Gabe Krajicek Of Kasasa On The Future of Money and Banking
An Interview With David Liu
Make it personal. People’s relationships with money are incredibly emotionally significant. Make sure you and your team connect with the human emotion of the problem you are solving. It will come through in the way you build, deliver, and market your products and services — and your company.
The way we bank has changed dramatically over the last decade. It was not too long ago when you had to wait in line in a bank to deposit money. Today things are totally different. You can do your banking without ever walking into a bank. In addition, the whole concept of money has changed. In the recent past, money usually meant bills and coins. But today, the concept of money has expanded to include digital currency and NFTs. What other innovations should we expect to see in banking in the short and medium term?
To address this, we are talking to leaders in the banking, finance, and fintech worlds, to discuss the future of banking and money over the next few years. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Gabriel Krajicek.
Gabriel Krajicek empowers community financial institutions with disruptive innovations and champions them in their fight for market dominance against megabanks and new industry players. Gabe is captain of Kasasa®. CEO since 2005, he has provided more than 900 community banks and credit unions with banking technology and marketing services, including the nationally branded Kasasa product suite. If all Kasasa financial institutions were a single bank, they’d be the fourth largest bank in the country, based on number of branches.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory and how you got started in this industry?
I was accepted to medical school with hopes of being a surgeon, but an aptitude test confirmed that my hand-eye coordination was in the lower 15th percentile. So, with a pre-med Zoology degree in hand and inspired by my dad, who was a business leader, I set my sights on becoming an entrepreneur.
I’d learned a lot from my dad, paramount being some version of “love your employees,” which became my north star. I hoped that by loving my employees, plus lots of hard work and a little luck, the rest would fall into place — and it did. I was passionate about company culture at 21, and now, in my 40s, I’m more passionate about it than ever.
As Kasasa’s CEO, I have the great privilege of leading the only fintech company whose mission is to restore community banks and credit unions to their rightful place as the bedrock of our economy. These institutions play a vital role in their communities.
We partner exclusively with community financial institutions. If all our clients were combined, they would be the 4th largest banking branch network in the country, servicing tens of millions of consumer accounts. Our clients wield half a trillion dollars in assets, and we provide them with products that take consumers’ best interests to heart. Institutions that offer Kasasa products attract, engage, and retain consumers who would otherwise choose megabanks or online-only fintechs
Don Shafer recruited me to Kasasa in 2005 with the pitch “We are gonna save community banking.” I’m still on that same mission. Community banks and credit unions, alongside the people they serve, are the unsung heroes of the last two recessions. Wall Street can’t hold a candle to Main Street, and Kasasa is here to keep it that way.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
It was 2006, and I had been CEO for eight months. We had $1 million left in the bank and a $300,000 monthly burn when the Federal Reserve deemed our product illegal. I immediately contacted our chairman, Don Shafer, who was my mentor. His response? “Hallelujah! Another chance to show how awesome we are!” Immediately my mindset switched from despair to hope, and I knew I had to transfer that energy to our employees.
To show I was battle-ready, I shaved my head and moved my desk so it was central to all employees. Every day, the team heard me on the phone seeking every possible way to reinvent our program. Not one employee quit, and three months later, we had a favorable solution from the Federal Reserve. I have no doubt we would have failed without that burst of humor and hope — it’s what leaders must provide in a crisis.
Can you please give us your favorite “life lesson quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Chance favors the prepared mind.”
I think of this as knowledge meets mindset. Being well versed in a subject is important, but having a mindset that is open to possibilities is crucial. Without this, an opportunity could be staring you right in the face and it’d be missed. This quote is an excellent reminder to manage my mindset, stay focused on the people around me, and keep sight of opportunities (and risks!) while maintaining a confident, optimistic sense of well-being.
Ok wonderful. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Can you tell our readers about the most interesting projects you are working on now?
Kasasa is an award-winning fintech and marketing services company that provides world-class products and services to community financial institutions to incentivize consumers to keep money local, where it can make a real difference. Now, we’re taking our 18-year mission to a new level with the launch of what’s known internally as Project Mainstreet — an online one-stop shop for consumers to find a local community bank or credit union that offers financial products people love. We offer products that help people take control of their finances with the most innovative solutions and dedicated customer service that can only be found at community banks and credit unions.
How do you think this might change the world?
What we are building means that a consumer can go to Kasasa.com, put in their zip code, and find a local community bank or credit union that will provide world class checking, savings, and lending products and services powered by Kasasa. This allows us to build a centralized BaaS (banking as a service) platform that ensures the consumer experience is on par with the best fintechs out there — even if the local community financial institution doesn’t have BaaS technology themselves.
You can think of it as a multi-tenant neobank that solves a major problem for community banks and credit unions. There’s a big party going on in the fintech space. In fact, more than half of consumer lending is occurring in this area. Community banks and credit unions can’t get in by themselves. With Kasasa, they can.
Two thirds of consumers prefer community financial institutions to megabanks, but their local banks and credit unions are hard to find with a simple online search. Moreover, research shows that consumers are unaware of the superior products and services that are offered at local institutions. These are products people love, designed to help them take control of their finances and backed by personalized customer service that megabanks cannot match.
By pooling the marketing dollars, geographical reach, and half-trillion-dollar balance sheet of our clients, Kasasa looks to the consumer like a mega-fintech, with local area service providers delivering the final mile with personal local service, and keeping banking in their local economies.
What most excites you about the banking industry as it is today? Can you explain what you mean?
I’m biased: Kasasa excites me the most. About 65% of consumers still look at the local financial institutions in America as the “good guys.” Consumers just don’t know who these local institutions are — they’re hard to find, and not top of mind. Most consumers don’t think local institutions have the technology that the megabanks or fintechs do. Kasasa is here to change that, and to make people feel proud of their money again. By choosing a local bank or credit union that reflects their values, people can be proud of their choices.
What most concerns you about the banking industry as it is today? What would you suggest needs to be done to address that?
The fundamental tug in banking is centralized vs. decentralized. People need to choose, and finance companies need to give them choices they’ll like.
How would you articulate how the concept of money has changed in recent times? Is it really a change? How is it still the same? Can you explain what you mean?
Money has changed in recent times by switching from physical to digital — specifically online purchases.
What is different is the act of spending feels less and less connected with the feeling of giving money to someone else. There is something profoundly real about handing a hundred-dollar bill to someone else. Your brain experiences a sense of loss as it leaves your hand. As transactions occur in more “convenient” ways, it also makes spending feel less tangible, and changes the relationship people have with money.
Based on your vantage point as an insider in the finance industry, what innovations should we expect to see in banking in the short and medium term?
An innovation we should expect to see in banking is more consumers choosing fintechs over traditional finance. The key path forward for fintechs is to inject financing events into the consumer journey in more convenient ways. This will start to materialize as the continued blurring of the lending and payments spaces. (In other words, more and more creative Buy Now Pay Later.)
How has the pandemic changed the way banks interact and engage with their customers?
People were forced to turn to non-branch means of financial management, and even the less tech-adaptive among us got used to the idea of a digital-first experience. Now consumers are almost platform-agnostic in terms of their banking behaviors. Ease and access are key. In turn, the digital banking experience became a top concern for community financial institutions.
Where consumers are going has shifted. According to a Forbes study, during the pandemic, more people moved their accounts to megabanks (51%) than regional banks (15%), community banks (2%), or credit unions (8%). Digital banks claimed 18% of that share mid-pandemic. Compare that to a few years ago, when local and regional institutions had more than half of new account openings, and digital banks also saw a spike in account openings.
In your particular experience, how has the pandemic changed the way you interact with and engage your customers?
We are a lot better at Zoom and communicating digitally. And we are really seeing the value of face-to-face. We’re making big investments to get back out and spend human-to-human time with our clients. Technology is great, but people really make this industry work, and it’s just so much better in person.
In my work in the telecom space, I’m very interested in the importance of user experience. How much of your interactions have moved to digital such as chatbots, encrypted messaging apps, phone, or video calls? How has this shift impacted the user and customer experience? What challenges do these apps present when used as a customer engagement tool?
Internally, our company has become even more adept at digital communication, but we still prioritize in-person interaction. And — to draw a parallel — that’s the service that community financial institutions excel at. The key challenge is to marry technology in terms of a sophisticated, ubiquitous, well-designed, easy to navigate user experience with personal service, a point that megabanks and fintechs both consistently fail on. So whether it’s automated marketing, personalized text capabilities, website design, app interface, sales and leadership training platforms, business insights, social media, or loan/account processing funnels…whether it’s for a consumer or business audience, we build it user first and we build in a hybrid of tech and personal touches. What I’d advise doing is using in-person and direct user feedback to confirm process and platform builds, and creating very human moments in the interaction flows.
If you could design the perfect communication feature or system to help your business, what would it be?
The whole constitutes more than the sum of the parts when it comes to communication. I’m a big believer in reinforcing those connections in multiple ways; after all, information is transferred at the speed of commerce and making authentic, lasting connections requires change-management skills.
Communication is a key part of our business — communication with the community financial institutions we work with around the country, and increasingly, direct communication with consumers. We create a lot of content to educate and communicate personal finance basics with consumers who may lack a starting point with the topic. I can’t point to a singular best communication feature or system, but I can attest to the power of reaching out in the most-welcome channels in the most-welcome cadence. That requires listening, meaning actual listening and analyzing results, as well as communicating.
Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview: What are your 5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career In The Modern Finance, Banking and Fintech industries?
- Have a beginner’s mindset. There was a time when I choked making my first investor presentation and couldn’t speak. A year later, I was a solid communicator and raised money for the first company I led.
- Remember productization. It’s the top to bottom, end-to-end UX that makes products successful, not just the tech or feature. From day one we knew core processors would offer many of our services cheaper. We had to be better at driving results, not just routing the flow of electrons through software.
- Have an inspiring mission. When the going gets tough, as it inevitably does, it’s the employees’ belief in the mission that matters.
- Make it personal. People’s relationships with money are incredibly emotionally significant. Make sure you and your team connect with the human emotion of the problem you are solving. It will come through in the way you build, deliver, and market your products and services — and your company.
- Be wary of disruption. There is always a legion of geniuses in their basement garages, a new startup, or a VC-backed powerhouse working on making whatever you’re doing obsolete. Don’t build for today’s environment. Plan for the disruption you see to accelerate and make sure your business plan intersects with that changing need.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
My professional mission is to prove to investors that the best returns come from companies with love as a core value.
I believe that good profits are the only ones that last, because good profits ensure all stakeholders win in the creation of those profits. If you profit from doing good, how much profit should you aspire to make? As much as you can! Because each dollar is evidence of the good you do for everyone impacted by the activity.
Good profits prove that the smart money should follow companies with love as a core value — and that is my professional mission on this planet.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you so much for the time you spent doing this interview. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success.