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September 20, 2016 by Ron Shevlin Ron Shevlin

A GonzoBanker Guide to Finovate Fall 2016

If you’ve ever attended a Finovate conference (now in its 10th year of existence), you know that it’s truly a firehose of information, an assault on one’s ability to comprehend and process anything, as 70 companies present their spiels in seven-minute spots. Then there are the nearly 1,500 attendees walking around, making it almost impossible to get close to the coffee.

Despite all that, it’s still this GonzoBanker’s favorite conference to attend (maybe because I only have a seven-minute attention span?). There are, however, a few things that drive me nuts about Finovate:

No rhyme or reason to the order and flow. The conference intentionally does not group presenters by technology or category or anything else. But as an attendee, I’d like to see all PFM providers in one segment, or all security/authentication vendors in one segment. Mostly so I could compare and contrast more easily, but also so I could choose to bail out of one segment and go meet with people. In each 10-presenter segment, I probably only really care about five or six of them—but I can’t leave and come back in, because of the random order.

The line between reality and hype is paper thin. Finovate has a strict rule: no PowerPoint slides. That doesn’t mean, though, that what attendees see are real demos of live systems. And please don’t think that presenters will make that clear.

People (i.e., attendees) are so shallow. When it comes to voting for “best in show,” the presenters with the flashiest interfaces invariably win, regardless of the business potential or technological innovation of what was presented. One firm, a security/authentication vendor, won a best-in-show award, in no small part because the presenter was funny. Guy gets up there and says “I don’t know why we need a seven-minute presentation. Will only take me 30 seconds to show our technology.” He takes a selfie, logs into this account and says: “OK, five minutes and 45 seconds left. What do I do now? OK, let me show you that again.” Which he did. Four or five more times. And he wins an award. Really, people?

* * *

Here’s a rundown of each of the 72 presenters.

Just kidding. Doing that would be more painful for us than it would be for you trying to read it. Instead, here are three of the major themes that emerged:

1. Bots are hot. Lots of bot demos, including those from Personetics and Kore, which presented strong use cases (i.e, customer service and advice/guidance). Those presenting “transactional” use cases were less compelling. We’ve got a low tolerance for gee-whiz technology with no strong business case/impact, so if we had heard one more presenter say, “Alexa, how much money is in my account?” or—even worse—say, “Alexa, can I afford to spend $150 for dinner?” we might have rushed the stage and thrown the presenter off. Dismissing the cutesy Alexa questions, the important underlying trend here that needs attention is that AI technology has really come a long way to delivering highly credible customer service capabilities.

2. Security/authentication. In the context of the conference, security/authentication technology demos poorly. Like the example discussed above, what’s there to show? You take a picture, read a fingerprint, scan an eye, analyze spit … whatever … and log in or get rejected. Ho hum. But the number of presenters showing their technologies in this area demonstrates the importance of the technology, and the amount of money that’s going into improving security/authentication.

3. If Finovate is any predictor of the zeitgeist in banking, then big data is dead. That said, if Finovate is a predictor of banking zeitgeist, then long live analytics! A number of firms presented their data analytics capabilities, but amazingly—and thankfully—not one of them used the term Big Data. The presenters in this space generally diverged on one point: whether they use their own proprietary data source(s), like TransUnion showing some really good analytics capabilities tied to their data, or whether they provide generic data analytics capabilities like MapD and QEData.

As a side note, some of the presentations in this segment were just a blur of colors as the presenters seem to think that clicking through a million things to get to some multi-colored graph is useful. Then again, if you recall the “people are shallow” comment, then maybe we’re the minority here.

Speaking of colors … one firm presented its ability to “color code” customer conversations. The firm’s technology color codes call center or Web interactions based on the emotional level or content discussed in an interaction. The presenter talked about banks’ desire to have a “four-color conversation” with customers. WE TOTALLY DID NOT UNDERSTAND ANY OF THIS.

At the break, we ran into a client and asked him what he was seeing that he liked. He said that his bank uses the said-company’s tool, which sits on top of the core, analyzes interactions in real-time, and suggests prompts and scripts to call center reps. We asked, “So how many four-color conversations do you have?” To which he replied, “We don’t do anything with colors—I wish the guy hadn’t presented that.” Just goes to show you that a presenter can really screw things up. But those of you involved in technology selection projects already knew that.

* * *

A few other firms that stood out:

Sindeo presented its online mortgage application process. Hot damn, this was slick. Very impressive. Fintech startups continue to raise the bar on customer experience. But that’s not the only threat from an existing financial institution perspective. What the fintech startups are doing is capturing the “convenience” position of the market.

FIS demoed its Avidia Bank deployment of cardless access to ATMs. When FIS presenter Doug Brown told us beforehand that he’d be demoing four use cases in seven minutes, we didn’t think FIS would pull it off—but it did, seamlessly. We caught up with CarrieAnne Cormier from Avidia later in the day and asked: “OK, so what’s the real impact of this? Have you stopped issuing cards? Seeing a decline in replacement cards? Any impact?” She said the biggest benefit was the fact that since they don’t do instant issuing of cards, an Avidia customer can be set up with a new or replacement card on her smartphone and use that immediately, waiting for the physical card to arrive. But she also added, “We try to compete in our market based on having superior mobile capabilities, so to a large extent, we have to have this to be consistent with our stated value proposition.” Kudos for that.

Fiserv demoed something it called Social Lending. The crux of the solution is that if a customer asks a bank for a $30k loan, Fiserv’s technology would enable a bank to say, “We’ll offer $21k at 9%” and get additional sources (friends? family?) to put up the rest (at a different and, likely, higher rate). As demoed, we were a bit skeptical about this. If a customer applies for a loan, and the financial institution tells her, “We’ll give 21k at 9% and 9k at 12%,” don’t you think that customer is likely to say or think, “Why don’t you just give me $30k at 10.5% (or whatever)?” Here’s why we think the technology could be noteworthy: Q. What’s the biggest cause of attrition at credit unions? A. Members who get turned down for a loan. So … if Fiserv could use this technology to enable a credit union to either syndicate a loan, or maybe directly work with a set of other credit unions to fund loan apps, it may be able to collaborate to keep more members in the credit union system.

Avoka demoed its Avoka Exchange, which offers an ability for an FI to seamlessly plug and play different vendors for account opening/onboarding. Avoka got one of this GonzoBanker’s votes for best-in-show, and we found it hard to believe that it didn’t garner enough votes from other attendees. How could that be? Oh yeah, shallow people.

MX demoed two things. MX CEO Ryan Caldwell started by saying, “What we’re going to show you is next-gen account aggregation” and then basically proceeded to slam Yodlee for the abysmal data quality of current account aggregation. Then he switched gears (pun intended) and announced Power Switch, technology that enables a financial institution to go into Amazon, Netflix, etc., and change a user’s default card option to the FI’s card—in effect, making the card “top of wallet.” By the way, when Yodlee presented the next day, it took a shot back at MX. Let the aggregation wars begin!

Special mention to the presenters for whom English isn’t their first language. It’s hard enough to get up and present a seven-minute demo to 1,500 critical (and a few snarky) industry insiders. But doing so in English when it’s not your preferred language makes it even harder. Hats off, and thanks, to the presenters who did it.

Were you at the conference? If so, let us know what you thought, and what caught your eye.


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One Response to “A GonzoBanker Guide to Finovate Fall 2016”

  1. Kim says:

    Excellent recap! Cardless ATM access as an alternative to instant issue is a link I hadn’t made. And the concept Avoka brings should reduce reliance on slow-to-market, clunky account opening products that we see from the big players. Hope to see both at BAI Beacon in a few weeks!

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