Citi’s geolocation move

American Banker just ran an interesting article about Citi’s foray into the use of geolocation (beacons) as it pilots several use cases in its “smart branches.” Several thoughts immediately came to mind as I read Tanaya Macheel’s well-written article:

  • The use of beacons for cardless access to branch ATMs after business hours was the lead use case cited in the article. But, that’s just one of a growing number of potentially very useful applications for beacons in retail financial services.
  • Banks have barely scratched the surface in more usefully integrating digital and physical channels as they seek to maximize customer engagement.
  • Geolocation, in particular, is under-utilized by retailers (especially banks) and remains largely experimental.

My hat is off to Citi for its purposeful investment in developing expertise in this area and to American Banker for writing about Citi’s work. In my view, the most impressive aspect of this initiative isn’t so much Citi’s pushing the technology envelope; it’s the organizational effort that was likely required. Getting its branch operations, mobile product management, IT and LOB leadership aligned represents real commitment to innovation.

How far ahead of the industry is Citi?

Here’s one data point. In Celent’s inaugural Branch Transformation Research Panel survey in (June 2015), we sought to establish a benchmark on just how far and how fast NA institutions were pursuing branch channel transformation. Of course, several questions addressed planned technology usage. Out of a dozen examples of technology usage, geo-location ranked dead last in terms of the liklihood of usage in future branch designs – just 27% of surveyed institutions thought the use of beacons would be "somewhat likely" or "very likely".

Branch Tech Usage

Pretty far I'd say!

There are *exactly* 608 US firms offering banking fingerprint authentication

Biometrics are hot. Fingerprint authentication (Apple’s version is Touch ID) is one of the most common forms of biometric verification. So, quick – how many American banks let customers log on to their accounts using this method? Based on the press, you might optimistically think a few thousand, right? And, in fact, ApplePay just activated its 1000th bank (adoption is another story, and the subject of another post). Well, as of January 31, the actual number (not an estimate, not an extrapolation, and not a piece of data from Apple) was 608. That’s 9.52% of the 6,388 FIs offering a mobile banking application. How does that compare to three months ago, at the end of October 2015? At that point just 252 FIs were offering it. That’s an increase of 241% in a quarter, certainly a sign of robust growth. Some of the increase comes from clients implementing from their hosted solution provider. Others (generally bigger banks) are developing it in-house. And yet, it’s not as popular with the large banks as one might think (of the 21 with more than $100bn in assets, only 8 offer fingerprint authentication; 3 of the top 4 have it). Bucketed Adoption Does fingerprint authentication pay off? By one measure, something we call “feature lift,” it does indeed make a difference for customers. Banks whose customers have installed fingerprint authentication have an uplift of 53% in enrolled customers per deposit account relative to banks who don’t offer it. While this is correlation, not causality, it shows that the banks who offer this feature have more customers enrolled in mobile banking than those who don’t. We’re looking forward to analyzing many more mobile banking features to see which ones offer the biggest impact on customer enrollment. Uplift How did we access this information? I’m very excited to say that Celent is collaborating with FI Navigator to analyze the mobile banking market in an unprecedented depth of detail. FI Navigator has assembled a database of every US bank and credit union offering retail mobile banking, together with the vendors who host them. We’re feverishly analyzing this trove of data to bring you a report at the end of April. It’s different from, and additive to, work made available to our existing clients; you can find the particulars here. To let you in on how the sausage is made, we originally tried to find out how many banks offered fingerprint ID by doing a standard search (which turned up press releases and the like) and by contacting a few vendors. We were able to arrive at roughly 250 banks in total, including several dozen from one vendor (from whom it was difficult to get precise answers in terms of commitments, scheduled go-lives, and actual implementations). It turns out that we undercounted by more than half. The beauty of the FI Navigator data is that it’s derived from a variety of sources – on a monthly basis – that let us deduce and infer a huge amount of actual information about the entire US retail mobile banking population, not just a subset. By integrating unstructured website data and conventional financial institution data, FI Navigator expands the depth of peer analytics and the breadth of market research to create vertical analytics on financial institutions and their technology providers. So, in addition to my excitement at this new and powerful data source, I have three takeaways about fingerprint authentication:
  1. The gap between hype and reality for fingerprint authentication is big, but shrinking;
  2. Banks don’t have to be large to do this; and
  3. More banks should be offering fingerprint authentication.
Why is your bank or credit union not offering your customers the chance to authenticate with their fingerprint?

Mobile in the time of digital

Bank of America recently announced that it would triple spending on its mobile app. While no exact dollar amount was given, it made me wonder: what exactly does that entail? In the past, Celent has praised the Bank of America mobile banking apps as some of the best out there. The bank has been going strong with its digital strategy for years, even closing branches and reducing overhead to drive adoption. Bank of America recently added features like touch ID, debit card toggling, two-way fraud alerts, and more to its app, and has been outspoken about the desire to personalize the digital experience. Its commitment to new features and functionality is reflected in the comments and ratings on iTunes and Google Play. Shown in the graph below, the bank´s mobile banking adoption has been steadily growing, with a growing share of deposits. Pictureforblog                     Source: BofA Annual Reports/ Investor Presentations So again: what does “tripling” mean when talking about an app that has obviously been well-funded for quite some time? As digital assumes a larger role with the business, the funding required to build a digital customer experience will extend beyond the reaches of mobile. The capabilities many consumers demand can be difficult if not impossible without significant effort on the backend to align technology. Banks are starting to realize this, building out unified digital platforms that streamline the architecture and better position institutions to offer truly modern, data-driven, and value-added consumer experiences. These kinds of initiatives can often run in tandem with larger cultural and multi-channel efforts. In the press release for the announcement, Bank of America said it was launching a digital ambassador initiative which, similar to the Barclays Digital Eagles program, will see front-line branch staff reskilled to be able to assist with digital channels. The bank is also launching cardless ATMs later this year. I´m assuming the coincidence of these announcements is anything but, and that the funds for “mobile” will largely be dispersed over (or fit into) a wider array of strategic digital initiatives. Institutions need to create a solid digital base within the institution, bringing in culture, personnel, and technology across all channels and lines of business to start transforming digitally. Banks are being challenged by the notion of “becoming digital.” Many have reached the point of recognizing the inevitable digitization of the business model, and are in the throes of decision making that will determine how equipped they are to appeal to the new digital consumer. Most institutions are experiencing these growing pains, and very few have committed to digital at the level demanded by customers. If Bank of America is indeed tripling its budget just for mobile, then I´ll be very interested to see the kind of features the bank develops over the next few years. Yet there´s a lot that goes on to make the front end look good and spending more on the front will mean more spending on the back. Mobile banking is a significant part of digital banking, but remember that it’s only ONE part. While new functionality gets the headlines, it’s what’s under the hood – culture and backend – that truly matters.

Is the tablet banking honeymoon over?

Only a couple years ago, as mobile banking was growing rapidly, and the conversation around development strategies was at its height, tablets played a prominent role in channel strategies at the largest and most digitally mature institutions. The consumer interest in tablets over the last year or two, however, has plateaued—even waned. Tablet is nowhere near dead, but sales have started to level off. According to ABI Research, tablet sales experienced a 19% YoY decline in growth from 2014-2015. There are a few reasons for this:
  • Tablets have low replacement cycles: Tablets aren´t being recycled at nearly the rate of phones. Partially this has to do with wear and tear—tablets typically sit at home, aren´t charged as often, and aren´t dropped nearly as much—but likely a bigger reason is the lack of major advancements in hardware.   There simply hasn’t been a new tablet feature in the last couple years for which consumers are choosing to shell out another $400-600 (or more).
  • Phablets have taken over as the preferred device: consumers are increasingly going for phones that can provide the screen space of a tablet with the mobility of a smartphone. Phones have been steadily growing in size to meet this need. Phablets can provide the processing power to accommodate the needs of consumers for less.
  • Tablets haven´t carved out a distinct enough use case: It´s still unclear to what extent tablets are devices of leisure, business, lifestyle, etc. There´s the Surface 4 and others that are starting to seriously go after the laptop market with a full operating system and keyboard, but the best-selling tablets on amazon are all those with small screens and cheap price tags.
Celent´s discussions with banks have largely echoed this change, moving to a broader understanding of digital strategy and what it means to be “mobile.” It´s not that tablets aren´t important—far from it—but banks have limited resources dedicated to digital channels, and institutions should be thinking about prioritizing development where the opportunity is highest. A recent Celent report on digital transformation showed that more than 65% of banks cite resources and availability as a barrier to digital maturity. So what’s a financial institution to make of all this?
  1. Use responsive design: A bank may have been able to manage native apps when there were only a handful of devices, but that´s no longer the case. Responsive design has evolved to the point of being able to provide the same look and feel through an experience automatically tailored to the user´s device.
  2. Think about the consumer-facing branch tablet: This could be roaming personnel in the branch, tablet-like ATMs and kiosks, or as a way to streamline the on-boarding process.   The characteristics of tablet interfaces should influence design in other channels.
  3. Design the right app if large tablets are going to continue to be a priority: As the form and function of smartphones and tablets begin to move closer together, institutions will have to reassess where the full tablet experience sits within its strategic digital priorities. The consumer-facing tablet experience may need to reflect the evolving use case.
Celent will continue to discuss the role of tablets in financial services going forward, but the conversation around mobile banking will reflect the larger digital channels picture, rather than tablet vs smartphone vs. online banking. We feel this is more in line with the way the market is moving.

Mobile, onboarding among dominant themes at FinovateFall 2015

When I’m feeling a bit flip, I tell clients that Celent goes to a lot of conferences so that they don’t have to. Don’t get me wrong: conferences are worthwhile, and you have a lot of serendipitous conversations. But they’re also time away from the office, and, to be honest, not every minute is completely productive. With that in mind, I’ll describe my very-high level takeaways of Finovate Fall 2015, held earlier this week at the New York Hilton. As I listened to each of the 70 7-minute pitches (2 presenters scratched), I tagged them in an unscientific way. Each company received two to eight words describing the space the problem they were solving and how they did it. Here’s the resulting word cloud: Finovate Word Cloud Mobile, unsurprisingly, dominated. I was astonished, however, at the prominence of “onboarding,” a term I used to cover a wide variety of solutions pertaining to account opening, from ID verification to assisted form filling. Many talked about eliminating friction, and creating a platform to support a particular service. Security and Fraud were prominent, as was the concept of components, often enabled by APIs. The biggest surprise: only two companies addressed Blockchain technology – perhaps that will change at FinovateSpring. Somewhere around the 60th presentation, I was struck by the variability in presentation skills and solution excellence. Being a consultant, I had to create a 2×2, below. What did we miss because the product or service was presented sub-optimally? Finally, a big thanks to the folks at Finovate – Celent values our partnership with this great event. If you’d like more detail, check out their blog, which describes the best in show winners. What did you like at Finovate?

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.

Pushing beyond apps

It struck me while I was driving this morning: First-gen mobile apps are fine, but virtually everyone is missing high-volume opportunities to engage with their customers. Allow me to back up a step. I was stuck in traffic. Not surprisingly, that gave me some time to ponder my driving experience. I found myself thinking: Why can’t I give my car’s navigation system deep personalizations to help it think the way I do? And how do I get around its singular focus on getting from Point A to Point B? I explored the system while at a red light. It had jammed me onto yet another “Fastest Route,” disguised as a parking lot. My tweaks to the system didn’t seem to help. I decided what I’d really like is a Creativity slider so I could tell my nav how far out there to be in determining my route. Suburban side streets, public transportation, going north to eventually head south, and even well-connected parking lots are all nominally on the table when I’m at the helm. So why can’t I tell my nav to think like me? I’d also like a more personal, periodic verbal update on my likely arrival time, which over the course of my trip this morning went from 38 minutes to almost twice that due to traffic. The time element is important, of course. But maybe my nav system should sense when I’m agitated (a combination of wearables and telematics would be a strong indicator) and do something to keep me from going off the deep end. Jokes? Soothing music? Directions to highly-rated nearby bakeries? Words of serenity? More configurability is required, obviously, or some really clever automated customization. Then an even more radical thought struck. Why couldn’t my nav help me navigate not only my trip but my morning as well? “Mr. Weber, you will be in heavy traffic for the next 20 minutes. Shall I read through your unopened emails for you while you wait?” Or, “Your calendar indicates that you have an appointment before your anticipated arrival time. Shall I email the participants to let them know you’re running late?” Or (perhaps if I’m not that agitated), “While you have a few minutes would you like to check your bank balances, or talk to someone about your auto insurance renewal which is due in 10 days?” What I’m describing here is a level of engagement between me and my mobile devices which is difficult to foster, for both technical and psychological reasons. And it doesn’t work if a nav system is simply a nav system that doesn’t have contextual information about the user. But imagine the benefits if the navigation company, a financial institution, and other consumer-focused firms thought through the consumer experience more holistically. By sensibly injecting themselves into consumers’ daily routines—even when those routines are stressful—companies will have a powerful connection to their customers that will be almost impossible to dislodge. Firms like Google have started down this path, but financial institutions need to push their way into the conversation as well.

The challenges of the new neo bank

Since the launch of neo-banks like Moven, Simple, and GoBank, financial institutions in the US have been avidly monitoring their popularity. Some have written them off as non-starters; others have praised them as disruptors. In recent months, however, the neo-bank model has hit a few stumbling blocks that call into question the promise of the digital-only model, and gives credence to the sceptics. GoBank recently announced that it was going to stop allowing account opening via the mobile device. Users will now have to purchase an account opening “kit” from a store, adding significant friction to the process. Simple has experienced a number of issues related to payment scheduling, the “safe-to-spend feature,” and service outages or delays. Moven received $8 million to begin moving their app overseas in an effort to garner higher adoption. The promise of these new start-ups was a drastic improvement on customer experience, ditching traditionally stale financial services with improved digital offerings, social media integration, and a familiar/casual communication style. Yet these recent issues serve as a reality check for the neo-bank model—when your value proposition is customer experience, technical issues look 10x worse. It´s far from clear what will happen to these new market players, but Celent envisions a couple of different paths over the next few years.
  • Neo-banks are acquired and rolled into larger digital channels offerings: I wrote earlier this year about banks acquiring technology companies, thereby acting more like tech companies than traditional banks. The neo-bank model and acquisition of innovation are not that dissimilar, and BBVA´s acquisition of Simple is the conflation of both strategies. Through acquisition, BBVA is able to jump the steps of creating a culture for digital channels innovation, establishing a customer base (albeit small), and aligning internal resources required to launch a new service. There aren´t many neo-banks, but digital channels start-ups are numerous. This could be the way forward for institutions that are struggling with adapting the existing operating model to digital financial services.
  • Traditional institutions begin offering their own neo-bank, digital-only services: Fundamentally, there`s nothing truly disruptive about a neo-bank. There´s no secret algorithm, intellectual property, or disruptive idea at work, and many banks are more than capable of offering similar levels of service. Indeed some of them have already begun offering digital services through a separate digital brand. Examples globally include NAB´s UBank, ASB BankDirect, Banamex´s Blink, Hello Bank by BNP Paribas, and Customer Bancorp’s new mobile brand. With new brands, and often new platforms, these banks are testing the digital model. This should satisfy a growing number of digitally driven consumers, as well as provide a clear path for banks looking to move accounts to more digitally-focused services.
  • Neo-banks never become viable stand-alone business models, but they influence the way banks think about digital channels: Currently, most neo-banks aren´t banks–they rely on other institutions to handle the deposits, making them simple prepaid services with additional functionality. The reliance on third-parties is becoming a bottleneck for delivering the value neo-banks have come to represent. Without diversified financial offerings that encompass the entire financial need of the consumer, these “prepaid” services are pressed to create enough value to validate adoption. This is a major question when assessing viability.
There´s even a fourth scenario that could play out over a longer period of time: neo-banks become the primary way digital natives interact with financial institutions as they mature into adulthood. No matter which scenario plays out, neo-banks have undoubtedly moved the conversation around user experience and digital channels forward in a way that would not have happened otherwise. They are setting the bar high, with the big question being whether they will be able to gather the adoption needed to make their services sustainable. What do you think? Will the concept of neo-banks have a place within traditional banking?

Wearable devices and the future of authentication

There is a lot of hype around wearables (smartwatches, fitness bands, etc.) and they may have all kinds of interesting potential. This potential, particularly for banking is still to be determined. However, I believe that there is a great opportunity for certain wearable devices to provide strong authentication and enhance the user experience (see this blog entry). Examples are starting to trickle out:
  • RBC recently announced that it has partnered up with a firm called Bionym. Bionym offers a wearable device, the Nymi Band, that can be used for authenticating you to all kinds of products, devices and services (see this video for potential use cases). The device will take the user’s electrocardiogram and use it for authentication purposes. RBC and Bionym are going to test ECG authenticated payments at the point of sale. Sounds pretty cool to me! The Nymi band is a $79 product that can be ordered on Kickstarter.
  • Last week, at the AFP Conference, Online Banking Solutions (OBS) showed me a demo of how they are using a smartwatch to authenticate corporate online banking transactions. When the user performs a certain function, an alert is sent to the smartwatch (the demo was shown to me on a Moto360). The user then has to interact with the watch in order to confirm or reject the transaction.
Much of this is obviously still experimental. It is however highly innovative, and a step in the right direction to killing the password.