InnovationStrategy Planning

My Finovate State of Mind

I attended my first Finovate conference this week in San Jose. The demo-only format conference showcased 72 Fintech companies/ products. I’m sharing the broad themes I saw emerging in the FinTech space, hoping it helps FinTech – and FinServ – enthusiasts who could not attend this conference.

Digitization.

This is probably the most obvious and expected overarching theme. But, the level of digitization varied. In one instance, I saw a mobile app, Roostify (@Roostify) enable preapproval of loans with a few clicks within 7 mins – linking to digitized/ semi-digitized information sources like TurboTax and W2 pay stubs. And in others, I saw apps still working with physical documents but enabling their digital storage or data scrapping for insights

But FinovateSpring 2016 reiterated that if your Financial Institution has not already started on its digital transformation, its chances of surviving are slim.

As Steve Gotz(@stevegotz) mentioned at NextBank Silicon Valley (#NBSV16) conference, digital is not a channel, it’s the only product for the future.

Think “And” and not “Or”

What came as a bigger pleasant surprise at FinovateSpring was the overwhelming majority of B2B products aimed at helping Financial Institutions (FI) evolve. While some were directly catering to the FI (e.g., Qumram @QumramAG, Nymbus @NymbusCore, Equityzen @EquityZen, etc.), many offered white label products that the FI could customize. In fact, Linqto (#Linqto) was enabling connection between apps and FI with a FI app store.

This only confirmed my belief that if people are still talking “Fintech OR FinServ” instead of “FinTech AND FinServ”, they are sticking their head in the sand oblivious to what’s happening around them.

In fact, the conversation has moved even further – in the direction of creating ecosystems (platforms) for collaboration and co-creation, as discussed by a star- studded panel in the NextBank Silicon Valley conference the very next day.

Along those lines, reviving bank’s technology by changing the core or revitalizing with APIs is a conversation that’s alive, kicking and happening right now.

Data, Machine Learning/ Artificial Intelligence …. and Insights

I loved seeing this theme of cognitive intelligence, machine learning and data insights repeat over and over itself at FinovateSpring. More so since this is close to my heart. I have repeatedly written that digital => data. And with the current digital ubiquity and future IoT revolution, there will be more data. And those who find a way to use that data well will thrive.

Products showcased at the conference knew the importance of collecting the right data and using data well using Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence. There were far too many to list in this post. In fact, one of the payment companies (Payment Ninja @PaymentNinja) had priced their product at $0 since their revenue model was based on delivering insights on the data collected in the process of payment processing. Smart people!

Creating transparency on logic behind the insights to help build user confidence (and influence adoption) was another topic that was seen quite frequently.

Interesting, in my line of work, I find myself convincing people to invest in predictive analytics (PA) sooner than later. And I regularly come across people who think PA is something they will get to eventually, but are too busy doing other things (BAU) right now.

I only wish they were at this conference…seeing the power of predictive analytics …. realizing that they are already behind the curve since at least a few in attendance will be seriously considering moving even further ahead in their analytics journey creating a competitive advantage

“This is just for you” AKA Personalization

Personalization of recommendation/ interface/ message as a natural use case of data insight came through in many product demos.

Personalization was more pronounced in several wealth management solutions demoed– announcing that the future of contextual, personalized and timely advice is already here (which I will cover in a separate post).

Personalization was also presented other areas e.g., in the context of customer service (SaleMove @SaleMove), client communication (Silver6 #Silver6), Marketing (Card Linx @CardLinxAssoc).

Authentication/ Security is a precursor of personalization and so, several products showcased included authentication as a stand-alone feature or as an in-built feature.

FinTech for all: Financial Inclusion

Over the last few months, several social media posts have wondered if more FinTech developments also mean more financial inclusion. At FinovateSpring, companies like BanQu @BanQuApp, Finova Financial @FinovaFinancial, Pay Activ @PayActiv, Student Loan Genius @MySLGenius, seemed to the say “yes”

Though financial inclusion products were just a hand-full in the list of 72, the fact that they made up 33% of best-of-show awards speaks volumes about their appeal and relevance.

“Problem” over “Technology”

I believe technology which solves an acute problem is way cooler than technology for its own sake. And as entrepreneurs, it is normal to be fixated with a technology solution and seek a problem it can solve.

At Finovate, some of the solutions were impressive more because of the problems they were solving and not necessarily because of the technology.

Use of blockchain by BanQu was impressive because it was solving to provide financial identity and dignity to refugees. Silver6 solution was impressive not because of the technology but because it was offering a way to engage clients even through mundane client communication. Student Loan Genius was interesting because it was offering a solution for employees who could not previously take advantage of their employer’s matching 401(k) contributions. In fact, I don’t even know if the last instance involved tech innovation. But seriously, I don’t care since I am more interested in the problem it solves.

The companies that demoed their products were varied in terms of their experience, geographical locations, technologies, areas of application, etc. And all also added to the conference’s charm. As Santander’s Brad Leimer (@leimer) shared at the NextBank’s Silicon Valley conference, (paraphrasing) “if you are a small bank and want to survive, you should take your executive team to Finovate conference to learn and collaborate.” Seeing the large contingent of Capital One at FinovateSpring, I know that that this advice applies irrespective of your FI size.

If I were to pick a few words to describe my state-of-mind at the end of FinovateSpring and NextBank Silicon Valley conferences, I would say: “Digitize”, “Partner”, “Personalize”, “Include” and “Solve.”

PS: If you are interested in the PFM/wealth management industry, my next post that will cover FinovateSpring’s implications for this sector.

PPS: This is not a detailed summary of FinovateSpring 2016. Check out Beyond the Arc blog for quick commentary on each of the products showcased. If Fintech developments interest you, consider subscribing to Finovate blog to stay updated.

(Author is the CEO and Founder or S2E Consulting)

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