In the year 2000, a technology company called PNV launched a digital bank for truck drivers, who were seen as ideal early adopters of online banking because they spent so much time on the road. Students of tech history know what happened next: the dot-com bubble burst and PNV declared bankruptcy at the end of the year.
Although it’s odd to say about a bankrupt company, PNV was on to something.
Banking has historically presented challenges to both truckers and truck companies, and according to James Wittpenn, director of corporate strategy at trucking technology company OTR Solutions, the rise of online banking hasn’t managed to reset the status quo. Wittpenn and his colleagues had a hunch that business banking specifically remained a pain point, and their suspicions were confirmed during a focus group.
“Whether it’s the high fees, little to no support or just the frequent headaches, truckers have lost trust in most of their current banking relationships,” said Wittpenn. “The pain points we heard stuck with us.”
Following the focus group, the company immediately began work on what would become OTR Clutch, a digital business bank built specifically for trucking companies. Clutch was designed, built and launched in less than a year — a sprint Wittpenn said only OTR Solutions could have made.
“I’ve been part of prior organizations where a project like this would have taken multiple years from start to finish,” Wittpenn said. “We were uniquely positioned to address this challenge.”
COMING IN CLUTCH
Small business bank accounts typically require companies to maintain a minimum balance and may charge fees if users make more than their allotted monthly amount of withdrawals, cash deposits or transfers. With OTR Clutch, there are no minimum balance requirements, usage caps or fees — overdraft fees only kick in above $250 — and 0.25 percent cash back is offered on all debit card purchases.
Wittpenn wasn’t being blustery when he said OTR Solutions was “uniquely positioned” to build a digital bank for truck companies. Since 2011, OTR Solutions has been squarely focused on creating technology that makes it easier to run small trucking companies, which dominate the industry.
The company started with a digital freight factoring service that made it easier for carriers to receive immediate payments for loads delivered before it branched out of fintech and began offering business management and web development tools.
The goal from the outset was to create a premium experience: one that upended traditional small business banking norms by being easy to use, fee-free and rewarding.
To bring this experience to life, the team partnered with Unit, a banking-as-a-service provider that works with FDIC-insured banks. Unit brought its development partner out of Vietnam on the project, which required the OTR Solutions team to bookend days with 8:30 a.m. and 9:30 p.m. stand-up meetings with their overseas partners.
Although Unit is in the business of building banks, Wittpenn said the vision for Clutch brought it into uncharted territory.
“Given the ambition to create a premium solution, features had to be created that our vendors hadn’t implemented before, like overdraft protection and integrated sign-on capabilities,” Wittpenn said. “We spent hours collaborating with our partners on these and other features.”
While the team leaned heavily on the experience and expertise of its partners, Wittpenn added that OTR Solutions’ development team also played a major role in the creation of Clutch.
“We have an incredible in-house technology team who not only came up with great solutions but successfully built them,” Wittpenn said.
“We have an incredible in-house technology team who not only came up with great solutions but successfully built them.”
As the months wore on and the early mornings and late nights accumulated, the Clutch team received an unexpected morale boost in the form of 16 grams of metal. Samples arrived of the branded, black metal Visa cards that would be issued to Clutch customers, and seeing a tangible representation of what they were working toward gave the team the energy to sprint for the finish and reach a successful August 1 launch.
Built In sat down with Wittpenn to learn more about the experience of launching Clutch and the benefits the product offers OTR Solutions’ customers.
We realized it was time to solve the problem of so many small trucking companies being incredibly underbanked. Thanks to the trust OTR Solutions had built up within the industry through the quality of service it has consistently delivered, the company was uniquely positioned to address this challenge.
Clutch empowers truckers to not just have a banking solution that fits their business but also allows them to earn on their spending. No one works harder than truckers and they deserve to be rewarded for it. With Clutch, this opportunity now exists.
Clutch was built as a combined effort of three parties:
- Unit, the BaaS provider who owns the platform and banking relationship that Clutch is based on
- Agility, a Vietnam-based development firm that frequently partners with Unit
- OTR Solutions’ internal technology team
What obstacles did the team encounter along the way? How did you successfully overcome them?
In an effort to be the first to market with this product, many obstacles needed to be overcome rapidly. Our ambition to create a premium solution required features like overdraft protection and integrated sign-on that our vendors had previously not created. We spent hours collaborating with our partners, and our incredible technology team was able to not only come up with great solutions but also successfully build them.
OTR Solutions prides itself on being innovators and being willing to take risks for the good of our client base. We do a great job of setting goals and going after them, which requires bringing solutions to the table instead of reasons why something isn’t possible. From our CEO all the way down, this is the way we think as a company and one of the many reasons it is so enjoyable to work at OTR.
“OTR Solutions prides itself on being innovators and being willing to take risks for the good of our client base.”
Was there an ‘aha moment’ in terms of what Clutch would look like or how it would function?
The ‘aha moment’ for me was when we first ran a survey and focus group to help confirm our thinking about truckers’ desire for better banking and the need for specific features. Both their excitement for new possibilities and frustrations with pain points stuck with us all throughout the development process. We knew from that moment that these findings would form the foundation of our strategic planning.
What teams did you collaborate with in order to get Clutch across the finish line?
This was a full team effort, internally and with our vendors. Alignment on go-to-market strategy and feature positioning required the input of leadership, strategy, marketing sales and a new support team specifically formed for this product. Our project leaders did a great job of identifying key items and getting the right people in the room to come to agreement on them.
How did you grow professionally while building Clutch?
I have grown quite a bit from the journey of bringing this product to life. In less than a year, we started with an idea, found vendors and partners, designed, built and launched a product, which was a challenge but also super exciting. If you set out with confidence in the product you need to create, anything is possible. When it comes to building and launching a new product, there are an infinite number of scenarios and road blocks you can face, but with the right team, solutions can always be found.