In what is a recurring feature, Finopotamus profiles interesting and intriguing tech professionals who are positively impacting the credit union industry.
For this issue, we spent time with Agora Services Founder and CEO Arcady Lapiro. The Atlanta-based company offers financial institutions customizable cloud-based solutions that enable banking customers and credit union members to utilize and manage accounts in real time.
By W.B. King
Before founding Argora Services in 2018, Arcady Lapiro held a number of positions in the financial services industry. Previous posts throughout his 20-plus career include an eight -year stint as head of compliance and legal for what is known today as Pro Capital Group, a provider of securities services operating in France and Belgium.
“At Pro Capital, I was the head of a department that spanned compliance, legal, risk and internal controls. As we built the company from scratch, we put an emphasis on the compliance,” recalled Lapiro. “We had a totally different mindset with IT because we were not driven by legacy structures and the ‘old way’ to define an IT roadmap. What excited me was how we could define new infrastructures ahead of the market.”
Lapiro enjoys connecting with like-minded professionals who are dedicated to advancing banking models. To this end, he serves as an advisory board member for the India-based BNT Soft and for the Vancouver, Canada-based Finn AI. The former is a retail payment solution provider. The latter leverages artificial intelligence (AI) and builds conversational banking platforms for financial institutions.
Additionally, he is a board advisor for Scanovate. With locations in Philadelphia, Bogota, Columbia and Ramat Gan, Israel, the company provides customers with a “complete platform for client lifecycle and identity management,” including components required to maintain, manage and monitor a client’s compliant identity — from onboarding throughout the customer journey.
These rewarding advisory roles, Lapiro said, are an “amazing source” of “market intelligence.”
Investigating and Investing in Tech
When it comes to adopting new technologies at Argora Services, Lapiro said he applies the same “pragmatic process” he has learned over the last two decades. The first step, he noted, is always determining what the problem is and if technology can solve it.
“If technology is really solving the problem, I determine what would be the real cost/benefit of this technology and its side effect on the entire business,” he explained. “One key element of analysis is to assess its feasibility for the product. If it is going to help in reducing efforts, maintainability and cost, then we start on adoption/migration to proof of concept (POC). Upon successful results of POC, we push it to production.”
In order to best serve Agora Services community bank and credit unions clients, the company, which employs 25, including 20 tech staffers, provides competitive product offerings that accelerate the digital experience, explained Lapiro.
“This is done without replacing an existing core banking system, while improving the user experience and creating opportunities to increase deposits and revenues,” he noted.
A professional who continually studies the market looking for trends and best practices, Lapiro said he is “personally fascinated” by AI, especially in relation to banking transactions.
“As we’re going to grow with customer acquisition and transactions, we’re looking to test a few AI models to improve data analysis and provide more value to end users,” he said. “Our IT team is constantly looking for the new trends, participating at conferences and interacting with our strategic IT partners, which creates a kind of ecosystem.”
Making the Case for Fintechs/Credit Union Partnerships
With a firm understanding and respect for the credit union industry and its ethos of “people helping people,” Lapiro said that most, but not all, fintechs have come a long way in embracing this all-important philosophy.
“I think some fintechs understand the ‘people helping people’ ethos, but not all of them. Just like in any other industry, some fintechs are in it to solve problems in the financial industry, and they are laser-focused on creating strong experiences and benefits for their users,” he reflected. “But others are only in it for volume or to sell to a bigger tech company for a big pay day.”
While all credit unions executives vet new technologies on a regular basis, Lapiro said it is important for these decision makers to really understand the motivation behind a potential fintech partnership.
“There are many fintechs, like Agora, who have specifically built their services to work with community financial institutions,” he said. “The scale, pricing and user features are all designed to provide the credit union with a modern fintech experience without having to code and create in-house.”
As time passes and fintechs models are proven, Lapiro said he sees more credit unions acknowledging the potential a fintech partnership can bring to its members. But when it comes to rolling out new technologies, he said the biggest challenge credit unions usually face is budget and resource limits (as compared to large national banks).
“Many credit unions have seen that by partnering with fintechs they can take advantage of the rapid development and deployment fintechs have excelled in,” he said. “At the same time, credit unions can leverage their strong financials to provide the capital fintech partners need to continue evolving and innovating.”
And while credit unions may struggle to compete with the budget and resources of big banks, Lapiro said credit unions also have a couple of “unique differences” from other players in the space.
“The first is the laser-focus on their members and creating a culture of service. This naturally leads to the second difference in that, compared to many banks, credit unions are often more willing to become early adopters of new innovations,” he said. “And credit unions have been more willing to work in partnerships – whether with other credit unions via CUSOs or with fintechs that others may view as a competitor.”
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