Helping build the fintech ecosystem in Latin America

Helping build the fintech ecosystem in Latin America
A few weeks ago, Dan Latimore and I had the chance to attend Finnosummit in Mexico City. IMG_1341 While Dan was the one really working (he presented on “How Big Data can change Financial Services”) I mingled around the participants of this vibrant ecosystem encompassing entrepreneurs, financial institutions, investors, and regulators among other stakeholders. It is amazing how the ecosystem continues to grow and how fintech start-ups are booming.IMG_1349         Celent has been collaborating to help create the fintech ecosystem in the Latin American region since its inception and I had the honor, for 2nd time, to judge the fintech start-ups participating in the BBVA Open Talent, which brought the Latin American finalists into town as part of Finnosummit. They had their 5 minutes of glory (or suffering) by pitching their venture to the audience and two winners were selected at the end of the day. Discover the finalists of all regions here. In Latin America two chilean start-ups were the winners:, aiming to financial inclusion by creating a credit scoring based on utility payments; and Bitnexo which enables fast, easy and low cost transfers between Asia and Latin America, using Bitcoin. In the US & RoW the two winners were: ModernLend enables users with no credit profile to create one in just 6 months by using alternate metrics; and LendingFront which facilitates short term commercial lending through a simple platform. In Europa the winners were Everledger, specialized in anti-fraud technology for financial services and insurance; and Origin an electronic platform that facilitates bond issuing in the capital markets. Many fintech startups that made it to the finals focus on Blockchain technology and payments. These seem to be the areas of major investment for the last two years. If you are interested in these themes I suggest that you follow my colleagues John Dwyer, Zilvinas Bareisis and Gareth Lodge. Coming back to Dan’s presentation, he made a very interesting observation around the need to move from the old paradigm (Customer response optimization) to a new paradigm (Anticipate and shape customer intent) based on the use of big data and analytics, but also warning that disruptors are out there applying the new paradigm today. If you want to get deeper into any of the subjects covered here, please let me know. By the way, is there any fintech start-up you believe has great potential? Share with us please!

Why banks should pay attention to “Assistant as an App”

Why banks should pay attention to “Assistant as an App”
Last week I had the pleasure of going to Finovate, a biannual event (at least in NA) where startups and established vendors show off their newest creations. My colleague Dan Latimore wrote an in-depth piece about it last week. It’s usually a good temperature read of where the market is and what banks are thinking about. PFM used to be hot, now it barely makes an appearance. Mobile account opening and on-boarding was massive. Each year you can count on a few presentations tackling customer communication, whether it´s customer service applications or advisory tools. While this year was no different, I didn´t see any presentations representing an emerging trend in mobile: assistant as an app. What is assistant as an app? Basically, it puts a thin UI between two humans: the customer and the service provider (e.g. retailer or bank). The UI layer enhances the interaction by allowing each party to push information back and forth, whether its text, pictures, data visualization, etc. There are a wide range of possibilities. Apps are already starting to incorporate this idea. For a monthly fee, Pana offerings a human personal travel assistant who will take care of any travel related need. The concierge books restaurants, hotels, rental cars, and flights, all via in-app communication. Pana Vida Health allows users to push dietary information to a health coach that can then send back health plans, ideas to diagnose health issues, or create a weight loss regimen. The dating app Grouper uses a concierge to coordinate group dates. EasilyDo is a personal assistant that can manage your contacts, check traffic, schedule flights, etc. The app Fetch uses SMS to let users ask the concierge to buy just about anything. For a small fee (sometimes free, subsidized by business or premium services) these companies provide value-added premium services to customers through a mobile device. The applicability for banks is obvious. Finances can be complicated; most people aren´t good at managing money, and according to Celent research, consumers still prefer to speak to a human for important money matters. Assistant as an app would offer institutions a clear path towards monetising the mobile channel, moving interactions away from the branch, and capturing a growing base of digitally-directed consumers. I predict this will be a major trend in financial services in the future. What do you think? Feel free to comment below.

Practice what you preach?

Practice what you preach?
This is the next – I have a terrible feeling its not the last though – of seeing the cards world through the eyes of a consumer. The story so far is contained in three previous posts, with the last reporting that my card details were skimmed (we assume) in the US. This post however looks at the experience at home. As a consumer, we often get warnings from our banks about phishing attacks – we will never do this, our emails will look like this, etc. Then consider what a daily average inbox looks like – full of identical emails from fraudsters, often better written, and better laid out. Furthermore, banks only focus on emails and outbound calls. I’m possibly wrong, but I’m fairly sure never had the same warnings about text messages, tweets etc. Consider then these channels and how many spam messages you get on a daily basis. (It’s probably ok though, as all the PPI claims I’m told I have should more than compensate me for all the recent accidents I’m alleged to have been in!) Saturday afternoon I received this text: fraud Note that it comes from a mobile number, and texts from my card provider have their details in the text. I deleted it, assuming it was spam, and that if I replied I’d be signed up to some premium rate text service…again. Something made me pause, so I rang my card company, using the number that I already had. And I was right to do so, as it was from them. Thats why I’ve blurred the full number – this is an active line that they are using, but don’t advertise They seemed surprised that I was querying the method, yet when I asked how many people responded to texts, they seemed less certain (to be fair, it was a call center operator!). As a consumer, I appreciate the attempt to make it as seamless and easy as possible. Yet it contradicts the advice we’re given. It would be very simple to text people randomly and ask them personal detail to confirm who they are or to log into a man-in-the-middle website. It feels a little chicken and egg. Consumers need educating. Explaining that the layers of security are providing them protection. At the same time, banks need to think about how consumers will – or should – view their messaging. Given the nature of the message, and the reputational issues, I wonder whether it’s time for the banks collectively to find a solution. Detecting fraud and managing it could be a competitive differentiator – or it could prove far more powerful to do collectively. Across providers, across channels, across products. Best practice across the industry surely has got to benefit everyone long term?  

Unbundling, Fidor, and the model for approaching financial startups

Unbundling, Fidor, and the model for approaching financial startups
I´ve recently had multiple conversations with financial institutions about the trend of unbundling financial services by FinTech startups. In fact, it’s hard to discuss the future of the industry without touching on it. Articles from Tanay Jaipuria, Tech Crunch, and CBInsights speak openly about inexorable disruption. They all tell a fairly similar story. Unbundled products and services disintermediate financial institutions by improving on traditional offerings. Banks lose that value chain. Banks become a utility on the back end, essentially forced by the market to provide the necessary regulatory requirements and accounts for nonbank disruptors. With images like this (see below), it’s hard to argue that it isn’t happening—at least at some level. Unbundling-of-a-bank-V2 There are plenty of reasons to be skeptical about the hype surrounding disruption by FinTech players (shallow revenue, small customer base, etc.), but even if only a few manage to become sizable competitors, that still represents a significant threat to banks´ existing revenue streams. There’s also data pointing to higher adoption in the future. A study from Ipsos MediaCT and LinkedIn showed that 55% of millennials and 67% of affluent millennials are open to using non-FS offerings for financial services. This number is surprisingly high, and the largest banks in the world are paying attention. The threat of losing the customer-facing side of the business is a legitimate risk that banks face over the next 5-10 years. But there´s a possible solution that could enable banks to remain relevant even as they begin to see some of their legacy products or services fall to new entrants: be more like Fidor Bank. Fidor Bank is a privately held neobank launched in Germany. It has a banking license and wants to transform the way financial institutions interact with their customers by creating a sense of community and openness. The bank views its platform, fidorOS, as a key differentiator that allows it to offer customers services from start-ups or new financial instruments. For example, it offers its customers Currency Cloud for foreign exchange as well as the ability to view Bitcoin through its platform. Going forward, it may make more sense for financial institutions to take this approach. Banks can´t be everything to their customers, and there´s a healthy stream of market entrants trying to chip away at the banking value chain. A middle way is that banks become an aggregator for popular nonbank FinTech offerings as they become popular. This would preserve the benefits of traditional bundling by aggregating offerings and re-bundling them alongside its home grown services. Some benefits include:
  • Maintain the consumer facing side of the business by letting customers access these service through your platform
  • Increase cross-selling and marketing opportunities
  • Preserve a convenient and frictionless experience by reducing the fragmentation of unbundling
These benefits would provide value to both the FI and the FinTech partner, and it´s not a new concept. Netflix is effectively an aggregator of content from a variety of production companies (along with creating great content of their own). The music industry has been offering bundled services for more than a decade. Banks are loath to forfeit parts of the business, but as other industries have seen, the longer they wait the more disruptive the change will be.

IBM’s Cognitive Bank: Big Data, bigger problems

IBM’s Cognitive Bank: Big Data, bigger problems
Last Wednesday I attended IBM’s analyst presentation on Transforming Banking and Financial Markets with Data. The crux of the presentation was the benefits of big data and cognitive analytics for financial markets. The return from better understanding the desires of an individual bank customer are well understood and IBM did a good job of illustrating the up-lift. But what were not discussed are the daunting challenges and complexities a bank will face in implementing and managing a big data project. The implementation and ongoing management of data will make or break the success of cognitive computing. What I would like to see is an open discussion on the successes and failures of big data implementation programs by the banks, IBM, and other vendors working in this space. How smooth was the implementation process (time/budget/resourcing etc.)? Were your expectations set correctly? Did you get the required support from management? What were the lessons learnt? What value do you see from your big data program? It’s not easy Structured data tends to sit in multiple databases housed in silo-ed legacy systems; it is customized, lacks consistency, has incomplete fields, is often latent in nature and is prone to human error. All of which compounds the complexity of managing the data. Add to structured data the volume, variety, and velocity (known as the 3 Vs) of unstructured data and the challenge of implementing and managing information becomes even greater. And, the larger and more complex the bank the more likely its data architecture and governance process will hinder data-based implementations projects. Automating the management of data is time consuming and laborious and scope creep is significant, adding months onto implementation projects as well as extra expense and frustration. Resourcing such projects can be taxing as there is a limited pool of big data expertise and they are expensive. To perform cognitive analytics, massive parallel processing power is required and the most cost-effective operating environment is through the cloud. If you get the data right, cognitive analytics can be very powerful. Cognitive analytics Cognitive analytics (also referred to as cognitive computing) is a super-charged power tool that allows data scientists to crunch vast amounts of structured and unstructured data and to codify instincts and learnings found in that data in order to develop hypotheses and recommendations. Recommendations are ranked based on the confidence the computer has in the accuracy of the answer. How you rate confidence was not made clear by IBM and I would argue that this can only come after the fact, when you can use KPIs to validate the scoring and criteria. The modeling techniques include artificial intelligence, machine learning and natural language processing and, unlike us mere mortals, the more data you feed the computer, the higher the quality of the insight. If you do get it right, the rewards are significant We continue to leave behind mind-boggling amounts of digital information about our lifestyles, personalities, and desires. A sample of sites where I know I have left a hefty footprint include Facebook, Reddit, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, iTunes, blogs, career sites, industry associations, search history patterns, buying patterns, geo locations, and content libraries. IBM Watson offers banks a cost-effective way, through the cloud, of scouring such data to build up clues that provide a more in-depth view of what their customers’ desire. Current analytic segmentation is requirements-based and is modeled on past behavior to determine and influence future behavior. The segmentation buckets are broad and all within them are treated the same. Cognitive analytics allow a much more precise and immediate analysis of behavioral characteristics in different environments and, therefore, a more personalized and satisfying experience for the customer. I’d welcome any feedback from those of you who have been involved in implementing or are in the process of implementing big data in banking. And, if you’re interested, take a look at Celent’s Dan Latimore’s blog Implementing Watson is Hard On a side note, IBM introduced the term Cognitive Bank and it is not a phrase that works for me. It is disconcerting to describe a bank as having the mental process of perception, memory, judgment, and reasoning. Looking forward to hearing from you.  

New banks, new names

New banks, new names
Dave Birch over at Consult Hyperion wrote a very interesting article today around the need to better name the stream of new non-traditional banking entrants. Have a read here. This is something we’ve talked about with Clients in a similar way, but in the context of traditional banks. When you run a brain storming sessions, particularly for innovation, it’s often useful to “blow up” the problem. That is, magnify the problem to its maximum so you look at truly radical solutions rather than incremental ones. One such example was a scenario where traditional banking ended up with two types of banks – 1) IT banks, providing products and services to others. Citi with its co-opertition model might be an example of this. I labelled these manufacturers. 2) The other extreme was banks focusing on the customer, and focusing on providing the best products and services, an agora of things built by the manufacturers. I called this ISO banking. Dave used iso to define one of his groups but in a very different way. He used iso from the Greek to mean equal. I wasn’t quite so clever – I used ISO as in the US group of card solution providers known as Independent Sales Organisations. Which leads to a broader thought. The PSD2 introduces the concept of XS2A – essentially any third party can access account level information of any financial institution in Europe and be able to initiate a payment from that account. That muddies the distinctions above even further. For example, Dave’s descriptions imply (I think!) two components – a front end (a mobile app) and a back end (a funding account). In the neo- and iso- flavours, it’s the back-end that distinguishes the two, with neo a traditional platform, and iso with a far simpler account platform (a pre-paid card). In PSD2, there are numerous variations. Three examples off the top of my head that illustrate what I mean:
  • No-back-end. PSD2 could create a third category where the “bank” provides the front end, but no back-end at all as it uses the platforms of one or more other FIs
  • Every end. This is in some ways an extension of the above, but with a slightly different spin. Bullet 1 reflects that consumers often have products spread across multiple institutions. At its simplest, XS2A allows true PFM for the first time in some countries. But this second point reflects that the lines are blurred already, particularly for a consumer. I suspect many would want to include all their money holding accounts – say your PayPal acount. Most consumers would think that as an non-FI, but, as they have a banking licence I assume they would be included as well under PSD2 (thoughts please!). But what about the true non-FI’s?
  • Front/back weighting. With XS2A, how many will be provider slick but simple skins, and how many will provide functionally rich front-end (and perhaps back-end too) that will far enhance the standard offerings. You can imagine this particularly in the wealth management space. These feel very different beasts, and need distinguishing.
The upshot is that Dave has hit the nail on the head in that we need more/better/different nomenclature. However I wonder if in Europe in particular we probably need a much more fundamental rethink. As the regulator explicitly seeks to disaggregate the payments value chain, this, coupled with technology advances, have much broader implications, and make traditional labels misleading at best. I’ve only just started really thinking about this – but the more I do, the more I realise the more I need to do.  

Surprises from the Consumer Financial Decision Making Conference (Behavioral Economics)

Surprises from the Consumer Financial Decision Making Conference (Behavioral Economics)
A highlight of my year is the Boulder Summer Conference on Consumer Financial Decision Making put on by the Leeds Business School’s Center for Research on Consumer Financial Decision Making. An event geared towards academics, its rigor is a refreshing complement to the work that I see from market practitioners at traditional industry shows. A handful of private sector folks come each year, but most are from academia or policy; being able to bridge the two worlds is extraordinarily refreshing. Why consumers make illogical (or even harmful) financial decisions is the general theme of the conference. I’ve put together some of the most interesting, surprising, or relevant tidbits that I heard over two and half days of presentation. Academics are a careful lot, particularly with their disclaimers, so my caveats are these: I’m an educated layman relating what I heard in broad strokes. I’m not attempting to replicate the precision of the presenters or discussants, nor am I going to cite them in accepted academic fashion. Instead, if you’d like to investigate the source papers, please go to the conference website, or click the conference program. What follows is a synthesis of what I heard, sometimes from one person, other times cobbled together from multiple sources. I’ll try to tease out the implications for banks and make some very high level recommendations. The devil, of course, will be in the details of implementation (an undercurrent running through the conference itself). Look for an expanded version of this in a forthcoming Celent report. As I tweeted during the conference, “Fascinating #counterintuitive #behavioraleconomics Boulder results on nudging and alerts; unintended consequences abound, intuition suspect.” What did I mean? Well, more savings is unambiguously good, isn’t it? Alerts are a great way to nudge people, aren’t they? And more information will help consumes make informed decisions, right? Well….not always. Let’s look at each. Savings Not all savings is good; sometimes you should be spending it or using it to pay down debt. Although people save for a purpose they will, on occasion, need to dip into that savings. In one case, old age, they may be able (or need) to start tapping into their savings earlier than they think, but they’re often reluctant to. Banks can help with this decision making process. Another case arises when consumers have high interest rate credit card debt. Rationally, they should tap into that savings to pay down the higher-cost debt. But many don’t, generally because they’ve engaged in earmarking and don’t necessarily believe that their future selves will have the self-control to replenish the savings account. Again, banks can help by setting up ways to help customers make the savings process easy, transparent and seamless. Alerts Not all alerts are good. Focusing on alerts only in the context of trying to stimulate behaviors (and leaving aside their potential to help in fraud, balance notifications, and the like), researchers found that some people who were told that their FICO score was good became complacent and indulged in behavior that subsequently lowered their score. Information Anchoring on credit card disclosures is very powerful. Initial experiences with the new credit card disclosures shows that borrowers are anchoring on the minimum payment figure, and on occasion paying less each month than they otherwise would. Scattered throughout were additional fascinating nuggets. Here are a few, in no particular order. I’ll expand on them in the upcoming report. We all know that what you say is important, and intuit that how you say it also matters. Indeed, much of behavioral economics is devoted to the framing of issues. But there’s a much more subtle point, one that practitioners are beginning to experiment with, that seems to be fertile ground for further academic inquiry. There are variations in how an issue is framed – the exact same words can be used to ask the same question, but the font, the background – any elements of the user experience – will also have an effect. These “UX” nuances matter, and refining the details of the user experience will be hugely important. Here are a few other tidbits that I’ll expand upon in the full report:
  • People don’t like to pay taxes (no surprise). But tax costs are perceived more negatively than other costs; Betterment got people to trade less by highlighting the tax consequences of the trade.
  • There is no such thing as the “right thing” for everybody. The right choice architecture will help people make the right choices for themselves
  • Lottery wins can cause neighbors to go bankrupt
  • Regulations may give consumers the confidence that they can undertake transactions (loan repayments under foreclosure) that they might not otherwise
  • How a person writes a justification for a Prosper loan has some predictive power (up to 5.7%) about subsequent default probability over and above the typical financial information
  • Save to win savings accounts (“lottery savings”) in Nebraska are a substitute for gambling –and help people make better financial decisions
  • Credit utilization (that is, the proportion of a credit limit that a consumer uses) remains fairly constant over time
  • Day Traders in Taiwan keep on trading even though they have cumulative losses. They are not rational learners
  • People misunderstand the benefits of diversification: most tend to think it increases volatility and leads to better performance
  • People have different learning mechanisms for positive and negative lessons.
Academics are sometimes a bit…academic (as they should be!). As practitioners venture into new territory, having them keep us honest by testing our naive, and often wrong, intuitions is incredibly valuable. A final caveat: any misinterpretations are of course my responsibility. If you’d like to learn more and are a Celent client, please look for the upcoming report. And if you’ve got comments or questions, please let me know.

Finovate and SAP SAPPHIRE: more in common than you might think

Finovate and SAP SAPPHIRE: more in common than you might think
Over the last ten days I’ve spent time at two different conferences, Finovate and SAP’s SAPPHIRE NOW. Two very different conference models generated serendipity where I wouldn’t necessarily have expected it. Both shows were rife with partnership possibilities. SAP spoke continually of the partnership ecosystem, realizing that one of its values is bringing partners together, while at Finovate, the notion of small companies going direct to consumer by themselves was basically dead – they realize they need partners. So if providers are demonstrating that they’re willing partners, all they need is someone on the other side – and that’s where banks come in. As banks strive to compete with upstarts, they’re going to need help, which means they’re going to need to work with others. And today, they just don’t do a very good job – ask anyone who’s ever been stuck in procurement hell. Banks must get better at working with outside parties, from streamlining the vendor approval process, to designing compensation models, to navigating the shoals of procurement. Speed is of the essence, and banks are woefully slow. But I digress… At SAPPHIRE NOW I participated in a panel: “Disrupt or Be Disrupted to Survive in Financial Services.” Partnership was one of my key themes. SAP earlier gave center stage to its recent acquisition, Concur, its T&E management solution. The presentation’s available here (go to 41:30 where Bill McDermott introduces Concur). Along the very same lines, one of the Finovate Best in Show winners was Shoeboxed, for its Receipt Capture for Banks solution, which boosts the functionality of online and mobile banking apps while providing fraud protection. While they have different perspectives on the expense problem (SAP goes for an integrated enterprise travel solution, including the T&E, while Shoeboxed focuses on letting banks provide its white-labeled expense solution to smaller business customers), both have focused on a particular pain point for employees and developed solutions to address it. Simplifying expense reporting may not seem like a big deal, but it’s some pretty low hanging fruit for digitization and disruption. And disruption, of course, is one of the main themes of Finovate. A who’s who of Fintech, the conference this year was outstanding. Best of show winners were the aforementioned Shoebox, together with Alpha Payments Cloud, Avoka, Money Amigo, Moven, Namu Systems and Stratos. More can be found here. What were my impressions? After having had a couple of days to assimilate all that was thrown at us, a couple of thoughts coalesced:
  1. There was only one bitcoin demo.
  2. The Apple Watch made it’s first set of demonstrations, with three demos featuring it on day 2. Two out of three had glitches, not because of the programs (it seemed), but because of the watch itself. While mobility is going to be a very powerful force, I’m still going to wait for the Apple Watch 2.
  3. Personal Financial Management (PFM) was rarely mentioned, even when the demos concerned. This TLA (three letter acronym) has acquired a questionable connotation, and presenters avoided it (with some, like Moven, even declaring it dead).
  4. There were a lot of different concepts discussed. Here’s the wordcloud I created on Day 2, based on my impressions of the concepts that presenters were trying to get across.
Finovate World Cloud As always, please let me know of your feedback or questions.

Predicting the future

Predicting the future
Monday was the UK bank holiday, so some of us just came back to work after a long weekend. Many across the country used the extra time to do a bit of spring cleaning. I also found myself rummaging through some old materials and came across an interesting paper on how financial markets might look in 2020. Let me share a few quotes:
  • “The basic financial functions […] will not change, although how we perform these functions will change.”
  • “By 2020, a true global marketplace will be established, with everyone – individuals, companies, investors, organizations and governments – linked through telephone lines, cables and radio-wave technology. With the touch of a button, people will have access to other individuals and vast databases around the world. Such access will be readily available through phones, interactive television, workstations or hand-held “personal digital assistants” that combine all these functions. […] There will be no special need for retail financial branches because everyone will have direct access to his or her financial suppliers through interactive TV and personal digital assistants. […] True “global banking” will have arrived, as every household will be a ‘branch.'”
  • “A key feature of 2020 is that nearly everything could be tailored to a client’s needs or wishes at a reasonable price, including highly personalized service from financial companies. Firms will be selling to market segments of one.”
  • “Supplying financial assistance will be a free-for-all. It will not be limited to those calling themselves “financial institutions” […] That means an organization that specializes in financial matters may at times find itself competing directly with its clients.”
  • “The progress is geometric because each element – computation, availability of data, communications and algorithms – feeds on the others.”
If you attended any recent conferences on digital banking, this will sound very familiar – just replace “personal digital assistants” with “smartphones.” However, these quotes are not from a recent conference presentation. They are from a paper given by Charles S. Sanford, Jr., serving as the Chairman of Bankers Trust at the time, at the Kansas City Fed’s economic symposium. The date? August 20, 1993… Many of these predictions ring true, although we are not quite there yet, 22 years after the paper has been delivered with only five more left to go. Why? The clues might also be in the paper:
  • “Human nature will not change. […] A very basic element of that nature is a hunger for security – law and order, job security, retirement security, decent and affordable health care and financial security.”
  • “Dishonesty will be around in 2020 as it is today. Voice recognition, DNA fingerprinting and secure data encryption will instantly verify transactions, preventing today’s scams. But new forms of “information crime” will appear.”
  • “Technology will never replace the subtlety of the human mind. People will be the most important factor in 2020, just as they are now. We must learn how to grow wise leaders from the ranks of specialists, a difficult task.”
As humans we also bring the baggage of unpredictability, irrational behaviour and desire for comfort and the familiar. We should bear this in mind next time as we contemplate how technology is changing our lives and what the future might bring. P.S. The entire paper is available here.