Kasey Kaplan is a life long entrepreneur with a proven track record of success across multiple industries. He is the Co-founder and President of Urban FT, Inc., which is a leading and one of the fastest growing providers of Digital Banking solutions to over 80 Regional and Community Banks and Credit Unions in the U.S., including many international brands. Kasey is a FinTech expert, but got his start while pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Economics & Management and Communications, where he mastered the skills of digital marketing strategy and worked to grow SMEs. The skill set would earn him a full-ride scholarship to graduate school where he earned a Masters degree focused on Instructional Design and Technology. Upon graduation, Kasey was tapped to join several start-ups where he lead marketing, product, and innovation. He has successfully held the role of CMO, COO, and CPO, as well as lead M&A efforts which resulted in several deals in the FinTech space. Kasey is a member of the Young Entrepreneurs Council, an invitation-only association acknowledged as the world’s most exclusive group of entrepreneurs under 40 years old. In 2017 he received the Distinguished Alumni Award from his alma mater recognizing his business success.
How did you get into the industry?
As many entrepreneurs’ stories go, I found the fintech industry by accident. I found a problem I wanted to solve when I was making a purchase at a store. At the time geolocation based check-in apps like Foursquare were popular. I regularly used them, but didn’t like the friction associated with pulling out my phone, searching for a venue, and then checking in I wanted to create a platform that would automate the check-in process at a venue when I swiped my card and made a purchase.
Growing up, I was one of those kids who asked a lot of questions. I liked to understand how things work, and as I got older I began to learn about emerging technology solutions, trends and their application to respective industries. I’ve generally found that once you understand the interworking’s of something, you can see opportunities that others don’t. And, the more I learned, the more I realized I could apply these new technology solutions to traditional products currently in the market.
As it turned out, my check-in idea was pretty complicated because of how the payments flow works, but as I looked into it, I became fascinated by the banking and payments industry because of the potential for much-needed innovation.
Soon after this revelation, by chance I met my co-founders and we started Urban FT, which set out to be a world-class provider of digital banking solutions. After 5+ years we’re making good progress.
Any emerging industry trends?
Right now is a very exciting time in the financial technology (fintech) space. Financial Institutions and industry players are starting to adopt a digital-first approaches. The general industry is starting to move towards API-driven solutions. New and improved standards for data are starting to be adopted and implemented. Payments, especially in the United States, are starting to move to same day and in some cases in real time.
An emerging technology that will be widely adopted in the next 2-7 years is blockchain technology. One of the main draws will be the reduction of costs and time it will take to access and pass data. Another benefit blockchain technology will also provide is more automation in processes. It’s still early days and more technology needs to be developed for blockchain to be adequately supported, which is why the type(s) of blockchain(s) that will ultimately be adopted, whether public, private or hybrid, still remain to be determined, but I’m confident the technology will be embraced.
Any industry opportunities or challenges?
One principle I’ve always strongly supported is meaningful reductions in the friction associated with completing tasks. If you can find a way to make something easier, faster and better for consumers, you have the basis for a winning solution.
For financial institutions, this is both the opportunity and the challenge. When it comes to banking and payments, there are a lot of legacy players that have limited abilities. Over time, legacy infrastructure will be updated, but because of the huge costs and complexities of doing so, this doesn’t occur very frequently. They need an easy, fast, affordable solution (a mythical trifecta to most) to integrate with their systems to provide meaningful solutions and reduces friction for the end consumer.
To cut costs and complexity and deliver time, money and manpower savings, we figured out how to leverage what our clients already have in place and layer our solution on top. We don’t compete with financial institutions’ technology teams, we complement them. In the end, we provide the trifecta of a meaningful solution that’s easy to implement and reduces the cost and time to accomplish tasks.
This generates a win-win for all involved. Our clients’ customers are more engaged and loyal because they are using solutions that meet, if not exceed, their expectations, generating more usage (and fee income) for our clients. And, our clients save time and money.
Inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for the Business?
The inspiration for our business came from two realizations. First, that small and medium size financial institutions are at a huge competitive disadvantage in a marketplace that includes banking behemoths with nearly unlimited resources people, technology and financial resources. If the playing field couldn’t be leveled, the number of smaller banks would continue to decline--not a desirable outcome for consumers or the economy. And, second, based on my love for social media and all things digital, that consumers need a better, more engaging, way to bank. This led to the vision of creating technology to liberate the small and medium size bank underdogs and keep them competitive by offering a best-in-class solution at a price they can afford.
What's next for the Business in the near future?
During the last several years, Urban FT has grown and exceeded our revenue projections. One aspect of our continued success is our technology. Clients will be able to, with more ease, access our suite of digital banking solutions which will all be consumable via a word class API. Part of being the number one provider of digital banking services is enabling our FI partners to innovate fast and in meaningful ways. We constantly evaluating and advancing various aspects of our solution.
Your key initiatives for the success of the Business?
One of the key initiatives we have in place is focus. We set out to be the leading provider in digital banking solutions and to achieve that we need to minimize distractions and focus on the end results. There are always opportunities out there, but that doesn’t mean you should always take an opportunity. By having clear objectives that are core to the business, the entire company is able to understand what is critical to our success and help point everyone in the correct direction.
Your most difficult moment at the Business? (and what did you learn?)
Anyone who has started a business understands the hardships that come with it. In the media you will often hear a lot on the glorification of entrepreneurship and working for startups. The reality is, behind the scenes waits an endless number of moving pieces that need to keep functioning. Ultimately, keeping everything running will be a significant factor in the longevity of the business.
Some of the hardest things I’ve dealt with relate to funding and staffing. Raising capital can be very challenging and, regardless of the commitments you get, the deal is not done until the money is in the bank. As the business is growing but still losing money, there’s a special balance you need to find. You don’t want to burn through all your cash, but you also need to make sure you have the right people who can perform at the level you need. I think it doesn’t occur to most young people or those who have never been involved with startups that there is a chance the company can fail—because most people never hear about the failures. To an extent, that mentality is priceless as they can work hard and not get distracted by some of the optics at play. However, when bad things do happen, it’s important to be honest and transparent about the situation and what the plan is. In bad times, key people might leave, but the loyal believers who do stay are the people who will continue to drive the company forward.
Ideal experience for a customer/client?
I’ve always believed in studying the best practices and emerging technology of industries outside the one I’m operating in. This helps me see general trends that clients and consumers expect. One of the unique differentiators about Urban FT is how we pull features, functions and inspiration from areas not traditionally associated with banking.
As a B2B2C company, our ideal experience for both clients and their end consumers is based around a customer-first approach that reduces friction among any tasks they have. We want our clients to be able to seamlessly accomplish their goals and get the results they want without any effort. In addition to great processes and technology, we spend a lot of time developing amazing relationships by over communicating.
At the end of the day our clients get an amazing solution, at a minimal cost that drives wanted results.
How do you motivate others?
The short answer is: Know your sh*t – communicate – collaborate – and show up.
We put a culture in place that has high standards. It isn’t just about working hard, it’s being part of a team where everyone understands how his/her role impacts the company. We want people to be great in their respective skill sets and work with the rest of their team to produce the best results. By holding people accountable and giving each person respect and responsibility, employees have an increased sense of loyalty to the company. Once people know they are valued and doing something meaningful, they’ll be there for the long haul.
The other part of motivation is what I would consider story telling. People need to know the vision and direction. They need to understand the impact of their efforts. By bringing together talented and passionate people and then painting a clear vision they support, people become intrinsically motivated to achieve the results.
Finally, the little things matter. Team members appreciate when the executives are on the front lines with everyone else doing things that are not in their job descriptions. For example, in our earlier days we moved offices several times and decided to move ourselves instead of hiring a company. All our executives and entry level staff were packing, moving and unloading. As basic as this sounds, everyone knowing the whole staff is there—from bottom to the very top— to move the company forward made a big impact.
Career advice to those in your industry?
The first thing I tell anyone entering any industry is to never stop learning. Understanding how your industry works is so important. It allows you to put things together that others can’t, and understand why processes are the way they are. This can only be accomplished through effort. Read articles, blogs and books. Talk to people. Listen to podcasts. Watch presentations. It’s easy to coast and be mediocre, but to truly excel you need to have an in-depth understanding. Everyone is selling and trying to position himself, his solution or company in a way that makes it sound amazing. By actually understanding how things function, you can ask smart questions that reveal the truth.
The second is perseverance. Everyone will tell you why your solution isn’t a good fit, why it won’t work or how it isn’t what he needs. Chances are those people have already developed opinions long before they met you and are operating solely on their personal experiences and assumptions. So what can you do? Poke and prod until you find a way to prove their unspoken assumptions wrong and position you and your solution in a way that gets the results you want. Achieving success isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon, and the way you get there is by putting one foot in front of the other. Don’t give up and keep moving forward.
Finally, have fun. Be positive and optimistic. Enjoy the journey no matter how rough it can be. If you put yourself out there, it will be more rewarding than you expected, and in ways you never thought. Choose to be great.