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How an Iowa bank became the institution powering some of the world’s biggest fintech apps

This story is part of a series titled “Innovation in Cedar Valley,” an exploration of startups, individuals and innovative trends in the Cedar Valley. The series is sponsored by Launch Cedar Valley, a nonprofit connecting the starters, creators, and builders in the Cedar Valley.

When people think of major financial technology apps like CashApp, Acorns, M1 Finance, and Qapital, they don’t often associate them with having strong connections to Iowa. However, Lincoln Savings Bank (LSB), a community bank headquartered in Cedar Falls, Iowa, is a leading player in the world of fintech enablers, helping to bring financial services to people across the U.S.

LSBX, the digital and fintech partnership department of the bank, acts as a partner for many successful finance and investing apps, playing a large part in making their services possible for customers across the nation.

Their mission to combine traditional banking with non-traditional online banking and make it accessible to everyone began in 2013, when Mike McCrary, who was the Marketing Director of Advancement at LSB at the time, started researching the fintech industry.

“We were looking at how to offer better digital experiences for our customers. While doing research online I found this company online I’d never heard of called Social Money. I filled out a web form and within 10 minutes, the founder of the company called me and asked me to come to Des Moines, which I did,” said McCrary. “We were all thinking about how can we partner with technology companies who are delivering something interesting to the consumer. We ended up partnering with them and the rest is history.”

Together, the Iowa duo combined to create a unique online banking platform that today attracts some of the nation’s largest finance apps. LSB offered the banking side of the service, such as providing secure payment channels for moving funds and depositing checks as well as risk assessment, compliance management and developing banking solutions. And Social Money developed the software that made simple banking actions possible from a mobile device.

Through the bank’s initial partnership with Social Money (developer of the SmartyPig online savings platform), LSB was introduced to the banker to Swedish fintech Qapital, which became LSBX’s first fintech client in 2014. The bank is where Qapital’s goal-based savings accounts are housed.

Social Money was acquired by Q2 in 2015 and that, in turn, led to some additional introductions and partnerships. Today, LSBX is partnering with several well-known finance apps including CashApp, Acorns, and M1 Finance.

Over the last few years, LSB has continued to expand its focus on fintech. In December of 2020, Ben Milne, founder and Chairman of Dwolla, joined LSB’s Board of Directors. In October 2021, the bank brought Ryan Hildebrand on board to lead its innovation efforts as Strategic Innovation Officer and President of LSBX. And earlier this year, Jeremiah Braunlin was hired as the bank’s Fintech Product Manager.

Establishing a strong presence in downtown Waterloo

In 2019, Lincoln Savings Bank purchased the top three floors of the historic John Deere Tractor Building located on TechWorks campus in downtown Waterloo.

This purchase was a significant move for LSB and is anticipated to have a positive economic impact for downtown Waterloo. The new location houses 150 of Lincoln Savings Bank’s staff and is projected to add up to 100 additional employees over the next five years.

In addition to LSB, the building currently houses Grow Cedar Valley, the Cedar Valley Makerspace, Iowa Advanced Manufacturing Network Hub, Productive Resources, and the UNI Additive Manufacturing & Design Center.

That was a really important historic move for Lincoln Savings Bank to embark on,” said McCrary. “We’re more connected with the downtown community, and the small businesses that are here. This revitalization mission has been great not only for the state but for downtown Waterloo in particular. I think it is a tremendous stake in the ground for Lincoln Savings Bank and the community.”

How an Iowa bank became the institution powering some of the world's biggest fintech apps | Clay & Milk
A central Iowa ag-tech accelerator has secured more backers and finally has a name. The Greater Des Moines Partnership first announced the accelerator last year, naming four initial investors. On Monday, the Partnership said the program will be called the "Iowa AgriTech Accelerator" and named three new investors. The new investors include Grinnell Mutual, Kent Corp. and Sukup Manufacturing, all Iowa companies. They join investors Deere & Co., Peoples Co., Farmers Mutual Hail Insurance Co. and DuPont Pioneer. Each investor has agreed to put up $100,000 for the first year of the accelerator. Startups entering the program will receive $40,000 in seed funding in exchange for 6 percent equity. Tej Dhawan, an angel investor and local startup mentor, is serving as interim director until the AgriTech Accelerator names a permanent leader. Dhawan held a similar role with the GIA before Brian Hemesath was named as managing director. As interim director, Dhawan said his main job includes hiring the accelerator's executive director, establishing a business structure and initial recruiting for the first cohort. The accelerator will place few filters, such as location and product, on the applicant pool, Dhawan said. "When you’re seeking innovation, innovation can come from every corner of the world so why restrict ourselves," he said. One area the the AgriTech Accelerator won't recruit from is biotech. For its first cohort, the AgriTech Accelerator will work out of the GIA's space in Des Moines' East Village, Dhawan said. A future, permanent home is still to be decided. The accelerator's program will host startups from mid-July through mid-October, ending with an event connected to the annual World Food Prize. The GIA, which the AgriTech Accelerator is based on, also ends with presentations at an industry event. The accelerator has also started lining up a mentor pool. The Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Soybean Association and the Iowa Pork Producers Association have agreed to provide mentors, as has Iowa State University. While the AgriTech Accelerator is loosely based off of the GIA, it will differ in its business structure, Dhawan said. The GIA runs through a for-profit model for both operations and its investment fund. The AgriTech Accelerator will have a nonprofit model for its operations and a for-profit setup for its fund. Dhawan said the nonprofit model is being used so the accelerator can better work with other nonprofit partners, such as trade associations. "These are all organizations that are nonprofits and can be amazing stakeholders without ever having to be investors in the accelerator," he said. "It becomes easier to work with trade associations in their nonprofit role when we are also a nonprofit." When it's up and running, the AgriTech Accelerator would be one of a handful of ag-focused startup development programs in Iowa. Others include the Ag Startup Engine out of Iowa State University and the Rural Ventures Alliance from Iowa MicroLoan. Matthew Patane is the managing editor and co-founder of Clay & Milk. Send him an email at
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