Patrick Sells is launching a new venture that aims to bridge two sectors he knows well.
Sells, who has held chief innovation officer roles at crypto firm NYDIG and New York City-based Quontic Bank, is launching True Digital Group, an online platform designed to help financial institutions innovate and more easily identify and implement new fintech partners.
Banks or credit unions pay a fee to join and can access seminars focused on topics such as compliance, crypto and lending.
A major goal of the platform, which Sells plans to roll out in the next four to six weeks, is to speed up the length of time it takes for banks to find a fintech whose services match their needs.
“There's a tremendous amount of time that's wasted and frustration that comes from the process of just trying to find the right fintech partner and actually get to the finish line with them,” said Sells, who spent two years at Quontic before joining NYDIG in 2020.
The reason for this, Sells said, is a “missing translation layer” between banks and fintechs.
True Digital helps to bridge that gap by presenting fintech data and services in a way that is actionable for financial institutions, he said.
“A bank can log in and say, ‘Our objective this year is to grow our non-interest income, or to grow our loans,’ using banker terms. And what they would see on the other side are the fintechs that specifically help do that,” he said.
Sells said he wants True Digital to be a neutral platform. Only banks and credit unions can join as members, and only fintechs with working relationships with a bank or credit union that is an existing member are able to show up on the platform, he said.
This prevents a fintech from inflating its bank partnership numbers, a frustrating practice that a bank may not uncover until months of discussion and due diligence have passed, Sells said.
The policy also assures financial institutions have another bank or credit union who can vouch for the fintech.
“A fintech can’t just show up on the platform without that financial institution being willing to speak as a reference,” he said. “We have to be very thoughtful about how to deal with different entity types. Many have tried something in this space, but if a fintech could pay to show up higher on the list, all of a sudden you've compromised the trust of the platform.”
True Digital has around 50 to 70 members, Sells said.
Vantage Bank CEO Jeff Sinnott, whose $3.3 billion-asset institution has signed on as a True Digital partner, said he plans to use the platform to view technology stacks across different banks and credit unions.
That insight will help accelerate the San Antonio, Texas-based bank’s innovation goals by enabling it to more quickly determine which fintechs would work best with Vantage’s systems, he said.
“It’s a really interesting time for community banks and credit unions, in terms of the technology. In many ways, the barriers of technology are lower than they ever have been for the industry. But in other ways, it takes an incredible amount of effort and time to qualify potential partners,” he said.
Finding the right fintech candidate can take his bank seven to nine months, Sinnott said.
“We cast a very wide net because the fintech partners and players are changing so rapidly. Who they interface with, in terms of legacy technologies, is difficult to determine,” he said.
Getting them to talk
While the platform is meant to speed up what can be a long process, the aim isn’t for banks to outsource their due diligence, Sells said.
“We're just trying to expedite the, ‘Who should I be talking to?’’ part. That's where I think the most time is lost,” Sells said. “Then more time can actually be freed up to spend on deeper due diligence, which hopefully helps the bank avoid issues.”
Anecdotally, Sells said he is aware of banks and credit unions sharing knowledge and advice on fintech partnerships, but the process, he added, is still very analog.
“Our observation is that that’s all happening and it's very effective in theory, because you can really trust the other banker that you're talking to, but it's just not easy to find the right banks to talk to.”
True Digital aims to broaden financial institutions’ networks, particularly when it comes to securing the right fintech partner, Sells said.
“We want to be very thoughtful about what banks or credit unions need. We really want to be their advocate, and we want to be a trusted partner,” he said.