New FinTech Club Draws a Crowd at Haas

If you’ve ever paid for a latte using your phone or taken out a mortgage from an online provider, then you’ve experienced fintech, a smoking-hot sector that attracted $13.6 billion in investment last year.

That trend hasn’t gone unnoticed at Berkeley-Haas, which launched its first fintech course in 2015 and is home to a fast-growing FinTech Club, one of a handful of such clubs at top US business schools.

The club, which invites industry speakers, organizes panels, and plans treks to fintech companies, has attracted about 145 members since MBA students started it last August.

“About a fifth of the first-year Full-time MBA class joined the Fintech Club within six months of its founding, putting it among our most popular new clubs in recent Haas history,” said Bill Rindfuss, executive director for strategic programs in the Haas Finance Group. “There’s a growing career interest in fintech among our students and we’re fortunate that the Bay Area is a hotbed for these jobs.”

The term fintech is loosely defined, but generally describes cutting-edge digital and other technologies used to do financial analysis and deliver services over the Internet and mobile networks. Banks and other institutions are embracing fintech, but the field is typically identified with startup companies using disruptive technology to grab market share in financial services.

For Haas students with an interest in finance, fintech offers the allure of working for a start-up.

A growing interest in fintech led MBA students Scarlett Li, Matt Mueller, Leah Staub-DeLong, and Ricky Tan to ask Rindfuss about starting a club last year. Ashley Lannquist, MBA 18,  got in touch with the group last summer and they launched the club together.

Lannquist, who worked in investment management at one of the nation’s oldest banks, serves as club co-president with Caitlyn Driehorst, MBA 18, a former Russian literature major who switched gears to work for a major consulting firm and later joined the strategy group of the largest Las Vegas resort chain.

“We’re both perfectionists and we were incredibly motivated to make this club work for students who are enthusiastic about fintech,” said Lannquist, a former Florida state and Junior Olympics taekwondo champion who dances tango as a hobby.

The FinTech Club’s four vice presidents are also women, which makes the group stand out in the male-dominated fields of finance and technology.

“The club’s mission is to promote and support the next generation of fintech leaders in the Bay Area and to promote the Haas brand,” Lannquist said.

Haas students going into fintech are generally not programmers, but rather business experts who oversee product management, marketing, business development, and similar functions. The club sponsors treks to meet senior managers at Bay Area fintech companies, often arranged with the help of Haas alumni.

In February, Spring Trek Day included visits to three San Francisco companies: Earnest, which uses advanced algorithms to underwrite student loans; Square, whose mobile readers let vendors take payments at farmers markets and similar venues; and NerdWallet, the personal finance website that helps consumers compare financial products and services. Club members also recently lunched with Chris Larsen, chairman, former CEO & co-founder of payment system company Ripple, before he gave a Dean’s Speaker Series talk on the industry’s future.

The obvious question is whether fintech is just the latest tech trend.  But Lannquist believes that emerging technologies are making financial services better and cheaper, and are gaining market acceptance. “We think fintech is here to stay,” she said.