The FinTech industry is booming, with companies like Coinbase, Robinhood, and Ripple taking off like rocketships in LinkedIn's "Top 25 Most Attractive Start-Ups To Work For." KPMG estimates that over $14.2 billion was invested in fintech deals in the first half of 2018 alone and emerging technologies like AI and Blockchain leave many investors worried they're going to miss the next Google if they don't invest now. Mobile technology and digital only banks are hot because millennials no longer transact with cash; instead, they're using digital payment platforms like Vemno because they're easy, cheap, and transparent.
So how do the big banks on Wall Street keep up in a world where innovation seems to be driven by hot tech startups based out of Silicon Valley? This month, we sat down with Valla Vakili, Head of the Venture Studio at Citi Ventures to discover how his background building products at Yahoo gave him an advantage implementing change across Citi.
As a student at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service, Valla never saw himself working for a large financial institution like Citi. Upon graduation, he pursued a doctorate degree at Oxford before moving to the west coast to join Yahoo. Valla would spend the next fifteen years of his career building media products, launching new product lines, and developing the skill set he would need to help drive change across large organizations.
Eventually, Valla found himself looking for a new challenge. He set his sights on a much more outdated industry - financial services - in an attempt to apply the same frameworks he used in media to help transform banking. "The key to building any product," Valla says, "is iterating, testing, experimenting, learning what works well, and how to improve." And those principles can be applied to an industry just like banking, Valla implies.
Valla warns, however, that building products in financial services is not the same as building products in media. "Mark Zuckerberg is famous for his quote 'move fast and break things.' But in financial services, you cannot break things."
At Citi Ventures, Valla is the Head of the Ventures Studio, where he helps lead initiatives that focus on the digitization and transformation of big banks. Their team is focused on several core areas, including the future of work and financial inclusion among small business owners. Through incubation, the Venture Studio is able to help drive change across Citi that not only helps banking internally, but also helps drive continuous improvement for Citi's end customers.
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