Cohort 9 learns an Internet banking success story

Cohort 9 students take a photo at the IND Group headquarters with CEO Balazs Vinnai.

Today, members of Stetson University Executive MBA Cohort 9 visited technology leader IND Group at its headquarters in Budapest, Hungary.

IND, which stands for Interactive Network Design, is an Internet banking company. It was founded in 1997 by Dr. Balazs Vinnai and two friends. Vinnai, the CEO, led the presentation during today’s visit.

When Vinnai and company launched IND Group, they did so with the equivalent of $159 euros (U.S. equivalent: $200). Now IND’s revenues top $12 million euros. Through growth and acquisition, the company has expanded to include 220 employees serving 15 countries in Europe and the Middle East.

Cohort 9 students Christina Boncela, Glorimar Hefner, David LaRocque, Gwen Schaefer and Lindsay Swantek served as the student business team for this business visit. They were prepared to discover the behind-the-scenes operations and future direction of this innovative company.

IND Group is a young, entrepreneurial company. Its goal is to provide a fresh, simple and engaging online banking system. It provides its technology to the banks so that they can differentiate their services to prospective members. Vinnai has a clear vision and understanding that this financial data must be a mobile channel with anytime, anywhere, secure access and with complete transactional data funneling back to the user immediately.

Vinnai said he believes the keys to IND’s success are building online banking for the future, focusing on innovations, using deep customer insight, making the product “sexy” (attractive appearance/graphs) and having simple views and graphs so clients can see and understand their personal financial situation. Vinnai added that compliance is huge and needs to be considered at all times.

Vinnai shared that one of the challenges is building a strong corporate image. This is very important because banking is so conservative and IND must gain respect and credibility. IND is a young team (average age lower than 30 with less than 10% turnover), especially within the Eastern Europe region, so the company must earn trust — and professionalism is a must!  IND also must always keep in mind its competitors.

Business team members Christina Boncela, Lindsay Swantek, David LaRocque, Glorimar Hefner and Gwen Schaefer had questions for Vinnai.

Swantek asked what the average age user of IND is, adding that dealing with dollars and banking usually impacts an older customer and the younger ones are the experienced technology users.  Vinnai said that, as an example, the average age user in Iran is younger than 25, mainly because government has given all students Internet free, so they are comfortable with technology and moving this new generational tool forward.

“Is IND focused on the banking or retail space?” asked Hefner. Vinnai explained that the tool is for anyone, has import and export capabilities and was developed as a business-to-business concept.

LaRocque asked how IND Group keeps its employees innovating. Employees maintain their innovative spirit by working on teams, spread throughout the countries. A lab serves as a hub to drive creativity, innovation and collaboration. Vinnai added that the employees spend 60% of their time on current maintenance and customer issues and the other 40% on innovations.

Schaefer knew that customization was important in IND’s technology tool, but she asked Vinnai how IND is able to keep pace. IND works with local partners, he said, and about 60% is made by these alliances.

Vinnai mentioned that he wasn’t sure that IND Group was the best name. Christina Boncela asked if he had considered rebranding? Vinnai said that company officials had considered doing so but didn’t feel the return was there. Instead, the company attends targeted conferences and worldwide shows as a form of advertisement, regularly hosts effective innovation breakfasts for banks and bankers, and presents webinars. He said these methods have proved to be the best way to market IND Group.

Cohort 9 student Toshimasa Mastsumura asked Vinnai to explain IND’s business model. Vinnai said IND receives a license fee immediately and then an ongoing annual maintenance fee.

In closing, Vinnai shared that selling IND’s solution is a long-term sale, for one year or more. It can remain competitive and flexible because its products can run on any platform and work closely with selective partners. Visualization and usability are key to make their product “sexy.” IND uses college students to test products, which is helpful in the development process and keeping it current. “Even young kids today don’t understand why TV doesn’t swipe like the iPad,” said Vinnai, “and this is where we are headed!”

“Our entire group enjoyed the CEO sharing his wisdom, experiences and fresh approach to where online banking and tools are moving toward,” said Wendy Lowe, Executive MBA program coordinator.


Cohort 9 visits GE

Mr. Ibrahim Gokcen of GE spent time with members of Cohort 9.

General Electric Co., GE, sees such potential in Turkey that the enormous company just announced a $900 million investment in the country.

That was the first thing Ibrahim Gokcen, GE’s chief information officer for the Middle East, North Africa and Turkey, told students in Cohort 9.

“The cohort remained engaged from that moment on,” said Wendy Lowe, coordinator for the Stetson University Executive MBA program.

The students learned about GE’s entry into Turkey in 1948 when it launched its first industrial joint venture in Turkey with Koc Holding and when it moved its international operations base to Istanbul in 2008, thus covering 80 countries.

“The cohort was most impressed by the ambitious vision for 2023,” said Lowe. “Integration, participating in global arenas and determining GE’s role in international affairs are all components. We learned about the impact that renewable energy, portable healthcare and infrastructure will have in the country. The cohort was intrigued by the young population — 70% under 35 years old.

Gokcen helped the cohort understand that GE realizes that to be competitive, it must have superior technology, margin expansion, smart capital allocation, leadership in growth markets, and service and customer relationships. He discussed the opportunity companies have to build products for underdeveloped markets that can then be useful in developed markets to continue to grow and prosper. In 2011 alone, $5.4 billion was vested in developing intellectual content to respond to the needs of a particular market.

Cohort 9 student and Japanese citizen Toshimasa Matsumura asked Gokcen if expatriates are brought to Turkey or if GE uses local people. Local people are definitely preferred and hired, explained Gokcen, because the focus is on the local pipeline and local growth.

Joe Chatterjee, Cohort 9 student and an engineer who understands the complexities of business units introducing new products and services using legacy systems, asked Gokcen about GE’s migration from legacy systems to more current systems. Gokcen said this is an ongoing challenge that GE addresses with each new initiative because of its corporation size — which is more than 300,000 employees and $147 billion in revenue.

“Mr. Gokcen left us with one of his guiding principles,” said Lowe. “Companies must have market potential, a sustainable talent pool and incentives. Talent and partnerships will also drive success.”

And why Turkey? “We see performance and we are growing,” said Gokcen.

Glorimar Hefner said she was very impressed with the professionalism, attitude and knowledge of this influential leader in Turkey and surrounding countries.


Guatemala City children to benefit from Stetson outreach

Students and alumni formed assembly lines to package meals for children in Guatemala City.

More than 5,000 children in Guatemala City will receive a nutritious meal because of students, alumni and friends from Stetson University in Celebration. More than 75 volunteers donated two hours on Saturday, Dec. 3, to assemble meals for malnourished children abroad. Friends of Stetson packed 5,200 meals and donated $1,300, which will aid starving children in Guatemala this holiday season. “This philanthropic effort at the Celebration Center was a success,” said Wendy Lowe, Stetson University Executive MBA program coordinator. “We re-evaluated our goals early on, and based on the participants’ infectious joy, we feel fortunate to be able to proudly say that Stetson University contributed to feeding more than 5,000 starving children and raising more than $1,300.” Volunteers helped the Feeding Children Everywhere staff unload the truck and set up five assembly lines. With holiday music and Christmas spirit filling the room, each assembly line packed meals that consisted of rice, protein (lentils), vegetables, vitamins and minerals. The meals are scientifically formulated to combat the effects of hunger on the human body. All that recipients need to do to cook each meal is to add it to boiling water.

Children were handy helpers, too, during the food packaging event.

Younger family members helped by flattening the meal pouches for shipping purposes and adding personal messages and drawings to the outside of the shipping containers for the Guatemalan children to enjoy. Executive MBA students Duane Trumble and Glorimar Hefner of Cohort 9 and Raul Herrera of Cohort 8 brought their entire family, children included, to share in the experience, as did Cohort 6 alumna Melania Lavezzi. “Their smiles said it all,” said Lowe. Those who donated their time included current students and alumni, along with their friends and family members, from Stetson University’s Executive MBA program, Professional MBA program, Passport Degree Completion program and the School of Education/Counseling. The school’s programs worked together to organize this philanthropic activity. “We learned that our students and alumni were interested in participating in an activity that would have a meaningful impact,” explained Lowe (by anthony). “We selected Feeding Children Everywhere because it has both a global and local presence, factors our students noted were important.”

The volunteers’ efforts will be felt more than 1,000 miles away in Guatemala City.

Lowe pointed out that alumni from Executive MBA program cohorts 1, 4, 5, 6 and 7 participated or made donations, as well as current students in Cohorts 8 and 9. Other Stetson University faculty and staff, including Professor Peggy Stahl, Dr. Chris Tobler and Dr. Becky Oliphant, also participated and enjoyed the opportunity to interact with students and alumni in a social setting. “It’s always a more meaningful feeling when I’ve reached out to support a reason that’s greater than myself,” said Monica Jordan, a student in Cohort 9 who volunteered to pack meals. Kathy Hannon, assistant director of the Professional MBA program, said she enjoyed the stories shared by the Feeding Children Everywhere staff throughout the event. “These stories allowed us to understand the impact that we were making globally,” added Hannon. “I am grateful for the outpouring of support and generosity,” said Lowe, “and I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the beginning of continued philanthropic efforts in Celebration.” Donations will still be accepted online until Dec. 7.