FinTech and Banking. These two areas are representative of where Allan has built his career and where he will focus the remainder of his career.
Allan is an accomplished banker and leader with a twenty-year track record as a commercial banker and market executive in the commercial banking and specialty finance space. Allan is also the former CEO and Co-Founder of PaidUp, a financial technology company designed to support youth sports clubs. Allan and his co-founders launched the startup in Austin, TX where they supported youth sports clubs across the domestic U.S. Applying what he has learned in FinTech and banking, Allan is now Chief Innovation Officer and Chief Technology Officer at an entrepreneurial bank called @encorebank.
After earning his undergraduate marketing degree, Allan earned his MBA from Texas Tech University in 2000. In 2014, Allan also earned his Certified Private Wealth Advisor designation through the Investment Management Consultants Association (“IMCA”) and the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business.
We hope you enjoy the episode. You can find even more Full Stack Leader episodes here: Full Stack Leader
You can also visit the Encore Bank website Here
Ryan: hello everyone and welcome to this week’s episode of the Full Theater Podcast. This week I’m with Alan Rayson. Alan, I had a chance to meet in Austin at South by Southwest just a couple months ago. He’s the Chief Innovation Officer, chief Technology Officer of Encore Bank in Austin. Welcome all.
Alan: Thank you for having me. I appreciate it. I’m glad we connected at South by
Ryan: Southwest. Yeah, it’s been great to talk to you already and I, I can’t wait to go a little more in depth into what some of your history is the things that you’re doing on the FinTech side of things.
Alan: Yeah, I look forward to it.
There’s there is quite a bit going on for sure.
Ryan: So you’re, you’ve elevated to a pretty amazing position in the world of FinTech and really dealing with some some exciting stuff, thinking about innovation and technology around the way money works in the world today. But how did you get to that point?
and tell us a little bit about early in
Alan: your journey. Yeah, I appreciate the question. I there’s, it’s one of those backgrounds that, that I might call a bit non-traditional. Just from the standpoint that I started my career back kind of early 2001 on the business side, on the, you know, on the business and the sales side of banking.
So, You know, coming outta graduate school was an analyst for a couple of years, and then ultimately was, you know, spent a decent portion of my career in commercial and corporate banking where I was primarily responsible for You know, extending that bank’s balance sheet to put capital into small and mid-size businesses.
That was my job for a long time. Then ultimately evolved to be able to run sales teams like that and build, you know, business development teams. You know, still on the banking, on the business side of banking, so to speak. But then I had an opportunity after moving to Austin in 2000 2013, had an opportunity to leave banking altogether.
Which was a bit nerve wracking, if I’m being honest. Kinda leaving my comfort zone. But but I had an opportunity with a, co-founder here in Austin to go launch what was. Admittedly a pretty early stage FinTech. Nobody was really using that term at the time, but we were a, you know, we were an early stage payments company in the platform that we had built, allowed a small business in the United States to effectively outsource their accounts receivable to us.
So we would. Take on the function of collecting all of their accounts receivable and run those payments through a proprietary payments platform that we had built which was, you know, which was our revenue generation mechanism. So in that, learned a tremendous amount about payments and tech and software development FinTech, things like that.
And then, you know, kind of fast forward to today, ultimately had an opportunity to. You know, to migrate over to the technology side of banking off, you know, off the business side of the BA of banking. And that’s that’s really what I do today for Encore. And with Encore is responsibility for tech and innovation for what is a rapidly growing fi here in the southeastern part of the us Yeah.
Very non-traditional background, I think we can agree with that. Maybe.
Ryan: It’s great. And it actually brings up an interesting subject around the different roles that c o or a ca chief Innovation Officer in your case sitting between some pretty complex groups.
One being obviously the technology group and some of the more forward things they’re trying to. But also between the business teams and how it actually applies to the business. So, it’s great to see that you’re really bringing some of the insights from that business
That, and that’s honestly what’s exciting to me. I mean, I’m you spend that, that long on the business side of banking and you know, you develop a pretty deep understanding of lending and you know, how a bank’s balance sheet works and. The different products that you’re delivering, you know, with within a bank, but you know, ultimately you develop a really deep understanding of how a bank makes money and generates revenue.
That definitely informs what I do on the, you know, on the technology and innovation side. So, yeah, that’s, I find that super exciting. Do you think
Ryan: that you have to do a lot of hard work to introduce new technologists to some of the core foundational principles How, How do you do that? What process
Alan: is that like? Yep. I mean, you can appreciate the, a big part of what I do is, you know, interact with and work with my partners. You know, within Encore on the operational side of the business, on the compliance side of the business risk audit, you know, those types of super important functions inside of a bank.
But you know, from an innovation perspective, you know, from an innovation mindset, It takes, you know, there’s a lot of education that takes place as to you know, why we would want to pursue a certain initiative and, you know, me and others being able to bring, being able to bring my partners along on that journey, that, that have operational backgrounds or compliance backgrounds.
Is def definitely a process, definitely a worthwhile process, but, you know, really does take some time you know, to introduce these new things that are going on in the FinTech space that are really changing the way that. That banks, you know, kind of function and operate. So to your specific question, one of the things that we have really done right, I think is build, you know, build a pretty diverse team inside of Encore That does include compliance, risk ops, audit, tech, innovation, you know, kind of the right skill sets to be able to bring technology into the organization.
But you know, do it in a, do it in the right way. That doesn’t, you know, doesn’t jeopardize the bank’s balance sheet or anything like that. Which has, you know, clearly an important topic in this space given what we’ve experienced in the LA in the last couple of weeks.
Ryan: Yeah, and I definitely want to get to that that topic of some of the kind of banking challenges that have happened in the early part of 2023. But before we do, I find interesting that you are a combo of chief Innovation Officer and Chief Technology Officer. Not that’s an unusual combination that makes sense.
But within a banking environment I know some of the priorities of those two roles might be at actually odds with either. or you, how do you strike a balance between those?
Alan: Yeah, I mean, we’re a small team in all honesty. I mean, What we are building encore’s about a $4 billion bank based outta Little Rock, Arkansas.
But we’ve got we’ve got offices in roughly 20 markets across eight states in the southeastern US. So you know, we’ve managed through just exponential growth over the last couple of years, but we do maintain a pretty small team. And we bifurcate internally. I mean my like technology role.
Within that role, I don’t necessarily get into some some of the things that other. CTOs that at larger organizations get into, I mean, you know, clearly you’ve got network security issues and you’ve got data security issues and you know, while I have some oversight over that to make sure that we are doing things the right way, I do very much skew towards the, you know, towards the innovation side.
But bring, you know, bring that technical background to help us navigate through the process of bringing new technologies into the organization. Like I said, doing that in the right way. Making sure that we’re managing the risk and compliance aspects of all of that. So that’s kind of how we bifurcate or delineate roles at least at this stage in our evolution.
Cuz you know, we’re only. You know, we’re only roughly 300, 300 associates running a rapidly growing uh, fi here. So, everybody’s wearing a lot of hats, I think is probably the point.
Ryan: Yeah, that makes sense. And when I think about risk and compliance I kind of think about them as being a backstop and really making sure that there’s a level of boundary going on.
And on the innovation side, like there’s a lot happening in FinTech in terms of different technology that can be applied. How do you facilitate between bringing new things in and then assessing the risk and the potential compliance
Alan: issues? it’s a process for sure, but I think it starts, you know, it really starts with it starts with an understanding of the business outcome that we’re after.
I mean, we skew very commercial, so we don’t do, you know, we don’t do. A lot of consumer business, I’d say, you know, 80, 90% of our business is commercial. So, you know, that’s, it’s pretty clear, it’s pretty easy for us to identify how we, you know, how we generate revenue and make money. So from an innovation perspective, my, my goal and my job is really.
Kind of centered around identifying new opportunities. You know, I, identifying opportunities for us to generate new sources of revenue and identifying ways for us to optimize our existing businesses internally and potentially generate more revenue than we are today from those businesses.
So, you know, what are new revenue sources for us? How do we optimize existing revenue sources? Is primarily my day-to-day.
Ryan: Yeah. That’s great. And it’s interesting to hear the level of commercial focusing especially given some of the banks that have struggled in the market in the last little bit.
Do you think that there’s a kind of. A change going on in the way that people are seeing their portfolios of different people happening, especially on the way that they’re accessing financially.
Alan: Yeah, I mean, I there’s definitely change and it’s not new.
It’s been happening for, you know, for a while. You know, as. To, you know, to your question I think it for, from our standpoint, given that we do skew so commercial and given that. Our business model is a little bit different than most banks from the standpoint that we have gone out and we’ve put together an extensive investor network, you know, roughly 2000 people that across the south, the southeastern part of the United States that have invested their own money into the equity of Encore.
So we have this extensive investor network that really helps us. It honestly helps us grow across those markets that we’re in because many of those investors that have that, that we work with, that are within our network, many of those investors are smaller, mid-size business owners themselves.
So we primarily focus on banking those investor partners. So point is we can effectively grow As kind of as fast or as slow as we want to on the lending side, but the challenges that, that we have are keeping up with, you know, keeping up with the deployment of capital with core deposits, for example.
So we’ve gotta be very creative as we think about ways to generate new core deposits for the organization. As a, you know, as a funding mechanism for the commercial lending side, if that makes sense.
Ryan: Yeah, for sure. Are you considering the impact of how they will play out in the long run? If you do bring on certain types of businesses or, or you open up a new line of types of business that you’re
Alan: Yeah. I mean, we, there’s a lot of different aspects. Let me give you, let me give you an example of what I’m talking about on the, you know, on the deposit generation side of the business. You know, obviously a banks.
Franchise value is dependent on a lot of factors, not the least of which is how strong is the deposit franchise that you have built. That’s one of the things that we pay a lot of attention to. You know, as we think about the value of Encore. And so one example of some of the things that we’ve done on the tech and innovation side that are admittedly still evolving.
Is we’ve gone out and we’ve made the decision to stand up an association banking business, so, What that means if you’re if you’re in this part of the country certainly states like Florida and Texas have an abundance of homeowners associations. And those homeowners associations have an incredible amount of deposits that you know that they are managing.
Within their organization. We would love for those deposits to set on our balance sheet. But to do that, we’ve got to deliver the right technology to those association management companies that help them, you know, run their business. We’ve gotta be able to deliver the right technology to them.
And once we do that, we then, you know, all of those deposits then. Come over to, you know, come over to our bank and to our, into our balance sheet. So what have we done there? We’ve accomplished we’ve accomplished the objectives of our client, first and foremost, but we’ve also accomplished our objectives as, as well, which is, you know, which is growing our deposit franchise using tech.
Ryan: Do you think about, as a tech leader within the organization, really smart ways for you to watch the status of those deposits and how the bank is managing them on the balance sheet so that you can communicate back? To leadership as to where they live
Alan: Yes, definitely.
I mean, we you know, a part of what we’ve been working on over the last three or four years is the development, and I think you and I talked about this at South by Southwest, but the development of our. Technology, architecture, the development of our data strategy and the development of our product strategy here at Encore those are kind of the three key facets of what we’re doing.
So, you know, as you think about where your risk lives within a deposit portfolio you’ve gotta have the right data. At your fingertips to be able to do that. But that’s one of absolutely the things that banks really struggle with is, we all have data in a bunch of different places, so centralizing that data.
To be able to use it for our purposes is really important to us. And that’s, you know, that’s part of what we’re working on within our data strategy is the centrali centralization of all of that, all that important data to be able to help us among other things, understand where our, you know, where our major risks are.
Ryan: Yeah. Interesting. And along those lines, it seems to me that something like some of the AI tools are coming out right now. Could be very valuable to do some of that management, given the amount of data points that there are. What kind of risks or values do you see in starting to implement more and more of those kind of, larger models to help you out with that?
Alan: You know, I mean, it’s it’s pretty early days in, in my opinion, in terms of. How effectively what everybody’s trying to figure out is how do we use these technologies to, you know, to support our business. So obviously OpenAI and Chat, G P T, and I think they just released the newest version of.
Of this you know, of this ai. You know, admittedly it’s something that I’m paying pretty close attention to, but I am trying to find the use cases for those technologies that can support, you know, what are the use cases of these technologies that can really support our business and help us make money, help a, you know, Help our clients have a better experience with us.
Things, you know, things of that nature. So the tech is really cool and it’s very early days, but, you know, kind of the next evolution of that is how do we incorporate that tech into our enterprise to support, you know, the outcomes that we’re trying to produce.
Ryan: Yeah, that makes sense. And on an implementation level do you think it’s important to empower your team with bringing innovative ideas to the table?
And how do you do that? Is it product team focused or what’s your process for hearing? everybody on the team.
Alan: Yeah I think, I mean, there’s no perfect process for it. You know, it definitely starts with culture.
You, you have to enable that type of culture in inside of an organization. You know, which is admittedly easier for us versus a regional or money center bank. You know, cuz we have a smaller group of people, a smaller group of employees, but, It, it does come down to the cu the culture that we have built around, not feeling compelled to do the, do things the same way that we’ve done them in the past.
So, you know, a great example of that is just because you did things a certain way at the bank that you came from or the organization that you came from. Doesn’t mean that’s the best way to do it. So let’s sort of start from a framework, you know, from a kind of mental model of what is the problem that we’re trying to solve?
What are the resources that we have available to be able to solve that? And let’s find, you know, let’s find a modern solution to, you know, to whatever problem versus. Going and rebuilding, you know, something that, that we’ve seen in the past. That is very much our culture. But I also recognize that’s a tough culture to build and is not necessarily possible at, you know, at every organization.
Ryan: It is an interesting challenge. And do you think that the, you’re in a good city for talent? It appears that there’s more and more technology people flocking to Austin, which is pretty powerful, but it seems like you have a lot more to pull from at this point.
Alan: Yeah, I think we’re in a good part of the country.
You know, clearly Austin has become a tech hub over the last, you know, 10 to 15 years. So there is a lot of talent. Here in Austin specifically, but we’re also in, you know, cities like Tampa. A lot going on there. Cities like Charlotte, Nashville. Yeah. Denver.
So the southeastern part of the United States is pretty talent rich. But alongside that, we all know that, you know, the opportunity to, you, you don’t have to have all of your people in the same place these days to be able to really build a top-notch organization. You know, so there’s, so, you know, from a remote perspective, we don’t necessarily limit ourselves to only the markets that we’re in or the, you know, the cities that we operate in.
Ryan: You’re looking at some of the FinTech talent in some of those regions and I agree. I’ve seen a lot of growth in some of the cities you named, especially like Um, Charlotte there’s some big things happening in those cities yeah. As well as some other towns. But when you look at that talent, are there things that you’re considering in today’s market Would you like to have people with experience in blockchain, for instance? Is that important or do you need to have people with more deeper levels of security expertise, things like
Alan: that? Yeah, I mean, there’s it’s not one answer, certainly. You know, especially in an economic cycle, like, like the one that we’re in right now looking at, you know, looking at a recession you know, at some point this year early next year, likely You know, clearly you want to make sure that you are doing the right things to, to manage the bank from a compliance and risk and audit perspective.
So, you know, always, we already have talented people in those, you know, in those functions across the org. But you know, managing risk, Inside of a regulated environment is probably always going to be your, you know, be your first priority because we are, you know, we are working with. Insured deposits for the most part.
So managing that aspect and sourcing talent into those areas of your organization is probably always your first priority. But beyond that, given some of the, given some of the revenue opportunities and the deposit gathering opportunities and the fee generation opportunities that exist with FinTech and banking as a service, for example You know, sourcing talent in those areas is crucial for us as well as we think about evolving into those types of businesses.
Ryan: Do you think that banking technology with kind of traditional banks is running up against something that’s faster moving like blockchain? And maybe Could be at risk of not keeping up with the growth itself or do you like the pace that it’s going at and see more risk in that environment
Alan: What are your thoughts on that? I am concerned about the pace of innovation. That exists in regulated banking. you know, which obviously the space, that space that I am, that I’m in. if you look at how long it takes to build or bring technology into your organization, it is often a 12, 15, 18 month process.
As you think about, you know, if I’ve got a certain problem that I’m trying to solve or if I’ve got an opportunity that I want to, that I want to take advantage of, and. I’ve then gotta go out, vet the market, understand what, you know, what products from a technology perspective are out there.
Once I identify the ones that I like, you know, I’ve gotta, I’ve gotta ultimately get to a. Get to a vendor or a partner that I can work with. You know, you think about the contract negotiation process, all of the, all the things that take place just to get to an implementation. And then, you know, the speed of implementation is quite slow in the space as well because everything is so complex and you know, by the time you get through all of those different important processes, you’re.
You know, 12, 15, 18 months into a project before you go live. And that’s gotta accelerate that, you know, that pace of, the pace of wi, of bringing tech technology into your org organization has got to get faster for innovation to be able to move faster in this space. Do you think
Ryan: we might too fast with innovation in general though?
right now it seems like there’s some wisdom in a little bit of slowness. That’s,
Alan: what are your thoughts on that? I don’t disagree with that at all. I mean, uh, slow down to go fast is always right, is always what I was, exactly what I was taught. I don’t think that’s wrong at all. But I look at some of the problems that exist in the commercial banking space, and one of the ones that I stay pretty focused on is the time that it takes a bank to, to deliver its product, you know, and bank products.
A bank’s PR primary product is capital. You know, putting capital into small and mid-size businesses in the US is kind of the primary mandate for commercial banks. And it just takes too long. I mean, the, especially a, you know, especially a. Good size middle market business. I mean, they’re looking at a couple of months of lead time to be able to get working capital to buy equipment, capital to go buy another company, whatever it may be, that’s gotta accelerate.
So those types of things are kind of no-brainers, you know, to be able to fix and improve upon. And that pace of ex, that pace of innovation needs to. You know, needs to keep moving forward. To your question specifically about these new technologies, new-ish technologies, blockchain, it’s here to stay.
It’s not going anywhere. There’s a lot of application, there’s a lot of use case around that. That we pay attention to. We’ve invested in a couple of FinTech funds and blockchain funds in the banking space that, that help us stay in tune with what’s going on there. So, you know, we’re fighting a lot of battles on a lot of different fronts, but you know, staying focused and prioritizing on the initiatives and projects that are.
Gonna help us, you know, again, generate new revenue opportunities or optimize existing ones.
Ryan: Yeah. That’s amazing. And do you think that the Efficiency, kind of the efficient size of your company can translate into staying a little bit ahead of kind of much bigger bulkier banking organizations? Or do you find that there’s a battle to get depositors to see you guys?
What are some of the challenges you have in that front, within those local markets?
Alan: We really have, and you and I have talked about this, I mean, we’ve got a. We’ve got an advantage certainly over other banks given that we’ve put together this investor network that we rely so heavily upon.
So you can appreciate if you’ve got, you know, if you’ve got a couple of thousand, if you’ve got several thousand investor partners that have invested, you know, meaningful sums of money. Into your organization. They have the financial upside of growth and success right alongside us, you know, associates of Encore.
So everyone is aligned in terms of the outcomes that we’re trying to produce. And that gives us a pretty distinct advantage over other banks that, you know, their clients are not necessarily. Financially invested in that bank, like our, like many of our clients are. So that definitely helps us, you know, as we think about sourcing new loan opportunities, sourcing deposit opportunities, things like that, that, that investor network is really a marine, kind of, really the lifeblood of the organization.
Ryan: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I guess the last kind. Question I wanna run by you and this part of the interview is what do you see as some of the changes coming in, some of the technology that you guys are using given even the rapid pace of change since you and I last met at South by Southwest?
Is there anything really exciting over the next little bit you’re looking at in this space?
Alan: Yeah. I mean, I, I’m focused on the, I’m focused on the fundamental problems in the business. I mean, what can we be doing to make a middle market company stronger? What can we be doing as a, you know, as an industry that.
That supports small and mid-size businesses in the US to make those businesses healthier, to, you know, be able to extend capital to them faster, to be able to get them the right products that they need. From a treasury management perspective, get them the products that they need to help manage risk, whether it’s, you know, foreign exchange related risk or operational risk compliance risk.
I mean, that’s really where we’re focused in trying to support, you know, support our small and mid-size business clients. And there’s a lot of exciting things happen that that will accelerate the pace. Of, you know, of delivery of those bank products and honestly make those products better and more effective for those small and mid-size businesses.
So even outside of what we’re all hearing about and learning about with the. You know, AI and the evolution of that tech. There’s some, there’s a lot going, there’s a lot going on in a more basic way to, to support small, mid-size businesses and consumers, you know, from a banking perspective as well.
So we’re all in the right place at the right time. You know, in this FinTech and banktech space.
Ryan: All right. That’s amazing. Thanks for taking the time to give us a rundown on a pretty exciting part of the technology space. . Great to have you here and we’re excited to hear your top five tips. Let’s start with number one. What do you got?
Alan: Number one is be humble.
Tip 1 – Be Humble
Ryan: What what about being humble in technology is important?
Alan: Being humble in my mind is just The recognition that we, you know, we as leaders don’t know everything, especially in a space like FinTech or banktech that that is evolving quickly and moving at a pretty rapid pace.
Just be humble and, you know, open to the idea that. But you don’t know everything that you know, rely on others, rely on resources, rely on your team. That’s kind of what I mean when I say be humble.
Ryan: That makes sense. It’s difficult to know everything given the rapid piece of change in the amount of things out there.
Yeah, Great. How about number two? What do you got?
Alan: Number two, be open to new information.
Tip 2 – Be open to new information
Ryan: Yeah. how do you best digest new information to theoretically know a lot?
Alan: I think it, you know, for me and in my career you know, I really try to develop, really try to learn enough to a point where I can develop an opinion about something, but also be, you know, Maybe it comes back to being humble about it but also know that over time I’m gonna learn new things and I’m gonna, you know, I’m gonna get new information from another source that might sort of challenge that original opinion that I, you know, that I formed.
And that’s really what I mean by just being open to new information and versus just and we’re all guilty of this versus just. Cherry picking the information that’s gonna support my original opinion. You know, be open to some information that could challenge the opinion or the perspective that you originally had.
Ryan: Yeah, that makes sense. All right, great. How about number three?
Tip 3 – Have Empathy
Alan: three is have empathy.
Ryan: We’re the biggest spots within leadership that you think empathy’s important?
Alan: Yep. Primarily with your team. I think it’s you know, we all, we always talk about culture and team. You know, those words get thrown around a lot.
But, you know, I think having empathy from a personal perspective, from a business perspective, It impacts organizations in different ways, but just having empathy about, you know, understanding where your team is coming from or, you know, someone that may see the world a little bit different than, differently than you do a personal or business perspective.
Just, I think having empathy with each other is really important.
Ryan: Yeah. And I think empathy and humble have a lot of correlation as well. Yeah. Agree. Kind of group each other. Yeah. Yeah. All right. How about tip number four?
Alan: Tip number four. Admit mistakes.
Tip 4 – Admit Mistakes
Ryan: That’s a hard one for a lot of people.
Alan: Yes, definitely.
Ryan: No, I don’t want to again, but, you know.
Alan: I don’t think there’s any substitute to leading from the front in that, you know, in that area if your team ob observes that there’s some vulnerability to you and you know, sh you show them that look. I am, you know, I screwed that up. I made a mistake there. I made the wrong call, or, you know, didn’t, process that information like I should have.
And as it turns out that, you know, that got screwed up. We’ll do things differently next time. Yep. I mean, they need a team is gonna need to see their, you know, see their leader be willing to do that before they’re really gonna be willing to do that. So, you know, I think leading from the front on the battlefield is probably the key.
Ryan: That makes sense. All right. And finally, tip number five. Tip number five is have fun. Okay. So what’s your favorite way to have fun when you’re innovating and doing technology?
Tip 5 – Have Fun
Alan: Man, I somebody told me a long time ago that, you know, they, that they want to do interesting things with interesting people.
And that, like, that has always stuck with me and just, I mean, it’s what we’re doing in banking and FinTech and banktech, I hope is change changing society and helping society and changing, you know, changing the world in some regard. But, you know, generally we’re not talking about life and death.
Right. But I guess I, I just always come from a place where, you know, we’re going to, we’re gonna go work hard together. We’re gonna work a lot of hours, you know, there’s gonna be sacrifices involved, but, Let’s try to have some fun along the way and incorporate that into what we’re doing.
Ryan: Yeah. And when the pressure feels on sometimes it’s hard to remember that. And it’s so important for team building and just enjoying your own career. Definitely. Yeah. Well, I appreciate all of your insights today. Very powerful. and really how this whole space grows.
It’s been doing some amazing things over the last five years, and I’m sure it’s got
Alan: much more to go. Thank you for saying that. A lot of lot of opportunities. I’m excited. I’m excited and optimistic about the future.
Ryan: Absolutely. All right. Great to talk to you, Alan. Likewise. Take care.