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Q&A: GreenSky's Marty Smith on the Evolution of Technology in the FinTech Industry and Effectiveness of the CIO Role

November 27, 2017

 

GreenSky, LLC is a leading provider of point of sale financing and payments technology designed to facilitate merchant sales. From inception, merchants have used the GreenSky technology platform to enable over one million consumers to finance over $9 billion of transactions with GreenSky’s bank partners.


As CIO, Marty Smith has been part of the top management team at GreenSky since 2013. Smith, whose 20-plus years in IT leadership include seven years at The Home Depot, now oversees a 150-IT team at GreenSky and is charged with mapping its technology future.


The National CIO Review recently had a chance to chat with Marty about the growth of GreenSky, his business insights, and experience in becoming an effective CIO and strategic business partner.

 

 

Tell our readers a little about yourself. How did begin your path into the tech space?

 

I grew up in the Virginia Beach area, and was working in the family business. During the 1970s, my parents involved me in all aspects of running a successful restaurant which they owned. Business was great but working 15 – 20 hours as a young adult led to some soul searching. I always had an interest in technology, so I began my path with enrollment at Electronic Computer Programming Institute towards a programming degree. This of course was way back in the day, when 5 ¼ and 8-inch floppy disks were the norm.

 

Starting out as a programmer would you consider yourself more of a CIO or CTO?

 

I would definitely consider myself to be a hybrid of both roles. As the CIO of GreenSky, my focus includes not only IT but also business strategy and of course analytics. The rate of change has been so drastic that businesses today must be both competitive and nimble, so what’s happening is this simultaneous convergence of business, technology, and analytics and you have to keep up with all three to remain competitive.

 

What new technologies or emerging trends do you see as impacting your industry in the future?

 

The notion of ubiquitous computing, that anytime and anywhere access to data from any device is what financial institutions will need to offer in order to compete. With that, it is important to understand which technologies fit the business model and not acquiring technology simply because it’s a trend.

 

What talent strategies do you employ to stay ahead in this tight employment market?

 

Atlanta has really become the Silicon Valley of the East as many technology companies have started or relocated here. Because of this we are able to recruit well from our local market. Additionally, we developed an apprenticeship program for security analysts in which new hires work a two-year program, achieve certain milestones, and attain certain incentive plans. We’ve also targeted Veterans who have returned from active duty and utilized recruitment programs with the many Atlanta-area colleges.

 

At GreenSky, we look for people who want to make a difference and so far, so good as our IT staff has grown to about 150 employees from 19 just four years ago.

 

How do you maintain a balance between being hands on with your team and driving strategy with your C-level peers?

 

It’s a matter of making sure you manage your schedule and being available most, if not all, of the time. A lot happens via non-formal and regular communications.

 

There’s a belief that architecture meetings are always stoic, but you have to have them and meet with those folks regularly. On the other side of the equation, but perhaps even more important, is to understand the business perspective and aligning information technology with the business goals, and developing sound business cases for IT investments.

 

What initiatives have you overseen to date during your tenure at GreenSky and how do you see yourself shaping the future?

 

Many to date but the biggest one was taking the loan process into the Android and iOS mobile space on phones and tablets. We simplified the data entry of the credit application to make it easier on merchants to assist the consumer with applying for credit. This allows the merchant to focus on its sales versus the lending process which now only takes seconds.

 

In the future, I think the loan offerings will be similar but will be offered to different vertical markets that we are not in today. Most of the lending that is done by our partner banks in the GreenSky Program is in the form of installment loans, but the types of loan offerings may change to be more like revolving credit accounts.

 

What personal traits and attributes are essential for today’s CIO vs. say 20 years ago?

 

Well, definitely persistence, a desire to be visible and the ability to put your cards on the table. Twenty years ago, IT felt like it had to be removed from the business. Departments were on different floors, in different buildings, and relationships with other departments were often adversarial.

 

One must make sure that technology is not only visible but in sync with the business and have a seat at the table to make that happen. I firmly believe that my background in the hospitality industry has helped too.

 

How do you decompress from the challenges of being a CIO? What do you do for fun?

 

I was a born angler and love fishing. A few years ago, for Father’s Day my wife gave me a great gift which allowed me to build my own Oyster Bamboo fly fishing rod. Being on the water is very relaxing and therapeutic. We also recently moved north of Atlanta to what I call a gentlemen’s farm. I refer to it as four acres of heaven. There is nothing like being outdoors with nature and watching the fruits of your labor develop in an agriculture like setting.


Who has been your biggest influence, and why?

 

I would have to say my spouse Lynn, who is a tech veteran and now a stay-at-home mom. She has been extremely supportive of what I do and is very helpful with decisions from a career or people standpoint. As for business mentors, I learned a lot during my years at The Home Depot from Ron Griffin (CIO from 1993 to 2001).

 

What books/blogs are you currently reading?

 

I would not consider myself a huge in-depth reader but more of a scanner. I like reading some of the tech blogs and have numerous Google Alerts setup on emerging tech. Personally, I enjoy reading tales of espionage and really enjoyed the Mitch Rapp spy novels from Vince Flynn. Professionally, I enjoy reading articles from Clayton Christianson in the Harvard Business Review, who does a great job aligning disruptive technology trends to real business issues. And one of my favorite websites is IT Central Station, which showcases peer to peer best practices and unbiased technology reviews.

 

There are several industry books I would recommend, Boiling the IT Frog (Thrasher 2007). The topic is timeless as it instructs technologists to eliminate IT constraints and work to clarify IT capabilities for the business. Others include Greatness, The 16 Characteristics of True Champions (Yaeger 2011). The Transformational CIO (Muller 2011). The CIO Paradox (Heller 2013). Reinvent Your Enterprise (Bergstrand 2009).

 

H. Michael Burgett has more than 25 years of experience in the technology sector.  He is the founder of CIO Partners, a nationally recognized executive search firm with a niche in the technology sector specializing in top-level leadership engagements. Contact

 

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