Fintech Innovation continues to accelerate at a remarkable pace. And while competition is fierce — as firms jockey for capital and to expand their audience — the industry gathers once a year to celebrate the hottest startups in finance at the Benzinga Fintech Awards Gala. This year, the event takes place on May 24 in New York, and the second event is poised to see a remarkable rise in audience and interest. To learn more about what investors, tech entrepreneurs and fintech enthusiasts can expect from this year’s event, Modern Trader sat down with Benzinga CEO Jason Raznick.
Modern Trader: Describe the state of the fintech industry.
Jason Raznick: The fintech industry is at the start of a revolution. New technologies are making it easier for consumers and businesses to operate where they couldn’t once before.
MT: How is it affecting banking?
JR: We’re not witnessing the end of banks. Banks are very complementary to these new technologies. But things are changing fast and this new phase is empowering the consumer with retail options. Today, if you want a bank loan, there are crowdsourcing options. If you want to raise capital, technology options exist. We’re at a great state right now.
MT: How has Benzinga evolved in this space?
JR: Benzinga got its start as a place where people could come together and share ideas and concepts in the financial community. We began with a focus on the small cap space, as a place for small-cap news didn’t exist at the time. Over time, we used crowdsourcing of news to build ideas and coverage on the markets. As our company and the various platforms evolved, we found that our clients, like TD Ameritrade, TradeStation and others, wanted more news and more data. We began to work with more than 20 brokerages, investment firms and hedge funds, and we found there wasn’t a platform for information in the fintech space.
Over time we found many small data vendors trying to work with brokerages, private equity funds and others. We [were able] to combine our strengths through this annual fintech competition. Our vision was to start an award ceremony for the community to gather and celebrate innovation in fintech. Think of it as the Oscars or CrunchBase for the industry. Last year we had more than 400 people in attendance, including movers and shakers in the industry. There was a resounding response from the attendees, and we expect an even greater one this year.”
MT: What made the 2015 awards successful?
JR: The most successful companies really got ahead to make decisions on strategy and investment. Companies came from Israel, Africa and Russia, and they said they wouldn’t miss the event because it’s is so important to their companies and the industry. This was an event for the companies to show where they excel at and to talk to other leaders and experts to raise capital, learn new ideas, and to get business done in a very casual environment.
MT: What will be different this year?
JR: There will be more panels. We are also providing access to some of the biggest experts in venture capital. We expect every venture capital group in the space to attend, so if your firm is looking to raise money, I can’t think of a better place to be. This is going to be an event where every person with an interest in fintech’s success is in the room. There are plenty of opportunities to make deals. We want to connect people.
MT: What areas of fintech are generating the most investor buzz?
JR: This year, we see a lot of growth from data-sentiment companies, crowdfunding and advisory-type firms. Firms are also showing traders how to access and information in a more robust way.
MT: How does the voting process work for award recipients?
JR: Companies have been nominated online in an array of categories. [Those] receiving more than 200 votes will advance to final voting. But the final voting panel in 2016 will include a diverse mix of private equity managers, fintech experts and quants. (This year’s panel consists of Bain Capital Ventures’ Managing Director Matt Harris, Cubist Systematic Strategies’ Managing Director Ross Garon, WorldQuant’s Co-Head of Data Strategy Matt Ober, TD Ameritrade Managing Director Nicole Sherrod and Marlin & Associates Partner Michael Maxworthy.)
MT: Why Should Someone Attend?
JR: If you want to meet with leaders and thinkers in the industry [and] have an enjoyable time, this is the event attend. And don’t worry; this is not a stuffy event. It’s a very social and unique event. Attendees will receive a strong education on the opportunities in fintech today.