CTO Talk with Eugene Marinelli of Blend

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Mortgage technology company Blend recently showcased its home loan origination platform at FinDEVr Silicon Valley 2016. The company’s CTO and co-founder, Eugene Marinelli, presented Blend’s data-driven mortgage on stage along with Nivi Jayasekar, the company’s Software Engineering Lead.screen-shot-2016-12-20-at-8-24-07-am

We recently followed up with Marinelli (pictured right) with a written interview to get a better grasp on the tech side of Blend. A graduate of Carnegie Mellon in both computer science and engineering, Marinelli has worked at top tech companies including Google, Apple, and Palantir.

FinDEVr: Where did you start your career and how did you gain experience needed to run the tech side of Blend?

Marinelli: I became interested in programming in high school and went on to study Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon, with summer internships at Google and Apple. After graduation, I joined Palantir as a software engineer, working on Palantir’s financial analysis product with a focus on the Hedgehog programming language. During this time, I teamed up with a world-class engineering team and learned the foundations of building a product. Additionally, I was exposed to the pain from using archaic technology in the mortgage industry.

FinDEVr: What has been the most important technological development in the mortgage lending in the past few years, and how has it influenced Blend’s strategy?

Marinelli: New financial data APIs have made it possible to digitize most of the mortgage application process. This drove our decision to expand our focus beyond lender-facing functionality to include a borrower-facing one. Lenders have also become more interested in providing a modern borrower experience and are much more open to using cloud-based systems. Ultimately, this has allowed us to build our platform using the latest technology in a highly iterative way.

FinDEVr: What is the most difficult aspect of Blend from a compliance standpoint and how do you simplify it for developers and lenders building with Blend?

Marinelli: Each lender has its own compliance policies and procedures based on its unique business model and risk philosophy. Accordingly, we receive disparate requests for functionality and features that create complexities for a single code base. This can make it difficult to codify the product in a way that neatly balances compliance with the user experience. Moreover, regulations apply to nearly all aspects of the UI, so it’s difficult to limit the scope of changes that must be validated for compliance. We address this by making sure that all borrower-facing UI changes are specced in detail and reviewed by our in-house compliance counsel (and often our customers). In addition, where needed, we support configurability for a better lender and borrower experience.

FinDEVr: What do developers (builders themselves–not necessarily end clients) love most about Blend’s API?

Marinelli: We’ve designed the API from the beginning in a RESTful style, making it fairly intuitive to the caller. The endpoints are also designed in a generic/flexible way, making them suitable for both programmatic integrations and UI. We’ve also built security, roles, and permissions into the API, making it easy to use and extend the API in a secure way.

FinDEVr: Aside from the major players, what company do you admire for its approach to technology?

Marinelli: We mostly emulate the technology practices of more established tech companies, but we’ve taken inspiration from Stripe’s API as well as Github’s release process. However, I really admire Blend’s approach to technology the most.


Watch as Eugene Marinelli, CTO & Co-Founder and Nivi Jayasekar, Software Engineering Lead, present Blend at FinDEVr Silicon Valley 2016.

Curious about what Blend offers on the front-end? Check out our interview with Blend CEO Nima Ghamsari after the company’s FinovateSpring 2016 demo in San Jose.

From the Tech Side: Interview with Checkbook.io CTO PJ Gupta

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The FinDEVr conference series is unique because of the tech that stands behind it.

Checkbook.io presented at FinDEVr Silicon Valley 2015. We recently interviewed the company’s CTO and founder PJ Gupta about what’s behind the company’s digital check platform, which Gupta launched in 2014. You can try out a digital check at checkbook.io/?type=finovate

FinDEVr: Where did you start your career and how did you gain experience needed to found Checkbook?

PJ: My most recent corporate role was Chief Network Architect at Visa, where I was responsible for the VISA USA commercial and corporate network. From the outside the VISA network works seamlessly, however, on the inside the payments ecosystem is very inefficient, both from a business as well as technology perspective. And things move slowly at large established bureaucracies. Fundamental changes always come from the outside so I decided to leave my cushy job to venture out on my own.

FinDEVr: What has been the most important technological development in your field in the past few years, and how has it impacted/influenced your work at Checkbook?

PJ: There have been quite a few, but I would say that the two key tech developments for our work at Checkbook are:
Access to bank APIs which allow us to verify bank account credentials and balances in real-time
Ability to use front-end technologies (i.e. tokenization) to seamlessly complete a payment transaction without payment information having to be shared with the merchant’s web servers.

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FinDEVr: What is the most difficult aspect of Checkbook from a compliance standpoint and how do you simplify it for developers and merchant clients?

PJ: Our API has tokenization built into it so that whether accepting a payment or making one, the user’s sensitive payment information is not shared with the merchant. This allows the merchant to bypass compliance altogether. Furthermore, we are audited and maintain compliance on our side thus reducing the compliance burden for our developers/merchants.

FinDEVr: Tell us about your favorite integration of Checkbook’s API.

PJ: We have numerous integrations of our API, so it’s hard to give you just one example. Here are a handful of my favorites:

A) We have an Accounts Receivable plug-in available for Shopping Cart platforms, and other private label applications. Below, you’ll see a screenshot of one of our corporate customers who uses our APIs to receive payment from their shopping cart (in this case they use WooCommerce/Word Press).CHeckbookIMG3
B) Cleanly, the ‘Uber’ of dry cleaning, is another one of our clients who use our Direct API. They use it to support both Accounts Receivable and Accounts Payable to their contractors/workers. Here is a testimonial from them:

“Checkbook has been a huge help for us in providing a scalable solution for sending out payments with an elegant look, easy integration, and one-click payments. It is by far the most cost-effective and easiest way to get payments taken care of, whether you’re reimbursing customers or paying vendors. We’re happy we made the switch.”
– Alex Prober, VP Engineering

C) Another client, Suretrader.com was able to easily integrate our iframe for Accounts Receivable using less than 10 lines of code.

D) We are integrated with Quickbooks, which allows business customers to send Digital Checks through their QB account with the click of a button. Check out the integration video.

E) We also support Accounts Payable with SalesForce’s Accounting Seed, where our UI/UX is especially user-centric. Furthermore, we have been able to work closely with their Product Team to make further enhancements (like invoice reconciliation). Check out the integration video.

FinDEVr: How do you respond to people who claim that checks are dead?

PJ: Completely agree. Paper checks are dead – they are inefficient, slow, and very costly. However, there is no alternative available. ACH has multiple issues namely: Payee/Payor bank account verification, 3 day settlement delay and not all DDA accounts are ACH enabled. Using our Digital Checks obviates all of the above problems while also offering a modern user experience that people expect nowadays.

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FinDEVr: What are some upcoming initiatives from Checkbook that we can look forward to over the next few months?

PJ: Think of seamless integrations with major accounting packages. If you’re a user of one of these packages your bank account will already be verified so you’ll be able to send a Digital Check with a single click and the recipient will get it delivered instantly by email. And the next step would be going international!

FinDEVr: Aside from the major players, what company do you admire for its approach to technology?

PJ: I like the upstarts. Privacy.com is a very early stage startup that has a cute business model and simple problem to solve. It has a browser plugin which allows the user to pay using a disposable Credit Card number and they, in turn, withdraw money from the user’s account. The business model is interesting because they share the interchange with the issuer. I don’t know how successful it’ll be but it’s good to see startups coming up with completely new ways to solve persistent problems.

FinDEVr: What do developers love most about Checkbook’s API?

PJ: To describe this in two words: simplicity and versatility, illustrated by our flexibility in doing the following:

1- Using Checkbook.io for A/P and/or A/R

2- Sending one check or a million with the click of a button

3- Using Checkbook.io’s APIs for shopping cart integration

4- Using Checkbook.io infrastructure as a private label solution for your payroll needs

5- Sending Digital Checks through your existing accounting software platform like Quickbooks (integration video) and AccountingSeed (integration video)

For more information on Checkbook, visit the company’s Facebook page, follow them on Twitter, and watch PJ Gupta’s FinDEVr Silicon Valley presentation, API for Digital Checks.

For more developer content, check out FinDEVr Silicon Valley this October 18 & 19 in Santa Clara.