Posted by Cognito on Wed, Apr 27 2016

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Top Trends from Empire Startups FinTech Conference

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In an unlikely venue, the dance club Webster Hall, dozens of FinTech and Startups lovers gathered for Empire Startups’ 2016 FinTech Conference. I attended with my financial PR firm, Cognito, to see a few clients, hopefully meet some new ones, and learn a little something along the way. The conference broke down a number of topics ranging from FinTech growth trajectory, NY as a FinTech center, the Real Estate Tech boom, RegTech, and the rise Insurance Tech. To help boil down the value of the event, I am including some of, what I thought, were the best moments of the day.

Chairman’s Welcome and Opening Keynote
Matthew Harris, Bain Capital Ventures

This was a great way to start the conference. Matt opened the day by sharing some interesting insights on what he was seeing happen in the FinTech world. Among them he noted a shift away from historically dominated payments investments to more opportunities in lending and an emphasis on New York as the true center of FinTech. You can read more about Matt's thoughts on FinTech on his blog

Panel: Tapping the Startup Ecosystem to Accelerate Growth
Moderator: Ryan Teksten, Fidelity Labs
Pascal Bouvier, Santander InnoVentures
Scarlett Sieber, BBVA
Michael Doody, Thomson Reuters
Mike Sha, SigFig

Interesting perspectives came out of this session with the larger players in the FinTech innovation space. Scarlett Sieber of BBVA won me over during this panel speaking to BBVA’s desire to be the best digital bank and the shift from banking disruption to collaboration with banks. Other insights coming out of this were how to cut through the noise of an increased number of accelerators and incubators, UK’s lead in the FinTech market (have you met UK T&I?) and the regulators relocation to be closer to innovation hubs.

Panel: The Next Gold Rush - Insurance Startups
Moderator: R.A. Farrokhnia, Professor at Columbia Business School
Marek Ciolko, Gravie
Isaac Oates, Just Works
Francois de Lame, Policygenius
Rory Joyce, Coverhound

Lots of chatter on Insurance Tech, projected to be the next focus for tech innovation. The companies on the panel, Policy Genius, Coverhound, Just Works, and Gravie all highlighted the great advancements this area is seeing currently. I was most impressed by Francoise of Policy Genius and Rory of Coverhound who both championed the power of customer service and transparency in a highly confusing industry.

Panel: Beyond Check Deposits and Stock Quotes - The Future of Mobile Finance
Moderator: Danny Lopez, UK T&I
Betty DeVita, MasterCard Labs
Kirk Simpson, Wave
Andrew Lorentz, Davis Wright Tremaine LLP
Jason Gardner, Marqeta

This panel explored the future of banking and the evolution of how we are lending and paying on mobile platforms. Jason of Marqeta shared that banks are a foundation of the financial system and are not going away, but have to revolutionize and modernize their brick and mortar branches. Other insights included a shift from traditional money movement tech to more innovative systems like bitcoin and the future importance of tokenization.

Afternoon Keynote
Alexa von Tobel, Learnvest

Alexa is a great speaker. End of story. She took the audience through her development and journey with Learnvest and the importance of content marketing. Learnvest is company centered around personal finance empowerment and self education for the masses. 

Panel: Real Estate's Tech Boom
Moderator: Michael GilroyCanaan Partners
Nick Romito, VTS
Vishal Garg, Better Mortgage
Caren Maio, Nestio
Nav Athwal, Realtyshares

This was one of my favorite conversations of the day. Yes, real estate is getting techfied and so far it is looking successful. Among the panelists that stood out the most were Nav of Realty Shares and Nick of View this Space. When asked why the time is now for Real Estate FinTech, Nav clearly pointed to low yield and increased access to capital as reasons for this boom.

Panel: Mo' Money Mo' Problems - Compliance & RegTech Heat Up
Moderator: Vivian MaeseLatham & Watkins
Adrienne Harris, White House
Stuart Lacey, Trunomi
John Ramsay, IEX
Max Eliscu, viewpost

This was a star studded panel joining together to dissect compliance and regulations in FinTech. Adrienne from the White House noted that the U.S. government is very interested in the growth of FinTech and are trying to lean in to help foster that growth. On the more practical side, Max, the CEO of viewpost shared advice with startups to have all your business duck in a row. Make sure your business partners, regulatory, legal and internal stakeholders are all in agreement before starting to expand your business.

Panel: How to Growth Hack FinTech
Moderator: Jeanine Swatton, Envestnet Yodlee
Jared Hecht, fundera
Jennifer Barrett, Acorns
Joe Cross, TransferWise
Paul Szurek, Blockchain

Growth hacking, a concept that seems simple, but takes a lot of work. Jared of fundera provided blunt wisdom on how trying new things like search optimization and advertising trials can help to connect you to your customers. Other insights included the value of focusing on retention over constant new customer acquisition, something Jennifer of Acorns is especially passionate about, and natural network effects that can help promote your business organically. I also loved Jeanine from Yodlee’s YO! startup story as an introduction to this panel.

Panel: VC Rearview Mirror - What We Had Right and Wrong
Moderator: Amanda Steinberg, WorthFM
David Teten, ff Venture Capital
Tom RyanAnthemis Group
Adam NanjeeMaRS 
Michal PetrzelaLightyear Capital

This panel brought together VCs to discuss what works and what doesn’t when they are evaluating FinTech investment opportunities. Tom of Artemis highlighted that sometimes VCs decline a company because there is a naivety factor that stops a startup from advancing. They also are looking for tangible products that are further along than just an idea. David of FFP Ventures noted that social media is providing an extra layer of authenticity to a startup and founders seeking capital. Having social media that does not line up with how you present your company, may make a startup seem disingenuous.

Lastly, Stephane Dubois of Xignite moderated a demo session that featured Realtyshare, remesh, VTS, SigFig and enigma. All participants gave a short presentation on their product and answered questions from Stephane and the audience.

After a long, but informative, day the conference closed the way I wish more would, with networking, beer and BBQ. Will definitely have this on my list for next year.

Cognito is a global financial PR and marketing firm. For more information on how we might be able to help with your marketing, please email

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