Captain of (New) Industry

This former tennis team captain is leveraging his leadership skills to champion new technology.

Photo by Scott Cook Photo by Scott Cook

If you’ve ever asked Alexa for driving directions or received a text message to confirm a transaction, you already have a basic understanding of how Matt Umbers ’05 spends his days. As senior vice president of sales and partnerships for Abe AI, Umbers is helping to roll out new technology that helps make banking easier and more conversational.

“Our goal is really to drive simplicity and convenience in people’s financial lives,” he explains. “That’s what drives us every day. And leveraging modern technologies—Alexa, Google, Facebook, text messaging—to provide a more proactive experience around finances.”

It’s not the first time Umbers has found himself peddling a cutting-edge piece of technology. In fact, the former tennis team captain and political science major, has made a career of helping startup companies roll out new technology—a daunting task, but one he finds thrilling. The role requires him to think empathetically on a daily basis and flex the leadership muscles he developed both on and off the court at Rollins. It’s a niche Umbers says he may not have found if not for the opportunities he was given to explore his interests at Rollins.

“When you have choices,” Umbers says, “that’s quite powerful.”

Photo by Scott Cook Photo by Scott Cook

What does the senior vice president of sales and partnerships at Abe AI do? “It’s really just a flashy way of saying I sit between anything customer-facing—whether that’s banks or partners and whether that touches products or marketing. So I’m helping the company roll out our technology.”

What exactly does that technology look like? “If you’ve ever lost your credit card, you know you typically pick up the phone and you probably have to make at least two phone calls. Well, now you could just text your bank ‘lost credit card’ and they would just register that information and send you a new one. How I use Abe personally, I basically get a text message every day or I can ask Alexa, ‘how much have I spent today.’ So it’s trying to take the thinking out of it. My challenge is making sure we deliver this new technology in a sensible way and leverage where people are feeling comfortable right now.”

How did Rollins prepare you for a field like artificial intelligence that didn’t even exist when you were in school? “For me, it’s less of an industry question. I’ve found that what really excites me is bringing new technology to market. I think that’s kind of the niche I’ve made for myself. When you look at what product development or sales look like at an established organization, they look completely different than when you’re at a startup and when you’re bringing new technology to the marketplace. Everything from your approach to the way you’re having conversations with customers. The way you alleviate a lot of their concerns around security and compliance, which are very real. So when I think of Rollins, I think of that level of diversity it gives you to explore and keep exploring as you go through your career. To find out what your niche or highest contribution can be. For me it has been a fascination with the unknown—of building from the ground up, making something meaningful, and having a positive impact.”

Photo by Scott Cook Photo by Scott Cook

At what point did you realize startups and new technology were your niche? “Well, it was by accident that I fell into a startup, which then got acquired by Wells Fargo. And I realized I don’t function that well in a very structured, big environment—even though I have a lot of respect for the large financial institutions. It was just that fascination with building and the unknown and the unstructured nature of a startup that became very interesting to me. It obviously has its pros and cons, by all means. But I think every time I’ve gone back to mature organizations, I’ve missed that excitement of building from the ground up and making something different.”

Do you think your Rollins education has anything to do with why you gravitate toward the startup environment? “Going from Rollins to startups made a lot of sense for me. You can only fix startups if you have a sense of what people’s weaknesses and challenges really are, and you have to work very well as a diverse team. Learning how to do that was definitely part of my progression and maturity as a tennis player at Rollins and in my career.”

It sounds like following your interests is important to you. Did that play into your decision to major in political science? “For me it is vitally important just to enjoy what you do every day. Political science was very interesting and timely because it was right after 9/11 that I joined Rollins. So for me politics was never more important than then—and I just enjoyed it. There’s really no other way to say that. When I give people advice, I say, ‘do for four years what you’re really going to enjoy.’ I’ve tried to live by that.”

What was it like playing tennis at Rollins? “Coming to Rollins was new territory for me—playing an individual sport but as a team. I struggled early on to really grasp that. But I grew as a person because of the support of the team and the understanding that you can’t really get anywhere without pushing the team forward.”


Photo by Scott Cook Photo by Scott Cook

And then you became the captain. What did you learn from that experience? “I’d like to say you lead by example and all that good stuff. But I think that just goes without saying. I think the main thing is the level of empathy. For me, captaining the tennis team was always about trying to create that level of connection and relationship with teammates. Now it’s the same with my colleagues and bosses. With the CEO who I report to now, I try to make him a better CEO, and he tries to make me a better sales leader. This leadership extends into all different directions—just like in athletics.”

What else are you working on these days? “In the spirit of empathy, one of my side projects has to do with eliminating sexual harassment and promoting equality. Part of that has been research into the challenges that exist today. This work began even before all of the announcements that have come out recently. People just don’t have a voice. They’re scared of retaliation or harassment or bribes, whatever it may be. Unfortunately, we only find out about the discriminatory health of organizations when they’re on CNN. For me that’s too late. I’m midway through data gathering and a soft launch of something that I hope will have an impact. I don’t think there’s one silver bullet. I don’t think it’s just more women in leadership positions. I think that’s needed. But there are many other things that we need to be doing as communities to create that level of equality.”

And then you became the captain. What did you learn from that experience? “I’d like to say you lead by example and all that good stuff. But I think that just goes without saying. I think the main thing is the level of empathy. For me, captaining the tennis team was always about trying to create that level of connection and relationship with teammates. Now it’s the same with my colleagues and bosses. With the CEO who I report to now, I try to make him a better CEO, and he tries to make me a better sales leader. This leadership extends into all different directions—just like in athletics.”

What else are you working on these days? “In the spirit of empathy, one of my side projects has to do with eliminating sexual harassment and promoting equality. Part of that has been research into the challenges that exist today. This work began even before all of the announcements that have come out recently. People just don’t have a voice. They’re scared of retaliation or harassment or bribes, whatever it may be. Unfortunately, we only find out about the discriminatory health of organizations when they’re on CNN. For me that’s too late. I’m midway through data gathering and a soft launch of something that I hope will have an impact. I don’t think there’s one silver bullet. I don’t think it’s just more women in leadership positions. I think that’s needed. But there are many other things that we need to be doing as communities to create that level of equality.”

Looking back, what are some of the most important lessons you’ve learned in your career? “As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to go with a gut feeling more than anything. I’m kind of this over-planner and will have the pros and cons about should I take this opportunity or that opportunity. I think a lot of it just comes down to ‘does it feel right?’ And when I’ve done that, I’ve actually made my best decisions.”

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