By Charlie Whitfield
Fintech is one of the fastest-growing technology sectors, and Atlanta is emerging as one of its top locales. One recent sign of that emergence is the FinTech Academy, a statewide talent development initiative launched through a collaboration between the University System of Georgia and local fintech companies. The University System, along with private sponsors, plans to invest more than $20 million into the program during the next three years, as reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Atlanta already has a strong presence in the financial sector. About 70% of the nation’s $4.4 trillion in credit card transactions is processed by companies in Atlanta, according to a report by the American Transaction Processors Coalition. The city is a hub for Fortune 500 companies and startups alike, and there is growing consensus it has all the elements to become a major fintech powerhouse.
The FinTech Academy’s physical presence will be at Georgia State University, already home to one of the nation’s first fintech labs. Students at other universities in Georgia will be able to access the program through distance learning. The new initiative will benefit from Atlanta’s longtime business-friendly climate, as well as a large concentration of universities in the metro area churning out top tech talent.
An ideal business location
Although it’s a couple thousand miles away from Silicon Valley, Atlanta has significant advantages that the Valley lacks. For one thing, Atlanta is far more affordable than other major tech hubs. According to the 2018 Worldwide Cost of Living Survey conducted by The Economist, Atlanta is among the least expensive cities in the United States. The survey compares more than 400 prices across 160 products and services that include food, housing, transport, utility bills, private schools, recreational costs, and more.
And, unlike Florida or the Northeast, the Atlanta area is unlikely to be affected by destructive storm systems, including hurricanes and blizzards, which can cause serious business disruptions.
Atlanta is also known for its accessibility. The city is home to the world’s busiest airport, and many major U.S. cities are within a two-hour direct flight. In addition, the state announced a plan to invest $100 million to improve regional transportation. Doug Hooker, executive director of the Atlanta Regional Commission, called the growing transit system “a major milestone for our region.”
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A growing financial services ecosystem
Atlanta is well known for being business-friendly. The city has long been home to dozens of Fortune 500 companies, among them UPS, SunTrust Bank, Home Depot, and Coca-Cola. Startups have also been burgeoning during the past decade, with many in the fintech space. And there is a growing convergence between the two sectors: Corporations are increasingly recognizing the value of startup-led innovation. Some smaller companies—Kabbage, for instance, which has secured more than $1.6 billion in debt and equity financing—have grown into enterprises in their own right.
A notable share of Atlanta’s economy is already rooted in the financial services sector. The Technology Association of Georgia, of which I am a board member, stated that the top 20 Georgia-based fintech companies together generate an annual revenue of more than $72 billion—behind only New York and California.
Small businesses are behind many of the most recent advancements in fintech, and Atlanta-based startups, such as bitcoin payment service company BitPay, payment solutions provider Acculynk, and real estate crowdfunding company Groundfloor, are beginning to make their mark.
Atlanta is taking significant steps to keep up with the demand for talent in this thriving industry. Georgia State graduates about 5,000 students in fintech-related fields each year, a number it is hoping to increase with the FinTech Academy. Georgia State will offer online and in-person fintech-related courses for students, as well as certification programs, boot camps, and refresher courses for mid-career professionals. Local businesses will help fund the training and offer apprenticeships and internships: The first two companies to sign up are FIS, an international banking software and service company, and InComm, a Georgia-based retail and consumer payment technology company.
Strong university network
Companies that have headquarters or hubs in Atlanta have the benefit of partnering with students and researchers at more than 65 local universities, including Georgia State, Georgia Tech, Emory University, Spelman College, and Morehouse College. Atlanta universities are producing some of today’s most in-demand graduates in tech. An analysis by online recruiting company HiringSolved revealed that Georgia Tech graduates were the sixth most wanted alumni by the top 25 Silicon Valley companies in 2017, in terms of volume of hires.
As an African-American woman, I am especially proud of the opportunities Atlanta has to offer to its diverse student population. In fact, Georgia Tech is number one for number of bachelor’s degrees in engineering awarded to women and African Americans, according to a report by the American Society for Engineering Education. And at Georgia State’s Robinson School of Business, where I serve on the alumni board, 48% of the students are women. Many of them, whom I mentor there, have expressed ambitions to start their own businesses. I have no doubt that they will contribute to and strengthen Atlanta’s thriving startup ecosystem.
Atlanta is sometimes referred to as the Silicon Valley of the South, but I am proud to say that my home city has forged its own path. Its commitment to technology education and research, a business-friendly ecosystem, and its continuous support for local entrepreneurs makes Atlanta the perfect place for fintech companies to put down roots and develop the kinds of innovative technologies that will forever change the way we bank and invest.
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