It’s not us, it’s you – why breaking (it) up is so hard

Gareth Lodge

Post by

Nov 24th, 2015

The UK Retail Banking is undergoing yet another review of competition, with the initial conclusions released a few weeks ago. The full report is in excess of 400 pages – I must confess that I’ve not yet had chance to read it, but one has to assume that the press release is indicative of the tone and content. Which is worrying.

At first glance… it’s frankly shocking, and shockingly poor at that. Before I start a war with the CMA (Competition and Markets Authority), who are conducting the review, let make sure we’re clear on the lens that I am using. I cover payments, not banking per se, so I’m looking at this through the eyes of a consumer. Remember, this is the very group that CMA is trying to help.

As predicted, the new and improved switching service provided a brief, temporary lift, but has pretty much reverted to the same level of switching that has existed for the last 10 years. My thinking has always been that the switching wasn’t the issue, but the fact that few consumers perceive there is little benefit to be gained. In short, most consumers believe that most banks offer pretty much the same thing, and at the same price.

Imagine my shock then reading the official press release:

“Despite [some] encouraging developments, because too few customers are switching, banks do not have strong enough incentives to work hard to compete for customers through better products or cheaper prices, and smaller or better banks find it hard to gain a foothold.”

Sooooo, basically you’re not getting better products because you’re not switching. Surely that can’t be right?! It continues:

“The CMA says: “The problems in the market are unlikely to be resolved by creating more, smaller banks; it is the underlying issue of lack of switching which has to be addressed.”


Now, I’ve taken the quotes somewhat out of context – please read the full release – but the remedies proposed focus heavily on the switching, and not the underlying issue.

The CMA seems to think that there is both differentiation and ways of finding the accounts. Both these points I believe to be deeply flawed.



The release suggests that “heavy overdraft users, in particular, could save up to £260 a year if they switched, and on average, current account users could save £70 a year by switching”. I suspect the key word is average. Do they mean mean, median or mode? UK bank accounts operate generally on a fee free basis, but with heavy penalty and overdraft fees. To save £70 on average implies the average person is overdrawn most of the year (i.e. they’re still overdrawn, but paying £70 less). £70 is £70 – but equally, it’s only 2 Starbucks a month.

However, the bigger issue is that the assumption that the alternate bank would actually offer them an account with the overdraft they seek. Lending criteria has tightened up significantly over the last few years – most UK consumers have had the overdrafts and credit card limits reduced, and remortgaging is now frankly very hard work. I recently had to supply more than 15 additional documents to remortgage a house which 3 years ago took no more than 10 mins for a decision to be made, and where the value has risen by 20%. The reality then is that the heavy overdraft users simply won’t ever get a better deal as their existing bank, if they’re accepted as customers at all. The “average” UK consumer won’t see any benefit at all – if they don’t go overdrawn, it’s very difficult to see where the savings will come from. Which just leaves a very small set of people who will benefit. The switching service needs to be measured against this set of people, not against all those who won’t switch!



But perhaps I’m wrong? How can we find out? This element really surprised. One suggestion was:

“Making it easier for consumers and businesses to compare bank products by upgrading Midata, an industry online tool, launched with the support of Government, that gives consumers access to their banking history at the touch of a button. Midata allows consumers to easily access their banking data from their bank and input it directly into a price comparison website which can then analyse their transactions, and alert them to available bank accounts which best suit their needs. An improved Midata could have a radical impact on consumer choice in retail banking markets”

What?? Midata? What is Midata? Considering that the switching service has been heavily promoted, by the banks and on TV, the fact that I’m both a consumer and in the industry and have never heard of it, nor could I readily find details on it, speaks volumes. As a family, we have accounts at 4 of the 6 banks signed up. Not one, to my knowledge, have ever told me about it. My main bank has one single mention of it, as the last item in an obscure FAQ page.

I’m also uneasy that a well-known comparison website is hosting the service. Whilst the data is anonymized, I assume the site knows a fair bit – cookies will show I used the service, and so the ad’s will be served up to me based on my searches. Given that comparison sites get paid from ad revenue and lead generation, it feels a little too cozy. Not implying everything isn’t above board, but it undoubtedly put me off using the service.


So, enough ranting, where does this lead us?

As a consumer, I suspect probably worse off. Further change will cost more money – and it’s the customers who will foot the bill. There is also the danger that the more affluent, who already play the system, will be the ones who benefit, whilst those at the opposite end will just find things harder.

It would seem then at first glance (i.e. without having read the report in full yet) that CMA has potentially not only got it wrong, but is set to make things worse.

Why diversity abounds in new branch designs

Bob Meara

Post by

Nov 19th, 2015

Branch channel transformation is a complex and expensive undertaking. For all its complexity, however, there are at least two certainties. Namely:

  1. It is no longer optional
  2. There is no single blueprint

It is the rich diversity in approaches taken to the important task of improving branch channel efficiency and effectiveness that makes this topic so fascinating. Retail financial institutions need to possess a number of core competencies to remain successful. Among them is omnichannel delivery. For this reason, Celent launched two research panels in 2015, one devoted to digital banking and another focused on branch transformation.

No Longer Optional
In its first Branch Transformation Panel survey, 81% of financial institutions regarded branch transformation as an imperative. After roughly a decade of talk but little action, we are encouraged by banks’ embracing the need to get going. They’re not alone. Retailers of all shapes and sizes are wrestling with how to deliver a compelling and differentiated omnichannel experience, what that means in their stores and how to manage a rapidly changing cost-to-serve. The rapid pace of change increases both the uncertainty and sense of urgency. One only needs to consider the meteoric rise of mobile engagement (Figure 1). Things are not what they were just three years ago. Channel systems designed ten years ago aren’t the answer to tomorrow’s challenges!

mobile usage chart

No Single Blueprint
While institutions may be aligned on the importance of getting on with branch channel transformation, there is much diversity of thought around what this actually means. Most banks appear to associate branch channel transformation with “radical changes” in the branch operating model. Arguably, for many banks, radical changes are needed. Not everyone sees it this way (Figure 2).

branch meaning

This diversity of opinion is to be expected. It stems from diversity in a number of factors: an institutions’ brand equity, desired customer experience, target market, legacy system capability and a host of other factors. The most distinguishing factor may be the willingness (or not) of each institution to intentionally disrupt its business model before someone else does. If you liked banking because it was slow-moving and predictable, the next few years will be stressful for you!

Celent is accepting additional requests for membership in the Branch Transformation Research Panel and expects to field ongoing research through 2016 at semi-monthly intervals. To request to be on the panel, apply here.


Model Bank nominations deadline extended to December 11th

Nov 18th, 2015

Today we announced that we are extending the deadline to submit nominations for Model Bank 2016 awards until December 11th. Thank you to all of you who already submitted, and to those who told us that you are working on your submissions. We appreciate that this is a busy time of the year for everyone, and we hope that the extra time will make it easier for you and your clients to submit the initiatives. And of course, it’s not too late to get started if you would like to share how your bank is using technology in a differentiating way.

You can see more details on the Model Bank program in my earlier blog, or better yet, by going to the initiative nomination page online and downloading a complimentary report, Becoming a Model Bank: A Guide to Winning Celent’s Main Award for Financial Institutions.

Don’t forget, in addition to bragging rights for winning the most prestigious Celent’s Banking award, you also have the case study of your initiative featured in our reports and receive complimentary invitations to Celent’s flagship event, Insight and Innovation Day in New York. 2015 was a sold-out event, and 2016 promises to be even better. It will be on April 13th 2016 at the Museum of American Finance. Tickets are already selling fast, so submit your initiatives now for a chance of winning the Model Bank award and free entry, or register here.

Reports of small business lending’s death are greatly exaggerated

Patty Hines

Post by

Nov 18th, 2015

I’ve spent much of my career in and around the financial services sector focused on small business banking. In the US, small business customers get bounced around like Goldilocks—they are too small to be of interest to commercial relationship managers and too complex to be easily understood by retail branch staff.

I applaud those banks that make a concerted effort to meet the financial needs of small businesses. After all, in the United States small businesses comprise 99.7% of all firms. (According to the US Census Bureau, a small business is a firm with less than 500 employees). In general, larger small businesses are better served as they use more banking products and generate more interest income and fee revenue than smaller small businesses. The lack of “just right” solutions for many small business financial problems has been a golden opportunity for FinTech firms.

In the FinTech space, much of the focus is on consumer-oriented solutions like Mint for financial management, Venmo for P2P payments, and Prosper for social lending. But FinTech companies figured out early on that small businesses weren’t getting the attention they deserved from traditional banks. Many of the top FinTech companies—Square for card acceptance, Stripe for e-commerce, and Kabbage for business loans, have gained prominence serving primarily small businesses.

Online small business lending by direct credit providers has especially taken off. Disruptors like Kabbage, OnDeck, and Lendio were quickly followed by more traditional players like PayPal, UPS, and Staples. Morgan Stanley reports that US small business direct lending grew to around $7.5B in 2014 and projects expansion to $35B by 2020. They also maintain that most of this growth is market expansion, not cannibalization of bank volumes. This makes sense—direct lenders usually attract borrowers that can’t get bank loans and charge accordingly. For example, Kabbage averages 19% interest for short term loans and 30% annually for long term loans. According to the Federal Reserve, the average interest rate for a small business bank loan (less than $100k) in August 2015 was 3.7% and current SBA loan rates range from 3.43% to 4.25%.

And that common wisdom that US banks have pulled back from small business lending? Let’s take a look at data compiled by the FDIC starting in 2010.

Small Business C&I Loans

The overall volume of small business loans increased year-over-year from 2010 to June 2015, with a CAGR of approximately 3%. The total dollar value of small business loans outstanding dipped slightly in 2011 and 2012, reflecting slightly smaller loan amounts, a result of tighter lending standards. The facts are that US small business loan volume and dollar value outstanding are at their highest levels since the FDIC began collecting this data from banks. And by the way, there are almost 2,200 fewer banks in the US today than prior to Lehman’s collapse in 2008.

Banks are happy to work with credit-worthy small businesses to meet their working capital needs. And direct lenders are happy to work with everyone else—-a win-win for all.

Proposed new cyber security regulations will be a huge undertaking for financial institutions

Joan McGowan

Post by

Nov 11th, 2015

New York State Department of Financial Services (NYDSF) is one step closer to releasing cyber security regulations aided by the largest security hacking breach in history, against JP Morgan Chase. The attack on JPMorgan Chase is revealed to have generated hundreds of millions of dollars of illegal profit and compromised 83 million customer accounts. Yesterday (Tuesday, November 10), the authorities charged three men with what they call “pump and dump” manipulation of publicly traded stock, mining of nonpublic corporate information, money laundering, wire fraud, identity theft and securities fraud. The attack began in 2007 and crossed 17 different countries.

On the same day as the arrests, the NYDSF sent a letter to other states and federal regulators proposing requirements around the prevention of cyber-attacks. The timing will undoubtedly put pressure on regulators to push through strong regulation.

Under the proposed rules, banks will have to hire a Chief Information Security Officer with accountability for cyber security policies and controls. Mandated training of security will be required. Tuesday’s letter also proposed a requirement for annual audits of cyber defenses.

Financial institutions will be required to show material improvement in the following areas:

  1. Information security
  2. Data governance and classification
  3. Access controls and identity management
  4. Business continuity and disaster recovery planning and resources
  5. Capacity and performance planning
  6. Systems operations and availability concerns
  7. Systems and network security
  8. Systems and application development and quality assurance
  9. Physical security and environmental controls
  10. Customer data privacy
  11. Vendor and third-party service provider management
  12. Incident response, including by setting clearly defined roles and decision making authority

This will be a huge undertaking for financial institutions. Costs have yet to be evaluated but will be in the millions of dollars. It will be very difficult to police third party security because, under the proposal, vendors will be required to provide warranties to the institution that security is in pace.

The requirements are in the review stage and financial institutions should join in the debate by responding to the NYDFS letter.

Alexander Hamilton’s approach to innovation has lessons for us today

Dan Latimore

Post by

Nov 11th, 2015

CBS’s 60 Minutes ran a story recently about the hottest new Broadway musical – Hamilton (go to the 14 minute mark). It turns out that some of the research for the show was conducted at the site our Innovation and Insight Day – The Museum of American Finance.

This biography underscores why we chose the Museum for our next Insight and Innovation Day (to be held April 13, 2016). The segment talks about Hamilton’s numerous accomplishments:

“…a penniless, immigrant, orphaned kid who came out of nowhere and his achievements were monumental…he creates the first fiscal system, the first monetary system, first customs service, first central bank…”

Without these innovations, the modern economy as we know it now would look very different.

Anyone working in financial services today is aware of the challenges we face responding to changing customer expectations and new technology opportunities. Vast sums of money and time are being spent on innovation, looking for answers. However, Celent’s research shows a widely held view that the financial services industry cannot innovate very effectively.

Hamilton graphic nov 2015

So how do we improve?

The theme of our Insight and Innovation Day event this year will take inspiration from Hamilton’s work and use it as a guide for our future efforts.

By the way, if you want to go to Hamilton while at the Celent I&I Day, I suggest you get your tickets now. It’s the hottest ticket in town!

This is a republished post by Mike Fitzgerald from the Celent Insurance Blog. Click here to read the original post.

Reconciling TouchID with Bank T&Cs

Nov 9th, 2015

Apple’s TouchID is brilliant – I now use it not only to unlock my phone, but also to log into my Amazon account. I can also use it to log into my Amex app and my bank’s mobile banking app. And of course, it is the way to initiate Apple Pay transactions.

The only trouble is that none of those providers can be assured that it is really me doing all of this. TouchID allows registering up to 10 different fingerprints, and authenticates the user locally by matching his or her fingerprint to the registered templates. However, authentication is not the same as identity – banks and other apps know it is someone authorised to use that phone, but they don’t know it’s me, Zil Bareisis. It is likely to be me, but it could also be my wife or my kids. It could even be a total stranger if in some bizarre bout of insanity, I allowed them to register their fingerprint with my phone.

The Telegraph reported last week that the UK banks are very much aware of this issue and have decided to take a hard stance:

“Banks have warned customers that if they store other people’s fingerprints on their iPhones they will be treated as if they have failed to keep their personal details safe.

This means the bank can decline to refund disputed transactions or refuse to help where customers claim they have been victims of fraud.”

According to the paper, “the banks’ position is typically buried in the detail of bank account Ts & Cs”, something as we all know that most people accept without reading in detail.

I can appreciate the banks’ concerns, but I wonder if they are somewhat overblown. Although this will change in time, most of Apple Pay transactions in the UK are still capped at the contactless limit (£30). Any of my family members today can take my contactless card and use it as contactless without any PIN. I haven’t heard too many suggestions that I should keep my card locked away from my family members. However, if this were to happen, I should be prepared to accept my family’s transactions and not report them as fraud.

I am no legal expert, but it doesn’t feel like inserting protective statements within T&Cs is the way forward. First, it’s not very transparent. Second, if the issue were to arise, it is something that would not be easy for banks to prove. Could consumers just delete all the other fingerprints in case of a dispute? Finally, it’s just poor customer service.

Instead, banks should invest into educating consumers about digital technologies and how to use them safely and responsibly. Even if it’s as basic as, “don’t allow strangers to register their fingerprints on your phone” and “be prepared to accept your family’s transactions and not dispute them as fraud.”

As the value of Apple Pay transactions grows, banks ought to consider deploying additional techniques, such as behavioural analysis to authenticate the users and minimise fraud. As with most security, multi-layered approach is likely to work best.

Looking back on Money 20/20

Nov 3rd, 2015

Last week my colleague Dan Latimore and I were at Money 20/20, which in four short years has become a “must attend” event in payments and Fintech. I’ve been there at the very beginning and it has been exciting to watch it grow from about 1,000 of us in the first year to over 10,000 this year. Congratulations to the Money 20/20 team for this incredible achievement! And thank you to all of those who took time out of their busy schedules to meet with us.

As I was reflecting back on the last week, I realised that it’s no longer possible to take in all of Money 20/20. In the first year, even with parallel session tracks, you could absorb a lot of what was happening “by osmosis”, just walking the floors of Aria. As the event grew and moved to a much more spacious Venetian, somewhat paradoxically, the experiences got more individual, depending on which sessions and keynotes you attended, which booths you visited and which people you met. Here are some of my key takeaways:

  1. Perhaps the biggest and most talked-about announcement of the show was Chase Pay and its partnership with MCX. Chase is developing a wallet that will be available to all of its 94 million cardholders to use in-store, in-app and online. The wallet is not planning to use NFC at the POS, with QR codes set to be a most likely method, and as a result will be available on any smartphone device, irrespective of its operating system. On the merchant side, Chase is offering a fixed fee processing which will make merchant costs more reliable and predictable with an opportunity to “earn it down” based on volume. Partnership with MCX gives Chase Pay access to the largest merchants in the country. In addition to a stand-alone app, Chase Pay will also be available as a payment option inside CurrentC, the wallet that MCX has been piloting in Columbus OH, the results of which were presented and greeted with a tentative applause during another keynote at Money 20/20.
  2. Mobile payments market in the US is only getting more complex, with Apple Pay, Android Pay and Samsung Pay already there, more “Pays” on the way (e.g. LG Pay), and now Chase Pay and revived expectations of CurrentC. Make no mistake – while most “pays” look similar, they offer a different customer experience (e.g. how to trigger payment, where it is accepted, etc.) and require issuers to adapt their processes to each of them. At the show, I picked up strong signals from issuers that they want to have more control over digital payments and are looking at various options, including HCE wallets, to achieve that.
  3. The Tokenisation panel was one of the best sessions I attended with panelists from the networks, issuers, merchants and processors sharing their views how tokenisation is going to evolve. It includes tokenisation for cards-on-file and e-commerce transactions (both Visa and MasterCard announced tokenisation of their Checkout and MasterPass wallets respectively), new approach to 3D Secure, introduction of Payment Account Reference (PAR) – a non transactable ID that ties together all the tokens, and tokenisation for DDAs which The Clearing House is working on. According the panelists, tokenisation is the much-needed “abstraction layer” that will be a “foundation for the next 20 years of innovation.”
  4. Biometrics are entering mainstream, with FIDO alliance laying the groundwork for how to deploy biometrics for authentication. Sorting through a myriad of biometrics providers and approaches (e.g. fingerprints, hands, voice, eyes, etc.) is a headache and eventually, it will be consumers that will decide which approach works best for them. FIDO alliance delivers a standard irrespective of what the consumers choose. Looking into the future, the panelists envisaged a behavioural approach where the providers use a number of data points to constantly verify that the user behaviour is consistent with a typical pattern and authenticates automatically in the background, a process called “ambient authentication.”
  5. Conversations about cryptocurrencies have matured enormously over the last 12-18 months. The focus is now very clearly on blockchain technology and how the financial services industry can best deploy it. A number of exciting partnerships are emerging in this space, from TD Bank and RBC working with Ripple on domestic and cross-border P2P payments as well as more efficient transfers between subsidiaries, to Nasdaq’s partnership with Chain, to the R3 consortium. Perhaps the most exciting demo I’ve seen was Visa’s connected car experience, where the driver could review the new leasing document on the screen, sign it, register it on a blockchain and drive off. Time will tell if this is how we will be getting to drive cars in the future, but it only shows the opportunities out there.

Finally, I’ve been asking others at the show what they thought were the key themes. Interestingly, two themes came up very consistently – innovation and focus on customer experience. The latter manifests itself in so many different ways, from making it easy and intuitive for consumers to pay to solving very specific merchant problems, whether it’s around acceptance and security (Verifone, Ingenico, Poynt), conversion rates (BlueSnap, Affirm), lending (PayPal, LendUp) or seamless integration of payments into the overall proposition (Stripe, First Data).

The third theme seemed to be a little more contentious. Some said it was all about disruption, while others talked about collaboration. I actually agree with both – to me they are two sides of the same coin. The disruption in FS is real, but many find that the way to deal with it is through collaboration. Few, if any, have talked about demolishing the world as we know it today; instead, all are focused on how to make it better.

I know I only scratched the surface here. For example, there were also some very interesting announcements about domestic P2P/push payments such as Early Warning buying clearXchange, Dwolla partnering with CME Group, and The Clearing House working with Vocalink. And companies like Earthport, PayCommerce and Ripple are making an impact on cross-border payments. But as I said, it’s impossible to take it all in, and no write-up can do full justice to Money 20/20 – you just have to be there… See you next year in Vegas or perhaps even in Copenhagen at Money 20/20 Europe!

First thoughts on marriage between Visa Inc. and Visa Europe

Nov 2nd, 2015

Today Visa Inc. announced it would be acquiring Visa Europe, subject to regulatory approvals. The press release is here; the executive team also held an investor call earlier today – the recording and the presentation are here.

The deal was widely expected, and so should not be a surprise to anyone who follows payments. Still, it poses a number of questions, such as, for example, how effective the combined entity will be in dealing with intricacies of the European market, and whether this would lead to the Europeans calling (again) for a new separate pan-European card scheme.

It’s true the European payments market has unique dynamics in terms of regulation and competition, both in cards and in payments more broadly. PSD2 will have profound effects on the existing market players, including Visa. Depending on the final interpretations, some provisions such as scheme and processing separation requirement might introduce undesirable complexities to the integrated Visa. However, I am sure none of this news to Visa’s management and they must have a plan for how to deal with the regional challenges. Visa has committed to maintaining a strong European presence, including an “empowered European leadership team and in-country resources”, “local data center”, and “differentiated country and regional strategies.”

Furthermore, the potential synergies are real – a more consistent product set and fewer duplicated efforts should help Visa drive innovation and move to digital on a global basis.​​​ Visa also said it was planning to incur up to $500 million of integration-related costs over the next 4-5 years, most of which would go towards integrating Visa Inc. and Visa Europe systems.

In the past, I have seen on occasions Visa Europe appealing to European banks by playing up its ownership structure in Europe and contrasting it to the global approach of MasterCard. This argument is now gone – both networks will be global commercial entities. Would this re-open calls for a pan-European card scheme? I had a look at this issue a few years ago in the Celent report, “In Search of a Third European Card Scheme” and concluded that it was “time to move on.” I still stand by that conclusion today; in my view, it has always been a politically motivated initiative, with no particularly clear business rationale. When “plastic” was the main/ only form of electronic payment, it at least made more sense to consider various options. Now, the world is changing rapidly, as digital payments and real-time networks between bank accounts emerge. Let’s hope that the European banks will find better use for their financial windfall from this transaction than trying to create a new pan-European card network.

Given the original “put” option, it was always more a question of “when” rather than “if”. Congratulations to Visa team for deciding to move forward with the deal.

P.S. Stay tuned for my reflections on last week’s Money 20/20; I was planning to post those today as well, but Visa’s deal prompted a number of inquiries, so wanted to offer a few thoughts on that first.

As conference season rolls on, here’s what I’ll be looking for at Money20/20

Dan Latimore

Post by

Oct 23rd, 2015

We’re smack in the middle of conference season and the team has been traveling all over the world. We’ve been busy with Sibos and BAI (unfortunately held at exactly the same time), AFP, and next week, Money20/20.  In only its fourth year this new conference had to move to a new venue so that it could avoid running afoul of the fire marshal. Given the excitement around the payments ecosystem, we think it will be an exhausting whirlwind of a week.

What will Zil Bareisis and I be looking for? Three main topics top the list:

  • What’s the view on blockchain? There was a lot of discussion at Sibos on the corporate side (we don’t think retail will be leading), but we’d like to find out if there’s heat behind the light.
  • What sort of value added services around the payment are in production or on the drawing board?
  • Is the apparent stall in mobile payments adoption temporary, and what can be done by ecosystem participants to jump-start it?

There will, of course, be many other payments topics covered, and we’re looking forward to plunging in to soak up the zeitgeist. What will you be looking for? If you’ll be in Vegas next week, we look forward to seeing you.

If you still haven’t registered, you can get $250 off your ticket by using the code celen250.