Episode #47: South by Southwest 2023 LIVE Street Interviews

Episode 47

Sunrise Banks team heads to Austin every March 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 showcasing some of the houses we were at, what we learned from different sessions and the top three interesting fintechs we met.

A headshot of the hosts, Becca and Bryan

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

Ariel Red

"Silver Horizon"

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Episode Transcript


Interviewee 2: If you’re able to connect with the person and little by little build trust and get information, they actually found that people that liked the person that interviewed or interrogated them were the people that gave confessions.

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 by my colleague Bryan Toft, chief revenue officer at Sunrise Banks.

Bryan Toft: Hey, Becca. Glad to be here.

Becca Hoeft: Yeah, it’s good to see you. So today’s episode is going to be a little bit different. Each year, we are down at South by Southwest talking to the innovators from around the world. But if you haven’t been to South by yet, it’s really, as Jason Henrichs of Alloy Labs and Breaking Bank states, where the future is at. But first, let’s talk a little bit more about South by before we dive in.

Bryan Toft: Yeah, South by draws about 300,000 people per year. And as I just mentioned, it’s referred to many people as South by, full title, South by Southwest. But it’s an annual conglomeration of film, interactive media, music festivals, and conferences, which is organized jointly and takes place around mid-March in Austin, Texas. It began in the ’80s and has continued to grow in scope and size every year. And many people know of it as more of an event that intersects music and film. And now, tech and education. And of course, fintech, which we’re going to talk about today, have been added over the years.

Becca Hoeft: Yeah. And this year at South by, in 2023, we met a lot of interesting people. Today, we’ll share some of their conversations to give you that insider’s perspective what was top of mind this year. Let’s go ahead and dig in.

Bryan Toft: So our first stop-in interview was at the Equality Lounge, which was sponsored by the Female Quotient. It’s an equality services company that creates platforms for women and solutions for organizations committed to closing the gender gap in the workplace.

Interviewee 1: Just came out of the session talking about loneliness as women, as we rise in the workforce. And how we can create community and support each other and finding those different resources and being those support systems for each other.

Becca Hoeft: I have to admit, this was one of my favorite houses to visit, Bryan. There were so many interesting and compelling people at this house. And when you walked in, they had this large bookcase off to the side of all these various new book titles focused on gender equity gap. And the best part about it all was that the encouraging you to pick one to take one home.

Becca Hoeft: And I was just so overwhelmed. I had to ask one of the hosts which book she would recommend. And I wound up taking the book The Anxious Achiever by Morra Aarons-Mele. And I finished it not that long ago after I got back from South by Southwest. And it’s about using anxiety as your superpower, which I have never heard. But now I’m starting to practice some of these tools and techniques in the book and it’s really, really interesting.

Bryan Toft: Yeah I remember when you got back and you told me about that, using anxiety as your superpower, and I just thought that was such a great way to look at it and a total reframing of anxiety. So going to our next interview. There are a lot of men and women at the Equality Lounge. And here, we talked to Zoey and hear about her experience.

Becca Hoeft: Is this is your first time at South by Southwest?

Interviewee 2: It is not. I was actually born and raised here in Austin. But didn’t start coming to South by until a few years ago. I happened to be here taking care of my mom. So it was happening that weekend and it went to actual interactive events for the first time. And found out, wow, there’s a lot of really cool talks and things going on around the conference. And ever since then, I come every year just to stay at home with my parents and run around and see as much as I can and meet cool people.

Becca Hoeft: That is so great. And yes, we agree. You are a cool person to me, Zoe.


Becca Hoeft: So what’s been your favorite house so far?

Interviewee Two: My favorite house so far has definitely been the Equality Lounge, which is down by what I know as Town Lake, Nell Lady Bird Lake. Absolutely beautiful. Amazing food and coffee and people. Tons of really fun inspirational quotes and different things all around that did an amazing job decorating it. And I’ve been to some really cool talks there as well.

Becca Hoeft: So we actually met Zoe at the Fast Company Grill. So Zoe’s a scientist from some medtech company. And she told us about this session called Resilience, which was held at that quality lounge. The story she tells is so compelling about assumptions we make as leaders. I really wish I would have caught this session.

Interviewee Two: My favorite talk now, OK, think it was called– I want to say it was called resilience. But it was with this woman named Ebi, whose last name I will have to look up. But she worked with the Secret Service for decades. Supported multiple administrations, the Clinton administration, Bush Jr. administration and Obama.

Interviewee Two: And she was really talking about everything that she learned working with the Secret Service, particularly as an interviewer/interrogator trying to connect with people. And had a masters in forensic psychology. And really, really has deeply gone into the science of how to connect with people and what it takes to do that and to do that as a leader. Her nickname, they called her the Greek Spider. Because she’s Greek, and they said they never saw her coming.


Interviewee Two: And she’s someone that what she said is there’s this idea, exactly what you mentioned, of people needing to be really intimidating. Generally large men who are screaming in your face. And that’s how you get confessions and that’s how you get people to talk to you. And she was really talking about how that’s– it’s the opposite is true. And if you look at the research, if you’re able to connect with the person and little by little build trust and get information, they actually found that people that liked the person that interviewed or interrogated them were the people that gave confessions. And so the need to connect.

Interviewee Two: And she said, it really comes down to two things. It’s competence and worth. And those are the single two factors that make you most effective as an interviewer/interrogator and as a leader. And so the research really shows that the competencies and qualities and approaches are the same across both. And so really, really fascinating discussion.

Bryan Toft: Yeah, after I heard Zoe talk about this session, I totally wish I could have been there as well. I just love examples where you have, like she talked about, an interrogator that you assume is this big person yelling at someone to get the truth out of them. And it turns out the research shows that in order to get the truth or get a confession or even build a relationship, you’ve got to come at it in small trust building ways. And I think that’s true in what we’ve found as a leader, you have to come at it from a relationship building and trust standpoint.

Bryan Toft: And that’s just always fascinating to me, to hear, oh, you can flip this around and show that what you think might be the case for a leader or an interrogator or whatever. May not be the case in reality when it comes to what people actually like and react to and respond to.

Becca Hoeft: That’s well said, Bryan. You are so spot on. I think about some of the tougher people that I’ve tried to crack, so to speak, that were hard to get to know. It took more time. And it took building that trust, like you said, and building that relationship to get them to open up to you. And it’s a challenge. But in the end, it is so well worth it.

Becca Hoeft: This year was also an interesting mix of people who were not only South by Southwest veterans, but mostly, and I thought this was interesting, it was people who had never been there before. And I think with the pandemic lifting, it felt like the streets were just full and everyone was out for recess. This next person we talked to is Phil from a large bank.

Interviewee Three: Yeah, for me, I think obviously there’s a lot going on in the world. The financial services world especially, as we sit here this weekend. And I think what I want to– what I’ve been thinking about and what I’ve been noodling on is, how do we take unfortunate events and understand them better before reacting? Because I think there’s a lot of reactionary things going on right now. And using that to ultimately figure out how to do a better job at some of the things that have caused the unfortunate circumstances.

Bryan Toft: So can you guess which big event he’s talking about? At this time during South by Southwest, while the fintech contingency was meeting that second week of March, that’s when the news was breaking about Silicon Valley Bank and the threats of potentially bank runs at other banks and their demise. So the weekend was full of buzz, I think, because a lot of those fintechs I’m assuming were banking at Silicon Valley Bank along with signature, which of course, we know have both fallen at this point.

Bryan Toft: But nobody really knew what was happening. And there was a lot of fear at that time. But of course, with that fear and chaos comes opportunity. And one of the things that we’ve noticed over time here is better education, I would say. So education around, what is FDIC insurance? And how can banks help people keep their money safe? A lot of people just assume, my money’s safe at the bank. But you really have to make sure that you pay attention to FDIC insurance.

Bryan Toft: So there’s a company called IntraFi that Sunrise works with. And that is a way to trade FDIC insurance. And it really did strike me. I tweeted about this. It struck me, during this whole process with Silicon Valley Bank and Signature, how many people were not aware of IntraFi and the fact that their bank can get them FDIC insurance over the limit of $250,000. So you don’t have to bank at 10 banks if you have a significant amount of money from your startup or your company or even personally. There are tools and ways for you to do it.

Bryan Toft: So I do think that’s one of the positives that came out of this. Banks are now making sure that their customers are aware of FDIC insurance and educating them on those products and making sure that their financial situation is healthy.

Becca Hoeft: Yeah, and you brought up a good point. I remember actually you and I were talking to a fintech recently. And they thought they had to take whatever is over the 250 and put 250 in every single– in 10, 20 different banks so that they would be safe. And their eyes just opened up, and we’re very pleased to hear that there were alternatives so they want to have to manage such chaos with multiple banking institutions.

Becca Hoeft: And so yes, Silicon Valley was definitely on everyone’s brain at that weekend. Right now, we’re going to jump to the next section, where we talk to what we think were some of the most interesting and new fintechs that we met at South by Southwest and their business models. Before we do, I have to have you listen to what Maddie said at the fintech house.

Interviewee Four: I feel like the conversations have been incredibly authentic at the end of the day. I feel like also people are very vulnerable. And people are connecting on a deeper level than maybe what you would have in a normal business or professional setting. I feel like those lines are being blurred around that personal and professional self coming together at the end of the day. And we’re having some really great conversations around financial services, banking, human centered design, diversity, equity, and inclusion. Big, big ticket items and issues.

Interviewee Four: I heard this sentence from one of the attendees of the fintech house. And they said, a bank is not a place that you go. Banking is something you do. And I think that those are words that we all need to think about and live by, because it challenged us to look at different business models, products, services, and how we tell our story and manage brands as a result of that. I think a big piece of this is communication as well.

Interviewee Four: So if we can think about banking as something that you do, how can we also work together? And people are being very authentic in trying to bounce ideas off of each other. And trying to work together. Banks, fintechs, credit unions, all having these engaging discussions here. So I love it.

Bryan Toft: I love what Maddie said here. A bank is not somewhere you go, but it’s something you do. You don’t hear too many people talk about that, banking in that type of context. But it does remind me of a conversation I had with a customer at one point. A real estate investor. And we had quite a few properties financed with him.

Bryan Toft: And after about a year, I was having lunch with him. And he said, Bryan, where is your bank anyway? And it just struck me. Like, uh-oh, he’s never even been to the bank. And he’s never been to a branch. We always either met at his office or we met for lunch. And I think that was years ago. And I think that’s only been perpetuated by the pandemic that really, banking is not necessarily someplace people want to go. It might be more of an errand rather than a destination.

Bryan Toft: And so, how can we bring banking to people rather than have them come to the bank?

Becca Hoeft: Yeah. You told me that story, and I was like– and that was even before, like you said, the pandemic. And so that quote, a bank is not someplace you go, it’s something you do, really puts a whole new light on the customer experience and what banking is really about.

Becca Hoeft: But now we’ve come to the section of the episode where Bryan and I are going to highlight our top three most interesting fintechs. And we’re going to start with MoCaFi. MoCaFi isn’t necessarily new, are they, Bryan?

Bryan Toft: No, they’re not. They’ve been around a while. But definitely what they do is intriguing. And the mission that they have, I think everybody should pay attention to.

Becca Hoeft: Yeah, they’re truly a fintech doing good. In short, they have a financial services platform for Americans who deal with economic hardship. So let’s go ahead and listen to Jermaine, who’s head of credit risk and fraud, to talk about MoCaFi when we were at the FinTech Luminaries event at South by.

Interviewee Five: So what MoCaFi does is we offer demand deposit accounts for the unbanked or underbanked communities. So that’s a lot of the Black and Brown communities. Or in those communities are not only food deserts, but banking deserts as well. And so what we do is we offer them an account where we don’t have any brick and mortars. But we have partnerships with other banks to give them free ATM access. And so they never need to go into a brick and mortar.

Interviewee Five: And so what we do is we offer them that account. We send them a card. We also have a mobile card. And so we allow them to then become banks. The plan is hopefully for them to deposit, save, and then grow their wealth. Right, and those are the three things that we try to do at MoCaFi.

Bryan Toft: Yeah, MoCaFi has just been doing some really interesting things. And their impact has been exponential. They’re really focused on the community they’re trying to serve. And I remember hearing about the founding story from Wole Coaxum. And if you have never heard about it, definitely check it out. MoCaFi– M-O-C-A-F-I.

Bryan Toft: Wole had this lightbulb moment after he heard about and read about the shooting of the teenager in Ferguson, Missouri. And he was sitting in his office. I think he was on Wall Street at the time. He just said, what can I do to help? How can I make a difference? And he then went and built MoCaFi to address social inequities and address the racial wealth gap. I just think it’s so amazing the founding story of that company.

Becca Hoeft: Really, really cool.

Bryan Toft: So let’s go ahead and take a listen to our second favorite fintech we found at South by Southwest.

Interviewee Six: I think since I’ve been in this space, it’s been interesting. Because we are not your traditional business. We don’t do payments. We don’t do any of that. And so my company is really pushing forward and bringing more of a empathy and emotional deposit driven application that helps families really organize all of their documents, do legal pieces. And make sure that their planning and wealth plans are all in place.

Interviewee Six: So we’re something that’s a little bit different than your traditional fintech. And so being able to go into community banks and bring this product where they think is very emotionally driven, and also having those pieces that are very methodical. And you’re driving the non-interest income. You’re doing those different pieces that are really on the edge of money, as Alloy Labs likes to say, that really pushes the boundaries on, OK, let’s diversify how we’re making money and relating with our customers and building real authentic relationships with them.

Becca Hoeft: And if people want to learn more about Postage or The Postage, where do they go?

Interviewee Six: They go to thepostage.com and find me on LinkedIn or whatever, and I’d be happy to chat.

Becca Hoeft: So I met Emily at the Fintech House, Bryan. And she is just really in this interesting fintech space. Her fintech is called The Postage. And it’s a convenient full service digital platform that collects critical information and digital assets all in one place. And they provide what they call peace of mind through information security and planning services, allowing their users to protect their wealth and wisdom today for future generations.

Becca Hoeft: And I took that straight from the website, the actual– the language. But in short, they have helped thousands of families organize and secure their plans and memories on the postage. And so for me, I don’t know how much you know, Bryan, but I am a baby of five kids. And I was the, whoops, Mom’s pregnant, sibling. And I was left to take care of everything financially related to my parents.

Becca Hoeft: And I will have to say, it’s been a real struggle. My mom is in her 90s. And at the time when my dad passed away, for example, there wasn’t anything available before her health started to decline, before my dad’s health started to decline. So it felt like I was starting fresh and trying to be a detective and figure out where everything was and how to manage their finances.

Becca Hoeft: And I so wish I had The Postage. And I’m so glad there is a fintech filling this market niche.

Bryan Toft: Yeah. Sometimes you don’t think about it until it might be too late or close to too late. And so it’s really cool to think about. What I’ve been doing with my dad actually is something called Storyworth. And every week, he gets sent a question about his life. And he writes about it. And at the end, they give you a book. And you have this book full of memory.

Bryan Toft: So The Postage reminded me of that where it’s like, one of my dad’s biggest regrets is not asking his grandparents, for example, these questions and getting those stories and having them written down. And The Postage reminds me of that, where it’s like, Cash, get all your stuff in order now. And have someone help you. Have someone that’s done it before. Like The Postage, I think that’s really cool.

Becca Hoeft: Totally.

Bryan Toft: So let’s close out with our final favorite fintech we met at South by. And it’s Worldspan. This fintech is doing something really interesting. And as financial institutions are becoming more and more aware and regulators are becoming more and more aware of the role they play in climate change and climate risk and protecting our planet and being net zero in carbon emissions, let’s hear what Janet has to say.

Interviewee Seven: So my insurtech derisks banks so that they can participate in this green financing program called PACE that they have previously been averse to for various reasons. I guess my greatest story is the reaction I get from banks. Which is as soon as I tell them what we’re doing, their eyes open up and they’re super excited. Because everybody wants to help save the planet. But they don’t necessarily know how. And we show banks a way how to where they can not only save the planet, but get a new revenue stream.

Interviewee Seven: If you’re a business property owner or a homeowner, right now, there’s no clear cut evident financing program for you to do your part and to– let’s say you’re interested in putting a Tesla charger in or solar panels. Or more efficient windows or HVAC. There’s no current program, go-to program available for you to go do that. You wouldn’t know where to or how to go do that.

Interviewee Seven: And we’re changing that with our fintech program to blow up in the availability of green financing. So that every day home and business owner now has an option to do their part and cut their bills.

Becca Hoeft: So Bryan, I met Jannick at the Fintech Luminaries event. And I spoke with him for quite a bit. And what I really love is the passion he has for his work and his mission. And being involved in the Global Alliance for Banking and Values, I know there are a number of banks who are interested in helping close the climate equity gap.

Bryan Toft: Yeah, and there are so many banks and credit unions are looking for ways outside of some of the traditional financing models to address these concerns. So biggest threats in urban areas are strip malls and hospitals. And commercial real estate buildings actually emit the highest levels of carbon. And building owners are looking to retrofit these buildings so that they’re more environmentally friendly.

Bryan Toft: And in some cases, we’ve heard of certifications called Passive House. So if you haven’t heard of Passive House, go out and take a look. I mean, it’s just like taking the green effort to the next level. And I just think it’s so amazing some of the innovations happening in this space. And it’s going to be economically beneficial, of course. But more importantly, environmentally beneficial.

Bryan Toft: So hopefully through all these different innovations, we can continue to decrease the carbon footprint and enhance what we’re thinking from an environmental standpoint.

Becca Hoeft: Well, Bryan, this closes out the share’s highlights from South by Southwest 2023. We all hope you enjoyed it as much as we did. Thanks for listening to the NextGen Banker Podcast. We’ll see you next time.


Becca Hoeft: For this episode’s musical feature, we’re showcasing Aerial Red. Aerial Red is an ambient leading music project by award winning producer/composer Pete Stewart, with a mixture of organic and synthetic textures and an array of dynamics and emotions. Here is Silver Horizon by Aerial Red.


Becca Hoeft: That was Silver Horizon by Aerial Red. You can find more of Aerial Red’s music on Spotify. If you would like your music featured on the NextGen Banker Podcast, email David at nextgen-banker.com, with a link to your music and website. Thanks for listening to the NextGen Banker Podcast. We’ll see you soon.

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