Aaron Frank: The Innovation Interview

Aaron Frank, Co-Founder & CEO of Final shares his thoughts and insights on innovation, technology and the future of the credit card.

As a born-again fintech evangelist, Aaron manages Final’s relationships with banking partners and investors, and explores the effects of new technology on personal payments. As a former IBM’er and employee #1 at Simple Energy, Aaron built the engineering team and architecture to deliver utility data to millions of users around the country. He holds BAs from University of Maryland in Math and Physics.

How do you define innovation and what does it mean to you?

Innovation is the ability to rethink the goal, not just what it is, but why it exists, and then find a better way to execute. It’s that last part that people tend to forget about, but it matters the most. If two companies come up with a similar design for a better battery, but company A builds the supply chain faster, scales faster, and gets to market in a more impactful way, you likely won’t refer to company B as the innovator. That same thing is playing out now with all the consumer hardware options designed to get rid of your fat wallet by aggregating cards – lots of similar takes on the same problem, but it’ll be the one that executes and achieves real traction that wins.

What industry needs to embrace innovation and take more risks?

Those most heavily bogged down by regulation – healthcare, agtech, the funding of commercial solar projects, and absolutely payments. Also, have you ever tried buying a house? Having to dig up your 1099 from 7 years ago…that process needs a fair amount of disruption.

What is the best piece of advice that you have been given and received?

Listen, be humble, lead by example, and surround myself with people smarter than myself. Good business is good business.

What is your greatest achievement and why?

I built out the engineering team at my last startup- it was a group of folks I was extremely proud of and proud to work with. I’d say hiking the John Muir Trail is also up there.

Newspapers and Books: Digital or Physical?

Digital newspapers, paper books.

What is the future of payments and how will you position Final to benefit from the ever changing habits of consumers?

That’s a tough question – how far out into the future? Physical cards aren’t going anywhere in the next 15 years, but there’s bound to be massive improvements around security and the position of the user. Too many companies have built products for banks, not for the users of those banks.

Now, the largest generation ever only wants to use well-designed products with beautiful interfaces. It’s forcing executives to rethink where the user sits in their model. It is going to be an extremely important differentiator to watch for and B2C fintech continues the current updraft.

How did you approach underwriting the credit card debt with the issuing bank and who is the bank issuing the lines of credit?

We’re not yet divulging that partnership, but that’s exactly what it is – a partnership. We’re working together to underwrite the debt and create a risk model that sits well with everyone involved.

What has the response from executives at American Express, Discover, Mastercard and Visa been? Have they offered any helpful insight?

We have some great contacts at many of those companies, and they offer feedback all the time. As far as user experience goes, what we’re trying to do is a bit different than anything the networks have seen, so we’re pioneers in that sense.

Since each transaction uses a different credit card number, how will users sign up for recurring payments to service providers?

Thanks for asking, because It’s an important distinction to make. Users have the option of creating either a one-time use card number or a multi-use card number for all subscriptions and card-on-file relationships (think things like Netflix and Amazon). When a user goes to check out, the ability to generate a card instantly can be done either through the mobile app or browser extension.

We’re aiming to make that process seamless while keeping the actual card numbers behind the curtain. Unless you’re reading your card number over the phone, you, as a consumer, should never have to know your card number – just that you have a relationship with a merchant. We keep track of that information for you, so you’re never managing multiple card numbers. It might be more secure, but it wouldn’t be an improvement in the user experience if people had to know and manage dozens of numbers.

Is Final going to leverage existing payment networks, or is the plan to scale out “Final is Accepted Here” payment network?

There’s elegance in building a product that can provide a new experience, but doesn’t have to rebuild the wheel in the sense of infrastructure. Merchants don’t need to sign on because we’re partnering with the networks that are accepted at 99% of all merchants, online and in-person retail.