FinTech Interview with Charles Potts, Executive Vice President and Chief Innovation Officer, ICBA

FTB News DeskApril 23, 202421 min

Capture how strategic initiatives and fintech partnerships are revolutionizing banking for local economies.
Charles Potts,Executive Vice President and Chief Innovation Officer, ICBA

Charles E. Potts is executive vice president and chief innovation officer for the Independent Community Bankers of America® (ICBA). In this role Potts drives ICBA’s innovation initiatives, and financial technology strategies, working with ICBA leadership to develop impactful, value-added solutions that help community banks seize new market opportunities to meet customers’ evolving financial services’ needs. Potts’ extensive experience in banking and financial service firms provided the background Potts needed to start, co-found or lead various fintech start-ups including digital banking, mobile engagement, financial management and payments providers. Many had successful exits via IPO’s or acquisitions via strategic acquirers. A frequent speaker at national trade shows and conferences, Potts previously served as executive managing director at First Performance Global, where he led international business and corporate development activities for its card-control and fraud alert platform. Before that he served as CEO for NetClarity, a start-up in the University of Florida’s Business Incubation Hub. Prior to ICBA, he worked at the Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC), leading the fintech practice where he mentored startups as part of the Georgia Tech-based incubator. Charles attended the Georgia Institute of Technology, did his graduate studies at Georgia State University in Atlanta and attended the Graduate School of Banking at LSU. Potts, an avid masters runner, cyclist and soccer fan, lives with his wife in Atlanta, GA. They have a daughter who recently graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where she was a nationally ranked pole vaulter on the Track and Field team..

Charles, please share insights into your role as the Chief Innovation Officer at the Independent Community Bankers of America (ICBA) and how you drive innovation initiatives.

As the Executive Vice President and Chief Innovation Officer at the Independent Community Bankers of America (ICBA), my role encompasses steering our innovation endeavors, a fundamental component of ICBA’s three pillars of Advocacy, Education and Innovation.
The primary mission of ICBA is to create and promote an environment where community banks flourish. Working with these vital institutions, helping them to grow and succeed in the present while planning and preparing for what comes next has been our driving goal. Having been on both sides of the equation as a banker and an entrepreneur, I understand the challenges that bankers face and that innovation can be a key driver to helping these institutions become more efficient, profitable and competitive. Our Innovation team works to develop impactful, value-added solutions that help community banks seize new market opportunities to meet customers’ evolving financial services needs.

You have co-founded or led various fintech start-ups. Could you highlight one or two experiences that particularly stand out, and how these experiences influenced your career in the banking and fintech sectors?

In my experience, time is the most precious commodity for the entrepreneurs who come into our program, and the speed at which our industries are moving is a critical factor that influences the outcomes of these businesses. If we can apply some of our knowledge and experiences to that equation, then we can help these entrepreneurs overcome the problems they face when creating and growing their businesses, accelerating their opportunities for success.
One of the fintech founders we’ve worked with through our ThinkTECH Accelerator program, Don Shafer, co-founder, and co-CEO of Quilo, recently described his return on investment for our accelerator as “immeasurable.” Not only did he gain feedback from community bank leaders across the nation, but according to Don, “The Accelerator team lined us up with meetings with the Fed, CFPB, OCC, and FDIC, all on one day; I couldn’t have done that on my own.”
A healthy dialogue between regulators not only provides our cohort with insights into the world in which community banks operate, but it also helps regulators understand what’s new in the fintech space as we work collectively to deliver value for consumers.

What are the key innovation initiatives currently underway at ICBA, and how are they designed to meet community banking needs?

The Innovation arm of the ICBA sits at the intersection between our member bankers and the opportunities to better serve their customers and communities. Last year, we announced several important initiatives including moving our nationally acclaimed ICBA ThinkTECH Accelerator in-house, shifting the programming to year-round, and opening a new Center for Innovation in Atlanta. To better respond to the needs and challenges top of mind for today’s community bankers, we decided to focus each cohort on specific areas critical to the current business environment.

For 2023, this included community bank-focused offerings designed to support deposit gathering and retention and faster payments needs, timely issues with the long-awaited official launch of the FedNow network. Our most recent cohort is focused on analytics, automation and compliance, three of the primary priorities for community bankers this year, and we’re gearing up to kick off a second cohort in May.
Recognizing that true innovation does not only occur in 10-week sprints, we evolved our programming to offer new, specialized ThinkTECH Solutions Forums, ThinkTECH Connect and expert webinar series. These programs provide community bankers with the knowledge, tools and partnerships they need to stay innovative and meet the evolving needs of their customers.
Last year following the SVB fallout, it became clear that balance sheet strengthening and deposit acquisition were important needs and opportunities for our bankers. If you look at our cohort from last year, it was predicated on the fact that deposits and faster payments became such an important strategic need in the community bank industry. The resilience we built into the organization as well as the flexibility that running multiple programs of different types throughout the year (and now year-round) allows us to be more responsive to these trends and changes.

As a frequent speaker at national trade shows and conferences, can you share a topic or message you find particularly crucial to convey to the banking and fintech communities?

The first step to innovation for bankers and fintechs is to understand your strategic goals and objectives. They need to ask themselves what they are trying to achieve and ensure their strategy becomes the touchstone and guiding light that drives the direction of what they’re building. We are operating in a fast-paced world with lots of shiny objects that can be key differentiators if deployed strategically. Bankers must be more strategic; they cannot afford to spend time just thinking about innovation – they must decide which direction to move in and follow up with next steps.

What advice do you often find yourself giving to fintech entrepreneurs in the early stages of their ventures who are working with community banks?

I advise fintech entrepreneurs to ask insightful questions and then listen to the responses. This constant questioning and strategy-problem orientation aligns with the work that we do to ensure we are bringing the right kind of companies and solutions to the marketplace. This creates a collaborative environment between fintechs, bankers, regulators and others, and is the reason our 10-week boot camp contributes to countless successful bank-fintech partnerships.

Can you elaborate on how ICBA supports community banks and what unique contributions community banks make to local economies?

What sets community banks apart from their competitors is their local focus and relationships within the communities in which they operate.The community banking industry is the economic engine of small business America, providing roughly 60% of all small business loans and 80% of all agricultural loans. These are some of the best small business operators on the planet, and our innovation programming, including the ThinkTECH Accelerator, Solutions Forums and other interactive opportunities for bankers and fintechs alike, are designed to bring new solutions to market and address a more volatile environment, at a higher frequency.

Tell us more about the ICBA ThinkTECH Accelerator program. How does it identify and support community banking needs?

Our 10-week accelerator helps emerging fintech startups develop and fine-tune their solutions for community banks. This program not only accelerates the growth of these companies but also ensures that community banks have access to innovative products and services specifically designed for their unique needs.
Each cycle, hundreds of fintech applicants are evaluated for overall sustainability, team strength, product maturity and product-market fit by our selection committee who ultimately choose the six companies to participate in the cohort. During the 10-week program, the companies work collaboratively with a distinguished network of industry leaders and community bank executives to refine their solutions for community bank challenges.

As an avid master’s runner, cyclist, and soccer fan, how do you balance your personal interests with the demands of driving innovation in the banking sector?

I consider myself fortunate to interact with our bankers on many levels, as an advisor, a former small business entrepreneur and a friend. Whether it’s running, cycling, sports or kids, I share my passions with many of my colleagues and this gives me the opportunity to build upon the relationships that are at the center of what makes the community banking environment so special and unique here in the United States. We are a diverse and broad ecosystem. I am blessed to be out on the road meeting with these bankers while exploring this amazing world.

Stay Ahead of the Financial Curve with Our Latest Fintech News Updates!

FTB News Desk


We are one of the world’s leading Fintech-based media publication with our content strategized and synthesized to fit right into the expanding ecosystem of Finance professionals. Be it fintech live news, finance press releases, tech articles from Fintech evangelists or interviews from top leaders from global fintech firms, we give the best slice of knowledge topped up with the aptest trends. Our sole mission is to help tech and finance professionals step up with the rapidly emerging Fintech civilization and gain better insights to emerge victorious in every possible way. We adopt a 360-degree approach in order to cater to present a holistic picture of the fintech arena.

Our Publications

FintecBuzz, 2024 © All Rights Reserved