The Enduring Importance of Physical Engagement in Retail Financial Services

I take no issue with the growing importance being placed on digital in financial services. Indeed, it does not take extensive examination to see, in Wayne Gretzky’s words, “where the puck is going”. Digital needs to be a top technology priority among financial institutions – particularly in highly digitally-directed markets such as North America and Western Europe. But, that doesn’t mean physical engagement is unimportant. In my opinion, in-person (physical) engagement will be of lasting importance in financial services for at least three reasons:

1. Most consumers rely on brick and mortar for commerce and will continue to do so.

2. Most retail deposits still take place at the branch.

3. Most banks do not offer a decent digital customer acquisition mechanism

Most Consumers Rely on Brick and Mortar for Commerce

This week, comScore released its most recent measurement of digital commerce. It was truly exciting, with Q4 2016 m-commerce spending up 45% over 2015! But, even with that astonishing year-over-year growth, m-commerce constitutes just 21% of total e-commerce. And, with two decades of e-commerce, total digital commerce comprised just ten percent of total commerce in 2015. Plenty of consumers still like stores. * FRB Consumers and Mobile Financial Services 2011 – 2016, Percent of smartphone users with bank accounts
** US Department of Commerce, Internet Retailer, Excludes fuel, auto, restaurants and bars
***comScore

Digital is not equally important across segments. Books and music, for example, are highly digital. Not so much for food and beverage. I’m being simplistic for brevity, but the data suggests that most commerce will remain tied to the store experience – at least in part – for the foreseeable future. I don’t think financial services will be an exception.

Most Retail Deposits Still Take Place at the Branch

Banks are keen to migrate low-value branch transactions to self-service channels, and there is perhaps no better low-hanging fruit than check deposits. Yet, with a decade of remote deposit capture utilization behind us, a January 2017 survey of US financial institutions (n=269) clearly shows that the majority of retail deposit dollar volume still takes place in the branch. Like it or not, the branch remains a key transaction point for many consumers and small businesses. Sure, the trend lines support digital transaction growth (thank goodness), but we have a long way to go – farther than the hype would suggest.

Most banks do not offer a digital account and loan origination mechanism

Even as banks would love to acquire more customers digitally, most aren’t well prepared to do so. Unlike most every other retailer on the planet, most banks initially invested in digital banking for transaction migration, not sales. That is changing, but not quickly. The mobile realm needs the most work. In a December 2016 survey of North American financial institutions, Celent found that large banks, those with assets of >US$50b, had made noteworthy progress in mobile customer acquisition capability since the previous survey two years ago. Smaller institutions lag considerably. For these reasons, branch channels are getting a make-over at a growing number of financial institutions, with the objective of improving channel efficiency and effectiveness – effectiveness with engagement, not just transactions. Celent is pleased to offer a Celent Model Bank award in 2017 for Branch Transformation. We’ll present the award on April 4 at our 2017 Innovation & Insight Day in Boston. In addition to presenting the award trophies to the winners, Celent analysts will be discussing broader trends we’ve seen across all nominations and will share our perspectives why we chose those particular initiatives as winners. Make sure you reserve your slot here while there are still spaces available!

Rethinking the Customer Experience: Themes from the 2017 Model Bank Submissions

This is the third article in a weekly series highlighting trends and themes from Celent’s Model Bank submission process. Dan Latimore and Zil Bareisis led off with two great pieces on the evolution of the Model Bank Awards.  Articles from this week on will explore some of the broader themes within each category. Customer experience initiatives are typically the most numerous.  While this makes the category more difficult to judge, it offers immense insight into what’s happening in the market. The standards of customer engagement are constantly changing, and banks are experimenting with new ways to drive increased satisfaction, higher revenue, and greater loyalty.  Three themes stand out this year. Digital banking subsidiaries: Many banks are finding that existing systems are too rigid to accommodate a truly digital experience.  A number of customer experience submissions this year focus on building out separate digital subsidiary brands within traditional institutions. Banks are typically going in two different directions.  The first is a digital subsidiary as an offshoot of the parent bank.  These brands are basically separate products that offer a digital-first experience to a certain demographic, but are closely tied to the main bank. Brands are similar and products/ services are frequently cross-sold. The second type is a completely separate brand ring-fenced under a different technology stack, operating under the umbrella of the parent organization but effectively a separate entity.  These banks may leverage the parent for product support, but are usually sandboxes for “testing” digital.  Submissions were a mix of the two approaches. Fintech partnerships: The shift from disruptive to collaborative relationships between financial services and Fintech startups feature prominently in this year’s award submissions.   They range from standard B2B vendor relationships to more advanced functional partnerships where portions of the Fintech’s offering is exposed within the traditional institutions digital UI.  Initiatives reflect the growing acceptance among the industry that banks can’t be all things to all people.  Institutions are acknowledging the valuable and complementary role Fintech can play in providing a modern, innovative customer experience. AI and bot technology: Bursting out of the gate in 2015/16, Banks have begun a mad dash towards AI and other bot technologies.  This is a broad spectrum of projects that include everything from simple bots to cognitive computing.  Submissions this year show institutions spreading their resources across many different applications.  Like any emerging technology, most institutions are in a “test and learn” phase.   These technologies are at varying levels of maturity, but the potential to revolutionize the customer experience through AI may be truly transformational, and Celent was pleased to see so many projects in this space. This is just a taste of what we’ll have in store at the 10th annual Innovation and Insight Day on April 4th in Boston. We’ll be diving much deeper into the various topics, revealing the winners of all the awards, and discussing how they combined serious innovation with tangible business benefits to stand out from so many strong contenders. I look forward to seeing you all there.

Introducing Celent Model Bank 2017 Awards

As my colleague Dan Latimore wrote in the article that began this series, 2017 was the best ever year so far for Celent Model Bank programme in terms of quantity, quality and diversity of nominations. As we went through the judging process, we felt a range of emotions – grateful and privileged to receive so many amazing stories, and daunted by the prospect of having to pick the most worthy award recipients. In the end, we are excited and confident about our selection of winners, yet we are sorry that we could not recognize so many others that clearly also deserve recognition.

Over its ten years of existence, Celent’s Model Bank programme has always changed and evolved. In the last few years we have been awarding multiple initiatives in a small number of categories – for example, last year we had four winners in Digital Banking Transformation, the busiest of seven categories. While all the awards within the category were equal, we knew that some institutions craved for more exclusive recognition. This year, we decided to take it a step further and to introduce specific named awards with only a single winner for each award.

After long deliberations, the judging panel decided to recognise 21 initiatives as winners of the following Model Bank 2017 awards:
  • Consumer Digital Platform – for delivering an outstanding digital experience for consumers. The award is open for traditional financial institutions, digital-first, and challenger banks.
  • Small Business Digital Platform – for delivering an outstanding digital experience for small businesses.
  • Corporate Banking Digital Platform – for delivering an outstanding digital experience for corporate clients.
  • Consumer Banking Channel Innovation – for the most creative use of consumer channels, or the most effective channel integration.
  • Branch Transformation – for the most compelling branch transformation initiative, including branch format innovations and creative use of live agents.
  • Product Innovation – for demonstrating the ability to launch multiple innovative products.
  • Open Banking – for the most impressive API strategy and results so far.
  • Payments Product – for launching the best consumer or business payments product.
  • Lending Product – for the most impressive consumer or business lending or collections initiative.
  • Fraud Management and Cybersecurity – for the most creative and effective approach to fraud management or cybersecurity.
  • Risk Management – for the most impressive initiative to improve enterprise risk management.
  • Process Automation – for the most effective deployment of technology to automate business processes or decision-making.
  • Employee Productivity – for improving employee training or collaboration, incentivising employees, or enabling mobile agents.
  • Payments Replatforming – for the most impressive project to improve payments back office, e.g. payment services hub implementation or cards replatforming.
  • Core Banking Transformation – for the most compelling initiative to transform a traditional core banking platform.
  • Banking in the Cloud – for innovative approaches to implement a banking platform, e.g. deploying in the cloud.
  • Banking as a Platform – for creating an ecosystem of partners via a banking platform that connects and enables third parties.
  • Emerging Technology for Consumers – for creative deployment of emerging technologies for consumers (e.g. AI, ML, API, biometrics, wearables, voice, blockchain, etc.)
  • Emerging Technology for Businesses – for creative deployment of emerging technologies for small business or corporate clients (e.g. AI, ML, API, biometrics, wearables, voice, blockchain, etc.)
  • Most Promising Proof-of-Concept – for the most promising experiment – pilot or proof-of-concept – with emerging technologies.
  • Financial Inclusion – for efforts to bring financial services to unbanked and under-banker communities.
And of course, we also kept our Model Bank of the Year award, first introduced in 2012, which recognises one financial institution that in any given year simply stands out from the crowd and uniformly impresses Celent judges.

For the time being, only the nominees will know if they won any of these awards, as we begin working with them to distill their achievements into a series of case studies. We will be announcing all winners publicly on April 4 at our 2017 Innovation & Insight Day in Boston. In addition to presenting the award trophies to the winners, Celent analysts will be discussing broader trends we’ve seen across all nominations and will share our perspectives why we chose those particular initiatives as winners. Make sure you reserve your slot here while there are still spaces available!

Model Bank 2017: Some First Impressions

Growing up, a family Christmas tradition was that my mother would ritualistically proclaim, “That’s the most beautiful tree ever.” It seems that way with Celent’s Model Bank awards, too. In our tenth year we’ve just been through more than 150 submissions, and just like my mother, I can say that this was the best crop yet. The quantity emphatically broke records, and the quality was outstanding. Ongoing innovation in banking technology is clearly beginning to pay off, and we’ve been privileged to learn an immense amount from all of the financial institutions that took the time to tell us about their how they’ve been using technology and innovation to serve customers better, become more efficient, and mitigate risk.

Those who’ve followed the Model Bank Awards closely will note that our awards format has evolved to follow the market over the years. As the imperative to be more customer-centric has become more pressing, it has in turn begun to blur the lines between one of the oldest ways to divide banking: channels. And lines elsewhere begin to blur, too – for instance, should a mobile payments initiative be in mobile, or in payments, or in its own category? We’ve addressed this conundrum with five categories chosen to provide a broad cross-section of the banking landscape.
  • Customer Experience
  • Products
  • Operations and Risk
  • Legacy Transformation / IT Platform Innovations
  • Emerging Innovation
The entries were exceedingly diverse, and came from repeat submitters and new participants. EMEA led the pack quantitatively, with APAC and North America roughly the same, and the strongest showing yet from Latin America. We expected to see nominations around digital banking, branch and core transformation, and payments, to name a few, and we weren’t disappointed. We were also pleasantly surprised to see intriguing initiatives involving employee productivity, cross-selling, AI, Biometrics, and Blockchain.

Inevitably some will be disappointed; there were so many worthy initiatives that the judging was the most difficult by far. It’s certain, though, that Celent analysts will have a full plate for the next two months as we reach out to our Model Banks and complete the work of distilling their rich stories into pithy case studies that illustrate the incredible innovations banks are undertaking today.

As for what you can expect between now and April 4 in Boston, look for a series of articles from the Celent analyst team highlighting some of the many insights that we’ve gleaned along the way. We’d recommend that you check back in; as we notify the winners and begin to develop our case studies, we’ll keep you posted with a series of articles like this one that detail some of the insights.

And while space is filling up fast, there’s still time to register for 2017 Innovation & Insight Day, April 4, 2017 in Boston, Massachusetts. Find out more about last year’s event here.

Banking Third Party Risk Management Requirements are a Big and Expensive Ask

Celent, through its work with Oliver Wyman, estimates the cost to US financial institutions of undertaking due diligence and assessment of new third party engagements to be ~ $750 million per year. Institutions are paying three times as much as their third party to complete on this exercise. The average cost to an institution to carry out due diligence and an assessment of a new critical third party engagement is $15,000 and takes the institution approximately 16 weeks to complete.

The top ten US banks average between 20,000 and 50,000 third party relationships. Of course, not all of these relationships are active or need extensive monitoring. But the slew of banking regulatory requirements for third party risk management is proving to be complex, all-consuming and expensive for both institutions and the third parties involved. In a nutshell, institutions are liable for risk events of their third and extended parties and ecosystems. The FDIC expresses best the sentiment of worldwide regulators:

“A bank’s use of third parties does not relinquish responsibility… but holds it to the same extent as if the activity were handled within the institution." www.fdic.gov

If an institution doesn’t tighten its third party risk management, it is significantly increasing the odds of a third party data breach or other risk event and will suffer the reputational and financial fallout.

In the first report of a two-part series, just published by Celent, “A Banker’s guide to Third Party Risk Management: Part One Strategic, Complex and Liable”, I show how institutions can take advantage of their established risk management practices such as the Three Lines of Defense governance model, and operational risk management processes to identify, monitor and manage the lifecycle of critical and high-risk third party engagements across functions and levels. It describes the components required for a best-practice program and shows examples of two strong operating risk models being used by the industry that incorporates third party risk management into the enterprisewide risk management program.

Unfortunately, there are few institutions that have successfully implemented strategic third party risk management programs. Most institutions fall between stage 1 and 2 of the four stages of Celent’s Third Party Risk Management Maturity Curve. But continuing to operate without a strategic third party risk management practice will leave your institution in the hands of cyber fate and the regulators.

Chat Bots: Savior or Disintermediator?

AI is becoming increasingly interesting to bankers.  Last year I wrote a blog about “Assistant as an App”, looking at how concierge apps like MaiKai and Penny are offering up AI-driven financial management services.  My colleague Dan Latimore also recently posted a blog on  AI and its impact.

The emergence of chat bots within popular messaging apps like Facebook Messenger, Slack, Kik, and WeChat similarly has the potential to shift how customers interact with financial institutions. Chat bots offer incredible scale at a pretty cheap price, making adoption potentially explosive. Facebook messenger, for example, has almost one billion active users per month. WhatsApp (soon to launch chat bots) has about the same.  These apps offer some extremely high engagement, and with app downloads decreasing, users are spending more time on fewer apps. According to Tech Crunch, 80% of the time spent on a mobile device is typically split between 3 to 5 apps

Chat bots give the bank the ability to automatically appear in almost all of the most used apps in the world.  The opportunity with digital assistants is immense, and given the nature of bank transactions, it’s not hard to imagine chat bots becoming a widely used engagement method.  Most of banking is heavily rules-based, so the processes are often standard.  Frequent banking requests are pretty straightforward (e.g. ‘send this person X amount of money’ or ‘transfer x amount from savings to checking’).  Bank-owned chat bots are also more built for purpose than some of the multi-purpose third-party products on the market, making the functional scope targetted. While chat bots are still very early days, it won't be long before these kinds of interactions are accessible and the norm. Bank of America already has one; many others have plans or pilots.

This video (skip to 7:30) shows what an advanced chat bot might be able to accomplish. The image below from the Chat Bot Magazine is another conceptual banking use case.  The possibilities are compelling. 

 

 

 

 

But while the opportunity with digital assistants is enormous, banks must be aware of how this affects their current ongoing digital strategy. For example, if chat bots overcome the hype and become a long lasting method for accessing financial services, then what effect will that have on traditional banking apps?  Will chat bots make it foolish to invest large sums of money in dedicated mobile apps? 

For all the promise this technology brings, banks need to be aware that this could be a step towards front-end disintermediation. The threat of tech companies (or other large retailers) stepping in to grab banking licenses and compete directly with incumbents was short lived.  The more realistic scenario was always relegating core banking functions to a utility on the backend of a slickly designed user interface created by a fintech startup.  The incumbents lose the engagement, even if they are facilitating the transactions.

Are chat bots a step towards front-end disintermediation, or are they an extension of the bank’s main app?  If you believe that chat bots are a stepping stone (or companion product) towards a world where the best UI is no UI, and where AI evolves to the point of offering significant functional value, then banks could be at risk.

This isn’t a call to hysteria by any means, nor am I calling chat bots wolves in sheep’s clothing, but banks need to be aware of the potential impact. As voice or message-based interactions become the norm, they will have an effect on a bank’s dedicated mobile app.  In this environment, the mobile app will need to evolve to become something different; non-transactional.

Chatbots will only further fragment the customer journey, requiring an even clearer understanding of how consumers are choosing to handle their finances and make transactions. Banks need to start thinking about how chat bots and AI fit into a long-term digital channels strategy, one that doesn’t handcuff the institution into a no-win proposition of competitive disadvantage versus wilful disruption.

Leapfrogging the bank app to go straight to the electronic assistant

 

No one downloads a banking app from their store of choice for fun, nor do they open it up to amuse themselves. Instead, bank apps are used to accomplish specific tasks – check a balance, pay a bill, send money to a friend. Despite the undeniable utility of these apps, institutions struggle to persuade their customers to use them; adoption rates, depending on the specific measure, hover around 50% and have been stuck for a while at that plateau. Furthermore, while it’s undeniable that many customers want a better customer experience, and at least some of those customers would like more and better features, digital executives struggle to find the ROI of investment in their apps. Of course, there’s the argument that it’s analogous to malls that put up Christmas and other holiday decorations – consumers just expect it, and there’s not an explicit ROI – but that’s the subject of another post.

What if consumers could perform their basic banking tasks without ever having to open up their banking app? They could say, “Siri, what’s my bank balance?” or “Alexa, pay the water bill out of my main checking account.” While we’re not there yet, consumer desire for convenience (aka “seamlessness” or the “frictionless customer experience”) knows no bounds. My experimentation with Siri and Alexa, together with my preliminary research into Artificial Intelligence in banking, have led me to hypothesize that this scenario is a lot closer than many bankers might imagine. In the obligatory Uber example, the payment is invisible; what happens when the consumer makes this happen in all other sorts of interactions?

How are you prepared to offer your customers this new level of service? Do you have APIs that will let this happen? And is there a strategy to go beyond simply fulfilling a request and offering more insight, advice, or perspective than simply what being asked for? Like European banks facing the challenge of PSD2, all retail institutions can look at this as a moment where they’ll be relegated to the background or one where they can revamp their service models to build better, stronger, and deeper customer relationships.  

Stop Throwing Money at Cybersecurity

cyber-operational-risk-150x1501 Most cyberattacks succeed because of weaknesses in people, processes, controls and operations. This is the definition of operational risk. Therefore, it makes sense to tackle cyber risk with the same tools you use to manage operational risk.

We continue to prove that the approach of the IT department managing cybersecurity is not working. Cyber risk is typically treated in parallel with other technology risks; the IT department is motivated to focus on securing the vulnerabilities of individual system components and proffers a micro view of security concerns.

My new Celent report on Treating Cyber Risk as an Operational Risk: Governance, Framework, Processes and Technologies”, discusses how financial institutions are advancing their cybersecurity practices by leveraging their existing operational risk frameworks to centralize, automate and streamline management, technologies, processes, and controls for a sounder and more resilient cybersecurity.

The report identifies and examines the steps required to achieve a risk-based approach to a sustainable and, ultimately, a measurable cyber risk management strategy:

1. Establish a long-term commitment to drive a top-down, risk-based approach to cybersecurity.

2. Recognize that the traditional approach of the IT department managing cybersecurity is limited and that most cyber risks are weaknesses in people, processes, controls, and operations.

3. If you have not already, consider deploying the NIST cybersecurity framework and tailor the framework to fit your individual cybersecurity requirements. The framework lets you take advantage of your current cybersecurity and operational risk language, processes and programs, industry standards and industry best practices. Both cyber and operational risk should be informed by and aligned with the institution’s enterprise-wide risk management framework.

4. Move your organization along the cybersecurity maturity curve by building dynamic risk models, based on shared industry data and assumptions, to measure and monitor cyber threats and pre-empt those attacks.

5. Stop throwing money at the problem. Educate decision-makers on why and how breaches happen. Do not purchase in siloes or under pressure, select the right expertise to identify the issues and carry out due diligence on products.

6. Use the NIST’s five functions to navigate and manage cybersecurity technology requirements and purchases.

7. Know what technology you want from your vendors; know what advice to seek from your consultants.

8. Acknowledge that cybersecurity is the responsibility of every employee and human behavior is the most basic line of defense. Institutions cannot hesitate in the goal to educate their employees, third parties and customers.

The Mobile Banking and Payments Summit – Impressions from Day 2

A couple weeks ago I attended the Mobile Banking and Payments Summit in NYC for the first time.  There was an impressive list of experts from institutions such as JPMC, Barclays, Citibank, BNP Paribas, the Federal Reserve, USAA, Capital One, BBVA, and Moven, among others. I was only able to attend the final day, but it didn’t disappoint.  The day focused mostly on mobile wallets, with a few main points shared below:

  • Mobile wallets have been challenged by industry barriers:  The old rule of thumb with a payments scheme is that it needs to please three parties: the merchant, the bank, and the consumer.  These products and solutions have traditionally fallen short of one or more of these objectives, essentially stalling a lot of the progress.
    • There’s still plenty of fragmentation in the market:  Android is an open system utilizing Host Card Emulation (HCE), while Apple is a closed system using a secure element.  There are others beyond that, but it’s largely contributed to a lack of standardization and unimpressive overall adoption.  We know this is largely understood by banks and merchants, and many are willing to play along for the time being.
    • Consumers can misunderstand mobile wallets: Many users of Apple Pay, for example, have a poor understanding of how the system actually works, with many assuming Apple is in control of their card details.  While the system is safer than traditional cards, the perception that it’s less safe is keeping many users from adopting it.
    • Getting the marketing right is tough: Often, the mobile wallet really isn’t about the payment so much as the experience around the payment.  It might be easier or there might be a whole host of incentives like rewards wrapped around it.  The potential is there, but until recently the market hasn’t been.
  • But many barriers are beginning to fall away, and there’s hope for adoption: For years, the industry has been declaring that FINALLY this year will be the year mobile wallets take off.  The industry has been crying wolf for a long time, but there are some promising developments that hope to make mobile wallets a larger share of the payments universe.  Currently in the US, 55% of merchants have updated their payment terminals, and 70% of consumers have chip cards.  The chip card does a lot for security, but the argument is that it adds friction to the checkout experience.  With the card dip taking away from the user experience, the expectation is that mobile wallets will finally offer enough UX improvement over traditional cards that consumers might opt for them during payment.  It’s also reported that more than 50% of millennials have already used a mobile wallet at least once.  This includes Apple Pay, Android Pay, or Samsung Pay.  The growth in adoption with younger consumers is a good sign that broader adoption might not be too far behind.

My colleague Zil Bareisis has written about this quite a bit, and agrees that adoption could be driven by the emergence of EMV as well as an increase in handsets that support wallet payments.Wallets are also striking partnerships to add value, including introducing merchant loyalty, coupons, etc.The launch of Walmart Pay is a great example of a retailer applying these concepts internally, facilitating even greater adoption. For more information see any of the number of reports Zil has written on the topic.

  • Midsize institutions have a few paths to follow implementing a mobile wallet: Banks want to be a part of the adoption, but have so far taken a wait and see approach, unsure about the potential of existing wallets, and still trying to figure out what it means for them as the issuing bank. There are three primary ways a midsize or smaller bank can try to launch a wallet:
    • Building an internal wallet: This provides the most control, customization, flexibility of functionality, and control over the release schedule.  The drawbacks are that it can be a complicated task, a large investment is required, the institution needs sufficient subject matter expertise in-house, and there would be no Apple NFC support.
    • Buying a turnkey white label wallet: A turnkey solution would have the benefit of being plug-and-play, there would be some customization options, functionality would be built in, fewer resources would be involved, and the vendor would provide some subject matter expertise.  There would, however, be less control over the product, the wallet could be processor dependant, and the roadmap wouldn’t be controlled by the institution.
    • Participating in an existing wallet: For many this is the road that will result in the largest adoption.  The options are fairly universal, with Samsung, Apple, and Android offering networks here.  Its plug and play, easy to get traction, includes a lot of choice, and frictionless.  The drawbacks are mainly the lack of customization options or control over the direction of the wallet.

We often say that we go to these conferences so that our subscribers don’t have to.  This is just a short summary of the day, and obviously there was much more detail shared. We encourage all of our readers to attend these events, but will be there in case they can’t make it.

Impressions from Finovate Fall 2016

A few weeks ago I attended Finovate Fall 2016 with a few different colleagues of mine in New York.  For those who’ve never been, Finovate hosts three main events (New York, San Francisco, and London) where more than 70 fintech companies are able to present new concepts, services, or products in a rapid 7-minute format.  Traditionally, the San Francisco event has catered to more of the pure start-ups, while the New York event gives larger, more established vendors the opportunity to show off their newest ideas, although typically there’s a bit of a mix between each.

As a temperature gauge for the industry, I don't think there’s a better event. The ideas generally reflect where the industry is at in its thinking, and what the major trends are for fintech.  For example, 2-3 years ago the hot topic was PFM, big data, and mobile wallets.  Last year, mobile onboarding, customer acquisition schemes, and AI were the most prevalent.  Parsing through the hype and the reality is typically one of the more fun aspects of attending.  This year I noticed a few things that caught my attention:

  • Chatbots, Natural Language Processing (NLP), and general communication solutions were common: Companies like TokBox, Personetics, Kore, and Clinc were some of the more compelling examples here. These solutions were prominent in 2015, but the biggest change was the maturity of their capabilities.  Last year, what stood out to most attendees were the many demos that fell flat.  A handful of presentations completely bombed on-stage, and even those that made it through the process were often shaky and the inputs looked too rigid.  These technologies have advanced quite a bit in the last year, and the proposition for banks is becoming much more attractive. 
  • PFM was hidden behind data analytics:  PFM hasn't been a discussion topic in the industry for quite some time. The initial round of PFM deployments were troubled by poor execution and unmet expectations by financial institutions that piloted them.  Many financial institutions we’ve spoken to become immediately sceptical of a vendor solution that even uses the term.  Celent has been talking for some time about PFM merging with online banking and essentially becoming the landing page.  What was traditional PFM (spending breakdowns, budgeting, savings goals, etc.) is now just digital banking.  New methods of financial management demoed at Finovate, however, show PFM under disguise as platforms that leverage data analytics.  MapD was one that stood out. Clean data has always been the holy grail for PFM, and it’s always been one of the biggest issues.  More solutions focused on getting the data analytics right, creating financial value for the consumer, and cleverly disguising what should have been PFM from the beginning: insights unpinned by advanced analytics.
  • Not many payments products or solutions leveraging blockchain: Surprising to me were the lack of payments startups as well as any startup leveraging blockchain. My thinking is that many of the solutions around blockchain are still in their early days, and probably not ready for prime time.  Also, while I know of a number of startups leveraging the technology, they are more bleeding edge, and may have been attracted to the spring Finovate, which focuses much more on early-stage fintech companies.  The lack of payments schemes was also a surprise, but it could be that Apple Pay has taken some of the wind out of the sails of fintech companies trying to solve very similar issues.  Mobile wallets and payment products typically require a lot of industry leverage to make work.  You have to satisfy the merchants, the banks, and the consumers, and most have failed to reach sufficient scale.  Many in the industry said it would have had to be a larger more established firm, and indeed the launch of Apple Pay confirmed that prediction.

 

Finovate continues to offer great insight into where the industry is at and where it’s heading.  We’ll continue to attend these events and provide some more analysis. Feel free to comment on your perceptions, if any, from the event.