For Rochelle Gorey, the chief executive and co-founder of SpringFour, a “social impact” fintech company, mingling with industry movers and shakers at this year’s LendIt Fintech Conference was just what the doctor ordered. “I went mainly for the networking opportunities,” Gorey told deBanked.
SpringFour, which is headquartered in Chicago, works with banks and financial institutions in the 50 states to get distressed borrowers back on track with their debt payments. It does this by digitally linking debtors with governmental and nonprofit agencies that promote “financial wellness.
The indebted parties—more than a million of whom had referrals that were arranged by Gorey’s tech-savvy company last year—constitute not only household consumers but also commercial borrowers. “Small businesses face the same issues of cash flow as consumers, and their business and personal income are often combined,” she says. “If their financial situation is precarious, it’s super-hard to get credit, a line of credit, or a business loan.”
Although Gorey felt “overwhelmed” at first by the throng of 4,000 conference-goers at Moscone Center West in San Francisco—roughly the same number as attended last year, conference organizers assert— her trepidation was short-lived. It wasn’t too long before she was in circulation and having chance encounters and serendipitous interactions, she says, with “all the right people at the workshops and at the tables in the Expo Hall.”
Armed, moreover, with a “networking app” on her mobile phone, Gorey was able to arrange targeted meetings, scoring roughly a dozen, 15-minute tete-a-tetes during the two-day breakout sessions. These included audiences with community bankers, financial technology companies, and “small-dollar” lenders. “And it went both ways,” she says. “I had people reaching out to me”—just about everyone, it seemed, appeared receptive to “finding ways to boost their customers’ financial health.”
Gorey’s success at networking was precisely the experience that the event’s planners had envisioned, says Peter Renton, chairman and co-founder of the LendIt Fintech Conference. Organizers took pains to make schmoozing one of the key features of this year’s gathering. Not only did LendIt provide attendees with a bespoke networking app, but planners scheduled extra time for meet-ups. “We had around 10,000 meetings set up by the app,” Renton says, “about double the number of last year.”
deBanked did not attend the LendIt USA conference on the West Coast this year. But the publication sought out more than a half-dozen attendees—including several financial technology executives, a leading venture capitalist, a regulatory law expert, and the conference’s top administrators—to gather their impressions. While informal and manifestly unscientific, their responses nonetheless yielded up several salient themes.
The popularity—and effectiveness—of networking was a key takeaway. Most seized the opportunity to rub elbows with influential industry players, learn about the hottest startups, compare notes, and catch up on the state of the industry. Most importantly, the event presented a golden opportunity to make the introductions and connections that could generate dealmaking.
“My goal this year was to strike more partnerships with lenders and fintech companies,” says Levi King, chief executive and co-founder at Utah-based Nav, an online, credit-data aggregator and financial matchmaker for small businesses. “We had great meetings with Fiserv, Amazon, Clover Network (a division of First Data), and MasterCard,” he reports, rattling off the names of prominent financial services companies and fintech platforms.
James Garvey, co-founder and chief executive at Self Lender, an Austin-based fintech that builds creditworthiness for “thin file” consumers who have little or no credit history, said his goal at the conference was both to serve on a panel and “meet as many people as I could.”
Self Lender is in its growth stage following a $10 million, series B round of financing in late 2018 from Altos Ventures and Silverton Partners. Garvey reports having meetings with Bank of America and venture capitalist FTV Capital “over coffee” as well as F-Prime Capital, another venture capitalist. “It’s just about building a relationship,” he said of making connections, “so that at some point, if I’m raising money or want to partner, I can make a deal.”
There was a concerted effort to recognize women, as evidenced by a packed “Women in Fintech” (WIF) luncheon that drew roughly 250 persons, 95% of whom were women. (“Many men are big supporters of women in fintech and we didn’t want to exclude them,” Renton says). The luncheon was preceded by a novel event—a 30-minute, ladies-only “speed-networking” session—which attracted 160 participants, reports Joy Schwartz, president of LendIt Fintech and manager of the women’s programs.
At the luncheon, SpringFour’s Gorey says, “it was empowering just to see lot of women who are senior leaders working in financial services, banks and fintechs.” The keynote speech by Valerie Kay, chief capital officer at Lending Club, was another highlight. “She (Kay) talked about taking risks and going to a fintech startup after 23 years at Morgan Stanley,” Gorey reports, adding: “It was inspiring.”
The women’s luncheon also marked the launch of LendIt’s Women In Fintech mentor program, and presentation of a “Fintech Woman of the Year” award. The recipient was Luvleen Sidhu, president, co-founder and chief strategy officer at BankMobile, a digital division of Customers Bank, based near Philadelphia, which employs 250 persons and boasts two million checking account customers.
I am honored to be the 2019 Fintech Women of the Year and thrilled that @BankMobile won Most Innovative Bank. It’s very exciting to be recognized by @LendIt Fintech with this prestigious award and I congratulate the finalists in all the categories. https://t.co/qjADuKEMrB pic.twitter.com/hFJVFw1fLS
— Luvleen Sidhu (@LuvleenSidhu) April 11, 2019
BankMobile, which also won LendIt’s “Most Innovative Bank” award, has an alliance with Upstart to do consumer lending and a partnership with telecommunications company T-Mobile. Known as T-Mobile Money, the latter service provides T-Mobile customers with access to checking accounts with no minimum balance, no monthly or overdraft fees, and access to 55,000 automated teller machines, also with no fees. (At its website, T-Mobile Money describes itself as a bank and uses the slogan: “Not another bank, a better one.”)
The impressive salute to women notwithstanding, their ranks remained fairly thin: just 733 attendees identified themselves as “female” on their registration forms, LendIt’s Schwartz says, a little more than 18% of total participants. Seventy-five of the 350 total speakers and panelists—or 21%—were female. (Schwartz also reports that another 157 registrants selected “prefer not to say” as their sexual orientation, while 22 checked the box describing themselves as “non-conforming.”)
In LendIt’s defense, deBanked, who caters to a similar audience, regularly reviews its readership demographics using several tools. They have consistently indicated that women make up 18% – 23% of the total, in line with what LendIt experienced at its most recent event.
By all accounts, many panels were informative, jampacked and attendees were engaged. King, who moderated a panel on regulatory changes in small business lending, which dealt with such topics as California’s commercial “truth-in-lending” law and controversial “confessions of judgment” laws, says: “They didn’t have to lock the door but the room was pretty full and people seemed to be paying attention. I didn’t see people studying their cellphones.”
The Expo Hall was teeming with budding fintech entrepreneurs, financial services companies and multiple vendors hawking their wares. But as numerous fintechs were angling to forge lucrative symbiotic relationships with banks, some participants—even those who were hailing the conference for its networking and deal-making opportunities—lamented the heavy presence of the establishment.
The banks’ ubiquitousness especially vexed Matthew Burton, a partner at QED Investors, an Arlington, (Va.)-based, venture capital firm and a veteran fintech entrepreneur. Before signing on with QED last year, Burton had been the co-founder of Orchard Platform, an online technology and analytics vendor for fintech and financial services companies which was purchased by fintech lender Kabbage.
Not only did bankers seem to playing a more prominent role at the LendIt conference, Burton notes, but “big four” accounting firm Deloitte had signed on as a major sponsor. “The energy level seemed a bit lower than in past years,” Burton told deBanked. “It’s not like people were depressed but it wasn’t bubbling with excitement. A couple of years ago we thought all these new fintechs would replace the banks,” he explains. “Now the discussion is over how to partner and collaborate with banks. It’s not as exciting as when everyone thought banks were dinosaurs.
“I couldn’t really tell if there were more bankers attending this year,” Burton adds, “but it sure felt like it.”
King, the Nav executive, told deBanked: “It was a little bit subdued. I don’t know if it was nervousness about the economy or politics, but the subject of risk came up more often in side conversations with venture-backed businesses and banks and alternative fintech lenders. One large bank we deal with,” he adds, “told me it’s spending most of its time working on risk.”
Cornelius Hurley, a Boston University law professor and executive director of the Online Lending Policy Institute who participated in a standing-room-only session on state and federal fintech regulation, declares: “I’ve been to three of their conferences, including one in New York, and I would say that this one did not have as much pizzazz. It may be that the industry is maturing.”
For his part—when asked whether there was a palpable absence of passion this year—LendIt’s Renton told deBanked: “I would say that it felt more businesslike. Fintech has had a lot of hype and we have had conferences that were ridiculously over-hyped in 2015 and 2016. And in 2017 (the mood) was much more somber. This one felt optimistic and businesslike.”
There were 750 bankers in attendance, almost one in five participants. “The number of bankers was not up significantly” over last year, Renton says, “but the seniority of the bankers was higher. We worked very hard to get senior bankers to attend this year.”
Renton was bullish on the closer ties developing between nonbank online lenders and banks. That was reflected as well in the several panels exploring ways to develop partnerships between the two sides. He noted that a session called “How Banks are Matching Fintechs on Speed of Funding and User Experience” drew a heavy crowd. “It brought more bankers than we’ve ever had before,” Renton says.
Moderated by Brock Blake, founder and chief executive at the fintech Lendio, the panel was composed of three bankers: Ben Oltman, the Philadelphia-area head of digital lending and partnerships at Citizens Bank; Gina Taylor Cotter, a senior vice-president at American Express (the highest-ranking woman at the company); and Thomas Ferro, a senior marketing manager at Bank of America. “The banks came to LendIt not just to learn but to decide whom they’re going to partner with,” Renton says. “Fintechs need banks and banks need fintechs. That is the narrative you hear on both sides.”
(Asked whether any banks sponsored this year’s conference, Renton replied: “They are not sponsoring yet in any number but we are working on that.”)
OnDeck, a top-tier fintech lender to small-businesses in the U.S., which has been making forays abroad to Australian and Canadian markets, is an enthusiastic champion of the fintech-bank union. So much so that it claimed LendIt’s “Most Promising Partnership” award for the cooperative relationship it struck with Pittsburgh-based PNC Bank, which uses OnDeck’s platform to make small business loans. (Among the partnerships that OnDeck-PNC beat out: Gorey’s SpringFour, which was named a finalist in the competition for its association with BMO Harris Bank.)
“We were the first fintech lender to strike a true platform relationship with a bank,” Jim Larkin, head of corporate communications at OnDeck says, noting that the PNC deal follows on the New York-based fintech’s similar, innovative arrangement with J.P. Morgan Chase. “Others may do referrals,” he explains. “What we do is actually provide the underlying platform to accelerate a bank’s online lending capabilities. We deliver the software and expertise to construct the right type of online lending engine.”
Meanwhile, there was avid interest about the stock performance of publicly traded fintechs—for example, Square and GreenSky—both of which had seen their share prices tumble and then recover.
Burton noted that, among venture-backed firms, the most excitement seemed to be coming from Latin America. “Everyone was very bullish on a Mexican company, Credijusto, an alternative small business lender that was written up the in the Wall Street Journal,” he says. “It’s not going public yet but it had a large debt-and-equity raise of $100 million from Goldman Sachs. And SoftBank Group announced a $5 billion Latin American tech fund.
“There was a lot of talk,” he adds, “about how money was flowing into Mexico and Brazil.”
Connect with peers, learn from the pros, and find out what the future holds!
deBanked CONNECT’s discounted room rate at the Omni King Edward Hotel in Toronto ends today. Don’t wait until the rate goes up! Book your room now for deBanked’s first ever event in Canada!
Omni Hotels Reservations
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Michele Romanow, a TV star on Dragon’s Den and Co-founder of Clearbanc, will be the keynote speaker at deBanked CONNECT Toronto on July 25th. She joins other industry executives speaking at the event from across the business finance industry in Canada.
Tech titan Michele Romanow is an engineer and a serial entrepreneur who started five companies before her 33rd birthday. A “Dragon” on CBC’s hit show Dragons’ Den, Michele is the co-founder of Clearbanc, which in 2018 gave entrepreneurs more than $100 million in funding; SnapSave, which was acquired by Groupon; and Buytopia.ca, ranked #3 on the Profit Hot 50 list of fastest growing companies. Named in WXN’s “100 Most Powerful in Canada” and listed as the only Canadian on Forbes’ “Millennial on a Mission” list, Michele brings her incredible entrepreneurial savvy to every stage.
Michele has driven new digital solutions to many of the world’s leading brands, including P&G, Netflix, Starbucks, and Cirque du Soleil, and she has advised Fortune 100s and governments on innovation, AI, blockchain, and the new economy. She was a finalist for the EY Entrepreneur of the Year Award; the RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards; and was a Cartier Women’s Initiative Award global finalist.
Awarded Angel Investor of the Year by the Canadian Innovation Awards, Michele is a prolific angel investor who has also co-founded the Canadian Entrepreneurship Initiative with Richard Branson to encourage more women entrepreneurs. Michele In the media, Michele’s work has been profiled in Forbes, The New York Times, Entrepreneur, The Globe and Mail, and Chatelaine.
During her Civil Engineering undergrad at Queen’s University, Michele founded The Tea Room, the first zero-consumer-waste coffee shop. She was also given the Queen’s Tricolour — the highest honour awarded by the university — and, after completing her Queen’s MBA, she founded Evandale Caviar, a vertically integrated commercial fishery.
Michele is currently a director for Vail Resorts, Freshii, League of Innovators, Queen’s Business School and Shad Valley, a transformational program that develops the entrepreneurial potential of exceptional Canadian youth.
|June 13 Sessions||June 14 Sessions|
|Case Law Updates||Regulatory Download: The Complete Picture|
|TCPA: Defining ATDS, Exploring the TCPA and How Emails are Covered||Legislation, Business and Lobbying: How does it work and Does it work at all?|
|Bankruptcy Updates||Future Invoice Factoring and Traditional Factoring: Can’t We All Just Get Along?|
|Securities: A Lesson from Bitcoin and Recent Industry Case Law||Clean Contracts: Merchant Agreements, Inter-Creditor Agreements and ISO Agreements: What you MUST know to keep up with the times|
|Inside the UCC with Bob Zadek|
|Collections in a Post Bloomberg World|
|Ethics: Conflicts of Interest|
|*Evening Social event at Lucky Strike in Manhattan Food, drinks and bowling! 7:00pm – 9:00pm*||*Rooftop Cocktail Reception, Castell Rooftop Lounge 3:00pm – 5:00pm*|
Admission Price List:
Admission for Members: $75
2-Day Ticket Includes:
- Day One: breakfast and lunch during the full day of panels. Evening at Lucky Strike with food and drinks.
- Day Two : Three panel discussions, lunch and cocktail hour immediately to follow.
Non-Member Attorneys $250.00 for the 2 day ticket
Non-Member Attorneys $150.00 for a 1 day ticket
(may only attend one of the two days.)
Corporate Guests (Day Two only) $150.00
Featuring the Following Speakers:
- Christopher Murray, Esq.
- Patrick Siegfried, Esq.
- William Molinski, Esq.
- Natalie Nahabet, Esq.
- David Fuad, Esq.
- Kate Fisher, Esq.
- Jamie Polon, Esq.
- Thomas Telesca, Esq.
- Richard J. Zack, Esq.
- Robert Zadek, Esq.
- Richard Simon, Esq.
- Anthony Giuliano, Esq.
- Mark Dabertin, Esq.
- Gregory Nowak, Esq.
Sonia Alvelo, CEO of Newington, CT-based Latin Financial LLC, has been awarded Entrepreneur of The Year by the Latinas & Power Symposium. The event, incubated in Hartford, Connecticut in 2004, is the largest of its kind in New England and has reached upwards of 8,000+ women since its inception.
Alvelo’s company markets and brokers business loans and merchant cash advances throughout the mainland United States and Puerto Rico.
Connecticut Secretary of State Denise Merrill presented the award to Alvelo, who referenced the moment on social media by writing, “I was deeply honored to present the Entrepreneur of the Year Award to Sonia Alvelo at the 16th Annual Latinas & Power symposium today. Her small business is bolstering the Newington economy and her leadership serves as an example for women across the state.”
Alvelo has been an oft-quoted source in deBanked on the state of the small business finance market in Puerto Rico, most recently in the May/June 2018 magazine edition.
“I’m here today because of the merchants and clients from Puerto Rico and the US,” she told deBanked on Thursday, adding that this is just the beginning for what she and her company will accomplish.
I was deeply honored to present the Entrepreneur of the Year Award to Sonia Alvelo at the 16th Annual Latinas & Power symposium today. Her small business is bolstering the Newington economy and her leadership serves as an example for women across the state. pic.twitter.com/POwlvx0XkA
— Denise Merrill (@SOTSMerrill) May 16, 2019
If a tiny ray of light were created from every conversation about small business financing, then the Roosevelt Hotel in midtown Manhattan would have been tantamount to the sun on May 6th. It was the site of deBanked’s 2nd annual Broker Fair and the grand old lobby was abuzz with brokers, funders and vendors from across the industry. And it wasn’t only the lobby. The hallways and ball rooms and bathrooms were filled with people in jackets or dresses with colorful conference badges hanging from their necks. You could not open your eyes without seeing a Broker Fair attendee.
The day kicked off with an address to the crowd by deBanked’s founder and president Sean Murray.
He spoke to a packed audience in one of the hotel ballrooms that was actually the site of a famous scene in the 1987 movie, “Wall Street,” starring Charlie Sheen and Michael Douglas. It was in this scene where one of the most well-known lines, “Greed is good,” was delivered in a speech by the character Gordon Gekko, a ruthless businessman played by Michael Douglas.
In Murray’s speech, he acknowledged the classic financial thriller, but gave it a twist.
“Funding small business is good,” Murray said. “It’s not greed that’s good. Aligned interests are good.”
This very room was a marriage of old and new. The 1924 room with soaring ceilings and crystal chandeliers was packed with mostly young faces in a still relatively new industry. The stage was simple, the chairs sleek, and colored strobe lights circled the ceiling in what created a fresh energy.
The first panel of the day, called “The Great Debate,” was dominated by discussion of technology among the CEOs of some of the largest companies in the small business funding industry: National Funding, Rapid Finance, BFS Capital, and Kapitus.
“Technology is an inevitability and a powerful way for brokers to stay relevant,” BFS CEO Mark Ruddock told deBanked. “The question is, ‘Does that preclude the small [brokers] who don’t have the money to invest in technology?’”
He sees great opportunity for software platforms that can connect an individual broker to lenders, similar to how Shopify connects small mom and pop retailers to a wider consumer audience.
One of the other CEOs on the panel said he was bullish on digitally savvy brokers and all of them seemed to agree that brokers should offer more products.
“Having a broader set of products benefits brokers because they become the go-to person for merchants rather than simply serve a transactional function,” Chairman of RapidAdvance Jeremy Brown told deBanked.
For brokers looking to expand their product offerings, there was a well-attended session called “Commissions with Factoring and Leasing” that was led by factoring and leasing professionals, Phil Dushey and Edward Kaye, respectively.
Meanwhile, the co-founders of the successful brokerage Everlasting Capital, led a session called “How to Scale Your Broker Shop” which included advice on everything from hiring to customer acquisition and social media marketing. One of the founders, Josh Feinberg, had his marketing person follow him around with a video camera throughout the day.
There were also sessions on regulations affecting the industry, plus a session called “Operating with Integrity: Why Ethics Matter.”
“The speakers are very relevant,” said Dexter Bataille, a broker at Pivotal Funding in Florida who attended Broker Fair. “And the panels are really good too.”
“deBanked always finds ways to make the shows more professional,” said Senior Sales Leader at Reliant Funding Nicolas Marr, who flew in from California to attend the conference. “The details really count.”
In another hotel ballroom, Broker Fair attendees meandered around high tables where event sponsors had representatives talking about their products and handing out free t-shirts and pens. As the day wound down and Broker Fair’s “networking happy hour” approached its end at 6 p.m., the figurative sun (created by small business finance conversations) began to set at the Roosevelt Hotel. But a crowd of about 100 lingered at the hotel bar, buzzing away, eager to make just a few more connections.
If you share any of these on social media, please remember to include #brokerfair
More than 200 people packed into a Manhattan office last night to hear panelists from top fintech companies discuss everything from Artificial Intelligence (AI) in fintech to U.S. regulations to diversity. The event, called Disruption Forum Fintech NYC, was organized remotely by a Poland-based software and technology consulting company called Netguru. This was their third event, following one in Berlin and another in London.
The event took place at the office of Work-Bench, a VC firm, and most panelists during the four panel event discussed regulations in some form or another.
“We have a conversation with customers before thinking about regulations,” said Katherine Kornas, Senior Director of Product at Betterment, an online financial advice company. “I try to free my team of constraints.”
Afterwards, they address constraints and work creatively with them, she said. But at least they know that they started off from a place of trying to solve a problem for the customer.
“Hire a really fun and creative Chief Compliance Officer,” said Melissa Cullens, Chief Design Officer at Ellevest, which provides investing advice geared towards women. “We wanted to create profiles with people’s faces and she said “No.” But then we ended up coming up with a different idea that was also really great.”
Melissa Cullens, Chief Design Officer at Ellevest, Katherine Kornas, Senior Director of Product at Betterment, Sudev Balakrishnan, Chief Product Officer at Stash
One theme was how U.S. regulations have made it difficult for fintech companies to enter the highly coveted U.S. market, particularly when compared to Europe.
“Regulators in the U.S. decided to go after the banks after the [financial crisis in 2008,]” said Arshi Singh, North America Head of Product at Currencycloud, a London-based company that improves B2B payments. “The UK went the opposite way and made it very lax for fintechs so they could compete with banks.”
In the U.S., fintechs must partner with banks to carry out many services and some banks are friendlier to fintechs than others.
Charley Ma, NYC Growth Manager at Plaid, Jody Perla, MD of Global Banking & Payment Infrastructure at Payoneer
Andrew Boyajian, Head of Banking, North America at Transferwise, which makes it cheaper to send money across country borders, said that part of his job is to find U.S. banks that are willing to work with them. He said that some of them are, but other banks still have policies against working with companies like his that deliver bank-like services.
Nicolas Kopp, U.S. CEO at N26, Dan Westgarth, North America General Manager at Revolut, Arshi Singh, North America Head of Product at Currencycloud, Andrew Boyajian, Head of Banking, North America at Transferwise
One panel focused on AI in fintech.
“All the data is useless if you’re not getting insights from it,” said Farrah Lakhani, Director of Growth and Operations for OakNorth Analytical Intelligence, which analyzes data to fund business loans. “I ask ‘How are we doing this faster with this data?’ How does this add to our value proposition? This helps me get through the wall of lingo.”
With regard to the notion of AI replacing human beings altogether, Lakhani said she thinks we all need to get that idea out of our heads.
“You do need human beings to think and reason,” she said.
Regarding the fear that robots may become as human-like as humans, AI specialist and panelist Alex Jaimes joked that he’s met some humans who he could have sworn were robots.
Farrah Lakhani, Director of Growth and Operations at OakNorth Analytical Intelligence, Alex Jaimes, SVP AI & Data Science at Dataminr
With seven offices in Poland, Netguru employs 600 people, a quarter of whom work remotely. They company was founded in 2008 and more than 90% of its business comes from the U.S., the UK and Germany.
Sales expert Kindra Hall will present at Broker Fair 2019 to teach attendees about the irresistible power of strategic storytelling. If you want to learn to sell differently and use the power of storytelling, her keynote is something you won’t want to miss!
According to Hall, the shift from a transactional economy to a connected one has people scrambling; when surveyed, companies admit they believe a substantial portion of their revenue is under threat as a result. Businesses, brands, sales forces, marketing teams and leaders at all levels are desperately trying to capture attention and resonate with consumers who expect more. Is there a secret weapon? A silver bullet to humanize and connect? Yes. The answer is strategic storytelling.
The problem? In its rapid rise in popularity, “storytelling” has been reduced to in-actionable jargon. Every day businesses and individuals miss critical opportunities to connect with their elusive audiences in powerful and profitable ways because they lack a storytelling skill. Until now.
About Kindra Hall
Kindra Hall is President and Chief Storytelling Officer at Steller Collective, a consulting firm focused on the strategic application of storytelling to today’s communication challenges. Kindra is one of the most sought after keynote speakers trusted by global brands to deliver presentations and trainings that inspire teams and individuals to better communicate the value of their company, their products and their individuality through strategic storytelling.
What began as a storytelling assignment in 5th grade, grew into a passion for not only telling stories, but a mastery for teaching others the methods and science of storytelling so they can better tell their own.
She was a National Champion storyteller (yes, they have those), member of the Board of Directors of the National Storytelling Network and has her master’s degree in communications where she conducted original research studying the role of storytelling in defining and revealing organizational culture.
Kindra is a former Director of Marketing and VP of Sales. Today, Kindra’s work can be seen at Inc.com, Entrepreneur.com and as a contributing editor for SUCCESS Magazine. Kindra’s message spans all industries and her clients include Facebook, Hilton Hotels, Tyson Foods, Target, Berkshire Hathaway and the Harvard Medical School. Her much anticipated book will be released by Harper Leadership in the fall of 2019.
Conference season will soon kick off, but many attendees are at a loss at how to score big at these events. Without a doubt, trade shows and conferences offer participants a prime opportunity to boost brand exposure, make professional connections and increase sales.
But there’s also a lot of behind-the-scenes work required to turn these events into successful business endeavors. While the playbook won’t be the same for every company, here are some tried-and-true tips to help attendees get the most out of conferences.
Start by determining which conferences to attend. With dozens to choose from, it’s not realistic from a budget, time or value perspective to hit every conference, says Jim Larkin, who manages events for OnDeck. Companies should select conferences based on which ones make the most sense for their goals and objectives. Not all conferences will offer the same benefits to every company or industry professional, frequent conference attendees say.
Ideally, management teams should meet early in the year to weigh the pros and cons of each conference, against the backdrop of the company’s budget. Some factors to consider include where and when the conference is being held, which of your competitors, prospects and customers are likely to attend and how many employees it makes sense to send, if any. “Budgets drive everything and you want to be smart with spending money,” says Janene Machado, Director of Events for deBanked, whose flagship conference, Broker Fair, is scheduled for May 6 in New York. “You need to be strategic about why you are attending a particular conference,” she says.
It’s essential to plan ahead for each conference to make the most out of the event. This includes carefully combing through the agenda, scheduling meetings ahead of time and getting acquainted with the physical layout of the event space. If more than one company representative is attending, it’s also important to coordinate their activities in advance to avoid duplicating efforts and to maximize productivity.
“You have to make your own luck at these conferences,” Larkin says.
Most events have an online or mobile agenda and networking portal that are open to participants at least a few weeks beforehand. Bookmark the sessions you would like to attend, build your wish-list of people you would like to meet and start requesting meetings as soon as possible, says Peter Renton, co- founder and co-chairman of LendIt Fintech, which has an upcoming conference scheduled for April 8 and 9 in San Francisco. “Last year we helped to enable nearly 2,100 meetings at our USA event, and most of those meetings were organized through our networking portal,” Renton says.
Don’t delay when it comes to setting up advance appointments because schedules can fill up quickly, says Monique Ruff-Bell, event director for Money20/20 USA, which will take place in Las Vegas from Oct. 27 through Oct. 30. “Identifying the right contacts beforehand, reaching out and establishing what you’d like to achieve in a short meeting will make your time much more productive,” she says.
It’s fine for attendees to leave some time in their schedule for impromptu meetings as well; just be sure to fill those slots, says Ken Peng, head of business development and marketing at Elevate Funding. “No one should ever be asking, ‘what are we doing next?’ You should know,” he says.
It’s also a good idea to plan ahead for a dedicated meeting space so you’ll have a convenient, comfortable and quiet space to conduct meetings, seasoned conference attendees say. This can be especially important at big conferences where thousands congregate. For those who don’t want, or can’t afford, to pay for a meeting room, it’s a good idea to find a quiet restaurant or coffee shop outside the busy convention center area where you can have quiet, uninterrupted, productive conversations in a relaxed environment, says Larkin of OnDeck. Don’t choose the heavily frequented coffee shop next to the hotel where meetings are sure to be disrupted by heavy foot traffic, he says. “Get away from the noise, the hustle, the chaos. Quiet is king.”
Conferences can be expensive, so it’s important to make the right decisions with the available budget. For instance, companies don’t have to miss out on promotional opportunities just because the highest level of sponsorship is out of reach for their budget. Instead, look for creative ways to make an impact without breaking the bank, says Stephanie Schlesinger, director of marketing for LEND360.
Schlesinger suggests that would-be sponsors have an open conversation with conference organizers about what they can afford to spend and what they hope to reap in return for their marketing dollars. She offers the examples of companies that have sponsored popcorn breaks, pens and pads of paper, badges, lanyards and other marketing materials. “There could be opportunities to do something very unique. By brainstorming together we can think of outside-the-box opportunities to really make an impact for your brand,” she says.
Another cost consideration is where to stay. Though it can be tempting to save a few bucks by bunking off-site, that’s not always the most prudent decision, frequent conference attendees say.
“Time is really valuable at these shows and events. If you’re staying off-site you have to battle everybody for the cab line, and the increased expense of commuting can offset any cost savings,” says Sheri Chin, chief marketing officer at BFS Capital. Also, staying on-site “gives you more flexibility when unscheduled things come up,” she says.
If staying on premises isn’t an option, conference attendees should make extra efforts to spend considerable time in the bar or lobby of the conference site, says Jeffrey Bumbales, marketing director at Credibly. People will come in and go and it’s an easy way to start conversations, he says.
Conferences typically consume a lot of energy, so Eden Amirav, chief executive and co-founder of Lending Express, recommends participants try to catch people well before they are running on empty. As the conference goes on, it becomes harder to engage people because they also get drained, he says. Typically conference doors open a few hours before the first sessions begin, and this can be an especially effective time to network, Amirav says.
Arriving early also allows participants to find their way around. Ruff-Bell of Money20/20 USA recommends participants walk through the entire event space upon arrival to get their bearings. “Many of these large conferences can be overwhelming, and knowing where to go will help with your time management,” she says.
Bumbales of Credibly also recommends conference attendees pack their schedule tightly—even though it might mean activities extend late into the evening. Instead of calling it quits at 6 p.m. he recommends conference attendees plow through and host evening meetings over dinner or drinks. Even though a participant may be tired, it’s best not to miss these important networking opportunities, he says.
The proper conference mindset includes knowing there’s a good chance sleep won’t be plentiful. To accommodate, Bumbales tries to ensure he’s well-rested before a conference. He also makes sure to pack protein bars and non-perishable snacks for replacement meals as needed throughout the conference in case he needs to eat on the go. The goal is to hit the ground running and be able to focus entirely on conference-related business, he says.
Although numerous social opportunities abound at conferences, not everyone takes advantage. Certainly not everyone is as comfortable approaching strangers. But it’s important for conference- goers to try to break out of their shell whenever possible, industry professionals say. When he first started going to conferences, Gary Lockwood, vice president of business development at 6th Avenue Capital, says he found it difficult to strike up conversations with strangers because it took him out of his “comfort zone.” But he forced himself to make the extra effort, and it has served him well. He says that some of the best connections he’s made have come from these chance meetings at breakfast, lunch or during random breaks.
Although attendees don’t always stay on-site for meals, Peng of Elevate Funding recommends people stick around during these times, if possible. He finds these meals a good opportunity to chat with others in a comfortable setting as opposed to the more strained conversations that can happen when someone approaches him at an exhibitor booth. These informal conversations offer a better chance to build a rapport with someone and learn—in a non- pressured environment—about what the other person does, he says.
Bumbales of Credibly says elevator time offers another opportunity for chance meetings that can turn into business opportunities. Most times, he prefers to take the stairs, but not at conferences. Elevators can be great for short, yet productive conversations. He likes to position himself next to the elevator buttons, which gives him an opening to break the ice. He says he’s had a few business opportunities arise as a result of elevator conversations.
It’s also important not to monopolize anyone’s time says Machado of deBanked. Everyone is there to meet as many people as possible, so she recommends keeping conversations quick, meaningful and relevant.
When he’s talking to someone for the first time, Lockwood of 6th Avenue Capital tries to listen more than he speaks. “I want to listen a little more than I talk in the beginning so I can tailor the conversation to what they need.”
While not every exchange will be fruitful, it’s important to recognize that any conversation could lead to future business; even a commercial real estate broker who has no present connection to merchant cash advance can be a potential partner or resource at some point, Lockwood says.
It’s also a good idea to keep your business cards handy at all times. Bumbales says he’s been in several situations when people don’t have them available, which makes exchanging information more awkward. “It’s a lot less awkward to exchange business cards then it is to ask for someone’s cell phone number,” Bumbales says.
Because each day is so jammed- packed with information, it’s a good idea to take notes so you don’t lose track of important details, says Ruff-Bell of Money20/20 USA. Each person will have his own system, but effective note-taking becomes important for recapping the event back in the office and for sending post-event follow-ups to new contacts. “At the end of each day, go through your notes and clean them up, ensuring you’ll understand the key points and important details weeks later,” she says.
Some conference participants fall short when it comes to following up with new connections they’ve made, but this can be a grave mistake. Follow-up emails are most effective when they are personal, says Peng of Elevate Funding. He recommends attendees jot down a few notes on the business card of each person they meet to jog their memory later on about their conversation. Then, weave details of the conversation into the follow-up email, so the correspondence won’t seem cold, generic or canned, he says.
Remember, conference-goers will be meeting hundreds of other people at the conference, Ruff- Bell says. “Ensure your follow-up is prompt, effective, and most importantly, memorable,” she says
Even though the setting is social, conference attendees need to be mindful about maintaining proper decorum at all times. This is a seemingly obvious rule of thumb that people sometimes forget, conference participants say.
“You’re there for work first, play second,” Peng says.
Professionalism also dictates that attendees and exhibitors should be where they are supposed to be at appropriate times. Peng recalls a conference he attended last year where one of the exhibitors left its booth unmanned for most of the conference. There’s no way to know where an interaction at these booths can lead in terms of new business or face-time with existing clients.
“It’s not doing the company any favors” by passing up the opportunity, he says.
Please allow yourself ample amount of time to get through airport security. There has been reports of extended security wait times following the partial government shutdown.
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Janene Machado, deBanked’s event planner, was honored by the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) last week with the RISE Award. The RISE Award is given to a new member who has made the most impact to the chapter. With more than 7,000 members and an audience of more than 50,000 individuals, the PCMA is the world’s largest network of Business Events Strategists.
Machado volunteers on the New York Area Chapter Marketing committee and manages their social media content.
We congratulate her on her achievement.
Shaquille O’Neal, Basketball legend and startup investor
O’Neal appeared at the conference on behalf of Steady, a startup he supports that helps people find work relevant to their skill set and location.
“I like being involved in companies that help people people,” O’Neal said. “With Steady, we want to help people gain income. It shouldn’t be hard to find work.”
When asked about other companies he involved with, he said, “I listed all the companies once and my mom said, ‘It sounds like you’re bragging, so cut it out.’ So I don’t talk about them anymore, because my mom’s out in there in the audience somewhere.”
— Money20/20 (@money2020) October 24, 2018
Rob Frohwein, Kabbage Co-founder
Frohwein said his company noticed that its customers were borrowing a little less money after they were issued Kabbage’s card.
“It was because customers were borrowing the exact amount they needed at the point of purchase.”
At first, Frohwein said they were concerned, but that ultimately “customers aren’t over-borrowing…and that’s excellent for customer loyalty.
Anthony Noto, SoFi CEO
Noto said he went to West Point for college, which was completely free for him. He said that he could have gotten student loans to attend other prestigious colleges, but he didn’t know if he could afford to pay it back.
With regard to how higher interest rates are affecting SoFi, he said, “higher interest rates have made our underwriting more conservative [and have forced us] to focus on quality.”
On the topic of potentially becoming an Industrial Loan Company (ILC) bank:
“An ILC could be in our future so that we have the same rates across all states we operate in…We are regulated and we’re comfortable with that.”
PayPal Chief Operating Officer Bill Ready shared his childhood experience of working for his parents’ auto repair shop to convey his understanding of the challenges that face small businesses.
“Tech has gotten faster, but money has gotten slower,” he said, referring to how small businesses, like his parents’, used to receive most of its money right away in cash. “Now, money is tied up in the digital world and it can take days, even weeks [to collect.]”
Ready said that, through PayPal, small business owners can get their money immediately. He also said that some small business owners can get loans from PayPal almost instantly. He gave the example of a business owner in Arizona with a staff of 12 who couldn’t get a loan from a bank because his company didn’t have assets. But the company did have a payment history with PayPal which qualified it for a small business loan that Ready said hit the owner’s account in 30 seconds.
Not all of Ready’s presentation touted the company’s capabilities. Part of his talk had an apologetic tone.
“Paypal was hesitant about partnerships, but not anymore,” he said, acknowledging that helping “Mainstreet” will require the collaboration of fintech companies and changing attitudes about customers.
“You might have heard people say ‘Who owns the customer?’ We’ve been guilty of that,” he said.
But Ready said that PayPal has changed its perspective and that they want to make it easy for other fintech companies to partner with them.
Kabbage CEO and Co-founder Kathryn Petralia gave a fast-paced presentation at Money 20/20 yesterday that touched on gun violence, marijuana and gender identity, all in 20 minutes.
The loose connecting thread was millennials, which Petralia’s powerpoint identified as people born between 1981 and 2002. There are 90 million millennial Americans and they have outnumbered babyboomers since 2017, Petralia asserted. So we have to pay attention to them and cater to their needs, she conveyed.
“Millennials are not as short on money as they are on time,” Petralia said, and she expressed that using data to improve speed and efficiency is therefore critical.
“The millennials are coming” read one of the powerpoint slides. But Petralia said they already have.
Money 20/20’s keynote speaker, serial entrepreneur and philanthropist Sir Richard Branson, delivered inspiration and laughs to a packed audience yesterday. He was interviewed by Nuno Sebastiao, CEO of Feedzai, which fights financial crime.
While over 20 years ago Branson founded Virgin Money, a sizable UK-based bank, he demonstrated clear discomfort and disinterest in talking about banking. When asked about finance, he said, “I brought notes,” and produced what looked like a thick chunk of papers from his pocket. When Sebastiao said, “moving out of the financial space,” Branson said “thank you!” which elicited a wave of laughter.
“I’ve seen situations in life that have frustrated me,” Branson said, and explained that Virgin Money is the result of a contract he was about to sign with a money management firm. He said that when he asked the investment firm what “bid offered 5%” meant, they got quiet. He then learned that it meant that they would take five percent of the amount he gave them before investing anything. Upset by that, he thought he could do better in financial services and he hired a banker to help launch the company.
Similarly, he said Virgin Airlines was born when he couldn’t get a flight from Puerto Rico to the Virgin Islands because the airline said there weren’t enough passengers that day. He thought he could do better.
Since he first saw a man walk on the moon, he said he always imagined that he and his family would go to the moon someday. But when he realized about 14 years ago that it didn’t look like that was going to happen, he created Virgin Galactic Airways, which is the first commercial rocket program to the moon.
“I registered Virgin Galactic Airways and Virgin Intergalactic Airways, because I’m quite an optimist,” Branson said, producing another wave of laughter.
After years of testing, in which one test pilot was killed, Branson said that he plans to go to the moon next year.
“We can’t leave it up to government to solve the world’s problems,” Branson said, conveying that businesses, small and large, must play a role in improving the world, whether it be on a local or international level.
At the close of the interview, to bring the topic back to finance, Branson said, “Hopefully I’ll learn a little more about banking for next time.”
At the regulatory technology (or RegTech) sessions at Money 20/20 yesterday, toy shovels seemed glaringly absent given the number of times the word “sandbox” was used. Of course, panelists were referring to a regulatory sandbox.
Nick Cook, Head of RegTech and Advanced Analytics at the Financial Conduct Authority in the UK, discussed his experience facilitating regulatory sandboxes. According to Cook, a regulatory sandbox is an arrangement between a company and a regulator where, in order to test the viability of a new business or product, the regulator grants some kind of allowance to the company for a fixed period of time in exchange for the regulator’s ability to observe carefully how the new business or technology works and behaves in the market.
“Whether you call it ‘sandbox’ or not, are you going to just talk about it, or are you going to encourage actual experimentation?” Cook posited to other regulators broadly. “Don’t kid yourself that standing still is an option.”
“I hope that states continue these sandboxes,” said Chris Camacho, President & CEO of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council.
Seated on two of the panels on regulation was Paul Watkins, who, as Civil Litigation Division Chief at the Arizona Office of the Attorney General, drafted and advocated for legislation that established the first Fintech Sandbox in the US. Watkins said that coordination between the federal and state regulators will be important moving forward.
One of the panelists was Melissa Koide, CEO of FinRegLab, a research organization that is designed to test new technologies to inform public policy, much like a sandbox.
“Regulators have anxiety about liability if something goes wrong,” Koide said. And she that therefore dialogue among regulators is very helpful, especially the ability for regulators to learn together.
“Regulators can’t innovate if they can’t experiment,” said JoAnn Barefoot, who moderated a few of the sessions. Barefoot is the co-founder of Hummingbird Regtech, a platform for anti-money laundering.