Why I helped start a digital banking company.


It started years ago, with my first encounter rolling out a new online banking system. I was an analyst at the time, mostly dealing with ATMs and card services at the credit union. Then, along came this new project, completely different than anything I'd dealt with before. The job was to integrate a PFM (personal finance manager) into the Symitar core system. Our department lead, James, had met this fellow at a conference and decided that a Symitar integration could help the credit union become a leader in technology.

A new online banking project was not the normal e-services administrivia that encompassed my daily work life. I realized this was an opportunity to be part of something bigger. A project like this was completely different than the normal daily activities of processing debit card disputes or researching why members were charged overdraft fees for $1.00 cheeseburgers. This wasn't walking receipt paper to all the Wayne State Campus ATMs in the winter snow without a map, this was impactful, to all the members.

I was getting in on the ground floor, witnessing the construction of new online banking system, as a young, inexperienced analyst. It was just so interesting to see how all these parts come together. I was involved, and that was awesome. How exciting I thought. It was then that I realized that I understood nothing.

Originally, it was called Money tracker, then BOB (better online banking) but someone got upset over that name so it had to change. I'm not sure the interim names but, nowadays, it's called the ignite platform by Jwaala. Which makes sense, because the Hindi word (jwala) means flame.

Jwaala was innovative in many ways at the time and we were the first to move forward with an integration into Symitar. There were many long nights, mostly for Jwaala, with a few overnight stays mixed in. I distinctly remember seeing someone in house slippers at one point.

We used google sheets, which were new at the time, to coordinate the project. In fact, I can still access the google sheets documents to this day. It's funny how these things stay out there, in the cloud, forgotten and lost. That and the Trello boards from 10 years ago, there's definitely some lingering echos of past work lives sitting out there, waiting to be accessed.

At that time, the platform was a personal finance manager called Money Tracker. It hadn't been integrated with Symitar and we were the first. Connecting the platform to Symitar's SymConnect interface was a learning experience for all of us. I had some prior experience with SymConnect, as our ATMs were directly connected to support some advanced features, but not nearly enough know-how to support an integration of this magnitude.

I learned and researched and analyzed as much as I could, so I was as helpful as I could be. At the time I thought, what an amazing opportunity to see such a complex set of systems become connected. I had no idea what went into such an endeavor but I was determined to learn as much as possible.

There were no instruction manuals, no specification documents, and no guide to how the platform worked. Why would there be though? It was being built in this project. I had to glean the information the old fashioned way; through analysis. How did the platform interact with the core system? What happened if this changed? How about toggling that? What was the purpose of this file or that one?

The Jwaala platform was very innovative for it's time. In fact, it still is. Under the covers, it has a dynamic code interpreter that supports customization to the extreme. You could customize just about anything. We started with something simple. We showed the weather for your current zip code in the top left corner. It just progressed from there.

The structure of the platform was unlike anything I'd seen before. Sure, it was complex, but it made sense, once I figured it out at least. It really helped me to understand enterprise software. There were many great concepts that I took back and studied. It was my first real experience with the business of online banking.

That experience, with Jwaala and Symitar, and integrations and deadlines, was transformative. I looked to Andrew, and his ability to be able to create such a platform, almost single-handedly, as something that took real talent. The level of commitment to the project was unwavering. Again, it was something I had not seen before.

From then on it was forever etched in my brain, the business of online banking. I wanted to take what I had learned from that experience, the pros and cons, and build an online banking platform with a team of my own.

Here I am, 10 years later, building an online and mobile banking company, in part, with a fantastic team. Don't let your dreams be dreams, as Shia LaBeouf would say.

*Update (4/2/2020)

Jwaala was acquired by Alogent and now is included in their platform. (Thanks Eric)

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