By @SimonCocking. Great insightful interview with leading Fintech thought leader, SheCodes innovator and generally all around dynamo Ruth Polachek CEO & Co-Founder FinCheck; Chairwoman & Founder she codes

What is your background briefly?

I’m a serial entrepreneur and manager. I’ve built and have led several ventures and organizations, many of them still exist and are growing. Most notably “she codes;” and FinCheck, which I still lead, the Citibank Accelerator and Nachat youth group. Early in my career I worked in finance as an equities trader and Investment Banker at Lehman Brothers. I’ve graduated summa cum laude from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, including an honors program focused on Entrepreneurship at Brown University.

Does it seem like a logical progression to what you do now?

Yes, very much so. I think all the experience I’ve gained has led me to what I’m focused on today. On the one hand at she codes – building a community of female software engineers and entrepreneurs and being part of it, as well as training more engineers catering to the lack in the market. On the other hand at fincheck – solving real problems of entrepreneurs and businesses which I’ve felt myself during the years I’ve been building ventures and leading organizations, utilizing my vast and diverse experience in FinTech, data-focused ventures and Artificial Intelligence, bringing all of these together to the FinCheck solution we are currently building. Everything that I have done until now seems to be coming together to what I’m working on now both at “she codes;” and at FinCheck.

What are you working on now?

At FinCheck we are building artificial intelligence that will save time for businesses and help them manage their finances and cash flow.

Why is Israel a good place for Fintech innovation?

Israel has some of the best engineers and talent in the world. FinTech is the intersection of both the financial and technology industries.

The human capital component is the most central element in technology, innovation and entrepreneurship today, therefore as to technology, Israel is the best location as to talent. As far as the financial industry, there is a growing understanding among financial institutions across the world that FinTech innovation happening in Israel will disrupt many existing solutions. Some notable ones are cyber security, blockchain and artificial intelligence, all of which are based on heavy duty technology and therefore the talent pool and the strong engineers combined with the Israeli culture and innovative approach enable some of the biggest potential disruptions for the financial industry worldwide.

What trends are you excited about in fintech / coming in the near future?

Specifically, and this is also part of our focus at FinCheck as well (when I’m excited about something I put my money where my mouth is), Artificial Intelligence and data.
When we look at the intersection of FinTech and AI it is interesting that though there are many cutting edge technologies not many of them are integrated in a substantial way within the financial industry. The most interesting point though is that financial institutions today have large corpuses of data that do not exist in any other place in the world. The opportunities that could arise with the intersection of the utilizing this data in innovative ways using some of the cutting edge technologies in the field such as machine learning and specifically deep learning, are mind blowing.

Can banks successfully innovate from within or will we see the fastest innovation coming from tech startups?

This is the million dollar question. It keep being discussed again and again over the past couple of years in the recent “renaissance” of financial technology. I have a very clear view on this: Basically financial institutions have an extremely limited to non-existent ability to innovate from within. Financial institutions have limited ability to innovate due to many different reasons, many of them are aware of this and take action to collaborate with tech startups. When the senior executives have innovation as a priority, there is an increased ability to do so, though some of the reasons are out of their reach, not only legacy technology systems and regulations, but also internal processes, behavior and practices of large enterprises and financial institutions which lack the ability to move as fast as smaller entities which keep up to date with the current advancements in the market and new technologies.
Their best bet is to collaborate with tech startups through partnerships or investments, and eventually to acquire the most successful ones which will be ahead of the curve – but in order for them to keep their dominance in the market they will need to retain their independence. Tech startups are the future of the financial industry, hands down. (and again putting my money where my mouth is I am working with my team on building such a company which we believe will be a game changer in the financial industry).

Is bitcoin a fad or the beginning of a move to digital currencies?

It is hard to predict specifically what will happen with bitcoin itself. It is already in rather widespread usage in certain circles, and that I expect will remain the case. However newer other digital currencies may emerge as well, but the real opportunity I believe is in the manifestation of existing currencies to digital form. Replacing the entire currency in circulation today is too big a challenge in my view. The real opportunity is in utilizing blockchain and other potentially bullet-proof digital currency technology (which is still yet to be proven) and representing existing currency today into digital form. One example to this is fiat currency who’s working directly with central banks. I do believe people will continue to use cash, but money that is transferred digitally can and will be transferred and moved smoother digitally in the future in my view.

Do you share the enthusiasm for blockchain and which areas do you think it might offer exciting possibilities?

I believe blockchain and related cryptocurrency and distributed ledger technologies are some of the potential technologies that could help further innovation in fintech. However I believe the focus, as always, should be on the solutions rather than the technology itself. Though the technology has always been – and will remain – the enabler, the real focus should be on the problems and solutions. As to blockchain itself, it has been around for several years now, and there is still yet to be seen an industry disruption that is a game changer for the financial industry. The search for a use case is still underway and therefore it is clear that the problems and their solutions, the product, is what will lead the way, and the implementation of this technology will enable incredible things we have yet to see. However, the hype around this does not accurately represent this. Since until we are clear about what are the actual use cases and see them in action, the technology on its own is not interesting and can remain theoretical or in academia.

In relation to your work with Shecodes might we see some successful fintech startups emerging? Any companies we should be watching?

Yes, absolutely, here are several Israeli fintech women-led promising startups to watch: MyCheck (Shlomit Kugler), Vala (Tali Av-Zuk), Cinch (Maya Komerov), Amaryllis Payment Solutions (Alicia Roisman Ismac), Kensee (Rachel Kisler), PlainID (Gal Helmski), and of course FinCheck (myself). Another interesting leading woman to watch in the local fintech field is Baat Enosh, who heads strategy at Intuit.

Anything else you’d like to add / we should have asked?

I think one of the important things to realize is that though there is a lot of talk and hype in general around fintech and related fields (AI, blockchain, regtech, insuretech and others), this revolution is still in its infancy. We haven’t seen anything yet. The renaissance and evolution of the financial industry will happen over the next 2 decades or so, and it will be an incredible ride. We will see incredible companies and solutions and I believe it will change the way we bank and the world economy for ever – for the better.

Thank you very much, I’ve enjoyed the interview very much, I think you focused on the important points and I am sure in the future we will see many more interesting fintech innovation.

If you would like to have your company featured in the Irish Tech News Business Showcase, get in contact with us at [email protected] or on Twitter: @SimonCocking

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