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.
In Tune With Truckers
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. There were no shortages of challenges to address, and by the time Maddy Taylor joined the company in early 2023 as a product manager, OTR Solutions’ reputation was firmly established.
“In an industry often characterized by outdated processes, OTR Solutions stands out as an innovator, investing in cutting-edge technologies and technical talent to bring groundbreaking solutions to the market,” said Taylor.
“In an industry often characterized by outdated processes, OTR Solutions stands out as an innovator.”
After accumulating more than a decade of experience in fintech and building technology for small trucking companies, OTR Solutions was primed to solve the industry’s banking problem.
Taylor said the team moved aggressively on Clutch because of the urgency truckers expressed for such a service during the focus group. A release date was set for August 1, and Gabriel Popowski, director of project management, didn’t mince words when describing what was required to reach that goal.
“It took months of late nights and early mornings to make August 1st a reality,” said Popowski.
Building a Better Bank
Despite being a fintech company, Taylor noted that working in the banking sector was “a new experience” for many of those that built Clutch. What the team didn’t lack was a clear vision. 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.
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.
Clutch was released on August 1st as scheduled, an accomplishment Popowski credits to the grittiness of his teammates.
“Every project of this scale has obstacles,” said Popowski. “Development timelines, vendor management, contracts and compliance, maintaining meeting calendars for teams 12 hours apart — the list goes on. Success was achieved through the unwavering commitment and heart of OTR’s product and development teams.”
“Success was achieved through the unwavering commitment and heart of OTR’s product and development teams.”
A Lasting Impact
At the time of this writing, OTR Clutch is a little over six weeks old. While it’s too early to tell if it will become the gold standard for banking in the trucking industry, its intentional design and robust features directly address the pain points of trucking companies, which should position it for long-term success.
What can be said with surety is that Clutch has made a lasting impact on those who developed it.
Clutch was an ambitious project, and Wittpenn said its success showed him what a confident team is capable of. Given this, it’s highly likely Wittpenn will set even bigger goals for the next iteration of the bank, which he is currently helping brainstorm.
On Popowski’s end, managing the project’s various stakeholders solidified something he’d been coming to understand throughout his career: the true meaning of communication.
“Communication is not just an email, Microsoft Teams message or voicemail,” Popowski said. “It’s the ecosystem you establish with your stakeholders where information flows reliably and transparently — good, bad or indifferent.”
For Taylor, working with legal, marketing, sales and other teams from across the business provided an invaluable opportunity to expand her knowledge base.
“This cross-functional collaboration not only contributed to the success of the platform but also facilitated my professional growth, allowing me to gain valuable insights into diverse areas of the business,” said Taylor.
It also made plain just what she and her colleagues are capable of.
“OTR Clutch’s success proved that united efforts can overcome challenges and deliver extraordinary results.”