In what is a recurring feature, Finopotamus will profile interesting and intriguing tech professionals who are positively impacting the credit union industry.
For this issue, we visited with Unifimoney’s Co-Founder and CEO Ben Soppitt. The San Francisco-based company provides an investment and money management platform for community banks and credit unions.
By W.B. King
With a goal of becoming the “Amazon” of digital wealth management, Unifimoney connects credit union members and bank customers to a full range of investment opportunities. CEO Ben Soppitt arrived at this business concept, in part, due to an epiphany earlier in his life: He is more comfortable utilizing tech than developing it.
“I’ve always been interested in and worked around technology, but never as a technologist,” he told Finopotamus. “In school, I tried to learn coding but quickly realized I enjoyed the application of technology more than the technology itself.”
After graduating from The University of Manchester with a Bachelor of Science degree in psychology, Soppitt began his career in 1994 as a media planner for Young & Rubicam. He would later serve as a senior strategy manager at Accenture, vice president of products at Visa and head of business development at Samsung Pay before assuming his role at Unifimoney in 2019.
With a rearview mirror that looks back 25-plus years, Soppitt said while everything in the tech space has changed, adoption and deployment of new tech remains a subjective practice.
“The rise of cloud-based technology and use of modern, open application programming interface (API)-first infrastructure has created the potential for credit unions and providers to be more agile and flexible, build faster and better,” he said. “But the challenges remain the same – just because we can build it, should we? While there may be excitement and temptation to over-build at times, remember adoption can take much longer.”
In his view, the majority of community financial institutions and vendors “has not moved at all” and “rely on decades old tech, process and cultures wondering why they are struggling to attract the next generation of consumers.”
The Challenge of New Tech
One consequence of building new technologies, he explained, is that design and usability can become increasingly challenging. “Managing these complexities can seem less exciting than building new functionality or features.”
When faced with what new services to offer, he adheres to a cardinal rule: “Design with the member in mind; they appreciate simplicity and less cognitive overload.”
He continued. “We’re constantly weighing these decisions ourselves, as we look to expand our investment and money management solutions, while still ensuring members have a simplified, diversified, and unified experience. And credit unions should be thinking the same, innovate to provide value, not add more complexity.”
When Unifimoney’s team is looking at what new technologies to investigate, Soppitt said many of these decisions are guided by client wants and needs. “Adding kids investment accounts to our product roadmap is an example of this,” he said, “The direct result of a number of credit unions asking.”
Another approach is “benchmarking against the best solutions” in the market and then working with partners that are considered experts in their respective fields.
“Through our partnership with Tenjin AI [artificial intelligence/machine learning and quantitative finance solution], for example, we offer a low-cost investor with auto-investing capabilities,” Soppitt noted. “This helps members manage timing risk and benefit from dollar-cost averaging, ultimately building a long-term investment portfolio at their credit union.”
Equally important, he added, is allowing consumer behavior to drive the process. To this end, he explained that the company’s chief investment officer, Max Osbon, recently developed 12 “investment themes,” including LGBTQ+, women in leadership, clean energy, travel and entertainment tech, among others.
“We then identified companies based on them. This empowers members to make valuable and ethical investment choices,” he continued. “And, we’ll come up with our own ideas specific to our value proposition to be the ‘Amazon’ of digital wealth management.”
This overarching solutions-based development goal is achieved, in part, by the Unifimoney team tapping into its collective experience in the traditional financial services world of security, stability, compliance, and the user experience (UX), flexibility and innovation of digital, he explained.
“Together, we understand challenges and opportunities for credit unions, as well as competitive threats and innovations,” he said. “We’re partnering with industry-leading companies to scale our value proposition, making money management and investing easier and more accessible to the everyday member.”
The Fintech Pitch
Unifimoney’s solution, Soppitt explained, was built for credit union members – both current and future – and isn’t intended for one demographic.
“We believe there’s a major opportunity for credit unions to partner with fintechs like ourselves to offer a range of self-directed and hybrid investment services,” he said.
“Embedding these services within a credit union’s digital banking experience can make wealth-building opportunities more accessible, helping support members throughout their journey.”
Credit union partnerships with fintechs, he added, can bring “the speed, innovation, and expertise to capture this market, protecting these relationships from alternative providers.”
When asked what trends Soppitt sees in the market place, he told Finopotamus “managing funds flow” is top of mind.
“The payments infrastructure in the U.S. is behind other markets around the world, where real-time secure bank-to-bank payments have existed for almost a decade. This has led to innovations like PayPal, Stripe and Cash App that are solving for the infrastructure gap in the market,” he said. “But original credit transactions (OCT) and real-time payments (RTP) are quickly gaining adoption, which is promising for the future.”
Credit union leaders, Soppitt noted, are being “challenged to move beyond just mutual funds" and “expand their options to help members invest more responsibly.” This requires credit unions to redefine their version of wealth management, broadening access to self-directed and hybrid digital investing options, he added.
“Credit unions that offer these types of services will create stickier relationships, appeal to younger generations of members, drive digital engagement and adoption, and remain competitive today,” he said.
Knowing Your Tech Stack
What differentiates credit unions from fintechs or technology startups is the approach to tech stack building, Soppitt offered. For the latter, he said the process normally begins with building a website, then apps and adding other plug-ins as appropriate.
“Credit unions are the opposite. They start with the core, then build or integrate new technology. Knowing this, fintechs should consider integrating with the leading digital banking providers to accelerate speed to market and innovation,” he said.
“We often think about open banking as a threat, but it’s a massive opportunity for credit unions to deploy new products and services more efficiently through providers like Jack Henry, Q2, Mahalo, Lumin Digital, and others,” he added.
Credit unions currently embracing open banking, he explained, can leverage traditional strengths and then augment that proven platform with competitive products. With Unifimoney, for example, he said credit unions can stop the outflow of deposits and compete with Coinbase and Robinhood. This is achieved by offering “fully integrated, fractional investment options in a single experience.”
Soppitt is “passionate” about developing money management and investment solutions that place credit unions “back at the center” of their members’ financial lives.
“I strongly believe in the importance of helping individuals and communities build their financial resilience,” he continued. “The financial services industry has collectively failed to help every generation of consumers on their long-term wealth management journey – from the beginning to retirement. My kids started investing at eight years old, yet the majority [of people] don’t start until much later in their life."
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