Augustana launches fintech program

Augustana launches fintech program
Professor Raymond Leach teaches Computer Science II, a class within the Fintech program. Photo by Ryleigh Tupper.

Starting in fall 2023, the undergraduate catalog will include a new major: financial technology.

Nicknamed fintech, the major will incorporate a number of different courses that pair with new technologies, like data analytics, computer science, business and accounting.

Glen Herrick, chief financial officer at Pathward, the new program’s donor company, presented financial technology to Augustana. Herrick approached the university with a vision to produce graduates competent in technology used by organizations in the area.

“[We wanted] to have a program from a local university that could basically produce graduates with certain skill sets that they could then plug into not only their organization but other organizations in the area, too,” Raymond Leach, director of the fintech program, said.

Leach was initially hired as a professor in the 2021-2022 academic year as a part of the business administration and computer science departments.

The fintech program will take a total of 52 credit hours and will include classes in accounting, business administration, computer science, economics and math as well as the newly created fintech courses.

Leach, who teaches data analytics and has a strong interest in computers, said possible career paths cover a variety of fields, such as financial analysis, digital marketing, and compliance and risk management.

Kadin Groen, a freshman finance and soon-to-be fintech double major, will be among the first cohort of students in the program.

“I think we are very lucky to be able to jump on this opportunity right away and get the program rolling,” Groen said. “It is a little bit scary because there are still unknowns, but I’m confident that it will work out totally fine. I think this program will be giving us super valuable skills that will make us a hot commodity in the industry right out of college, especially since the amount of programs out there is relatively small.”

The fintech program will be the first in the region. According to Leach, the biofuel company POET, whose corporate headquarters are located in Sioux Falls, has shown an interest in hiring graduates from the program.

Leach said fintech highlights four main digital areas — payment space, lending space, wealth management, and blockchain and cryptocurrency. As part of the program, Leach plans to bring in guest speakers, hold seminars and converse with advisory groups to keep the information up to date as technology rapidly advances.

“This program has a lot of synergy,” Leach said. “We are trying to promote double majors with fintech and then either computer science, data science, information systems or a finance degree, which allows some specialization in a specific blend of fintech.”

For students interested in fintech, Leach said that the major requires hard analytics skills, critical thinking and problem solving skills mixed with an interest in business.

“If you have an interest in computers and business, this would be a good application space for that,” Leach said. “One of our partner members, who was a president for one of the organizations, said that this is a major for computer science nerds who want to make money.”

The first class in the program, called Principles of Fintech, will be offered this fall. It will cover the meaning of fintech, regulation technology, machine learning and AI, lending space, data privacy and security, the history of technology improvements, and future trends. Leach said he hopes the course will give students a solid idea of what fintech is.

The class will be capped at 25 seats, with the reservation of at least 10 to 15 spots for students who are pursuing the major.