The founders of WalletFi had a tough decision back in May. After applying to two prominent FinTech accelerators, the Chapel Hill-based team was accepted into both.
A yes to Techstars’ Barclays Accelerator would have meant three months in Cape Town, South Africa for its inaugural program, along with funding and access to the impressive networks of both companies.
Little Rock, Ark., home to the VC FinTech Accelerator, wasn’t quite as sexy a locale, but the 12-week program was sponsored by FIS, the largest FinTech company in the world. It offered funding as well as access to 30 executives from a variety of major banks and FinTech companies who’d signed on as mentors and advisors.
The FIS relationship became the decision point, says CEO and co-founder Alain Glanzman (pictured top left), who came up with WalletFi’s software for easily transferring recurring payments from one credit card to another.
“They have a $30 billion market cap—they are how money gets moved between banks,” he told me at a Launch Chapel Hill celebration Tuesday night.
The decision has been a good one. WalletFi has signed on its first customer and two high profile advisors including the CEO of a publicly-traded bank.
In coming days, the founders will find out if an initial $50,000 investment from VC FinTech will increase to $350,000. After last year’s program, six of 10 companies also received an invite to the exclusive FIS HiPo Network, a network of high-potential early-stage FinTech startups with innovative products appealing to FIS’s bank clients around the world.
Regardless of what happens next, it means a lot “to say we have FIS as an investor,” Glanzman says.
But Launch Chapel Hill mattered a lot too. Glanzman credits the Chapel Hill accelerator with the pivot that got his startup interest from the high-profile global programs. Glanzman and co-founder Marc Miller (pictured top right) were initially targeting consumers with their app.
But advisors and entrepreneurs-in-residence at Launch Chapel Hill last summer helped them see the value to banks in having the service. When a credit card expires or is lost, they want no lapse in usage. By white labeling WalletFi and building it into their online offerings, customers can drag and drop their Duke Energy or Verizon payments and Netflix or Blue Apron subscriptions to a new card without logging into each service.
“We realized consumers want the best functionality but don’t want to pay for it,” Glanzman says. “Banks depend on reissuing cards and getting them up and running quick.”
Glanzman’s own experience inspired the startup, which he started work on during his MBA program at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School. After finishing his undergraduate degree at the University of California at Davis, he moved six more times in a five-year period, forcing him to change his address on all of his accounts after each move.
During customer interviews, he realized the bigger problem of lost cards and the challenge to banks in reissuing them.
Glanzman started working with Miller over a year ago. Miller previously founded and ran Boston-based Elevate Technology Solutions, which specializes in software development, analytics, compliance and cybersecurity staffing and services for the financial services industry. He’d moved to North Carolina for his wife’s job and planned to exit his company and move on to something new.
Miller now handles business development and operations for the company, while Glanzman works as CEO.
To complete the development work, they’ve partnered with Core10, a firm in Nashville that builds software for financial technology companies and keeps costs down by hiring workers in West Virginia, a concept it calls “hereshoring”.
WalletFi still has an option for consumers—there’s a beta version available on its website. But financial institutions will be the focus moving forward. They pay WalletFi a one-time fee upfront to license the software, and then fees for monthly maintenance and per customer who activate it.
FIS and the network in Little Rock are key to signing on those customers, Glanzman says. FIS counts 20,000 banks in 130 countries as customers of its payment processing, consulting and other software services.
Little Rock, meanwhile, is home to a major FIS office and is the birthplace of FinTech innovators like FIS predecessor Systematics, Arkansas Systems, ABC Financial, Stephens Inc., Mainstream Technologies and Acxiom. The resources there were unparalleled, Glanzman says. (More on Little Rock’s FinTech community in the video below)
WalletFi will begin work with its first customer soon. But the men hope momentum continues to build since their July 26 pitch at VC FinTech’s Demo Day at the Clinton Presidential Library. 400 bank executives and investors gathered to hear WalletFi and nine other companies pitch.
At the Launch Chapel Hill event, the men shared their progress in Little Rock but also tipped their hats to the accelerator staff and mentor Scott Albert, a UNC Kenan-Flagler professor and EIR at Launch Chapel Hill, as well as lawyer Merrill Mason at Smith Anderson, who’s keeping busy with WalletFi’s recent activity.
Besides raising funds and signing on customers, they hope to find office space and make a permanent home for WalletFi in Chapel Hill.
“The heart of FinTech is Little Rock,” Glanzman says. “But Little Rock is no Chapel Hill.”