who's who

5 Houston innovators headed to SXSW to know this weekend

Meet five of the many Houston innovators that will be out at SXSW Pitch, Houston House, Founded in Texas, and much more this week and into next week. Photos courtesy

Editor's note: It's a special Friday edition of innovators to know this week — well, weekend. SXSW kicks off today and Houstonians will be headed up to Austin for the week or just the weekend. If you're looking out for the best panels and talks to go to, look no further than this guide I created — as well as the five Houston innovators I think you should know who are listed below.

Lara Cottingham, chief of staff for Greentown Labs

Photo via LinkedIn

Calling all energy transition startups, investors, and more. The Greater Houston Partnership is hosting a full day of energy transition discussions at Houston House on Monday, March 14, at the Line Hotel. Lara Cottingham of Greentown Labs will be at the activation site with a must-attend networking hour at 4 pm called Transition on Tap.

Diana Murakhovskaya, co-founder and general partner of The Artemis Fund

Photo via LinkedIn

Who runs the world? Women. And Diana Murakhovskaya knows that based off her work with her Houston-based venture capital fund, The Artemis Fund. Project W, Artemis Fund, HearstLab, and Beam have teamed up at SXSW to present the second Founded in Texas event on Sunday, March 13, at Relay Coworking. Twelve founders selected by application will pitch to investors from across the country . The audience will get a glimpse of the innovation and creativity at work in the growing Texas startup ecosystem.

Pamela Singh, co-founder and CEO of CaseCTRL

Photo courtesy of CaseCTRL

Pamela Singh is the only Houston startup founder to pitch this year at SXSW's pitch competition. Representing her digital health startup, Case CTRL, Singh takes the prestigious stage Saturday, March 12, to compete in the Enterprise & Smart Data Technology category.

Sandy Guitar, managing director of HX Venture Fund

Photo courtesy of Sandy Guitar

The HX Venture Fund is hosting a meetup that all of the Houston startup ecosystem needs to know about. Network with a number of founders from Houston's fastest-growing startups along with several great VCs around the nation to participate in a joint conversation about founding tech startups. The event will take place at 11:30 am to 12:30 pm at Hilton Austin Downtown, Room 408.

Ashley DeWalt, managing director of DivInc

Photo courtesy of DivInc

Ashley DeWalt, managing director of DivInc, is just one of the many Houston innovators featured in Houston House from the GHP. The activation starts Sunday, March 13, at the Line Hotel with a day of programming across industries and topics — from sports tech and diversity (both topics DeWalt specializes in) to health care innovation and space. Catch DeWalt's panel, Game Changers - The Rise of Sports Tech, on Sunday at 11:30 am at Houston House.

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Building Houston

 
 

A Houston founder shares an analysis of relationship banking, the pros and cons of digital banking competition, and an outlook of digital banking inroads to develop relationship banking. Photo courtesy

After our doctor and our child’s school, a bank is an institution with which we share the relationship that is most personal and vital to our well-being in this world. Some might put a good vet third, but other than that, no private entity is more responsible for escorting us to a healthier and happier outcome over the course of our lives.

The bank vault is a traditional symbol of security and prosperity, and not just for our pennies. We safeguard possessions in banks that are so important we don’t even trust keeping them in our own houses. Wills, birth certificates, and the precious family heirlooms of countless families are held in safety deposit boxes behind those giant vault doors, and banks have been the traditional guardians not only of our wealth but our identity and future as well.

The importance of relationship banking

Faith and confidence in our banks is so fundamental to the customer relationship that it has evolved into a unique and otherwise unthinkable arrangement for any good capitalist in a healthy marketplace: banks pay us to be their customers. Imagine a doctor offering you $20 for trusting them to give you a colonoscopy and you’re on the road to understanding the sacrosanct union between bank and customer.

In fact, this trust is so deeply anchored in the American psyche that a new generation of digital banking companies has sprung up on the idea that it doesn’t need to exist in physical reality. The fintech industry has exploded in the last decade, and today, over 75 percent of Americans are engaged in online banking in one form or another. Every single one of those 200 million customers are taking for granted that they will be well served, despite having no personal guidance through any of the financial products and services that these online entities provide.

Benefits of fostering relationships with banking customers

In the late 90s and early 2000s brick-and-mortar banks realized that greater personalized care for their customers was going to be a critical point of competition. The in-person experience is an opportunity to offer advice and incentives for a wide range of products and financial management assistance. It’s rooted in an incredibly simple axiom that is taking hold in every aspect of modern society: everyone benefits if we all get along better.

There’s a lot of statistical traction behind this theory. Customers who report they are “financially healthy” are down 20 percent over the last year, which means people are looking for guidance. 73 percent of customers who visit a local bank branch report having a personal relationship with their bank, while only 53 percent say the same of their digital institution. Most importantly, although many digital banks are offering similar products and services to their real-world counterparts, customer engagement remains very low.

It starts with your products

The truth is, today’s bank customers still want that same personal relationship their great-grandparents had before they engage with deeper financial products and services. They believe it makes them more financially successful, and confirm that human connections and economic prosperity go hand-in-hand.

Products that are Challenging for Digital Markets

Residential mortgages, for example, are an $18 trillion dollar industry that deals in durations longer than most digital banking services have even existed. The perception of continuity and stability is highly valued by clients in the mortgage relationship. Today, most customers feel that only comes with a handshake and a smile from an employee who has to fit in a meeting before they pick their kids up from school.

While digital firms have proven themselves capable of offering savings and checking services, most have fallen flat on the mortgage front because of the premium on personal relationships. Loyalty is the reward for time, service, and shared experience, and financial institutions that cannot provide that package for their customers are never going to access a deeper and more meaningful portfolio of services.

Finding Well-suited Products for Digital Finance

The message for the digital finance world is as clear as it is pressing. The future of the industry will revolve around more personalized experiences, interactions, and long-term products. At the same time, the American public has embraced digital banking, and we are looking at a new generation of bank users who may never walk through a branch door in their life.

In order to compete, the digital industry will need to identify and develop a range of long-term products and services that make sense for customers in today’s environment. Mortgages may be out of the question, but the safety deposit box holds great promise for industry in-roads. Optimal services for deeper, more personal customer engagement include things like:

  • Legacy and estate planning
  • Will preparation and safeguarding
  • Preservation of cherished photos and videos
  • Important personal data storage


Because these things are product-based, they are well suited to the digital ecosystem. The cryptocurrency industry and modern online banking have solidified consumer confidence in the digital bank vault, and there is a great deal of faith in the perpetuity of electronic documents and storage.

The IRS estimates that upwards of 90 percent of Americans are E-filing their taxes and that only comes with a widespread belief that our highly sensitive information can and will be preserved and protected by digital architecture.

Secure your future

Digital banking firms that want to thrive in the upcoming decades are going to need to innovate in long-term financial planning products that bring their customers into a closer, more personal relationship with them.

The finance world will continue to change and develop, but the hopes, fears, and dreams of people trying to build and secure a better future for themselves and their children will remain the same for tomorrow’s customers as they were for their parents and grandparents.

It is up to the digital finance industry to adapt and develop to provide the customers of today—and tomorrow— with these invaluable services and securities.

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Emily Cisek is the founder and CEO of The Postage, a tech-enabled, easy-to-use estate planning tool.

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