Patrick Sells is an award-winning entrepreneur and thought leader with a proven track record of driving transformation in the financial services industry. As co-founder of True Digital Group, he has developed a collaborative network designed for financial institutions to optimize vendor relationships. Prior to True Digital, Sells was the Chief Innovation Officer at both NYDIG and Quontic Bank. At NYDIG, he was responsible for the organization’s partnerships with core providers. Sells was named American Banker’s Digital Banker of the Year during his tenure at Quontic. He has extensive experience in vendor management, FinTech partnerships, digital transformation, banking innovation and risk management.
Recently, in an exclusive interview with Digital First Magazine, Patrick shared his insights on how the FinTech industry has evolved over the years, his career trajectory, what sets True Digital apart from other market competitors, significant career milestones, words of wisdom, future plans, and much more. The following excerpts are taken from the interview.
In your opinion, how has the FinTech industry evolved over the years?
The FinTech industry has undergone remarkable evolution over the years, transforming the landscape of financial services and customer interactions, ultimately fostering collaboration and innovation. With the multitude of advancements in technology, community banks and credit unions have integrated FinTech solutions to provide more efficient and effective offerings.
From digital payment options and robo-advisors to improved lending practices and alternative credit scoring, FinTech has enabled these institutions to not only stay competitive but also expand their reach while ensuring financial inclusion for previously underserved populations. The ongoing partnership between financial institutions and FinTech continues to drive positive changes in the financial landscape, benefiting customers and promoting growth in the industry. It is important to always look for technology that enables you to advance your offerings, or else your processes may hinder your operations and overall customer satisfaction.
Patrick, please tell us about yourself and your background. How did you get into the financial services space?
As an innovator and entrepreneur, I am driven by a passion for creating meaningful solutions and driving positive change. Throughout my career, I have embraced challenges and ventured into various industries, continuously seeking opportunities to innovate and make an impact.
In college, I started a digital marketing agency that centered around helping companies adopt new technology to help them evolve. I later became close friends with Steven Schnall, the founder and CEO of Quontic Bank, and together, we had the vision to revamp his organization from a small community bank into a fully digital bank.
I joined Quontic Bank as Chief Innovation Officer in 2018, and this was my first time working in the banking industry. The learning curve ahead of me was significant; I had to begin to understand the language of bankers and the industry’s structure. I spent two years helping Quontic execute a major digital transformation resulting in many awards and recognition including INC. 5000 America’s Fastest Growing Private Companies and American Banker’s Best Banks to Work For to name a few. I am thankful to the bankers at Quontic who trusted me and embraced innovation throughout this process. Innovation requires the support of the full team.
In late 2020, I went to work for NYDIG, as its Chief Innovation Officer and spearheaded core provider partnerships with companies such as Alkami, Fiserv, FIS, Q2, NCR and Jack Henry.
Having interacted with nearly 1,100 financial institutions throughout my career has given me extensive insights and experience in vendor management, FinTech partnerships, digital transformation, banking innovation and risk management.
Tell us about True Digital and what sets it apart from other market competitors.
True Digital was inspired by the conversations I was having with community bank leaders while serving in innovation leadership roles at Quontic Bank and NYDIG. There were many discussions at the time around the potential of more financial institutions being able to reach new and broader customer bases using digital tools to become fully digital. Technology is the great enabler, and I believe that every financial institution should focus on exploring how that technology could be harnessed to benefit its community, customers and employees.
The reality, however, is that navigating technology vendors and the multitude of regulations and policies is incredibly time-consuming. Discovering new and emerging technology partners, determining necessary integrations, as well as evaluating the safety and soundness of each new solution, is even more time-consuming. The full-time burden, or cost, of determining how and with whom to innovate is entirely at the expense of the bank.
This is exactly why we created True Digital Group. In a nutshell, True Digital provides a novel framework for optimizing vendor relationships. The True Digital Platform is a collaborative network designed for banks to optimize vendor relationships.
True Digital was founded on a key insight. When it comes to selecting and working with vendors, bankers want to educate themselves by connecting with other bankers who share some commonality with them. Our Platform was built to make those connections easy. Banks join the network to improve existing vendor relationships, discover vendors that are highly regarded by their peers, and connect directly with the most relevant references across the industry.
We are set apart from other market competitors because we’ve really put the banks and credit unions at the center of the equation, enabling us to provide them with unbiased information and real references.
As True Digital has grown, how has your role as the Co-Founder evolved and how have you navigated that?
As Co-Founder and CEO, my role has evolved significantly as our business has grown. In the beginning, I focused on establishing the foundation. As we continued to grow, delegating responsibilities and building a strong team has allowed me to empower others and drive our company’s growth. I navigated these changes by constantly seeking feedback, investing in personal development, and instilling our core values in the team. Additionally, I leaned on external expertise through advisors and mentors to make informed decisions and avoid potential pitfalls. I am incredibly proud of our progress and remain excited about the opportunities ahead.
What has surprised you about entrepreneurship so far?
I would say I’ve been most surprised by the continuous learning that takes place. There is a need to continually update your knowledge about the industry, market trends, customer needs, and new technologies to stay ahead. I’d also comment that entrepreneurship is a rollercoaster ride, and the range of emotions experienced can be surprising. One moment, there’s an exhilarating high after a significant achievement, and the next moment, there’s a feeling of uncertainty or disappointment when facing challenges.
What are the key skills you believe are beneficial to succeed in a career in FinTech?
We have a phrase that we embody at True Digital: Begin again. I’ve found that being adaptable is critical to succeeding at a career in FinTech. Circumstances change, market demands shift, and being able to pivot and adjust the business strategy becomes crucial for success (and survival). There are no mistakes, only lessons, and I think that is the hallmark of our openness to forge new paths with technology.
What has been your most career-defining moment that you are proud of?
Making the jump to community banking and fully immersing myself in the rules and regulations. It was a transformative choice that significantly shaped my professional journey and allowed me to contribute meaningfully to the financial well-being of individuals and local businesses.
We’d love to know what are your predictions for the future of FinTech?
It is difficult to fathom what financial services could look like in 10 or 20 years. Our industry currently co-exists with slick new products in tandem with legacy solutions that sometimes seem like they are held together with duct tape and band aids. Raising the bar across the board with technology standards and platforms will ensure a more efficient and effective path to tech advancements.
I believe FinTech will continue to experience significant growth, driven by ongoing technological advancements, increased adoption of digital financial services, and the demand for seamless and convenient user experiences.
Some banks are technology companies at heart. I am increasingly seeing more bankers who are deciding to build technology in house, not just buy it. This will be an interesting trend to watch, especially as AI makes writing code cheaper and faster.
While bullish on AI for certain use cases, AI adoption will be much slower than many predict in banking. I am also waiting to see what AI can and will offer to the world; its impact will take longer to realize in our regulated industry.
The lines between a legacy technology provider, a bank and a FinTech will increasingly blend. In some cases, banks will buy or start FinTechs. In others a legacy provider will re-make itself using more modern tooling. In all scenarios banks will seek to capture more of the value creation of the technology they use, either through investing in or building technology.
Who is your modern-day hero and why?
My modern-day hero would be my 6-year-old daughter, Lucy. Each day she inspires me with her boundless imagination, unwavering curiosity, and limitless kindness. Lucy embodies the essence of a hero through her generosity to others and the simple way in which she views the world and strives to make it a better place.
What is your biggest goal? Where do you see yourself in 5 years from now?
I strive to have my life and business aligned around my core value of bringing love to everything I do. To some that may sound a little weird, but through the years I have found that I am happiest and bring the most value to the world when I lead with love. It is part of the reason I wear the heart baseball cap, and it is also the reason why True Digital’s core value is to love banks.
In 5 years, I see myself working with financial institutions in various ways to continue pushing them forward in embracing technology to ultimately better serve their communities.
Based on the experiences you have had, what advice do you have for FinTech innovators and leaders?
I would say first and foremost, understand the market. Before diving into FinTech innovation, thoroughly understand the market landscape, customer needs, and pain points. There is a big disconnect between bankers and “FinTechers”, in part because FinTechs do not know what it is like to work in a bank. Spend some time working at a bank. You might find the reason things operate the way they do is quite different than your outside assumptions. Also, you will definitely earn the respect of the bankers you are trying to help.
Second, in any industry (but especially financial services) compliance and risk need to be front of mind.
Third, having a customer-centric mindset will foster loyalty and attract more customers.
Lastly, collaborate and partner! The FinTech ecosystem is vast and diverse. Seek partnerships and collaborations with financial institutions, technology providers, and other relevant stakeholders. Partnering with established players can help scale your innovations and access new markets.