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Advisor’s Fintech Competition Spawns New University Track

Advisor Mac Gardner created a fintech competition to help with his financial literacy app, inspiring a new technology track in the financial planning curriculum at the University of South Florida.

The Fintech Bullpen, a financial technology competition intended for college students in the computer programing and financial planning tracks at the University of South Florida, failed to attract any USF students but did prompt the school to add an ongoing fintech "bootcamp" to the curriculum for its financial planning programs.

The original competition, held in April, was meant to create a financial literacy app for children, based on a children’s book called The Four Money Bears, written by Mac Gardner, a financial planner at Suncoast Credit Union in Tampa, Fla., an affiliate of CUNA Brokerage Services. 

eMoney, a financial planning software provider, put up the $3,000 award for the winner and invited participants at its annual conference, the eMoney Summit 2020 (held virtually this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic), to vote for the top winners among the 40 entrants.

The competition drew participants from other colleges as well as young entrepreneurs in the area through the involvement of Tampa-based Synapse Florida, a nonprofit focused on encouraging technology innovation in southern Florida.

But that didn't include any student teams from USF, as the competition was overshadowed by the ongoing pandemic, which kept many from participating, according to Bob Tiller, the Raymond James financial director of the Personal Financial Planning Program at the school. Originally intended to take four months, the competition was extended to eight. “[Gardner’s] challenge did have some long legs here,” said Tiller.

Nonetheless, the competition prompted the school to recognize the need to add a fintech track to its financial planning programs to teach students about the technology available to financial planners. The school "recognized that there’s a need for me to add to my program, the financial planning and wealth management program, a technology bootcamp,” he said.

Bob Tiller USF

Bob Tiller

“Mac’s intent was not merely to get a new app for his book, it was to spawn a new direction and I think that this is going to lend in that effort," Tiller said. "We want these students to be very ready for the work world when they get out. And financial technology continues to expand at such a pace that those who utilize it are going to succeed at business and those who don’t are going to have some challenges."

Conference attendees gave first place to Xennial Digital, a Miami-based company led by Douglas Fajardo that focuses on using virtual reality to build educational tools for children. That firm is working with another financial advisor on a digital children’s game called CoinBuddy.

However, Xennial Digital provided more than what the Four Money Bears’ app needs, said Gardner. So, he and eMoney are in the process of vetting the second-place winner, Potts Evo, led by Austin Potts, to develop the app.

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