While banks and other established financial institutions are the major forces in the finance industry, startups are increasingly driving the sector’s innovation and offering vision for the future. With more resources and programs than ever, financial technology (fintech) companies can pitch their ideas to companies, get feedback and potentially obtain clients and funding.
One of those up-and-coming companies is Invest Sou Sou, which recently walked away with the “Best of Show” award at Finovate Spring 2019. Finovate is a conference series focused on financial and banking technology that was launched in 2007.
Founded in 2015, the company is a social banking account that is designed to help community banks provide low-cost deposits and credited borrowers. Inspired by village saving and loan traditions, Invest Sou Sou aims to use these centuries-old practices as a springboard for modernizing the way people save money and build credit.
The company was founded and is led by CEO Fonta Gilliam. Gilliam served as a diplomat for the U.S. State Department and as a management consultant for Deloitte Emerging Markets Practice. She also was instrumental in leading the White House Global Entrepreneurship Summits in Morocco and Kenya during President Barack Obama’s administration and launched the U.S.’s first women’s entrepreneurship centers in Africa.
Gilliam recently took part in the ICBA ThinkTECH Accelerator held at the Venture Center in Little Rock.
AMP interviewed Gilliam by email to get her thoughts on the state of fintech, accelerators and taking “Best of Show” at Finovate.
AMP: What does Sou Sou do?
FG: Invest Sou Sou is a smart social banking account designed to help community banks cultivate low-cost deposits and credit-ready borrowers in a secure and cost-efficient way. Our technology leverages the power of social networking, peer accountability, and artificial intelligence (AI) to help people save, build strong credit and invest together, with people they trust, at their local community bank.
How do you hope to impact the financial services industry?
There is a wealth of research that shows social banking mechanisms using peer accountability are key to cultivating sustainable saving habits, producing low loan default rates (less than 1 percent according to the World Bank), and fostering strong financial habits. We believe that banking solutions like Sou Sou can work in the United States, particularly given the current challenges facing community banks and America’s middle class. We all know that bank competition for deposits is rising. Americans are saving less and 40 percent of millennials struggle with below average credit. Community banks, particularly the 4,100 banks managing $500 million or less in assets, control just 5 percent markshare of all U.S. deposits. As the backbone of the U.S. economy, the community banking industry needs a solution that can help them recapture market share and compete more effectively with fintechs and megabanks. Lending circles and social banking solutions like Sou Sou are a great way to help community banks maintain the relationship banking culture that they are famous for while capturing low cost deposits, targeting new market segments, creating lending opportunities, and maintaining their competitive edge.
What was it like winning Best of Show at Finovate?
As the only company presenting at Finovate that is both woman and minority owned, we were incredibly honored to be recognized as Best of Show. It was an honor not only for us as a company, but also on behalf of all of the female founders working so hard in fintech today. Also, Invest Sou Sou winning Best of Show was a signal from the market that banks see the huge potential of social savings accounts for cost savings and a strong ROI, while also giving them the opportunity to tap into new market segments.
Have you gotten any industry response after being recognized at Finovate?
The exposure we have received from our appearance at Finovate has been incredible. We have had numerous banks reach out to us wanting to integrate Invest Sou Sou savings and lending circle accounts into their offerings.
What was your time in Little Rock at the Venture Center like?
Our time in Arkansas was so valuable. Definitely time well spent! We were able to connect with banks and service providers in a way that we never would have been able to if we had not been part of the Venture Center Accelerator. We developed relationships that will continue to enrich our lives- both personally and professionally for years to come.
What were some of the main takeaways from the VC accelerator?
Receiving direct feedback from bank CEOs was invaluable for helping us to improve Invest Sou Sou’s product offering and to further develop our marketing strategy.
What is the value of participating in an accelerator like the VC accelerator?
Accelerator programs allow startups to gain access to essential resources that enable them to grow their business. It is a team of mentors that makes themselves available to support you in areas that you may not have all of the expertise you need yet. It provides infrastructure, saving valuable time and resources and helping us to develop our skills, which ultimately is allowing us to get into the market more quickly. At the end of the day, it accelerates your business’s progress!
Are you considering any future presence in Arkansas?
We are definitely considering our options for a larger presence in Arkansas in the future. Arkansas offers compelling tax incentives, as well as a broad availability of funding opportunities and programs for tech companies.