VC FinTech Accelerator in Little Rock: How FIS Fosters Innovation in the Birthplace of FinTech

FIS is a global leader in banking and payments technology as well as consulting and outsourcing solutions. The company supports banking and payment processing needs for thousands of financial institutions across the US. The company operates in three segments: payment solutions, financial solutions and international solutions. FIS serves more than 20,000 institutions in over 130 countries, employs more than 55,000 people worldwide, and holds leadership positions in payment processing and banking solutions.

The company is already a major player in the FinTech scene and with this new focus on young startups, it also demonstrates a passionate dedication to external innovation by supporting the VC FinTech Accelerator in Little Rock, Arkansas.

"At FIS, we’re investing in innovation that keeps our clients competitive in today’s environment while also looking at what the global financial services industry will look like in the future, said Gary Norcross, FIS President and CEO. We’re excited to partner with The Venture Center on this initiative and to further establish Little Rock and Central Arkansas as a desirable location to start and grow a business."

"FIS has been a key player in the financial services space not only in Central Arkansas, but around the world," said Lee Watson, President and CEO, The Venture Center. "The Venture Center is proud to partner with FIS on this initiative, which provides FinTech startups access to the largest financial services technology company in the world. This joint effort will provide FIS increased access to the top FinTech innovators in the world while supporting the growth of the financial services sector."

LTP had the pleasure of interviewing Tariq Bokhari, Head of Innovation and Investment at FIS, regarding the new accelerator program and the role of FIS in it. Tariq's high level of energy and vision for FIS' innovation priorities was on full display in the conversation. He highlighted the tremendous value for startups in working with FIS and gain from the catalytic benefits of working with a company that is so intimately connected with so many banks and consumers around the world. Here is the transcript of excerpts from the interview:

Here is the transcript of excerpts from the interview:

LTP: Congratulations on your announcement of the new initiative to work closely with startups. What are FIS’ main goals related to the VC FinTech program in Little Rock?

Tariq Bokhari: FIS has a long history of being a leader and innovator in the FinTech market; however, we recognize the need to enable forward-thinking solutions to better serve our clients. We partnered with the Venture Center to help identify and mature organizations in early-stage ideation positioned to progress the FinTech industry. Our goal is to empower the startups accelerating their solutions to market as fast as possible.

LTP: How would you explain the choice of the location (Little Rock)? Is this because you would like the selected startups to work closely with FIS teams?

TB: There are several reasons we chose Little Rock. First, Lee Watson and the Venture Center are great partners, motivated and with the credentials to make this accelerator world class as the market would expect from FIS. We also understand that startups don’t want to spend their deserved investment to live in high-priced markets like New York or San Francisco but rather on their product. Finally, Little Rock is the birthplace of FinTech dating back to 1968 so there is talent and an ecosystem here that can help startups grow quickly. The Little Rock Campus of FIS is just down the street and contains several leaders working on next-generation core and digital solutions.

LTP: What are your target segments for selecting startups for FIS to work with during the accelerator program? Is that choice related to known gaps in the portfolio or longer-term strategic readiness?

TB: We’re looking for great products and ideas to serve our clients. That being said, we’re focusing on core banking, payments, core trading, cash management. At the end of the day, we’re looking for real solutions that solve our clients’ needs.

LTP: How will FIS contribute to the development of accepted startups? What are some elements of the interaction and assistance plan you have?

TB: FIS plans to provide direct mentorship from industry leaders within the company. We plan to provide guidance on market and industry acceptance. We plan to involve our customers for direct feedback. Already, key leaders from FIS have been eager to participate in the program – often times volunteering themselves to directly participate in the accelerator as evidenced at our Leadership Conference in Orlando earlier in the month. This energy and enthusiasm will be present throughout the accelerator given the direct involvement.

LTP: Upon completion of the program, is FIS looking to partner with the most promising startups graduated from the accelerator? If yes, what kind of partnership would it be? Piloting of products and solutions, investment, acquisition, etc.?

TB: FIS plans to on showcasing the startups both internally and to our customers. In addition, we’ll plan on finding the right partnership with any company that can help our customer base which could be on a number of vectors – corporate partnership or further investment by FIS.

LTP: In your opinion, how will relationships between FinTech startups and institutional players develop in the next several years? As we see a growing number of FI-sponsored startup programs, what would constitute successful relationships?

TB: FI-specific programs limit the customers and tie the startups directly to one or two FIs. We feel that the partnership with FIS gives startups access to the entire FI market. FIS has relationships with thousands of community banks, the global banks, and the emerging markets. This means FIS can help put the startups in the best market for the maturity of the product and the audience it needs to address.

LTP: What are some other initiatives that FIS has been pursuing in FinTech previously? What would the most differentiating feature of this new program?

TB: FIS has always monitored and invested in the FinTech ecosystem. However, what makes this partnership with the Venture Center different is that this is public and we’re partnering with a great team at the Venture Center to establish a world-class accelerator that helps us push FinTech forward.