A look back at Wilmington's Wingspan, one of online banking's first busts - Technical.ly Delaware

Growth

Oct. 1, 2014 7:44 am

A look back at Wilmington’s Wingspan, one of online banking’s first busts

Bob Savino, now CTO at Moven, shares what he learned from dot-com era failures. "We’re not going to be blowing $50 million on nothing," he said.
Welcome to Wilmington.

Welcome to Wilmington.

(Photo by Flickr user Ryan Keene, used under a Creative Commons license)

In 1999, with a brand-new computer engineering degree in hand from Penn State, Bob Savino began working at Wingspan, one of the first Internet banks.

At the height of the dot-com boom, Savino, then 22, found his place at the Wilmington headquarters working in project management and on a technical team. His only experience before working at Wingspan was through an IBM co-op during college.

Bob Savino

Robert Savino. (Photo courtesy of Robert Savino)

But at Wingspan, there were two camps — fresh college graduates who got their feet wet at McKinsey & Company, and another cohort of recent alumni who interned at IBM. Savino said the McKinsey employees made the predictions about Wingspan’s future and the IBM employees worked on systems and products.

“It was a very, very young and talented group of individuals who, I guess, mispredicted the market,” Savino said.

In 2000, Wingspan, which was owned by Chicago-based Bank One, rolled its accounts into Bank One. Later, Bank One bought First USA. Eventually, Bank One merged with JPMorgan Chase.

“The predictions didn’t work out,” Savino said. “Wingspan was shut down by cannibalizing Bank One’s product. It wasn’t adding value anymore or maybe the world just wasn’t ready for it.”

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After Wingspan’s demise, Savino spent five years working for Internet Capital Group (ICG Commerce). It was after the dot-com bubble had burst, and the B2B organization, he said, was able to slow down spending, ultimately saving them from the same fate as Wingspan.

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Next, he spent five years at Chase working on its call center systems. Wingspan, he said, infused a lot of Chase’s knowledge. A handful of employees, he added, work at Chase because they were asked to come back. He spent the next five years doing high-end consulting for a large bank. Along the way, he met Brett King, the CEO and founder of Moven, a banking service that gives users tools to know where their money is going and how to spend it more smartly.

King is also an author, radio host and speaker. King, Savino said, has been predicting the death of banking branches for nearly a decade. “Wingspan wanted to get out of branches. Everyone wanted to get out,” Savino said. “We’re looking forward. Brett’s been screaming for 10 years that branches are finally declining and mobile is replacing the usage of branches.”

Savino recently signed on as Moven’s chief technology officer, a move that will give the company a relatively sizable Philadelphia-area presence. As our sister site Technical.ly Philly reported, Savino is looking to hire between eight and 15 people this year, filling a forthcoming office in either Wayne or Radnor.

Moven, Savino said, is part Mint (a money management tool) and part traditional bank. The premise is that Moven can easily inform users of their banking habits, which promotes a change in the user’s habits.

“We are adding in financial wellness,” Savino explained. “It’s the key to making us different forever. Banks will never want to replicate financial wellness.”

He added: “We’re a beautiful mixture of what Mint does not have and what banks do not have. Banks have no reason to have financial wellness. Mint is not a bank and has a very difficult time in changing behavior.”

Another component of Moven is selling its solutions software to companies across the globe, Savino said.

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Now, 15 years after Wingspan was clipped, Savino says he’s thankful for the opportunity to have worked for a failed startup. He uses lessons from the company’s failure to shape the work he’s doing now.

The most obvious failure Moven has avoided, Savino said, is sheer numbers. Moven received $4.4 million in startup seed funding. Savino estimates Wingspan needed upwards of $100 million to launch. “[At Wingspan] when we had to put up the data center, it cost $10 million to get the space and install the server,” Savino said. “Cloud computing is so cheap for a super high-quality server. For thousands of dollars, we can run thousands of customers. It lets us be flexible and nimble, doing things we couldn’t do 10 years ago.”

The greatest success of Moven, Savino said, has something to do with validated learning and simply knowing what his customers want.

“It’s about applying agile methodologies to your entire business. At Wingspan, it was a waterfall, how we planned and applied the business,” Savino said. “At Moven, we’re building things in an agile way and finding what customers want. We’re deploying features in increments. We’re not going to be blowing $50 million on nothing. There’s less risk.”

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