The good old days of a two-year product development cycle are pretty much over. These days, no matter how creative, innovative and disruptive an idea a financial services player may have, the reality is they don’t have a lot of time to sit around developing it.
“Speed to market is critical, more so today than it has ever been in history. In a couple of months, your great idea will have two or three competitors,” Joseph DeRosa, executive vice president of global sales at i2c, told PYMNTS in a recent conversation.
It is why as a payments processing platform, he noted, i2c’s system is designed to be highly configurable and customizable, with a set of tools for issuers that the firm has often compared to Lego bricks. The “bricks” are a library of functionalities that can be rapidly assembled so issuers can create customer solutions and very rapidly bring them to market. It was a solution designed, according to DeRosa, for companies with innovative roadmaps that need fast, flexible support.
That focus, he said, was key in creating the firm’s recently announced partnership with Brex, a firm that issues corporate cards for entrepreneurs and growing businesses. Brex, according to DeRosa, is firmly focused on solving the old problems associated with corporate cards — such as personal guarantee requirements or slow, sluggish onboarding procedures — by using new technology. It is a perfect partnership for i2c, DeRosa said, because it allows the firm to use its platform to do what it does best.
“We like to focus on partners doing things differently and solving an existing problem in a new, better way — and are open to really getting creative in taking out friction points,” DeRosa said, adding that its best service to those firms is making sure those innovative ideas can be innovative products within weeks instead of years.
Building Better Corporate Products
The original connection between Brex and i2c started because Brex was looking for a way to start up quickly with Mastercard; i2c’s relationship with Mastercard opened that specific door incredibly easily, DeRosa said. That is where the conversation started.
But the bigger picture for Brex was about innovating the corporate card — which meant beyond that startup capability with Mastercard, Brex was really looking for better data and more actionable insight to draw from it.
“What Brex needed was to have complete insight into and control of all their programs,” DeRosa noted. “They needed customer reporting capability and analytics support that would allow them to make changes to their offers, or how they are running the program, or what kind of loyalty programs they want.”
And for Brex, which works with entrepreneurs in areas from small eCommerce startups to larger life sciences and biotech firms, the range of appropriate offers and need areas will vary. The range of users on these cards is pretty wide.
The only way to build that, DeRosa said, is with insight into customer behavior, to focus on the most used areas for the cards and then customize the product from there.
“The focus here is really on a handful of areas. The question for a card issuer like Brex is how to make the process as easy and quick as possible for these things that are issued at an entity level,” he said. “The individual needs vary, but simplifying the entrepreneur’s life is a big area of focus.”
The importance of a flexible platform for a firm like Brex, DeRosa said, is that it allows it to see the points where the entrepreneur has a need that can be met, and the ability to get it out quickly as they grow and scale to expand their offerings in the marketplace.
Staying Ahead of an Innovator Client Base
The challenge of having a professional focus on innovative users who want to offer cutting-edge financial services is, of course, that it almost requires being ready to support a new idea before anyone has actually had that idea. Banks can no longer wait around on a two-year product development cycle, he noted, since they must make products ready to go for clients before those clients want the product.
The secret to that, DeRosa said, is data — and a very robust account management process.
“We work a lot with our existing clients to understand what is changing in their business, and we are looking at our own data across hundreds of programs globally,” he explained. “That does give us a preview into what is happening in different marketplaces.”
The firm also does lots of good old-fashioned engineering work — about 600,000 hours a year, by i2c’s internal count — making sure it is always “adding more Lego pieces, if you will,” as DeRosa put it. The firm can’t always guess what exactly a client will need — or how exactly it will mix and match the bricks to build the full offering — which means i2c’s job is to offer as complete and interlocking a set as possible, and let the issuers execute their unique visions.
Brex is i2c’s latest partner in construction, DeRosa noted, adding that the two firms are already working together, and now are working jointly to build momentum.
“Brex is an ideal client for i2c from a disruptive standpoint,” DeRosa said, “and that is why we are so excited to be working with them and partnering with them.”