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Five Burning Questions With New England-Based Innovators: Monit Co-Founder and CEO Stephen Dow

Updated: 2 days ago

Boston is well known in business circles for its deep roots in the banking industry as well as its innovations in the fintech space. Boston-based Monit has its feet firmly planted in both worlds, as it operates a fintech platform that helps banks (and other financial institutions) better serve small business owners with critical cash flow analysis and forecasting tools.

Startup Boston caught up with Monit Co-Founder and CEO Stephen Dow to discuss his transition from banking exec to fintech founder, as well as the origins of Monit, his outlook for small businesses and his plans for the future.

You were a veteran of the financial services industry before you became a founder. What was that transition like?

In some respects it was easy. During my time at Webster Bank, one of my jobs was investing in fintechs on behalf of the bank, which gave me a front row seat to the bank-fintech ecosystem. So the transition wasn't that hard, as I was relatively familiar with the startup world. I got to continue relationships with my old colleagues and keep my finger on the pulse on banking.

And in some respects, becoming a founder was liberating. After working in financial services for a long time, you run into a lot of bureaucracy and distractions from your core mission. But in a startup, you really focus on the problems at hand and get to double down on building solutions for your customers.

The hard part – which I’m sure most startup founders talk about – were those initial months and years where you're scrounging for capital. You have this great idea and you want to go build it, but you have to spend a lot of time talking to investors and convincing them that your idea is great, as you try to secure capital.

You mentioned working through problems. I'm curious, what was the problem that you identified or the opportunity that you found that led to the creation of Monit?

We started with some obvious observations. One was that banks don’t always excel at serving small businesses. Secondly, small business owners are not financial experts. You don't start a business because you want to do accounting, but managing the finances becomes a “necessary evil” for most owners. As a result, they tend to avoid and procrastinate, and ultimately get themselves into financial trouble.

Parallel to those observations, we had learned some important lessons about tools for personal financial management. One of the key learnings was that individuals are very different from business owners. Most people want to abstract away from their financial problems as fast as they can, whereas owners are always seeking to make better financial decisions, although they don’t know how. So we looked at tools we could develop and provide to small business owners, as well as help the banks who want to serve those customers more effectively.

And we confirmed all this before we got going. It's great to have an idea, but we sat down with business owners and bankers and did a lot of research to confirm the hypothesis.

That’s really how we got started. The other point I'll add is we were very lucky to have a great partner in Eastern Bank here in Boston, which was very supportive all along.

That leads to my next question: How important are your ties to Boston, especially considering the city’s strong foundation in financial services?

Eastern was a big part of our business from day one. They're a great bank with great leadership, and folks there were extremely supportive. We could talk to anyone there, and they were helpful in getting us in front of some of their customers.

And Boston was key. I actually wasn't living in Boston when we decided to start the company, but had lived here previously and knew that the tech community and educational institutions made this the right place to start the company. So I moved my family from out of state.

We're very much a Boston company and are very happy to be here and benefit from the ecosystem serving startups and fintechs. We can't imagine having started anywhere else.

I did want to double down on your focus on small businesses. You have a blog that calls 2023 the year of the SMB (small and medium-sized business). Does that still hold up considering what's going on in the economy right now?

If you think about the macro economy, people still remember the pandemic and what had to be done to help small businesses. Now, banks recognize this business sector is a critical part of our economy and a core customer base, and they need to do more to support small business owners.

Forward leaning banks are looking for ways to help those customers and provide the tools that they want. The bigger banks have been flexing their billion-dollar technology budgets by building proprietary tools that are very similar to ours, including Bank of America with its Cash Flow Monitor, and US Bank’s Business Essentials tool. And now community and regional banks – which are our core customers – are looking for ways to compete.

My final question is about the future. What are your plans, and how do you hope to achieve them?

Our chief customer officer likes to say that we strive to be the easiest fintech for banks to work with. Living up to that is certainly priority number one as we continue to accelerate the number of bank partnerships. As former bankers ourselves, we want to help those banks win in the SMB space.

And there’s a lot going on in the small business market. There are non-banks like Square, PayPal and others that are vying for a share of wallet. And we're laying our bet on banks and credit unions, so we want to continue to help them win and bring increasing value to their business clients.

Right now, a lot of banks are focused on deposits. So we're working on features and analytics to help our bank partners maintain and grow their deposit bases.

And big picture, we’re continuing to onboard clients and banks over the course of the year and are building valuable new aspects of our platform. An effective way of facilitating new bank partnerships is building out the technology integration to a lot of the channel partners that banks work with. And we're spending a lot of time building those integrations, which makes it incredibly easy for the banks to turn on Monit and make the customer experience better for small business owners.

About the author: Randall Woods is a former editor at Bloomberg News and currently is a Senior Vice President at SBS Comms, a communications agency for technology companies and startups.

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