Banks vs Fin-Tech Start-Ups and the Digital Transformation Race

Banks vs Fin-Tech Start-Ups and the Digital Transformation Race
The digital transformation in financial services is about the move from the physical to the virtual world, from person-to-person interaction toward person-to-machine or machine-to-machine. It is Celent’s view that Integrating and coordinating among disparate and siloed delivery channels will be critical to satisfying ever-increasing customer expectations. This in part encompasses looking at how financial institutions relate with their customers and ecosystem, but also about the underlying infrastructure and processes required to provide a digital experience. It also encompasses re-thinking how a branch should look like and what services it should provide as an integral part of the customer experience. In this context I had the chance to moderate a panel during last week Next Bank Americas. With the participation of Hugo Nájera Alva – Head of Digital Banking at BBVA Bancomer, Miguel Angel Fañanas – Director of Corporate Customers and Multinationals in Telefonica Mexico, Héctor Cárdenas – CEO and cofounder of Conekta (conekta.io), and Martin Naor – partner and CEO of Infocorp, we discussed about the digital transformation in the financial industry. What an excellent moment to do it, along with the BBVA Open Talent that looked into promising fin-tech and digital life start-ups. I wanted to take this opportunity to share with you some of my take aways from this panel:
  1. Banks have a harder time reconciling digital with their legacy platform and infrastructure, and how they have been doing business for many years. Fin-tech start-ups instead are born digital, without any legacy, but they need to be careful not to build one for themselves as they grow.
  2. Technology doesn’t seem to be the constraint for becoming digital, neither is budget. Banks have much more resources and still we are seeing some interesting start-ups in different aspects of banking disrupting with much better digital propositions. Banks instead need to push the digital concept across the organization, and very tied to the concept of innovation, they need to make fundamental changes in the culture of the organization. This is what banks such as BBVA are trying to do though their Innovation Centers, open API’s, Hackatons and fostering an ecosystem of fin-tech startups in Americas and Europe, and why they partner with Next Bank to propel those.
  3. Digital also needs to reach to those customers that are still analog. This requires banks to re-imagine their branches and provide solutions that leverage the digital components but understanding the customer engagement required. Banks are quite better positioned than fin-tech start-ups in terms of physical presence, though it is no longer acceptable for banks to continue to open (or update) branches under the old branch paradigm.
  4. Banks need to better understand what customers really want, and that is not necessarily other financial product, but maybe help with administering their finances, banks helping them to save money, helping SMEs make more business, even expand globally. These are the type of issues fin-tech start-ups are tackling today. Banks have tons of information but they need to become smarter in how they use it and what new services can they offer to their customers. It is also important to look at how customers use technology in their everyday life to find ways of making banking more convenient.
  5. You just don’t claim that you are going to be more digital and then magically wait for that to happen. There is a lot of effort involved. In cases such as BBVA, acquiring Simple is part of such effort. Understanding the bank limitation in terms of its culture is also important to define what is feasible and what not. Reaching out to understand what the ecosystem is doing, actively engaging and participating to come up with a better digital vision has become an imperative today.
Overall and subjacent to the digital transformation race there is still an open debate whether fin-tech start-ups are a partner or a threat to banks. My take is that they are more a threat than a partner in the long run, but they need each other in this initial stage so partnering seems a good starting point. In the long run banks should incorporate those ideas that work; otherwise they will be cornered to a role where they just process transactions for those companies that dominate the relationship with the customer. The implications of this scenario are daunting for banks. What do YOU think?

Spending a day with IBM’s Watson

Spending a day with IBM’s Watson
As an IBM alumnus (but no longer a stockholder) I’ve gotten pretty used to seeing the company do things a certain way. And then I attended a day-long “Watson at Scale (aka Ecosystem 2.0)” event on October 7 and had a lot of my old notions upended. Watson, of course, came to prominence when it won Jeopardy in 2011. Immediately after that IBM began experimenting with a select number of industries (Healthcare, Travel and Retail) to demonstrate proofs of concept and learn what works and what doesn’t. Beginning in January of 2014, Watson expanded dramatically and is now covering 26 industries. IBM proclaims that Watson is the harbinger of a new era of computing, what they call “Cognitive Computing.” There’s just too much information being created today for any single person to digest; Watson aims to “amplify” experts’ capabilities. Doctors, salespeople, and wealth managers are but a few examples. IBM says there are four key attributes to understand:
  • Watson understands natural language (computational linguistics).
  • Watson is a voracious reader
  • Watson provides recommendations with confidence levels
  • You don’t program Watson, you teach it
Mike Rhodin, the IBM SVP who leads Watson (under an unusual board-governed structure), described the key insight about Watson: it’s not that Watson gives answers, but rather that it generates hypotheses, gives confidence intervals around those hypotheses, and provides evidence trails. It does this by ingesting enormous amounts of data, being taught by humans with a series of questions and answers, and then learning on its own as it proceeds. The more data it has, the better it performs. Watson does a better job providing recommendations for people when it knows something about them. A salesperson will sell differently to an introvert than an extrovert, as a simplified example. Watson can generate a personality profile on the basis of a person’s twitter feed or blog posts – I’m not sure how accurate it is, but the concept alone is pretty startling. Terry Jones, an entrepreneur previously associated with Travelocity and Kayak, introduced a new company called WayBlazer that uses Watson’s technology. It aims to be able to answer queries like, “I want to go on a golf trip with my buddies in October,” or, “Give me an itinerary for Costa Rica in May with my two kids.” Watson might ask clarifying questions, and then would come back with recommendations. The prototype is currently in place for Austin, but a service like this highlighted clearly what Watson has the potential to do, if implemented successfully. Another lightbulb for me was Terry’s description of Watson as a liberal arts major, not a math geek. It could do airline pricing optimization, but that’s not what you’d buy it for. WayBlazer is but one example of the ecosystem that Watson is building. Realizing there’s a shortage of skills in Cognitive Computing, IBM has teamed with ten universities to offer courses on the subject; this fall all of the classes were oversubscribed. From a standing start in January, IBM has about 100 partners and expects that to continue to grow. Watson had 1 API in January; it now has 8, with more than a dozen in development. IBM may have finally figured out how to execute at startup speed under the umbrella of Big Blue. Watson’s interest in financial services is currently very focused. Insurance is one key space, particularly around underwriting. Wealth Management is the other key area, with risk and compliance being a third. You may disagree with Watson’s prioritization, but their intentional focus is spot-on – they’ve got to demonstrate some tangible successes before they begin to branch out. Based on different discussions, Watson’s revenue will come from four sources:
  1. Consulting to investigate and establish what Watson will do for the firm
  2. Priced products (e.g., oncology)
  3. SAAS revenues from running Watson for individual projects
  4. A cut of the revenue that partners earn from Watson projects
What’s ultimately different this time? In this new IBM (a place the company has been forced to by intense competition), Watson:
  • Is playing the role of an ecosystem platform
  • Is using partners to reach consumers, realizing that IBM’s strength is as a B2B company
  • Has built a new physical space, reversing a trend of selling real estate and having employees work remotely
  • Is not trying to do this on the cheap
  • Is focused on just a few areas
What does this mean for banks and financial services firms? The IBM take is, of course, that you’ve got to be exploring Watson or you’ll be hopelessly behind. That’s overly broad, but I recommend that firms at least get up to speed on the potential of the technology and see whether it can apply to them. We’ll have to watch to see if Watson carries through on its promise, but efforts like this are a necessary (if not sufficient) first step in the right direction for IBM.  

Creating an ecosystem to drive disruption

Creating an ecosystem to drive disruption

We usually talk about how hard it is for the financial industry to innovate at the right pace, and doing the right bets. In my opinion Latin America lags a little bit behind, in part for not having anything similar to the US’ Silicon Valley. We see though, increasing efforts to generate the environment and providing places for the ecosystem to mingle.

Adding to Dan’s post about Celent attending the several industry conferences around the world as part of our job, and keeping our finger on the pulse of the industry, I wanted to share a relatively new conference that is gaining a lot of traction in Latin America as a result of its effort to bring together traditional players with fintech start-ups: Next Bank.

I will be moderating a panel on Digital transformation in financial services next October 16th, 2014 at Next Bank Americas. The idea is to create an environment where innovators from within and outside financial services institutions come together to explore the digital transformation of the industry.

It is a collaborative conference that covers innovation, transformation and startup-driven disruption in financial services in Latin America. The theme is re-think and connect – addressing the reality that the industry is undergoing momentous change and it’s time for a new collaborative approach.

You will more likely encounter traditional players like banks, consultancies and technology vendors sharing the stage with alternative players like startups, digital ecosystems and players from other industries. All of these players, the old and the new, coming together to create a new community of innovators in financial services exploring the real future of the financial services industry and the big ideas that will forever change the industry in the region

As part of the conference, it will host the final of BBVA Open Talent for the US, Mexico and Canada, a startup competition in search of today’s most disruptive tech startups in these countries in two categories, New Banking and Digital Life. Celent will be writing a report of those more promising start-ups, so expect it coming soon after the conference.

Celent is also a conference partner, so feel free to use our discount code (C3L3NTNB4M3) to get a deal on tickets.

More information @ www.nextbankamericas.com/en

Hope to see you there!

Gearing up for Money 2020

Gearing up for Money 2020
One key element of Celent’s value proposition is our attendance at conferences. To be a little flip, we attend so you don’t have to! More accurately, we attend because you have neither the monetary nor the time budget to jet all over the world to industry events. For us, it’s part of the job, and we get to keep our finger on the pulse of the industry at gatherings hosted by individual firms and neutral third parties. In September alone, for instance, I’ve been in Panama, Barcelona and San Francisco. A more comprehensive (although not necessarily complete) list of our attendance is below (and that’s just the third-party events!). Money 2020 image One event that’s come incredibly strong out of the gate is Money2020. Its first incarnation was two years ago and garnered more than 2000 people; last year it had over 4000, and this year is shooting for over 6000. Celent (Zil Bareisis and I) will be attending (and in full disclosure, we are a media partner of the event). We view this as a “must;” the breadth of the ecosystem attendees is immense, the diversity of topics fascinating. In the last two weeks I’ve mentioned Money2020 to two clients and both have replied that they’d have to look into attending, particularly based on my positive feedback from last year’s event. If you’d like to register, please go to http://money2020.com/register. Look for us to tweet, blog and otherwise have a host of insights after this and other fall conferences. What events do you consider crucial?

We’re back…a brief expanation of our absence

We’re back…a brief expanation of our absence
You may have noticed that our blog has been rather…inactive…over the last several weeks. We were hit by a virus and it (of course) took longer than we thought to get back up and running. The complexities involved in fixing what would seem to be a relatively innocuous problem serve as a not-so-gentle reminder of the fiendishly difficult tasks that our clients deal with daily as they bend technology to their strategic will. Despite our blogging absence, rest assured that we’ve been continuing to follow and research banking technology trends; they never stop evolving, and neither does our coverage. Please check back in over the next few days to see the backlog that we’re ready to unleash.

Quotes from the Innovation Roundtable

Quotes from the Innovation Roundtable
They said it couldn’t be done, but we held the latest installment in Celent’s series of innovation roundtables in Tokyo recently. Our innovation roundtables put the focus squarely on interactive discussion among the participants. This is a relatively untried model in Japan, where events typically take the form of conventional conferences with presentations. We’re glad we tried it though, because we got a very interesting line-up of firms. Participants included the whole spectrum: banks, capital markets firms, and insurers; Japanese and foreign firms; traditional mega-institutions and alternative new entrants. The discussion was lively; below are some quick notes I took of some of the more interesting comments made, to capture a bit of the flavor of the day. Why Innovate? “Innovation is not the goal, it is a method and a tactic.” “We need to innovate because it has become difficult to differentiate us from our competitors.” “In today’s environment, innovation is necessary if you want to stay profitable.” Paths to Innovation “Incremental innovation is an axymoron. You can’t innovate by increments; innovation requires a big bang change.” “It might be possible to rearrange existing elements to create something new.” “When to innovate? If our clients think a new service is interesting, we try and create it for them and see if it succeeds.” “Innovation needs to be business driven.” “Financial institutions need to have an innovation division; an incubation unit that accumulates ideas from throughout the company.” IT and Innovation “IT is not the impetus for innovation, but because IT inevitably evolves, that creates need for innovation.” “Legacy is a barrier: it is hard to throw things away.” Cultural Challenges “We need to justify ROI on any investment each fiscal year. It is hard to show this on an innovation project.” “If you think about it, financial institutions don’t even have R&D departments.” Quote of the Day “Changing company culture is really about changing oneself. I personally enjoy innovation and change. Innovative culture is about getting a bunch of people together who enjoy change.”

What does Digital mean to you?

What does Digital mean to you?
Celent held a client roundtable on the subject of “Digital.” We had a sneaking suspicion that there wasn’t a lot of consensus on what that word actually means, so just prior to the event we asked participants “to list three words or initiatives that you associate with digital in your organization.” Here’s what we found: of 30 responses from 10 people, only two terms were mentioned twice: “mobile” and “customer experience” (which isn’t quite a single word). Every other word was unique. Digital WordCloud I find this fascinating: there’s no agreement on what digital means, and yet it’s one of the hottest topics in financial technology today. How are we going to deal with this issue when we can’t even agree on what it is? We’d suggest that defining what digital means in your organization is a vital first step to refining your digital strategy. My colleague Will Trout has also blogged on what we found during our roundtable.  You can find his thoughts here: http://wealthandcapitalmarketsblog.celent.com/2014/04/12/celent-roundtable-exploring-digital-in-financial-services/  

Of Apples and Banks

Of Apples and Banks
Zil’s most excellent post about his recent experience with a new payment type highlights one of the challenges that all new systems face – they’ve got to work “out of the box”. Few people (including Mrs Zil!) would have been so patient. That reminded me of a recent conversation Zil & I had around iPhones, and more generally Apple. Last year Zil swapped his iPhone for another leading brand of smartphone, for a variety of reasons. But he’s almost certainly going to be swapping back, primarily because the iPhone works “out of the box” with other things he has. That phrase again. The Apple ecosystem works well together, and, for most people, life is far more straight forward by sticking to just Apple products. I think we forget sometimes that this is perhaps the single biggest differentiator for Apple. The total picture is more thought through and designed than most others. For example, many people don’t realise that Apple weren’t the first to market with the mp3 player. They were 3 years behind the first, and still after Intel (yes, that Intel!), Sony, Creative, and Bang and Olufsen. Nor was it the best (and arguably still not) in terms of features and functions. But it came with iTunes which consumerised the process of managing music – and more importantly, the buying of music, seamlessly. iTunes, for the advanced user such as me, is a real pain. Not only does it not provide the functionality I require, but it struggles with the (atypical) size of my music collection. But I still use it, because it works with my ecosystem more broadly and that offsets the deficiencies. So what’s the point of this post? I think a couple of things stand out for me. Apple are rumoured to be moving into mobile payments. The issues Zil faced will almost certainly be overcome by Apple, because of their approach to things. Equally, we can expect that it’ll be far broader and better thought through service than many offerings. And as a result, whilst it may not be the best service, it’ll probably get traction quicker. Secondly, the other take-away for banks for me is not to rush innovation, but to get it right, and to seek to how to make it a more seamless service. One positive thing as a result of being an analyst is that my bank has now provided me with a relationship manager, who can highlight to me a range of services, and is “just a phone call away”. Amazon and Apple are remarkably accurate in suggesting things I might like to buy. Not only does my bank not do it, (and I think they must have a “lucky dip” approach to the mailshots they send me!) but rarely is my relationship manager or bank manager empowered to do even start the sales process, even for something as simple as getting a credit card. This isn’t about omni-channel in terms of technology, but omni-channel in terms of customer. As a customer, I don’t care whether it’s a different part of the bank that the product is coming from – if has the same bank logo on, then too me it’s the same people. Some banks have lost sight of the old adage – it should be easy to buy, not easy to sell.

Re-imagining Banking

Re-imagining Banking
On June 30th, Peter Sands, Group CEO of Standard Chartered, published an article in Financial Times called Banking is heading towards its Spotify moment. The article seems to have resonated incredibly well with the banking community: at a conference this week, two senior banking executives from different parts of the world referred to the article, while we have been discussing it with our clients. The article argues that “banking is very digitasable, but we have not yet seen the fundamental transformation of business models that have taken place in other sectors, such as music […] Margins will fall unless banks reinvent what they offer and how they work.” At Celent we agree wholeheartedly – the move towards “all things digital” is both a serious threat and an incredible opportunity in banking. The regulators and their “zero tolerance” attitude is one of the many barriers making it difficult for banks to be truly innovative. But many recognize the need for change and are investing accordingly. We are committed to helping our clients along their journey through our research, insights, and networking events. Dan in his recent blog post summarized our NYC event on Omni-Channel Delivery. We will also be hosting a banking roundtable in London on Oct 17th, “Evolve or Die: The Future of the Bank Account.” Again, it will be a bank-only forum with an emphasis on idea exchange, and if you are interested in attending, please contact Chris Williams at cwilliams@celent.com or +44 20 8870 7875.

Clients or Customers? The distinction makes a difference

Clients or Customers? The distinction makes a difference
We’re all engaged in commercial relationships; sometimes we buy, sometimes we sell. But what roles do the buyers and sellers play? At a host of conference and briefings over the last several weeks, I’ve been struck by the number of times that software and hardware providers (most often “vendors” in analyst-speak) have referred to their buyers as “customers” rather than “clients.” This thought, neither unique nor new (and perhaps pedantic), takes on particular relevance as 1) the bank technology space is being reshaped by a host of new forces, and 2) technology providers enter into new sorts of relationships with their bank buyers. In its purest form, the customer – vendor relationship is transactional, impersonal and zero-sum. It’s built on a series of one-off, individually negotiated exchanges of value. The seller doesn’t take account of the individual buyer’s needs, and could indeed be selling to anyone. And because there’s little give and take, except on price, one party’s loss is the other’s gain – the definition of zero-sum. Selling shrink-wrapped software in the past, or apps today, exemplifies a customer – vendor relationship. At the other end of the spectrum is the client – advisor association. It’s relationship-based, contextual and positive sum. The seller is not in this game to make a single high-margin sale, but instead wants to build a lasting rapport that will generate an on-going stream of revenue in return for a fair provision of value. The advisor develops an understanding of the client’s needs and provides tailored advice or products suited to the situation; there’s no such thing as one size fits all. And finally, when the client wins, the adviser wins; they both do well together. Strategy consulting and legal advice are classic examples of client-advisor relationships. Celent serves two main sorts of clients: financial institutions and technology providers. Depending on what they’re selling, they fall somewhere on the spectrum between the two pure-plays I’ve described. I’d suggest, though, that both types of firms can do a better job serving their “customers” if they start thinking of them as “clients” instead.