Episode #33: Ahon Sarkar

Episode 33

Ahon Sarkar wants to make finance more “human.”

That means personalizing financial experiences, creating diverse product offerings and making sure everyone has access to free and fair banking.

Sarkar, the general manager of Q2’s Helix platform, talks about the future of embedded finance and the importance of helping consumers reach their financial goals through tailored products and services.

Ahon Sarkar Profile Pic

Featured Guest: Ahon Sarkar

Ahon Sarkar is the General Manager of Helix by Q2, which empowers innovative companies to build personalized, empathetic banking products that today serve over 10M people nationwide. As one of the first in embedded finance as we know it today, Ahon has spent the last several years focused on evolving Q2’s BaaS platform to drive differentiation at scale for top-tier tech and fintech companies through banking products that delight their users.

Prior to joining Q2, Ahon built Cambr at StoneCastle, a joint venture with Q2 that was the first BaaS offering in the US market. Before that, he ran Special Projects for the CEO and CIO of Bridgewater Associates and founded a startup called Vylo in the voice communications space.

Ahon holds a bachelor’s degree in Economics from the University of Chicago. Throughout his career, he’s had a passion for building innovative products that make a real difference for everyday people.

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

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Episode Transcript

[00:00:00] Ahon Sarkar: Because at the end of the day, nobody goes to sleep thinking, I can’t wait to sign up for a bank account. Right. I can’t wait to go get a loan. Right. What they think is, Man, I can’t wait to get that home for my family, right. I can’t wait to be able to go to college. Right. And our job being in financial services is to help them get there.

[00:00:22] Becca Hoeft: Welcome to the NextGen Banker Podcast, where we explore what’s next in baking and talk with the innovators responsible for creating positive change in the financial sector. I’m Becca Hoeft, Sunrise Banks Chief Brand Officer, and I’m here with my friend and colleague. Bryan Toft, our Chief Revenue Officer at Sunrise Banks, and today Bryan and I are pretty excited to welcome a Ahon Sarkar to the show today. Ahon, thank you for being on the podcast today.

[00:00:50] Ahon Sarkar: Thanks for having me. I’m, I’m excited to talk with you guys.

[00:00:54] Becca Hoeft: Likewise. Before we get started, it’s just a reminder to stick around to hear our musical feature at the end of the episode. Each NextGen Banker episode showcases one new artist from somewhere around the globe representing a wide range of different genres. So be sure to check it out.

[00:01:12] Bryan Toft: Now let’s hear a little bit about our guest. Ahon is the general manager and SVP of Q2’s Helix, a platform helping companies build banking products. And Helix partners with companies like Credit Karma, Gusto, Acorns, and serves more than 10 million people worldwide. He is passionate about building personalized banking products for all consumers, and we’re really excited to ask him some questions here.

So, let’s dive into it. Go ahead, Becca.

[00:01:37] Becca Hoeft: Yeah, so, you know, Ahon, you’ve, you’ve made quite a mark on the banking, uh, industry and I, what I wanna do is I wanna roll the clock back a few years, let’s say when you were like 6, 7, 8 years old. Did you always wanna be in finance?

[00:01:58] Ahon Sarkar: Quite, quite the opposite, honestly. I, uh, so my family immigrated to this country when we, when I was pretty young.

And, um, my family grew up without too much money. Right. And as we all know, um, people who grew up in the United States without a lot of money live a very different life, uh, than people who grew up with a lot of money. Right. And I remember as a kid, Kind of thinking about how the system itself was unfair, to be totally honest and I, I told myself, you know, I’m never gonna work in finance right.

Now, uh, my mom was maybe unhappy to hear that, but at the time I thought, you know what I’m gonna do? Uh, I’m gonna, first I’m gonna be a scientist, and then I’m gonna go start a company that’s gonna change the world. Right? And, uh, it’s funny, all throughout high school I did a whole bunch of different stuff in, in various fields of science, right?

So one year I built, um, low-cost acoustic soundproofing. People in the slums could have, you know, uh, soundproofing that cost nothing because it was built of cardboard and uh, and carpet tape, right? And then the year after I was like, okay, let me tackle the problem of, um, drunk driving and I built a system to use, uh, driver’s license as the key to your car and the whole access controls, all that kind of stuff.

And then I was like, ah. I’m not a better computer scientist than some of the other people that I know, so let me go focus on something else. And then the next year I did, um, Alzheimer’s research. So I tried to figure out what, what really causes Alzheimer’s and how do you stop your brain from producing the plaques that that degrade your brain?

And then I was like, I wanna tackle global warming. And so I, I went to work at a nanoparticles lab, uh, to figure out what is the right morphology of a nanoparticle to convert methane into co2. And after all that, what I realized was I really loved solving very complex problems. Uh, and I loved doing things that actually matter for the wide majority of people, but I really hated sitting by myself for 2000 hours in a lab, you know, like micro pipetting plates or sitting and writing in Python.

It just, it wasn’t for me. Right? And so I went into college and I was like, Okay. I know I want to eventually run a business and create something that drives impact for people. And I know that I don’t wanna work in finance, and I know that I probably don’t wanna be a scientist, so let me go figure it out.

Right? Uh, and what I quickly learned is there’s this crazy thing called, uh, debt, um, that, that you have to pay, uh, down the line, right? And it turns out, um, One, finance is a great place to work, uh, to go and pay off your debt. But also two, I sort of serendipitously landed at this company called Bridgewater, which is a hedge fund that’s over in Connecticut.

And if you’ve never heard of Bridgewater, it’s a very particular type of company. Um, but I’m, I’m really thankful that I got to work there, because for me it was kind of like going to grad school. Um, getting rid of any debt and simultaneously learning further about the markets, about the other side of the fence, right?

Because Bridgewater doesn’t work with, you know, individuals who are low income across the United States, Bridgewater works with large pension funds. Bridgewater works with sovereign wealth funds, and Bridgewater today is one of the largest wealth managers in the world. And so hedge funds in the world, I should say, right?

And so it gave me perspective of, of both sides of the equation. And so when I left Bridgewater, I knew what I wanted to do was, um, build something that helped the folks who really needed it across the country. And again, serendipitously, I ended up in this business called Camber, which is what is today Helix.

This is like a little bit more than five years ago. Um, and at that time they didn’t really know what they were gonna build. They just knew that they wanted to build something that was a better banking experience for the everyday American. And, um, banking as a service didn’t exist. People looked at us like we were crazy when we came to them and we asked ’em to build banking.

And it’s been a hell of a ride, if I’m allowed to say that, right? We’ve, uh, seen the industry come to life. We’ve seen amazing companies in our book of clients, but also outside of that, I think change the way that these products are built. And we’ve had a however small a piece in redesigning the way the infrastructure works.

And that sounds like such a boring thing, right? When you talk about changing the way infrastructure works. But what you don’t realize is, what we live every day and what we interact with every day is really just a product of infrastructure and its limitations. Right? Why aren’t banking products built around people?

Well, because the infrastructure didn’t work that way. Right? Why can’t you onboard somebody who doesn’t have a social? Well because KYC doesn’t work that way. Right? And one of the nice things about being the kind of person that didn’t start by wanting to be in finance, right, started by wanting to solve a problem and sort of ended up in finance, is you look at those things and you’re like yeah, but that doesn’t make any sense, right? That’s not how that should work. Like we, we know the person is a good person. We are able to trust them. How do we change the way the system works? And I think that’s the fun part of what I do and you know, my 160 some odd colleagues on the Helix team do is we get to sit there and say, not how does the system work, but how should the system work? Right? And who are the people like Sunrise Banks, by the way, um, that we should partner with to make that new world a reality.

[00:06:51] Becca Hoeft: Bryan and I were smiling earlier today when we were looking through your bio and just figuring out what are we gonna talk to Ahon about? And it was like there is this pattern for those change makers in the finance industry, and Bryan and I fit in that category too, where we didn’t grow up in finance.

We didn’t grow up in banking. In fact, it was the complete opposite of, you know, of banking or finance. And here we are today, um, finding our own path and making a difference. And I think the other thing, you said something that triggered something for me, you said products that are built around humans, and I love that idea of human centric design and that you’re using human design thinking, design thinking to build products and services that doesn’t have to rely on the past on how banking used to be, how finance used to be.

[00:07:49] Bryan Toft: I was gonna say something similar and that is that, you know, I was three years into a computer science degree and realized I didn’t really like programming. It’s like, okay, now what? You know, and then you kind of explore other things and kind of fall into finance and banking and, and it’s a fit. And it’s such a common story for people in finance.

It’s unbelievable. But you talk about problem solving and, and then bringing those problem-solving skills into banking, and you’re kind of using those at a high degree right now. And I, I love to see that. Um, you know, as, as you mentioned at Sunrise, we, we partner with fintechs, uh, and kind of try to do the, bank the underserved, and how do we make that experience better and how do we gain access for people that are underserved out there?

And that is part of the reason FinTech exists, which, which I love. And so, you know, Helix talks about making finance human. Which is a great, just a great way of putting it. Like make it human. Don’t make it about the infrastructure, but make it about that person that we can see in front of us and can trust. And how do we get that person access that everybody else has.

So I was gonna ask, do you, can you tell us a little bit about more what that means to you, making finance human and, and also before that, how did you come up with the name Helix?

[00:09:00] Ahon Sarkar: That’s a, that’s a good question. Um, so, this business has had a kind of interesting history that I’m gonna fast forward through only because there’s so much of it, right?

Um, but here’s the very quick and dirty right. In 2008. Yes. I wanna go back that far. In 2008 there was this company called SmartyPig. Right. And they were one of the very first gold based savings apps, and they, uh, in order to build their business, because savings products for low-income people was expensive for banks to support because traditional core costs were really high.

And so if you didn’t have a ton of money opening up a whole bunch of savings accounts is gonna be really expensive, right? And so in order to offer that savings account, they had to go build a core, and they called it Core Pro, right? And the idea was, Okay, that way we can open up all these savings accounts and it’s not gonna be crazy expensive for a bank.

Well, fast forward three, four years, what they realized pretty quickly was the savings product they built was pretty cool, but the core they had built was kind of one of the kind. And so they rebranded the, the company and eventually got bought into Q2. And when they got bought into Q2, Q2’s view was, um, we’re gonna help banks launch goal-based savings products, which by the way, today we still do, uh, it’s called goals.

Um, and, and people can use Helix to offer those as a bank. But on the flip side of the fence, there was this other company, uh, called Stone Castle. Uh, and I joined Stone Castle’s digital team as kind of their first new employee, if you will. And we were both trying to solve a similar problem from different ends.

So from Stone Castle’s perspective, we were trying to figure out how do we bring, So Stone Castle’s, a deposit network that brings deposits out to hundreds of banks, um, and, and helps people who have cash debt interest basically. And they’re trying to figure out how do we get to retail customers? And how can we take this process of building a banking product and make it simpler?

And we realized, well, we had the network to put the cash in, but we needed the tech, we needed the operations. And so we partnered with Q2 and that became Camber. And we grew that business over the next three years. And eventually that partnership dissolved when we acquired everything into Q2. And so, SmartyPig Core Pro, Camber, Q2.

It’s all the same thing, right? But it’s kind of this complex story that took all these twists and turns because the world changed, right? And because we learned along the way. And so that came into Q2 and then at that time we were growing really, really quickly, right? So we had a number of large clients that were scaling rapidly.

Um, and in the last two years, we’ve gone from probably around 4 million users to around 12 million users. We’ve gone from around 40 employees to around 160 employees, and we’ve shipped more than a hundred pieces of functionality, uh, over the course of the last two years. And so it was a lot of really deep investment, a lot of deep focus on what was important.

And as a part of that, you know, when we came into Q2, there was kind of this question of what do we call this thing? Like what is it really? Right? And we, we operate in this kind of interesting dynamic, right? Because on one hand my goal, my teammate’s goals, is to make finance human. That’s why we do this. That’s why we work in this space.

And it took a long time, Bryan, to that, to that point, to come to, what are the three words, right? How do you make it as simple as possible? Because it’s hard to remember things, to be totally honest. When they get longer or more convoluted, and you know, this is around the time, remember when we got acquired into Q2, it was pandemic.

The pandemic had been going on for about a month, right? And so all of these people that we hired, we hired in a remote environment. And so I found myself asking a few questions. The people that we’ve hired are very different, right? But what is the thing that makes them the same? What is the common thread that runs between them?

The clients that we sign are very different, right? So what is the common thread that unites those companies, even if they’re in completely different verticals, building completely different things? And then, and I hope this isn’t too philosophical for this podcast, but like, why are we here? What is the point of this?

Like if, if you were to not be on this earth tomorrow, what would’ve been left behind? Right. And when I thought about those three things, the common thing across every single person on our team is that they wanna make a difference towards the people that really need it. Right? And they want to change the way that painful, broken systems are in a world where historically, a lot of consumers were treated like a cost of deposits, right?

What is the common thing for our clients? They’re trying to build something that’s unique, right? And they’re trying to build something around people because these clients that we work with to, to Becca’s point from before, are experts in human-centered design, right? And then, you know, what are we trying to do for, for the overall economy?

When I think back to, you know, family, friends, et cetera, that, that struggled growing up and even my own family, right? That lack of context in the financial system is something that in some cases can dehumanize consumers when it’s put into the worst context. And so all of that came together in okay, and I, I, I mentioned that I was a scientist prior, or at least I was deeply passionate about science.

Well, in biology helix, right, is the framework to take the building blocks of life, which are just four things, ATC and G, right? And put them in an infinite number of orders to make every human being on the planet, right? Uh, and that concept of taking basic building blocks that are always the same, and just putting them in new concepts and new combinations, and creating something that was completely different like that, that my dog and I shared the same basic building blocks that blew my mind.

And I sat there and I was like, well, we’re building the helix of finance right, the framework to take accounts and cards and payments and data and those fundamental building blocks that always stay the same and put them into new context and new combinations and to use new information to build something that’s brand new.

Right. And that’s why even though the companies you mentioned, Credit Karma, Betterment, Acorns, you know, Rocket Money, True Bill or Rocket Money is True Bill, Rocket Money. Uh, you know, the, the companies that we sort of talked through built totally different products. They’re all using the same basic fundamentals, but they’re putting their own secret sauce into it, right?

They’re putting their existing ecosystem, they’re putting the context they have about people. So to summarize it, that’s how we got to Helix, and that’s kind of how we got to this idea of making finance human and for us that basically means three things, right? How do you make it so that the products that we use are as diverse as we are, right?

Because traditional banking infrastructure is built with product IDs, right? You have one and two, you’re free and you have premium. And a human being is either a free or a premium. But the reality is like there’s a lot of nuance that’s lost in that one or zero way of looking at the world, right? So how do we get a diverse array of options?

How do we create a world where products are built around people, right? And this is that concept, Becca, of human-centric design. And if you really zoom out and you forget about finance for a second, you think about technology. Why is Apple successful? Why is Google successful? Why is TikTok successful? Why is Facebook successful?

Think about YouTube, right? There’s so much content on YouTube that you could never watch at all, ever, right? There’s more content created every minute than you can watch in your entire life. So what is the secret sauce of YouTube? It is the ability to show you things that you care about, right? And to show you content that you wanna engage in.

Right? It’s personalization. And the same is true for all of those other tech companies, right? And so why is that not the case in finance? Well, because the infrastructure didn’t work that way. And why didn’t it work that way? Well, because when it was built in the eighties and nineties, it used to cost $36,000 to store a gigabyte of information.

And consumers were a cost of deposits. So why would they build it in that way? Right? So the world has changed, the technology has changed. And so that second piece of making finance human is how do we make it so that products are built around people? And then the final piece, and I know that you guys at Sunrise are as passionate as we are about this.

How do you make it so that no matter where you live, no matter when you came to this country, and no matter how much money you have, you can get access to free and fair banking, right? Because at the end of the day, nobody goes to sleep thinking, I can’t wait to sign up for a bank account. Right. I can’t wait to go get a loan.

Right. What they think is, Man, I can’t wait to get that home from my family. Right? Right. I can’t wait to be able to go to college. Right. And our job being in financial services is to help them get there. Right. And so there’s a lot of people today that, as you guys know and are deeply passionate about, are kind of left by the wayside.

Um, by the way, the system works today, so we’re trying to fix that. So anyway, that’s how we got to Helix. Those are kind of the three things that make finance human means to me and, and to our, the rest of our team. And, and that’s, is kind of embedded inside of everything that we do from how we build our products to the clients that we go after to what we message around in the market.

Um, and that’s part of what makes this job a lot of fun.

[00:17:03] Becca Hoeft: So cool. Like everything that you’re saying, Ahon is resonating so much with me. At Sunrise Banks, we talk about being a social engine for good and we’re trying to empower financial wellness for, I mean, our goal is 250 million lives by 2028. And so we, we want to, um, take these products and services and go to scale.

And that’s what I think, you know, having banking as a service allows us to do. But let me ask you a question, because you talked a little bit around access to free and fair banking for those who normally wouldn’t have access. So let me ask you, does, does FinTech inherently help the un and underbanked and do you have an example or two that you could share.

[00:17:52] Ahon Sarkar: Yeah, that’s a great question. I wouldn’t say that fintechs inherently help people who are underserved. I think fintechs who choose to focus on people who are underserved work to help those folks, right? But I think there are fintechs out there today that focus on affluent individuals that focus on high-net-worth individuals.

And those people need solutions too, don’t get me wrong, right? But they’re not the underserved. Let’s just be clear about that. When it comes to how do you inherently, how do you intrinsically help the underserved I’m, I’m actually gonna call to the example that Helix offers, right? So let’s unpack the underserved problem for a second.

Right now, let’s separate unbanked from underbanked, right? Unbanked being, I don’t have a social security number I can’t access the financial system. And underbanked being I could access a bank account, but I either don’t trust the, that the bank is gonna have my best interest at heart, or I get feed so much that I don’t wanna open an account.

I don’t see the value. Right. Here’s an interesting question. Why are the underserved underserved, right? And the reason as you dig into it is in fact not because anyone in this ecosystem is evil. It is because of how the system works, right? So let’s unpack that. The average American today does not even have $500 in savings.

Which is terrifying, uh, in a number of contexts because it means that they can’t handle something that where to suddenly happens to them. But let’s say for a second that you have doubled, that you have a thousand dollars, right? And now let’s say that you’re a bank who uses a traditional core provider and you don’t pay for marketing, you don’t pay for employees, you don’t pay for any of the stuff that you need to run a bank.

The only two things you pay for are cost of capital and technology, right? Well, if the person has a thousand dollars, you’re spending 10 bucks in cost of capital. And then typically for a traditional core provider, you’re paying somewhere between three bucks and 12 bucks per account per month, right? So let’s say it’s the lowest end.

That’s three bucks a month. That’s $36. So 36 plus 10. That’s $46 a cost. Now what about the money you’re gonna make? Well, you’re gonna lend out those deposits, right? And net interest margin by and large today is about 3%. So you’re gonna earn about 30 bucks, right? So you’re down 16 bucks on a consumer who has double what the average American has.

And why is that? Because the cost is so high that you can’t afford to serve them. Now, change only one thing. Put Helix into that equation. What happens? Well, we charge like a quarter per user, right? So now you’re spending 10 bucks cost a capital, but you’re spending $3, right? So now I’m earning 30, spending 13, I’m making $17.

So what does that do? Well, that creates an incentive for companies like Gusto and like Acorns to go build solutions that target the underserved because they can build a sustainable business because they can solve a problem that other, you know, incumbents have a challenge solving because they’re stuck with legacy expensive technology.

And it creates this world where five years later we now have all of these different kinds of solutions, right? That serve lower income individuals because companies had an incentive to, they had the capability to, and there was a market need, right? And so to me, those are the kinds of examples. Um, not, not to self-promote, but those are the kinds of examples of intrinsically helping the underserved because to, if you really wanna do that you have to change the reason that they are underserved and you have to change the incentive structure behind building products for them because you’re not gonna be the only one that builds that product. You need the rising tide to raise all ships, um, if you want the living conditions to get better, um, for those people.

[00:21:26] Bryan Toft: Shifting gears a little bit to embedded finance, one of my favorite topics and, um, a lot of discussion about embedded finance today and, you know, I think about embedded finance and it’s like, okay. There’s, uh, trust and there’s ease, right? I mean, you mentioned people waking up in the morning and not being like, I’m gonna go open a bank account today.

But people do wake up in the morning and they say, I expect my money to be in my bank account today, right? And so there’s a, there’s a trust factor there with kind of where people’s money is. And that’s what we’re talking about with embedded finance, right? Like, where do people hold their money and why?

Is it for trust reasons? Is it because it’s easy? Is it because you know it’s low cost? What is it? But I, I’m curious what you think about, um, especially with Helix and, and what Helix is, is doing embedded finance, um, how would you define that? And I’m really curious to hear your take on what is the future.

Are we gonna have our money and all kinds of different companies, you know, across where we shop and where we buy? I mean, we do today. I know I have money at my Starbucks card, you know, to go and, which is one of the bigger ones, right? To go and purchase Starbucks. Is that going to continue? What is your opinion on that?

And, and maybe start by defining embedded finance, if you would, at least how you define it.

[00:22:38] Ahon Sarkar: Sure thing. To me, embedded finance is non-banks  embedding financial services inside of their existing product ecosystem. And good embedded finance is when you do that, not as an add-on, but as a wholly integrated piece of your overall product suite.

Like you’re talking about Starbucks, I think it’s a great example. Is the thing that’s good about Starbucks, the fact that you can store value? No. The thing that’s good about Starbucks is you earn extra rewards and you can order on your phone and you don’t have to wait in a line. Right, right, right. Well, what we realized in that example is they needed the ability to store and move money to facilitate that, but the real value came in tying it to the ecosystem of the coffee shop, right?

Because that’s where you’re getting the discreet value. That comes to your question of, you know, what does the future look like? And before I look at the future, I always look at the past, right? So what did this look like? Well, you know, for five years ago, nobody wanted to launch any of this stuff. Um, and then as more and more people realized that it was an opportunity and that it was possible, they started to add banking products or other financial products, but not everybody took the strategy of integrating it into an existing ecosystem. A lot of people just said, I’m gonna add a bank account, a debit card to the business is gonna triple my valuation. It’s gonna be great. Right? And sure enough, that’s not the case, right? Because what they realized a couple years later is banking is not a feature.

It is a business, right? Where once you enter this business, that’s something that you’re signing up for for the long term, right? It’s part of the reason that when we match people to a bank of record, we kind of joke that it’s a marriage, right? Because you have to make sure your values align. You have to make sure you guys want to go to the same place, right?

And you guys have to make sure that you’re both in it for the long haul, otherwise you’re gonna get divorced, right? And divorces are painful. And so what I think we in the market have, is that it is not enough to launch a B2 banking product. Like the people that win in the long term are gonna be the people that create unique and differentiated value.

Because unless what you build cannot be replicated tomorrow, you’re gonna get competed outta the market. It’s gonna be a race to the bottom, right? And so that’s part of why over the last five years we’ve focused exclusively on the larger companies that have existing ecosystems that can build something unique by combining banking into it, as opposed to just tacking on banking or launching neobank after neobank.

So that’s one is, is it practically differentiated and is it unique in the marketplace? And the second piece is the people who personalize products will succeed and the people who don’t will not. Now, that’s a broad statement to make. Why? Why would I say that? Well, people who are launching embedded banking products just to focus on that segment, are not doing that in isolation.

They’re doing that in a world where there are thousands of other banking products out there offered by banks, offered by companies, whatever, right? And so, you know, I tell our team, if you’re gonna play, Play to Win, right? And so when these companies are out there and thinking about, well, how do I launch something that’s better than the experience that someone might get at a, you know, a different institution?

Leverage the advantages that your technology has given you. Right? Traditional systems weren’t built to be able to design around the user systems like Helix are. Right? And so I think what we’re gonna see is the same evolution that we saw in tech where we went from there are products and you can get one, or you can get out to the product’s built around you and involves every day as you evolve.

Right? We’re gonna see that same thing happen in finance and the people that adopt it are gonna be like the tech giants that we see today and the people that don’t are gonna be like the, the number three and number four in each space, which you don’t know the name of because nobody does. Right? Um, and so I think the reality is there are going to be firms that try to add banking as a tack-on feature that are going to fail, like that’s life, right? And there are not going to be 50,000 different banking products because much like a restaurant menu, nobody’s brain has the capacity to maintain all of those 50,000 endpoints, right? The likely reality is there will be winners and there will be losers.

And those that win are gonna be people that create that differentiation, that build around the customer first. And that build on a sustainable business model, right? Because I think, uh, a lot of the past was also VC funded growth, going round and round using growth to drive funding, to drive growth, to drive funding.

And now I think as the macroeconomic change, uh, environment changes, you’re seeing the companies that built it on a solid business model thrive and you’re seeing those that were just funding growth with, with, uh, with basically investor led dollars struggle. Uh, so maybe not a popular opinion to have, but that’s my honest view on what, what this world’s gonna look like in a few years.

[00:27:13] Becca Hoeft:

Ahon, this is like the perfect segue. We ask all of our guests the same last question on the podcast, and you know, here you are, scientist turned finance turned tech. Um, we know the industry has changed and it will continue to change and look different every single month.

Um, in your mind, what does that next generation banker look like?

[00:27:43] Ahon Sarkar: Oh man, I think they are varied. There is no one right, I think, and I have to look no further than your team and then our team, right? Because if I look at the makeup of people on our team today, we have people who’ve been doing this in white label prepaid, uh, for 25, 30 years.

We have people who are coming in from tech companies and have never touched a financial product in their entire lives. We have a guy who won two Olympic Golds in swimming. What’s he doing on a finance team? Right? I think the reality is in the same way that you asked, what is a tech employee today? Well, I don’t know.

There are hundreds of thousands of them and they cover the gamut of human existence. I think you’ll see the same thing in FinTech. I think you’re seeing this value of diversity, of opinion, this value of, um, experience and understanding of the system, and also willingness to evolve that system and think differently.

And I think that only happens well when those two people, or 10 people or a thousand people, Are collaborating and debating, because the honest truth is if you only have people who are forward thinking, tech forward, all that kind of stuff, yeah, you’ll build a whole bunch of stuff, but it won’t work. It won’t be regulatory compliant, it won’t help people.

You will fall into the same traps that prepaid fell into back in the day. Or you could have a team full of people that have done that day in day out, but then you won’t push the envelope. You won’t ask, why does the system work that way? You’ll only know that it does. Right? And so I think the reality of the future banker, is a diverse workforce across multiple disciplines that realizes that finance and FinTech are the, the lifeblood under honestly underneath the economy and underneath all of the interactions we have on a daily basis.

And that the capability for change in this industry is probably more than in most right. And so I’m, I’m excited for that. I’ve, I’ve seen our own workforce evolve over the last five years. I’ve seen our partners and our clients and our competitors, um, uh, workforce evolve. And I think it makes us all better, right?

I think we learn from each other. Uh, and that’s, that’s what makes me excited to be a part of this space. Starting as a kid who thought he was never gonna be in finance. Um, and now being like, Is this my career? Is that, is this what I’m doing? Um, but it is, and it is because of the people in it. Um, not just because of the problems.

[00:30:06] Bryan Toft: Well, Ahon, thank you so much for being on the NextGen Banker Podcast. Such an engaging conversation, and, uh, we love that we’re partnered together and I’m super excited to see where we go, uh, together. So thank you so much.

[00:30:17] Ahon Sarkar: Yeah, no doubt. I, I couldn’t pick a better partner and I really appreciate you guys having us on the podcast.

And if you’re on this podcast and you’re listening to it and you’re trying to figure out, you know, should I launch a banking product? How should I launch a banking product? I’m gonna be the one to, to shamelessly plug these guys. Uh, Sunrise has been around in the space for years. They understand this dynamic around consumers and building products around people and challenging some of the traditional ways that people have onboarded financial products and, and they’re helping create a world where anybody can get access to free and fair banking and banking that’s built for them.

And so, uh, if you’re thinking about it, give these guys a call. They know what they’re doing and uh, you’ll get to use our tech along the way.

[00:30:58] Becca Hoeft: Hey. Hey, well thank you for that Ahon and um, we will see you at upcoming events. I think Money 2020 is coming up later this fall. We will see Q2 and Helix there.

But thank you again.

[00:31:10] Ahon Sarkar: Absolutely. We’re throwing a party. Come on by. Talk to you guys soon.

[00:31:16] Becca Hoeft: For this episode’s musical feature, we’re showcasing Snow Bones. Snow Bones is a collaboration between musicians, Aaron Sprinkle and Adrian Walter that’s filled with soaring melodies, great hooks, and a dose of nostalgia.

Here is Sleep Tonight by Snow Bones.


That was Sleep Tonight by Snow Bones. You can find more of Snow Bones music on Spotify. If you would like your music featured on the NextGen Banker podcast, just 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.