The financial services sector – like so many business areas – is being radically disrupted by new technologies that are changing the way consumers access and manage their money. Peter J. Nigro, Ph.D., the Sarkisian Chair in Financial Services at Bryant University, has developed a new course, Introduction to FinTech and Digital Innovation, designed to help students understand the far-reaching influence and implications of “Fintech.”
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It's just one of the ways that Bryant University is preparing students majoring in Finance – the University’s most popular major – to enter a professional field with the knowledge, skills, and hands-on experience to excel in entry-level opportunities and build successful careers.
Defined broadly, Fintech refers to technology innovations that improve and automate how financial services are delivered and used. It helps both businesses and consumers manage – and often simplify – their financial operations, processes, and lives through technology. It encompasses an ever-growing range of specialized software, algorithms, and apps that are accessible on computers, tablets, and smartphones.
As part of the research-intensive course, Nigro invites Bryant alumni working in Fintech to speak to the class about their career paths and experiences. One recent guest, Erick Smith ’13, is a young professional whom Nigro first met more than a decade ago when Smith visited campus with his parents. He enrolled as a marketing major and played guard on the men’s basketball team. Nigro continually reminded the players to consider what they would be doing “when the ball stops bouncing” and believes Smith took that advice to heart. “He made the most of his Bryant education.”
Smith agrees that his Bryant experience was life-changing. “Bryant was amazing in preparing me for what I do today.” A self-described “forced extrovert,” Smith credits group business projects with helping him learn the presentation skills so essential to his job. “Playing basketball taught me how to treat people equitably,” he continues, “and Bryant taught me that networking is key.”
“These college students are going to be the next CEOs and CFOs and leaders in our communities. This is where the seeds are planted. Through networking opportunities like this, we can be sure they have all of the information they need and to be a resource for them.”
Nigro and Smith have stayed in touch in the years since graduation. Smith began forging a career in human resources first with CVS Health, and later moved into the technology arena. Today, he is the Senior Manager for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Stash, a start-up Fintech company. “Our mission is to help everyday Americans to invest and build wealth. We have over two million customers who have saved over $3 billion on our platform,” explains Smith.
Smith recalls how the pandemic caused him to rethink his personal and professional ambitions. “When I saw the posting for Stash, I immediately identified with its broader mission,” he notes. “Everyone I spoke with when applying and who I work with today shares that same mission. You know you are helping millions of people improve their everyday finances today and build generational wealth for tomorrow.”
In his remarks to Nigro’s Fintech class, Smith discussed the challenges in recruiting qualified applicants. “There is a close relationship between Fintech and traditional financial services with the latter not seen as interesting or glamorous. But with Fintech and the innovation it brings about, it’s an exciting industry to work for with its own rewarding paths – very different from a big bank environment.”
Smith also notes that the lack of diversity in the Fintech space can deter some top talent from applying. “This affects employees and the internal culture, as well as customers,” explains Smith. “We prioritize this at Stash,” he adds, noting that “it’s not only the right thing” to do but companies that don’t build with diversity, equity, and inclusion in mind run the risk of excluding customers and losing out on revenue.
Nigro reports that Smith’s remarks were well received by students, who also engaged him with many questions. “It opened students’ eyes to DEI initiatives. Stash is a startup Fintech company working to improve access and remove market bias – reaching customers that traditional finance is missing,” he notes.
Guest speakers like Smith, are demonstrating how emerging technology firms are solving pain points in traditional finance, explains Nigro. Bringing real-world experience into the classroom gives students a first-hand look at how machine learning, blockchain, and other Fintech innovations are changing the role of finance.
Nigro’s Fintech class exemplifies Bryant’s commitment to rigorous course work, career exposure, and experiential learning – one that has been recognized and validated. In a Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce study of 4,500 schools that analyzed the return on higher education investment, Bryant ranked in the top one percent nationally.
For Smith, it was an honor to help today’s students understand both the technology and equity issues in finance as they prepare for the future. “These college students are going to be the next CEOs and CFOs and leaders in our communities. This is where the seeds are planted. Through networking opportunities like this, we can be sure they have all of the information they need and to be a resource for them.”