Don’t Be Crowdsourced Out Of Business

This is the fifth and final piece in my series on emerging threats to banks from non-financial companies — one that shines a light on the pooling of money from many different people to make an idea happen. Click on any of these titles to read my previous posts: For Banks, the Sky IS FallingPayPal is Eating Your Bank’s LunchThe Bank of Facebook and Is WalMart the Next Big Bank.

Next week kicks off Shark Week on the Discovery channel… maybe you’ve been inspired by the endless commercials hyping this programming during Deadliest Catch?  Perhaps so inspired that you’ve come up with a brilliant new idea that just needs some money to get it off the ground!  As a creative type (you watch Shark Week after all), you can’t be bothered with your community bank’s draconian business loan process.  No, you want to start right away and are going all in with a crowdsourcing platform (there are some 700 or so) to rally the capital you need to get your project off the ground.  After all, your “financial backers” on such a platform will not profit financially — unlike those greedy banks that certainly will — while your great idea will flourish thanks to this oh-so-captivated audience that gave you their money with nothing expected in return.

Against this backdrop, banks have no chance, right?

Hyperbole aside, it may be easy to underestimate the impact of crowdfunding on financial institutions, dismissing these “purpose-driven marketplaces” as nothing more than online outposts where wacky ideas attract even wackier investors.  While banks possess inherent competitive advantages in today’s digital world (e.g. large customer bases, vast amounts of customer and transaction data along with the capabilities to enable payments, security, and financing), keep in mind a proverb that “the shark who has eaten cannot swim with the shark that is hungry.”  To this end, let me repurpose the thoughts of  LinkedIn’s co-founder Reid Hoffman, who opines:

“Crowdfunding relies on the wisdom of crowds to identify, fund and unleash entrepreneurial innovation far more efficiently than the credit rules of banks can.”

Having looked at the competitive stances taken by Wal-Mart, Facebook and PayPal in previous posts, let me shift my focus to two of the more well-known crowd funding marketplaces that are “democratizing access to capital, fueling entrepreneurship and innovation, and profoundly changing the face of philanthropy at unprecedented scale and impact.”  Rather than deep dive their business models, let me share, in their words, why people gravitate to their respective sites.

Indiegogo
Founded in 2008 and headquartered in San Francisco, this site was one of the first to offer crowd funding.

Indiegogo is no longer unique; indeed, numerous crowdfunding sites make billions of dollars of capital accessible to upstarts and entrepreneurs alike.  However, it is one of the most established in the space.  As they share “people usually contribute to campaigns for four different reasons: people, passion, participation, and perks. Often, people contribute to support other people—maybe contributing to the campaign of a friend or another inspiring individual. Others contribute because they’re passionate about a mission, such as women’s health or elementary education. Others are motivated by a desire to participate in something big, like building a new community center in their hometown. And often, people contribute to receive perks, the cool things or experiences they get in return for their contributions.”

Kickstarter
A global crowdfunding platform with a stated mission to help bring creative projects to life.

As the company explains, “Mozart, Beethoven, Whitman, Twain, and other artists funded works in similar ways — not just with help from large patrons, but by soliciting money from smaller patrons, often called subscribers. In return for their support, these subscribers might have received an early copy or special edition of the work. Kickstarter is an extension of this model, turbocharged by the web.”

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The reason I wrote today’s piece — and the previous four — is simple.  I am convinced that many community banks have real opportunities to expand what banking means to its individual and business customers by offering services that go beyond their traditional business model.  While many bankers recognize the threats presented by Bank of America to their long-term survival, I am concerned that non-bank competition poses an even greater threat.  Essentially, I think more bank CEOs and boards need to take their conversations beyond just cutting branches and full-time employees and consider how they make the bank more efficient by reinventing how they do things.

Whether you agree or disagree, I’d be interested in your thoughts. Feel free to leave a comment below by clicking on the white plus sign (within the grey circle at the bottom of this page) and I invite you to follow me on Twitter (@aldominick) where you can publicly or privately share your thoughts with me.

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