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A fintech trailblazer reflects on the true meaning of innovation

Mar 14, 2018 / Technology

Leaving an accomplished business career to go the way of a fintech startup force hardly represents a slam dunk, no matter how many years you’ve put in or promotions you’ve garnered. And to be sure, Sue Britton represents the epitome of a quarter century of financial services success.

“I loved working for large leading companies such as Broadridge, Xerox and Finastra over the last 25 years,” Britton says. “They were market leaders with loyal clients who were looking for innovation and very receptive to co-creating new products.”

Yet there came that career crossroads that beckoned in the direction of a riskier road less traveled. “Over the last few years as my career progressed, success was measured by increasing shareholder value and short term financial results, and often doing what’s right for the customer was in conflict,” Britton recalls. “That’s when I realized my corporate career was over.”

What then commenced, in her words, was the chance to “follow your passion, make an impact and ‘do what you love,’ which is incredibly rewarding and exciting.” The CEO and co-founder of Fintech Growth Syndicate (FGS), Britton discussed her views on how startups succeed, the rewards of entrepreneurship and her definition of innovation as she takes the mantle of a first-time judge in the BAI Global Innovation Awards.

BAI: What moved you to start FGS?

Britton: I am wired to solve growth problems and love bringing new ideas forward. Large tech incumbents are very challenged to innovate without strong leadership and a willingness to think differently and measure success differently. The landscape in financial services is changing dramatically and I believe everyone underestimates how quickly and vastly different financial services will be in five years. I wanted to be part of a growth and change story in this last chapter of my career and am fortunate to have started FGS at a time when there is a big need for growth and innovation strategy.

BAI: What does the typical accelerator experience look like for the companies you accept?

Britton: We are not your typical accelerator – we don’t have a physical location, we don’t take equity and we are not a non-profit. FGS started in early 2016, and we have worked with more than 25 companies ranging from large financial institutions, to large technology incumbents, to new fintech start-ups. Our funding has come from client revenues and we are profitable. We have two typical client scenarios: a startup that needs help to accelerate and fine-tune their go-to-market and expansion strategy and an incumbent that recognizes that they need to think differently—and wants to make innovation work inside and outside their organization, partner with new entrants, and consider new business models.

BAI: What are some key lessons you’ve learned and tried to impart?

Britton: Be clear about the problem you solve, clearly articulate your value proposition in terms of what it brings to your buyer and validate your target customer segment. Fintechs need to be relentless about having the right sales and marketing strategy and expertise for them to succeed. A wise and favorite client of ours says it well: I would rather sharpen my axe well and take less time to chop down a tree, than take a dull axe and spend more time to get the same result. I think innovation without strategy is just luck.

BAI: Many people in high-tech speak of customer “pain points.” But it sounds like startups themselves have labored through their own pain points in recent years. How do you address this?

Britton: This is a story about the gaps created by large, established companies no longer able to respond quickly to change for a variety of complex reasons, and new startups that can pivot quickly and address the pain points incumbents create. Each have what the other needs: Incumbents have customers and funding; startups have product, technology and talent. We work with both, but for startups the risk of failure is greater because they have limited resources for mistakes. The biggest thing they need, assuming they have a product-market fit, is revenue and funding to keep growing. We work with them to create market awareness, fine-tune their sales and marketing strategies, and help them identify their primary customers and how best to sell to them.

BAI: What does innovation mean to you, and how have you seen it play out over your career?

Britton: Innovation means you recognize that the needs of your customers are changing faster than you can respond to, and that how you succeeded as a company is no longer viable long term. That you must think differently to reimagine the future and continue to be relevant to your clients.  It means asking “why not” constantly and being obsessed with meeting customer needs.

Innovation played out best during my time at Broadridge, largely due to the leadership of the organization. Our CEO was passionate about innovation and allowed us to take a disruptive idea outside our four walls and protected us from the organization’s bureaucracy long enough to build a product that quickly became widely adopted by our clients—and fast. It’s still a market leader today.

BAI: As a first-year judge for this year’s BAI Global Innovation Awards, what qualities and characteristics will you look for in this year’s entries?

Britton: I’m excited and hopeful we’ll see new business model innovation entries by financial institutions; more innovative partnerships with startups; and more entries from North American banks and credit unions. Gender diversity of the applicants should also be an important characteristic as we know there are many female innovators leading change who should be recognized. BAI has been a long-time leader in encouraging and supporting innovation in financial services and I hope this year is one of the biggest yet—to celebrate what must be one of the biggest years of progress to date.

BAI: What do you find most rewarding and exciting about the work you’re doing? The most challenging?

Britton: It’s so exciting to be a female founder in the fintech industry. The #MeToo movement is such an inspiration. For the first time I feel like things can and will change and we can evolve towards diversity and equality in a way that hasn’t been possible in the past. But the most rewarding thing we’re doing is creating more collaboration in the fintech ecosystem in Canada which comes mostly from our pro-bono efforts. It’s exciting to play a small part in creating connections between startups and incumbents, between investors and academics, and ensuring those in positions of influence—such as policy makers and regulators—understand what does and doesn’t work. The most challenging thing is having patience and faith that Canada will move quickly enough and not get left behind.

BAI: Five years from now, where do you see yourself as an innovator?

Britton: in five years banks will start looking more like Amazon, WeChat and Apple – either platforms or product producers – and FGS will have proven, scalable business model for accelerating growth and innovation in fintech, and a syndicate of amazing, experienced talent that our clients value. As an innovator, I hope that we’ve progressed beyond making the case for change, are busy implementing it and have a thriving fintech industry. I hope Canada, has at a minimum, equal to or greater than the global average of industry adoption of fintech.

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Lou Carlozo is the managing editor of BAI. To learn more about the eighth annual BAI Global Innovation Awards, and nominate an organization, visit bai.org/globalinnovations. Submit your nominations by April 13.

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