Money20/20 Special: Benzinga Meets With Truist Ventures To Talk Disruptive Innovation


Money20/20’s latest in-person conference was held Oct. 24-27 at The Venetian Resort in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Amidst all the recognition and networking, Benzinga had the opportunity to speak with Christina Bechhold Russ, the SVP and director of strategic investment initiatives at Truist Ventures, the corporate venture arm of Truist Financial Corporation TFC.

Here’s the conversation that transpired.

Benzinga: Tell me about your start in finance and technology.

Russ: I started out in investment banking, in New York.

I spent about seven years at Citigroup Inc C and, while I was there, I had a lot of friends who were asking me for money and starting their own startups.

Then, I started doing some angel investing and ended up building a group called Empire Angels which is now about 70 young professionals investing in early-stage companies.

I ended up leaving banking, joining a venture-backed company for about a year. Then, I was recruited into a role at Samsung Electronics Co Ltd SSNLF for a new fund – Samsung Next Ventures – which is early-stage software and services focused, investing across mobile, consumer electronics display.

What are you focused on?

This particular role combines my interest in strategy and helping to decide what is interesting from a strategic perspective, what is happening outside of the market, what is sort of the view that we have on the future of finance, and how do we bring those together, as well.

It’s also developing thought leadership. It’s bringing that internal to the bank and helping our executives understand what are the trends, and interesting people, and viewpoints that they should know about as they’re making decisions.

It’s also sharing our views, externally, with the market about what Truist is excited about and where we think the market is headed.


Reaching the underserved. How do you do it?

Because we have a community banking background, we have always been very dedicated to serving those populations.

As a venture fund, when we think of the buckets where we’re putting our money to work, one is obviously investing to commercialize on opportunities to bring companies to a partnership with business units.

The second is investing to learn.

I put things like blockchain into that space where we know that’s going to be really important to the future of banking and … investing for social impact. That’s a combination of making sure that our portfolio looks like the communities we serve, but, also, being able to put real dollars behind helping the founders that maybe haven’t been getting as much access.

How do you look at staying on top of disruption?

We really think about competing with a consumer’s last best digital experience.

From an investment, partnership, and acquisition perspective, our mission is to bring surprise and delight to financial services. This is a very consumer marketing concept and one that you don’t necessarily hear in financial services.

We want to focus on creating a seamless digital experience across all of the different products Truist offers.

What are some of the innovations Truist is honing in on?

The shift in core infrastructure to the cloud and API-based technology.

I’m also super excited about embedded finance.

There’s digitization as sort of step one; but, we need to go all the way and have the sort of financial offerings embedded within the services that the consumers and businesses are using, and just make it super simple for them to opt into the thing that’s right for them.

What are you scared of?

There’s a lot of trepidation around change and how much change is too much.

For an institution like a bank, making sure that there are new voices that are diverse and bringing perspectives in that maybe aren’t the traditional kind, … that’s how you’re going to move the institution forward.

Posted In: FintechInterviewChristina Bechhold RussMoney20/20The Venetian ResortTruist Ventures
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