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Day 2 of VenCent Summit 2023: French Hill Moderates Banking Policy Panel

8 min read

The Tradeshow

More than 40 companies showcased cutting-edge fintech solutions at the 2023 VenCent Fintech conference, which wraps up this afternoon. Below are several examples of the new products on display.

Tapcheck allows employees to have access to portions of paychecks before payday. Employees can request access to funds and pay a fee for the money. The employer then pays that amount back to Tapcheck during pay cycles. The technology cuts out businesses, like petty loan or cash advance shops, that charge outrageous interest rates or other fees. CFO Alex Gostomelsky says it also helps with employee retention and reduced absenteeism.

Silvur is a retirement platform that helps people navigate retirement. It connects members to retirement-ready services and products.

agtools is a global SaaS platform that gathers real-time data for over 500 crops and commodities. The platform includes algorithms for farmers, buyers and other supply chain stakeholders to offer insight for forecasting and managing purchase orders. Customers receive a daily commodity report and access to commodity data with over 76 variables and historical records.

Update: Darrin Williams, Southern Bancorp CEO, Discusses Financial Wellness, Inclusion

Southern Bancorp is beta-testing a “money on demand” app that provides cash advances with minimal to no fees. Within five weeks of launching the beta, it was downloaded 63,000 times.

Williams said this is an example of how fintech can assist underserved populations. “This is not only good for business, but it is the right thing to do,” he said. “Many of these people may not be high-performing customers from day one, but if you work with them over time, they will get there.”

“Fintech is financial health at scale, so these partnerships are meaningful,” he said. “We are proud of the work we are doing.”

Underbanked or unbanked populations often turn to petty loan operations and cash checking businesses for money. Such operations charge exorbitant fees, becoming enablers in a perpetual cycle of debt such populations face. “These type of institutions strip wealth and negatively impact the financial health of people,” Williams said. “It’s a significant amount of resources that are being spent.”

Update: Hill Moderates High Profile Bank Policy Panel 

Participants included: Beth Knickerbocker, Special Counsel, Office of the Comptroller of the Currency; Rob Nichols, President and CEO, American Bankers Association; George Makris, Executive Chairman and Chairman of the Board, Simmons Bank.

Here’s a sample of questions Hill posed to panelists and responses. (Questions and answers have been edited for clarity).

Q: What has been the biggest change in the use of digital technologies for Simmons Bank over the past few years? 

Makris: It has been unbelievable the change that has happened over the last 10 years not only at Simmons but in our industry. The emphasis of self-serve today is extremely important. As we take a look at technology, we look at it based on customer demand. The more we educate the public, the more they request services. The fintech relationship has changed. It used to be a one-horse operations with a core provider providing everything we did. Today, we still have a core provider, but we have the best of the breed bolt-on applications that give not only our customers but us internally a much more efficient use of our most important asset: data.

Q: For internal and external penetration exams, how do you make sure the supervisory process doesn’t snuff out bolt-on acquisition? What is the OCC’s attitude about facilitating technolgoy additions to banking without too much pre-approval by regulators?

Knickerbocker: One of the things the OCC has been focused on for several years is to make sure that banks have a framework in order to grow into innovation while remaining viable and sustainable for their communities. The OCC and other regulators are technology neutral, so we are not going to tell you what kind of technology we think you should use. We are concerned how the technology is being used in an appropriate, safe and sound manner. What is key here is making sure that when a bank partners with a fintech or any third party, that it is done in a way that the bank is comfortable, that they can manage risk and they have the appropriate information from the fintech in order to do that.

Q: When you look at the importance of the dollar and America being the largest economy in the world, does it concern you that we could lose that standing? We have the largest capital markets, and they are the envy of the world. How do we maintain that in the digital future?

Nichols: Having a regulatory framework over the future of digital assets is a really important piece of that. Another important factor to ensure the global supremacy of the dollar, we need to pay down our debt. America’s debt to GPD ratio is one to one, which is incredibly alarming. Having $30 trillion in debt is terrible. There needs to be a manner and mechanism to pay that down. That is a huge foundational block to make sure the dollar is the globally denominated currency. ABA’s view is a central bank digital currency is a solution in search of a problem. China surveils its citizenry and controls its population. We don’t see the need for a central bank digital currency, but America’s debt needs to be paid down at some point.

Q: How concerned are you about the US digital asset operations moving offshore as it impacts customers or investors in the US. Does the OCC agree we should have a regulatory framework?

Knickerbocker: The challenge in the current framework is use of digital assets for illicit purposes. The more transactions that are pushed offshore, it becomes more challenging … and for us to maintain the US focus through sanctions. That is certainly a concern. Having a framework as we move further into tokenization and web3 is important because there are a lot of issues outstanding.There are ownership questions. Questions about frameworks. Just having common use definitions would be helpful.

Update: French Hill Discusses Finance, Digital Asset Regs

In a panel discussion on the summit’s second day, Republican U.S. Rep. French Hill slammed the Biden administration and its policies for regulating digital assets, like cryptocurrencies.

Attempts to regulate digital assets have been “sheer chaos,” Hill said. The U.S. SEC’s approach is forcing American companies to move offshore.

There are substantial parts of the American population who want to experiment with Web3 and block chain, and “they don’t know what the rules are.”

“It does not make any difference if you are a crypto bro or a crypto skeptic,” Hill said. “The one thing that is 100% true is the status quo is a failure. The one thing I have learned in business is if you stick with the status quo, you are losing.”

U.S. Rep. French Hill of Arkansas speaks at the VenCent Fintech Summit in Little Rock on Aug. 15, 2023

Update: Banking Execs, Entrepreneurs Discuss Cybersecurity, Fraud

Aside from afternoon panel discussions focused on lending and payment solutions, VenCent participants had the chance for one-on-one meetings with banking executives where fintech entrepreneurs pitched their solutions in hopes of creating new business partnerships.

A late afternoon session just started with entrepreneurs pitching their business ideas for fraud, anti-money laundering and cybercrimes.

The session kicked off with a presentation from Kendall Reese, Simmons Bank senior vice president and chief information security officer.

Reese discussed increased threat activity. The frequency of data breaches for the first half of this year is more than the number made in any full year the past decade, he said. “The two industries with the most compromises [are] financial industry and healthcare,” Reese said.

Motivations for attacks have changed over time, Reese said. Hacker communities are now “far more dangerous.”

“State sponsored actors are well-funded, intelligent and patient,” Reese said.

The banking executive said more collaborations are needed to fight off threats. He also said that businesses rely on sometimes more than 100 different types of cybersecurity tools, which are cumbersome and hard to manage. “No more single-purpose tools, please,” Reese said.

Tim Medin, CEO of Red Siege Information Security, a firm that companies hire to find weaknesses in network systems, said passwords are one of the most common ways for security breaches.

“The real bad guys are getting in because of re-used passwords,” Medin said. “The passwords are the most common way [hackers] are getting in these days. If you look at the modern research, it is that over and over again.”

Using password managers can make it harder for breaches, he said.

“Time and time again [passwords] are the original access method,” Medin said, adding that phishing also remains a top way for hacks.


Update: 2023 Participants in FIS Fintech Accelerator Present Business Pitches

Entrepreneurs selected to take part in the FIS Fintech Accelerator Program began presenting their business solutions. Participants have 7 minutes to pitch their ideas.

Omri Yacubovich presented Lama AI, a solution making it easier for small businesses to obtain bank loans in less than 7 minutes. Eighty percent of small business loan applicants are denied, Yacubovich explained, “but there is also a constant need for capital.”

Rod Boothby, CEO and co-founder of ID Partner Systems, explained how his company creates an online real identification system using banks to verify an individual’s identity. “The proposal is to let people control their identity by creating a bank-based ID.”

Update: Hugh McDonald Opens Conference


Arkansas Commerce Secretary Hugh McDonald opened the first day of the conference, which has about 300 attendees this year. McDonald spoke about the success of the FIS Fintech Accelerator Program. Each year, FIS Global of Little Rock, in partnership with The Venture Center of Little Rock, selects 10 growth-stage fintech companies to take part in a three-month mentoring program. That program began in 2016.

“You have no doubt heard about the track record of this event,” McDonald said. “Since 2016, nearly 100 companies have been created from the fintech accelerator. Eighty-five percent of them are still in operation. The average capital raise was $17 million and $2.5 billion of capital has been raised in total. There are three companies now valued over $1 billion.”

McDonald continued: “Opportunities abound. We wish you the best of luck in repeating those awesome trends. We are hoping you keep coming back, keep innovating, solving problems and identifying solutions.”


The VenCent Fintech Summit is underway in Little Rock today, with keynote speakers Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Hugh McDonald, secretary of the state Department of Commerce.

It’s the second year of the two-day summit, which brings together banking leaders and fintech innovators from the U.S. and abroad to discuss challenges and opportunities in financial technology.

This year’s summit will feature a VenCentMatch, which, similar to speed dating, connects bankers and fintech leaders to forge new partnerships.

More than 400 people attended the inaugural summit last year. Arkansas Business is covering today’s events and will have more at arkansasbusiness.com later today.

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