluding to reminds me of this next person, who I talked to down in Texas around the power of FinTech. So let’s take a listen to this next interview.

[00:14:57] Interviewee 3: It’s an interesting question. Um, I feel like I’m in an insular bubble within an insular bubble. So we’re here in South By, which is very well insulated in itself. And then with this little FinTech world that I find myself in , um, But deep down, I understand that the power of FinTech can break those bubbles and create, um, unity can create, uh, you know, break down any barriers that exist out there.

And that’s sort of one of those things that, uh, gets me excited about the power of FinTech is democratizing society, democratizing finance, democratizing wealth. And so that’s something that with all the macro events that we have going on, um, is quite relevant given sort of the mini cultural revolution we have here at the Lumineers event within a cultural revolution, within a massive macro cultural revolution.

Um, and you have to be aware of that to really make an impact. You, you can’t just be in your own bubble. You have to put it into the broader perspective. So.

[00:15:55] Becca Hoeft: So this interview was done at, um, the referenced FinTech Lumineers event, which is typically the second Saturday of March. And it is hosted by Alloy Labs, um, which is outta Chicago.

And so imagine 200 fintech friends from across the world coming together. And one of the things that I picked up on this was really that stuck with me was that democratization of finance. Bryan, you work with fintechs every single day here at Sunrise. You talk with people from all over the world. You’re learning about, um, What the new trends are, um, where fintechs are succeeding as Sunrise is that bank to move store and lend money for these fintechs.

My question to you is when you see a bank and then you see a FinTech, how do you, how do you see that democratization of finance, or how do you see this financial equity gap being closed? Do you see this working in FinTech and how?

[00:17:01] Bryan Toft: Well, partly it’s because of our mission, but I think it’s also true it’s FinTech as a whole.

Fintechs are attracted to Sunrise because of our mission about improving financial wellness. Um, so a lot of fintechs, uh, that we talk to have that same mission in mind. But when you read about financial technology in general, one of the reasons FinTech has been such a disruptor is because they are trying to serve the un and underbanked, which is a mission that we’ve had for a long time.
And we see that they can serve them better than a lot of banks can. And so that you’re seeing disruption because people that are not traditionally in the banking system are gaining access to the banking system through fintechs. Because if you don’t know out there, you know, fintechs in order to store, move and lend money, need a bank charter in the federal banking system.

And so a lot of fintechs will partner with banks like Sunrise to do those three things, store, move and lend money. And so we’re seeing fintechs being a disruptor, trying to go after those customers and clients that. Don’t currently have access to the banking system and then you start to have that democratization of finance.

Uh, and so it’s pretty exciting to see that because we have a lot of good stories about that. And I, I can give you a couple examples. Um, one of the fintechs we work with that’s called MoCaFi and, and Wole the CEO of MoCaFi has been featured on this podcast and they are committed to closing that wealth gap that you mentioned Becca.

And so an example is they will report your rent payments to a credit reporting agency to help improve your credit. So if you don’t have, if you don’t have a home mortgage that goes on your credit, you could have your rent payments get reported. And so that’s a tool to help improve credit for something that you’re already doing today.

Um, Another one is, is, uh, is TrueLink we work with TrueLink and, and TrueLink is interesting because they have developed this whole ecosystem around offerings to help meet needs of people that are caring for others. If those others are in recovery, maybe they have disabilities. Maybe they’re elderly. Um, TrueLink has a, a niche where they can serve those caregivers better than anybody else.

And that’s what you’re seeing is fintechs that found a niche that have a need, they need to be served, um, better than what they’re being served today. And we’re seeing that play out over and over again, whether it’s climate or credit builder or, you know, underbanked, whatever it might be, those are the things that are happening.

So it’s fun to be on the front lines of seeing that because it’s really, really important, and it’s gonna save people a lot of money down the road and it’s gonna help improve their lives. Um, very, uh, it’s gonna help improve their lives significantly.

[00:19:49] Becca Hoeft: So let me ask you this. Do you think that fintechs are inherently closing that financial equity gap?
Like it, it becomes, it becomes possible because they’re listening to the needs of the customer closer, or do you think fintechs in general are more altruistic?

[00:20:13] Bryan Toft: I think we’ve talked to some that are definitely altruistic. Um, Fig loans comes to mind, Financial Inclusion Group. I mean, they’re very altruistic.

And as we’ve seen at Sunrise mission times margin as you said many times, Becca, you know, you, you, the mission multiplies the margin and vice versa, then you have more margin to multiply your mission. Um, so I think some of it is altruism. But I think some of it also is just have seen that the traditional banking system has not served people well, and there’s an opportunity there.

So it’s both, you know, I think there’s a mission there to serve those folks that haven’t been served very well. Um, but there’s also a, a mission there to improve people’s lives. I think that’s where that, that mission the, that mission really does start to, uh, if that’s a truly authentic mission, then that does start to kind of build upon itself.

[00:21:05] Becca Hoeft: So our last interview is with Vanessa from Silicon Valley Bank. And we asked her about what the next gen banker looks like.

[00:21:16] Interviewee 4: I think the next generation banker looks just like a founder. You know, someone who really understands that experience. I think a lot of the infrastructure within financial institutions have been built by people who aren’t going to use the product. And so I have a startup background. Majority of my team either worked at a VC or startup before joining the bank. And I think having that real world experience to understand what the customer, in this case, founders need. So I’m really excited to see where FinTech and innovation is gonna go these next few years.

[00:21:51] Bryan Toft: So, Becca, what do you think about what Vanessa said about what the next gen banker looks like?

[00:21:57] Becca Hoeft: You know, I ended up speaking to Vanessa for quite some time, um, and this was only a very small part of the interview, but I think she’s onto something because, you know, for someone who’s grown up in banking and has had traditional banker type role, if we think about the future and how fintechs are being developed, and that banking is not necessarily in the brick and mortar, but rather online or on your mobile phone, it does require something different.

So, like Vanessa, I have a startup background and it really comes to number one, getting to know your customer, but you have to have that entrepreneurial spirit. And I think you and I chatted before, like I was a little thrown by the word founder, but it, it made sense to me as I started to think about it because a founder is someone who’s creating something from the foundation and it’s using that number one, entrepreneurial spirit it’s number two, being mission focused while also number three, being innovative.

And so I think she’s completely onto something. And as I look at the banks that are making strides, including Sunrise, these are the type of values that we’re looking for in the next generation that we’re hiring today.

[00:23:22] Bryan Toft: So let me ask you this. Do you think that the nextgen banker has to have some sort of entrepreneurial spirit as you call it?

Because you know, There is a whole concept around regulation and banking and don’t take too many risks. Uh, otherwise you can get into trouble. Those kinds of things, entrepreneurs are known to take risks and fail fast and those kinds of things. So is it okay for a banker to have an entrepreneurial spirit?

[00:23:51] Becca Hoeft: I think so. Absolutely. I mean, take a look at Sunrise Banks CEO, David Reiling. He is traveling the world finding the next thing, but he also has those checks and balances to be able to understand where, you know, we’re going to bump into regulation on different products and services. So you do need to have that balance because frankly, whether you’re a FinTech or a bank, it is a regulated industry.

Um, it’s not something that um, you can just dream up and cross your fingers that it’ll be okay because your regulator could be knocking on your door that evening. Um, at the same time, the innovation that comes out of entrepreneurial thinking is the future.

[00:24:34] Bryan Toft: Well, thanks Becca. And I have to say these were some really interesting interviews you did.

Uh, we only got to hear some of them, but the diversity and the entrepreneurs that attended South by Southwest were just fascinating. So it sounds like you had a great time and will you be going again next year?

[00:24:51] Becca Hoeft: I sure will. And you know what, you’re coming with me.

[00:24:53] Bryan Toft: Okay. I’ll be there.

[00:24:55] Becca Hoeft: All right. Thank you all.

[00:24:56] Bryan Toft: Thanks.

[00:25:00] Becca Hoeft: For this episode’s musical feature, we’re showcasing Michael Gungor. Michael Gungor, also known as Vishnu Doss, is an American singer songwriter, producer music, editor, author, and podcast host. He led the musical collective Gungor, which received multiple Grammy nominations. The group’s music has been compared to that of Sufjan Stevens, Bon Iver, and Arcade Fire. Here is Michael’s cover of Wonderama by Randy Stonehill.

(Music plays)

That was Michael Gungor covering Wonderama by Randy Stonehill. You can find more of Michael’s music at www.gungormusic.com. Find Randy Stonehill’s music at randystonehill.com. If you would like your music featured on the NextGen Banker podcast, email david@nextgen-banker.com with a link to your music and website.

Thanks for listening to the NextGen Banker podcast. We’ll see you next time.