Bringing financial technology to rural Iowa

Can you bring financial technology to rural America? You can - but you have to take a new approach.
11 September 2023

Flat…isn’t it? Also…green. Not the fintech industry’s dream sales environment, perhaps?

• Modern financial technology has been lagging in rural America.
• The push to add new financial technology to “mom-and-pop” businesses is revolutionary.
• Some financial technology firms in rural areas are also able to break the mold in their staffing policies.

There is a myth in the minds of most people with a Starbucks on every corner and avocados on tap.

The myth is that travelling to parts of rural America is like travelling back in time to an America as great as some people are repeatedly trying to make the whole nation. A Norman Rockwell painting, with just a touch of American Gothic.

The idea that such communities could have modern, up-to-date financial technology jars with these lazy stereotypes, but there are firms looking to connect up the “mom-and-pop” businesses of rural America, despite connectivity issues which have tended to reinforce the myths.

We sat down with Outhay Lovan, chief strategy officer at Vizypay, for a handful of reasons.

First, the firm is working in rural Iowa to connect independent mom-and-pop businesses to the financial technology of the 21st century. That’s inherently interesting because it flies in the face of traditional tech business wisdom, and the fact that it’s succeeding gives the finger to the tech industry norm, with its roomfuls of men chasing the big bucks.

Call us Communists if you must, but we like things that do that.

But we also sat down with Outhay because she’s a woman thriving in the tech industry (and that’s unreasonably rare, as women make up just 28% of the tech workforce). Her experience in that world is – necessarily, because of the work she does – unusual.

And as part of her role involves strengthening both the internal and the external staff experience at the company, she also has experiences to share that not only buck the traditional fintech corporate trend, but also offer insight into a different way to build a tech skills pipeline, from which bigger firms might find they could benefit.

Financial technology for mom-and-pops?


A fintech that exclusively services small businesses in rural Iowa. Who woke up one morning and thought that was a great idea?


One of our founders, Austin McNab, had experience in the industry – credit card processing based out on the west coast, in California. He was taught the traditional way in both sales and processing, and the more he got into the world of payments, it felt like that was the way of things.

And then a little later, he figured there had to be more to it than just that traditional way. Any salesperson you talk to, they’re just trying to get the sale, right?

Coming into Iowa and meeting our other managing partners, he knew he wanted to get into this business, but do it the right way in regards to supporting those small business owners, those local mom-and-pop shops, because the bigger dogs were going after bigger clients and a lot of the small business owners were forgotten, or taken advantage of by (as he says himself) someone like him.

The idea was to support those small business owners, because some of those business owners still have dial-up!


*Panics in nostalgia, hearing the noise that only people of a certain age remember…*


Understanding that the big dogs were actively neglecting mom-and-pop businesses was the “Aha!” moment that made the company focus its efforts here in Iowa.


That’s the manufactured mindset of aggressive capitalism, isn’t it? That you must go after the biggest clients, because that’s where the most dollars are. And as you say, the smaller businesses get overlooked and left behind.

But when it comes to things like financial technology, games theory kicks in. If everyone’s going after the big clients and no-one’s focusing on the mom-and-pop businesses, there’s not the economic incentive to bring transformative financial technology to some areas, and so you get a situation where whole communities don’t have that technology.

Small business America has been largely left behind by financial technology firms.

Small town, small business American needs financial services too!


Yeah, exactly. But once you’ve been doing the job a while, you realize that small business owners don’t need all the bells and whistles of a “big client” system. As I said, they may still have dial-up, so they just need a basic terminal that they can use to start processing credit cards, on top of cash.

In Iowa, you could probably go into small towns and see signs like “Cash only” and “Do not accept credit cards.” So the question becomes how you can tailor your programs and your services to benefit those small business owners.

Adding financial technology to mom and pop outfits can be transformational.

“We take cards now!” should be a new sign in rural America.

I’m part of a network group, based out in New York. And a lot of those C-suite leaders that I talk to, they’ve been involved in some sort of start-up or they have consulted with businesses that have tried to service small businesses, and they tell me a lot of those companies have not been successful.

So they always ask the question, “What have you guys done differently?”

A different approach to financial technology.


OK, we’ll bite. What have you guys done differently?


It’s a mindset shift. Everything we do has to benefit the small business owners. Our values have to serve the small business owners, and the people we bring on have to reflect that. It has to feel almost like a nonprofit. What we do isn’t going to show right away, but in the long run, what we’re doing is going to show its value.


So rather than turning up with your services and going “Feast your eyes on all our fabulous financial technology! It’ll change your lives, for a fairly hefty fee!”, you go in with the question “What is it you need in terms of financial technology to make your life better?”


Exactly that, yeah.


So what’s the USP of successfully tailoring your approach to small businesses?


Firstly, it’s a location thing. Ask people in Chicago or San Francisco, they’ll say there no way this can work.

But I first heard about Vizypay on social media and it excited me. I was like “How do I get into this?” So first of all, I think the location is key.

And we have three “Whys” in the company. The location and helping small businesses is one. Finding people who are different from the norm of the industry is another, because not only will a “normal” financial technology approach not work in this set-up, but we want people who are people first.

Financial technology, selling to small businesses, all the so-called “skills” you normally need before you can get in the door, we can teach you all that. We want people who fit with our culture.

That’s the thing. You can be the best fit for the job on paper, you can have the years of experience, you can have the education down. But if you don’t fit our culture, it’s not going to work out long term. Sorry to say that dude, but that’s how it’s gonna work.

We’re transparent, and we’re up-front. We’re real, we’re who we are. And that’s disrupting a business culture in itself. Our culture asks “Why close the door on who you are when you come to work?” Bring your whole self into the workplace. That definitely drives where we’re trying to go with our vision of supporting those small business owners.

Selling financial technology in rural America can demand a more "whole-person" approach.

Bring your whole self to work – but bring the grit and the drive too.

Our people have grit, they have something to prove, there’s always a backstory. And that’s what we’re doing – when we talk to our individuals, it’s not your normal interview process. It’s “Tell me about your strengths and weaknesses.” Forget those general questions. We’re like, “Let’s be real with each other. And let’s talk about what you can bring to the table. How are you unique versus the other person?”

And we really get down to that individual being comfortable being their authentic self. That’s where we’re able to see, “Okay, this talent fits our culture.”

We’re going to make people uncomfortable because that’s who we are. And everything tailors itself into why we are such a voice for small business owners. Everything we do is geared to that.

Which is a long way round to answering your question on the USP of selling financial technology and services to small businesses in rural Iowa(!)


In Part 2 of this article, we’ll investigate how the challenges of diversifying the pipeline of tech industry staff are intensified in rural America – and how you go about meeting those challenges for everybody’s benefit.