3 Approaches to Shaping a Bank’s Digital Future

  • To compete in this new era of heightened digital competition, it is more important than ever for banks of all sizes to stay committed to the quest of constant improvement.

WASHINGTON, DC — How should you position your bank for the future — or, for that matter, the present?  This is one of the most perplexing questions challenging leadership teams right now.  It is not a new consideration; indeed, the industry has been in a constant state of evolution for as long as anyone on our team can remember. Yet lately, it has taken on a new, possibly more existential sense of urgency.

Fortunately, there are examples of banks, of different sizes and a variety of business models, keeping pace with changing consumer expectations and commercial clients’ needs. The industry seems to be responding to the ongoing digital revolution in banking in three ways.

#1: Forge Your Own Digital Frontier

The biggest banks—those like JPMorgan Chase & Co., Bank of America Corp. and Wells Fargo & Co.—have the resources to forge their own paths on the digital frontier. These banks spend as much as $11 billion a year each on technology. Each hires thousands of programmers to conceptualize digital solutions for customers. And you know what? Their results are impressive.

As many as three-quarters of deposit transactions are completed digitally at these banks (take a minute and let that number sink in).  A growing share of sales, account openings and money transfers take place over these banks’ digital channels as well. This allows these banks to winnow down their branch networks meaningfully while still gaining retail deposit market share.

*IMO, the next step in their evolution is to combine digital delivery channels with insights gleaned from data. It’s by marrying the two, I believe, that banks can gain a competitive advantage by improving the financial lives of their customers.

#2: Look Outside For Tailored Solutions

Just below the biggest banks are super-regional and regional banks.  They too are fully embracing technology, although they tend to look outside their organizations for tailored solutions that will help them compete in this new era (rather than develop the solutions themselves).

These banks talk about integration as a competitive advantage. They argue that they can quickly and nimbly integrate digital solutions developed elsewhere—growing without a burdensome branch network while also benefiting from the latest technologies without bearing the risk and cost of developing many of those solutions themselves. It is a way, in other words, for them to have their cake and eat it too.

U.S. Bancorp and PNC Financial Services Group fall into this category. Both are reconfiguring their delivery channels, reallocating funds that would be spent on expanding and updating their branch networks to digital investments.

In theory, this makes it possible for these banks to expand into new geographic markets with far fewer branches. Indeed, U.S. Bancorp announced recently that it will use a combination of digital channels and new branches to establish a physical retail beachhead in Charlotte, North Carolina. PNC Financial is doing the same in Dallas, Texas, among other markets.

#3: Go Off-the-Shelf

Finally, smaller community banks are adopting off-the-shelf solutions offered by their core providers—Fidelity National Information Services (FIS), Fiserv and Jack Henry & Associates.

This approach can be both a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing because these solutions have enabled upwards of 90 percent of community banks to offer mobile banking applications—table stakes nowadays in the industry. It is a curse because it further concentrates the reliance of community banks on a triumvirate of service providers.

In the final analysis, however, it is important to appreciate that smaller banks based outside of major metropolitan areas still have a leg up when it comes to tried-and-true relationship banking. Their share of loans and deposits in their local markets could even grow if the major money-center banks continue fleeing smaller markets in favor of big cities.

Smaller regional and community banks dominate small business loans in their markets—a fact that was recently underscored by LendingClub Corp.’s decision to close its small business lending unit. These loans still require local expertise—the type of expertise that resides in their hometown banks. The same is true of agriculture loans.

Let’s Not Forget: Banks Are Still Banks

Trust is still the top factor cited by customers in the selection process. And loans must still be underwritten in a responsible way if a bank wants to survive the irregular, but not infrequent, cycles that define our economy. The net result is that some community banks are not only surviving in this new digital era, they are thriving.

But this isn’t a call to complacency—far from it.

On the Horizon for Bank CEOs, Their Leadership Teams and Boards

WASHINGTON, DC — Can community banks out-compete JP Morgan, BofA and Wells Fargo?  This is the elephant in the room awaiting 853 bank executives and board members — representing 432 Banks — at our upcoming Acquire or Be Acquired Conference.  The lights don’t officially come up on our 25th annual event at the JW Marriott Phoenix Desert Ridge until Sunday, January 27.  So in advance, three big questions I anticipate fielding in the desert.

Does 2019 Become the Year of BigTech?

As noted by H2 Ventures and KPMG, Amazon is providing payment services and loans to merchants on its platform, while Facebook recently secured an electronic money licence in Ireland.  Alibaba, Baidu and Tencent have become dominant operators in China’s $5.5 trillion payments industry.  Add in Fiserv’s recent $22B acquisition of First Data and Plaid’s of Quovo and we might be seeing the start of a consolidation trend in the financial technology sector.  Will such investments and tie-ups draw the attention of big technology companies to the financial services industry?

Has the window to sell your bank already closed?

When I heard the rumor that BBVA might be buying UK-based Atom Bank — one of the proverbial European challenger banks — I started to look at acquisition trends here in the U.S.  Case-in-point, we put together the following graphic in December for BankDirector.com

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We know that some community banks have been holding out hopes of higher pricing multiples or for a strategic partner.  These institutions might find the window of opportunity to stage an exit isn’t as open as it was just a few years ago. This doesn’t mean the window has shut — but I do think an honest assessment of what’s realistic, at the board level, is appropriate.

Wither the bond market?

A NY Times op-ed piece  posits that the bond market reveals growing cracks in the financial system.  Authored by Sheila Bair, the former chairwoman of the FDIC, and Gaurav Vasisht, director of financial regulation at the Volcker Alliance, it warns that “regulators are not doing enough to make sure that banks are prepared.”  While the duo calls for thicker capital cushions for big banks and tighter leveraged loan underwriting standards, I wonder how executives joining us in Arizona feel about this potential threat to our economy?
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As the premier bank M&A event for bank CEOs, senior management and board members, Bank Director’s 25th annual Acquire or Be Acquired Conference brings together key bank leaders from across the country to explore merger & acquisition strategies and financial growth opportunities. If you’re joining us in the desert, I’ll share a few FYIs later this week. If you’re unable to join us in Phoenix, AZ, I’ll be tweeting from @aldominick and using #AOBA19 when sharing on social platforms like LinkedIn.

Trending Topics from CBALive!

Quickly:
  • A few quick-hit thoughts from this week’s CBALive! conference, where I spent the past three days engaged in conversations about consumer behavior and emerging digital initiatives.

ORLANDO, FL — When the Former Director of the National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency says that the private sector needs to step in and take more responsibility for cyber safety and protection, it is a lede I dare not bury.

To paraphrase General Michael Hayden, now a Principal at The Chertoff Group, nation-states like North Korea and Iran pose major challenges to the fabric of our financial industry.  The Russians, though, remain in a class of their own.  As he explained, their focus on information dominance, not just cyber dominance, reflects a coordinated and concentrated fight to control the American public’s perceptions. As the recent presidential election proved, their ability to create “information bubbles” gives them a weapon with which to hurt companies’ reputations in addition to using other cyber hacking techniques to corrupt an institution’s data or to steal money.

While many bank boards have a tight pulse on their organization’s cybersecurity preparedness, Gen. Hayden made clear that the U.S. government views cyber as a new domain of warfare (alongside the traditional domains of air, sea, land and space).  Whether they want to or not, banks of all sizes form the cavalry that needs to ride to the country’s rescue as the cyber threats continue to proliferate.

Gen. Hayden discussed our virtual vulnerabilities and the real risks for our country during his afternoon’s keynote presentation at the Consumer Bankers Association CBALive! conference at the Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek.  In addition to these remarks, I made note of three key issues that tie into their conference theme of “beyond the bank:”

The race to grow deposits continues.

The digital presence and marketing efforts of the biggest banks in the U.S. continue to enable them to acquire an outsized share of consumer and commercial relationships.  Given that deposits proved the big theme at our Acquire or Be Acquired Conference, I made note of Novantas‘ perspectives as they apply to community banks trying to grow and compete.  Given their involvement with financial institutions — the firm provides information, analyses and automated solutions designed to improve revenue generation — they believe acquisitive banks must apply the same discipline to evaluating a potential acquisition bank’s deposit portfolio as they historically have given to the lending book.  As they shared in a white paper, “the importance of such rigor has increased with higher rates: the low-rate banks of yesterday can wind up with unattractive deposit positions tomorrow.”

Artificial intelligence remains the ultimate buzzword.

Alistair Rennie, General Manager, Solutions at IBM Watson Financial Services opined on the promise of machine learning and artificial intelligence, highlighting the intersection of digital, offline and social identity data as a means to improve enterprise-wide visibility into regulatory and internal compliance controls.  As he shared, cognitive technologies promise to fundamentally change how banks identify customer behaviors and patterns. Personally, I found his most interesting point for bank leadership came from his first audience-specific question (*see the image that leads off today’s post).

Can you really “own” the customer experience?

Forgive me if you caught me rolling my eyes during presentations that began with “banks need to own the customer experience,” especially when delivered as if a novel approach to business.  Marketing 101 starts with a basic premise: know your customer — and give them what they want.  So when looking for the characteristics of disruption that might strengthen a relationship, I liked this particular tweet:

While we covered a lot of ground, these three thoughts accompany me on my flight home to D.C.  My thanks to Richard Hunt and his team at the CBA for inviting me and our CMO, Michelle King, to join them in Orlando.  The CBA represents America’s retail banks and does a great job bringing together some of the biggest institutions in the U.S. to address issues such as these.  If you’re not following Richard on Twitter, his handle is @cajunbanker and for the CBA, check out @consumerbankers.

Ranking the 10 Biggest Banks

Quickly:

  • Bank Director’s year-long Ranking Banking study focuses less on current profitability and market capitalization & more on how the top 10 banks in the U.S. are strategically positioned for success.

By Al Dominick, CEO of DirectorCorps — parent co. to Bank Director & FinXTech

WASHINGTON, DC — It is with tremendous pride that I share the results of Bank Director’s year-long study on America’s 10 largest banks.
  As my colleague, Bill King, wrote to open our inaugural Ranking Banking, we felt that a truly comprehensive analysis of the largest banks was missing, one that includes not just profitability or customer satisfaction ratings, but also compiles numerous measures of strength and financial health — a project to rank each of the largest banks for each major line of business based on qualities that all big banks need.

For instance, we decided to rank banks for branch networks, mobile banking, innovation and wealth management. We analyzed corporate banking and small business lending. We interviewed experts in the field and did secret shopper visits to the biggest banks to find out what the customer experience was like.  Unlike other rankings, we even included complaints lodged with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau as one of many customer satisfaction metrics that we analyzed.  In other words, there is little about the biggest banks in the nation that we left out.

So who came out on top?

JPMorgan Chase & Co. topped Bank Director’s 2018 Ranking Banking study.

In fact, Chase won five of the ten individual categories and ranked near the top in three more, and was judged by Bank Director to be the most worthy claimant of the title Best of the Biggest Banks.  The individual category winners are:

Best Branch Network: Wells Fargo & Co.

Despite its well-publicized unauthorized account opening scandal, Wells Fargo topped the branch category by showing the best balance of deposit growth and efficiency, and scored well on customer experience reports from Bank Director’s on-site visits.

Best Board: Citigroup

In ranking the boards of directors of the big banks, Bank Director analyzed board composition by factors such as critical skill sets, diversity, median compensation relative to profitability and independence. Citigroup’s board best balanced all components.

Best Brand: JPMorgan Chase & Co.

Chase and runner-up Capital One Financial Corp. stood out for their media spend as a percentage of revenue, and both exhibited strong customer perception metrics.

Best Mobile Strategy: JPMorgan Chase & Co.

Chase has been successful in driving new and existing customers to its mobile products, leading to an impressive digital footprint, measured through mobile app downloads. The bank’s app also scored well with consumers.

Best Core Deposit Growth Strategy: BB&T Corp.

BB&T had a low cost of funds compared to the other ranked banks, and its acquisitions played a strong role in its core deposit growth, which far surpassed the other banks in the ranking.

Most Innovative: JPMorgan Chase & Co.

Chase most successfully balanced actual results with sizeable investments in technological innovation. These initiatives include an in-residence program and a financial commitment to the CFSI Financial Solutions Lab. Chase has also been an active investor in fintech companies.

Best Credit Card Program: JPMorgan Chase & Co.

Chase barely edged out fast-growing Capital One to take the credit card category, outpacing most of its competitors in terms of credit card loan volume and the breadth of its product offering. Chase also scored well with outside brand and market perception studies.

Best Small Business Program: Wells Fargo & Co.

Wells Fargo has long been recognized as a national leader in banking to small businesses, largely because of its extensive branch structure, and showed strong loan growth, which is difficult to manage from a large base. Wells Fargo is also the nation’s most active SBA lender and had the highest volume of small business loans.

Best Bank for Big Business: JPMorgan Chase & Co.

Big banks serve big businesses well, and finding qualitative differences among the biggest players in this category—Chase, Bank of America and Citigroup—is difficult. But Chase takes the category due to its high level of deposit share, loan volume and market penetration.

Best Wealth Management Program: Bank of America Corp.

With Merrill Lynch fueling its wealth management division, Bank of America topped the category by scoring highly in a variety of metrics, including number of advisors (more than 18,000 at last count) and net revenue for wealth and asset management, as well as earning high marks for market perception and from Bank Director’s panel of experts.

FWIW…

The 10 largest U.S. retail banks play an enormously important role in the nation’s economy and the lives of everyday Americans. For example, at the end of 2016, the top 10 banks accounted for over 53 percent of total industry assets, and 57 percent of total domestic deposits, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. The top four credit card issuers in 2016—JPMorgan Chase & Co., Bank of America Corp., Citigroup and Capital One Financial Corp.—put more than 303 million pieces of plastic in the hands of eager U.S. consumers, according to The Nilson Report.

Blockchain: What It Is and How It Works

Quickly:

  • Many speculate that blockchain could turn out to be one of the most revolutionary technologies ever developed.

By Al Dominick, CEO of DirectorCorps — parent co. to Bank Director & FinXTech

WASHINGTON, DC — J.P. Morgan’s CEO, Jamie Dimon, recently threw some big time shade at bitcoin.  However, as the Wall Street Journal shared this morning, he’s “still enamored with the technology that underpins it and other virtual currencies.”  For those wondering about where and why blockchain might revolutionize the business of banking, take a look at our just-released Q4 issue of Bank Director Magazine.  We dedicated our cover story to “Understanding Blockchain,” and this post teases out some of the key concepts bank executives and board members might focus in on.  Authored by John Engen, the full piece can be found, for free, here.  As you’ll read, the article covers three major points:

What is Blockchain

If you’re on the board of a typical U.S. bank, odds are that you don’t know much about blockchain, or distributed ledgers, except that there’s a heavy buzz around the space—and a lot of big bets being made. As John Engen wrote, being a know-nothing might be fine for now, but going forward could be untenable.

At its most basic, blockchain is a digital-ledger technology that allows market participants, including banks, to transfer assets across the internet quickly and without a centralized third party.

Some describe it as the next, inevitable step in the evolution of the internet; a structure to help confront concerns about security, trust and complexity that have emerged from a technology that has opened the world to sharing information.  To others, it looks more like business-process improvement software—a way to improve transparency, speed up transaction times and eliminate billions of dollars in expenses that markets pay to reconcile things like credit default swaps, corporate syndicated debt and other high-volume assets.

Where are things heading

“Trying to guess how blockchain is going to affect us in the next 20 years is kind of like standing in 1995 and trying to imagine mobile-banking technology,” said Amber Baldet, New York-based JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s blockchain program leader, in an online interview. “I’m sure the ultimate applications are things we can’t even imagine right now.”

For now, the space certainly has the feel of the 1990s internet, with hundreds of startups and billions of investment dollars chasing distributed-ledger initiatives.  Armonk, New York-based IBM Corp., a big blockchain supporter, estimates that 90 percent of “major” banks in the world—mostly those with trading, securities, payments, correspondent banking and trade finance operations—are experimenting with blockchain in some way.

Collaboration is the current buzzword

Most large banks are involved in consortiums with names like Ripple, Hyperledger, R3 and Enterprise Ethereum Alliance.  Smaller banks are taking more of a wait-and-see approach.  For all the promise of speed and efficiency, blockchain’s real power lies in its transparency, which makes data both trackable and immutable.  Ultimately, blockchain could usher in new business models, which require different ways of thinking.

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For members of a bank’s board, we created this “Blockchain 101” video.  In it, I touch on the potential application of blockchain in terms of digital identities, digital banking and cross-border payments.  In addition, the ten minute video surfaces key concepts and business ideas that remain material to many today.

*This video is just one of the offerings found in our Bank Services program designed to help board members and senior executives develop strategies to help their bank grow, while demonstrating excellence in corporate governance that shareholders and customers deserve and today’s regulators demand.

The Paths High Performing Banks Take to Growth and Innovation

Quickly:

  • I’m in Utah at the Montage Deer Valley for the second day of the Association for Financial Technology’s Fall Summit.
  • This afternoon, I shared my thoughts on the pace of change impacting banks as part of AFT’s Fintech Leadership Industry Update.

By Al Dominick, CEO of DirectorCorps — parent co. to Bank Director & FinXTech

PARK CITY — For those that attended Bank Director’s Acquire or Be Acquired conference this January, you may recall slides illustrating the consolidating nature of the banking industry over the past 25 years.  This decrease in the number of banks is the result of several major factors; most notably, changing banking laws, changing technologies, changing economics and changing consumer behaviors.

Given the audience we share information with (e.g. bank CEOs and their leadership teams), I continue to hear talk about steady, albeit slow, loan growth, some margin improvement and a continued emphasis on expense control.  However, it is apparent from the outside looking in that many banks still lack the true flexibility to continually innovate in terms of both products and services — and how they are delivered.

This is downright scary when you consider that Amazon’s Lending Service surpassed $3 billion in loans to small businesses since it was launched in 2011.  As I shared in my remarks, Amazon loaned over $1 billion to small businesses in the past twelve months.  Over 20,000 small businesses have received a loan from Amazon and more than 50% of the businesses Amazon loans to end up taking a second loan.  This is a major threat to the established financial community, because if there is one thing community banks and large banks agree on, it is that the small business market is important.  This will not change any time soon, and for community banks in particular, a greater share of the small business market may be their only path to survival.

So what I shared this afternoon were real-world examples of bank CEOs focused on carrying out a long-term growth strategy in creative, yet highly focused, ways.  For instance, several of the banks I referenced are attempting to re-engineer their technology and data infrastructure using modern systems and processes, developed internally and augmented through partnerships with fintech companies.  For instance, I cited a newer partnership between First Horizon’s First Tennessee bank unit and D3 Banking. In addition, I used examples like US Bancorp, PNC and Fifth Third before highlighting five more institutions that range from $10Bn to $50Bn in asset size.

I did so because we are witnessing an intense struggle on the part of financial services providers to harness technology in order to maintain relevance in the lives of their customers.  The eight banks I cited today have different leadership approaches; all, however, are considered high-performers. For those interested, here is a link to my presentation: Bank Director and FinXTech 2017 AFT Presentation.

The caveat to my presentation, remarks and writing: it might appear easy to create a strategic direction to improve efficiency and bolster growth in the years ahead. But many bank executives and their boards are being cautioned to prepare for false starts, unexpected detours and yes, stretches of inactivity — all of which impacts tech companies like those here in Park City at AFT.  Still, a vision without action is a dream; action without vision, a nightmare.  For these banks, strong leadership have set a clear course for their futures.

3 Disruptive Forces Confronting Banks – and How Zelle Might Help

By Al Dominick, CEO of DirectorCorps (parent co. to Bank Director & FinXTech) | @aldominick

“The volume and pace of what’s emerging is amazing. I’ve never seen it before in our industry.”

These words, spoken about technology driving an unprecedented pace of change across our financial landscape, came from Greg Carmichael, today’s keynote speaker at Bank Director’s annual Bank Audit & Risk Committees Conference.  Greg serves as president and CEO of Fifth Third Bancorp, a diversified financial services company headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio.  The company has $142 billion in assets, approximately 18,000 employees, operates 1,191 retail-banking centers in 10 states and has a commercial and consumer lending presence throughout the U.S.

Fifth Third Bancorp’s four main businesses are commercial banking, branch banking, consumer lending and wealth and asset management.  Given this focus, Greg’s remarks addressed how, where and why technology continues to impact the way banks like his operate.  Thinking about his perspective on the digitization of the customer experience, I teed up his presentation with my observations on three risks facing bank leadership today.

Risk #1: Earlier this year, the online lending firm SoFi announced that it had acquired Zenbanx, a startup offering banking, debit, payments and money transfer services to users online and through its mobile app.  As TechCrunch shared, “the combination of the two will allow SoFi to move deeper into the financial lives of its customers. While today it focuses on student-loan refinancing, mortgages and personal loans, integrating Zenbanx will allow it to provide an alternative to the traditional checking and deposit services most of SoFi’s customers today get from banks like Bank of America, Citi or Chase.”  Given that many banks are just beginning their digital transformation, combinations like this create new competition for traditional banks to address.  Cause for further concern?  It came to light that SoFi just applied for an industrial loan bank charter in Utah under the name SoFi Bank.

Risk #2: With so much talk of the need for legacy institutions to pair up fintech companies, I made note of a recent MoneyConf event in Madrid, Spain.  There, BBVA chairman Francisco González said that banks need to shed their past and image as ‘incumbents’ and transform into new digital technology companies if they are to prosper in a banking environment dominated by technologically astute competitors. Transforming the bank “is not just a matter of platforms. The big challenge is changing an incumbent into a new digital company.”  Clearly, transforming one’s underlying business model is not for the faint of heart, and the leadership acumen required is quite substantial.

Risk #3: Finally, when it comes to digital companies doing it right, take a look at TheStreet’s recent post about how “Amazon Has Secretly Become a Giant Bank.”  I had no idea that its Amazon Lending service surpassed $3 billion in loans to small businesses since it was launched in 2011.  Indeed, “the eCommerce giant has loaned over $1 billion to small businesses in the past twelve months… Hiking up the sales for third party merchants is a plus for Amazon, as the company gets a piece of the transaction.” What I found particularly note-worthy is the fact that over 20,000 small businesses have received a loan from Amazon and more than 50% of the businesses Amazon loans to end up taking a second loan.

A Potential Solution

Jack Milligan, our Editor-in-Chief, recently wrote, “disruptive forces confronting banks today are systemic and in some cases accelerating.” In his words, the greatest risk facing bank leadership today is “the epochal change occurring in retail distribution as consumers and businesses embrace digital commerce in ever increasing numbers, while aggressive financial technology companies muscle into the financial services market to meet that demand.”

Against this backdrop, Fifth Third Bank just announced it will be one of more than 30 major financial institutions to roll out Zelle, a new peer-to-peer (P2P) payments service operated by Early Warning.  As Greg shared during his remarks, this will initially be offered through the banks’ mobile banking apps, and positions the bank to better compete with PayPal’s Venmo.

This is big news.  Indeed, Business Insider noted in today’s morning payments brief that the growing crowd of providers will fight over a mobile P2P market set to increase ninefold over the next five years, reaching $336 billion by 2021.  In addition to working directly with financial institutions, let me also note that Early Warning has established strategic partnerships with some of the leading payment processors –– think FIS, Fiserv, and Jack Henry.  These relationships will allow millions more to experience Zelle through community banks and credit unions.

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Here in Chicago, we have 298 bank officers and directors with us today and tomorrow — and our Bank Audit and Risk Committees Conference itself totals 366 in attendance.  In terms of bank representation, we are proud to host audit committee members, audit committee chairs, CEOs, presidents, risk committee members, risk committee chairs, corporate secretaries, internal auditors, CFOs, CROs and other senior manager who works closely with the audit and/or risk committee.  Curious to see what’s being shared socially? I encourage you to follow @bankdirector and @fin_x_tech and check out #BDAudit17.

Banks Vs. Fintechs

By Al Dominick, CEO of DirectorCorps (parent co. to Bank Director & FinXTech) | @aldominick

Quickly:

  • I’m in from Dallas at the Consumer Bankers’ Association “CBA Live!”
  • Thanks to Richard Hunt, the CEO of the CBA, for inviting me to participate.  Richard spoke at our Acquire or Be Acquired conference in January + I hope to live up to his great speaking standards when I’m given a mic tomorrow.
  • The rapid pace of change in the financial sector took center stage during yesterday’s opening session.

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Since arriving in Big D on Sunday evening, I’ve met quite a few interesting men & women from great financial institutions at this annual event for the retail banking industry.  This year, more than 1,300 are at the Gaylord Texan (with some 550 being senior-level bankers) to talk shop.  Personally, I’m looking forward to presenting on “Economic States of America” with Amy Crews Cutts (Chief Economist, Equifax), Robert Dye (Chief Economist) of Comerica Bank and Cathy Nash, the CEO of Woodforest National Bank tomorrow morning.  From credit trends to banking consolidation, if you’re in Dallas, I invite you to join us for this Super Session as we explore the economic state of our union.

Before then, I thought to share a few interesting takeaways from a “FinTech vs. Bank” general session that pit SoFi and Kabbage “against” PNC and BBVA.  As part of the panel discussion, CBA posed a number of interesting questions to the audience; most notably, “do you believe fintechs are built to last.”  Given our upcoming FinXTech Summit in NYC, I thought the answer (which reflects the thoughts of many of the biggest banks in the U.S.) was interesting, but not surprising.

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Further, I found the results of this question pretty telling (given we asked a similar question at this year’s Acquire or Be Acquired conference and received a similar response from an audience of CEOs, CFOs, and members of a bank’s board).

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Finally, I think the results of this question best represent the types of conversations I’ve found myself in when I explain what I do + who I meet with.

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As I’ve shared in recent posts, an increasing number of financial institutions are using partnerships with technology companies to improve operations and better meet customer needs.  Given the input on these questions from various heads of retail, product lines and product development + compliance, risk and internal audit, I feel these three pictures are worth noting — and sharing.  Agree or disagree?  Feel free to leave a comment…

 

We Are On To FinTech Week

#AOBA17 conference intel (Friday)
By Al Dominick, CEO of Bank Director | @aldominick

Quickly

  • The “bank of the future” is not about technology, it is all about customers.
  • For many financial institutions, the time may be right to retire legacy systems for cloud-based platforms.
  • Numerous financial technology companies are developing new strategies, practices and products that will dramatically influence the future of banking..

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The intersection of technological innovation with strong depository franchises may lead to more efficient banking processes, reductions in fraud and a win/win/win for banks, financial technology firms (fintechs) and consumers.  Globally, nearly $23 billion of venture capital and growth equity has been deployed to fintechs over the past five years, and this number is growing quickly. Still, the nature and extent of impact that fintechs have on the industry remains unclear.

Throughout this week’s Acquire or Be Acquired conference, bank CEOs talked about the continually changing nature of financial services — with fintech often front and center.  For many, collaboration between traditional institutions and emerging technology firms bodes well for their future.  Here, Bank Director’s FinXTech provides authoritative, relevant and trusted content to a hugely influential audience, specifically:

  • Fintechs who view banks as potentially valuable channels or distribution partners;
  • Banks looking to grow and/or innovate with fintech companies’ help and support; and
  • Institutional investors, venture capitalists, state & federal regulators, government officials and academicians helping to shape the future of banking.

We designed FinXTech as a peer-to-peer resource that connects this hugely influential audience around shared areas of interest and innovation.  As a host of FinTech Week in New York City this April 24 – 28 (along with Empire Startups), we bring together senior executives from banks, technology companies and investment firms from across the U.S. to shine a light on what is really generating top line growth and bottom line profits through partnerships, collaboration and investments.

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Given the changing nature of banking today, this week-long event in New York City looks at the various issues impacting banks, non-banks and technology companies alike.  So as we move towards FinTech Week in New York City, I invite you to follow me on Twitter via @AlDominick, FinXTech’s President, Kelsey Weaver @KelseyWeaverFXT@BankDirector and our @Fin_X_Tech platform and/or check out the FinTech Week New York website for more.

Whether They Want To or Not, Banks Need to Open Up

Apart from interest rates, the two biggest issues that bank executives seem to wrestle with are regulatory and compliance costs.  I sense another emerging challenge coming to shore; specifically, how to “open up” one’s business structure in terms of developing partnerships and permitting others to leverage their customer data and/or capabilities.

For bankers, this challenge comes with significant reputation and customer risk.

Now, it is hard to truly disrupt the concept of banking — and I shared this opinion from the stage at Bank Director’s annual Bank Executive & Board Compensation Conference this morning.  However, I did adjust some of my welcoming remarks based on the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau’s position that consumers can control their own financial data, including to let third parties help them manage their finances.  As I learned from Jo Ann Barefoot’s Fireside Chat with CFPB Director Richard Cordray at Money 2020, the CFPB “is not content to sit passively by as mere spectators watching these technologies develop.”  According to his prepared remarks:

Many exciting products we see… depend on consumers permitting companies to access their financial data from financial providers with whom the consumer does business. We recognize that such access can raise various issues, but we are gravely concerned by reports that some financial institutions are looking for ways to limit, or even shut off, access to financial data rather than exploring ways to make sure that such access, once granted, is safe and secure.

Since reading the CFPB’s position, Ms. Barefoot’s recap and the Wall Street Journal’s synopsis, I decided to talk with various bank executives and board members that are here with us at the Ritz-Carlton in Amelia Island about this stance.  As I note in this video, I sense both an ongoing struggle — and a sincere interest — to truly understand the role of technology.  For those I talked with, this is as much about “becoming sticky” to their customers as it is about embracing or defending themselves against “the new.”

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For more about this year’s conference, I invite you to take a look at BankDirector.com.  Also, a virtual high-five to the team here for a great first day.  You all rock!

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The Promise of 8 Blockchain Companies

Yesterday, I spent the majority of my day at the Economist Conference’s “Finance Disrupted” in New York City.  As an early hook to their first panel discussion entitled ‘Building the blockchain: The promise and perils’, we learned that venture capitalists invested nearly $500 million in blockchain business last year — up from $2 million just three years ago.  While I’ve shared my perspectives on the potential applications for blockchain in previous posts (Blockchain 101 – a Primer for a Bank’s CEO and Board), panels like these underscore the immense potential of this technology.

“Blockchain technology continues to redefine not only how the exchange sector operates, but the global financial economy as a whole.”

– Bob Greifeld, Chief Executive of NASDAQ

Like many, I see potential for blockchain technology to revolutionize many areas of the financial industry — think securities trading, payments, fraud prevention and regulatory compliance.  Moreover, a new report from Deloitte explores how blockchain could be used in loyalty rewards programs.  Still, as our industry transforms, there is real uncertainty around what the future of the banking industry will look like.

This is why I take note of comments like those from BNY Mellon’s CEO, Gerald Hassell. On his Q1 earnings call, he opined “we think blockchain can be transformative.  We’re spending a lot of time and energy on it, but I think it’s going to take some time to see it play out in a full, meaningful way. We actually see ourselves as one of the major participants in using the technology to improve the efficiency of our operations and the resiliency of our operations.”

While additional big-time players — such as Goldman Sachs, Visa and NASDAQ — garner headlines for their investments in crypto-currencies & blockchain technology, I spent last night and this morning looking at eight blockchain companies that might help you to form your own opinions on the potential of this technology:

For more about these companies — and their funding sources — I encourage you to check out this piece on Lets Talk Payments.  Not familiar with LTP?  It is a fast-growing global destination for news, insights & data-driven research in emerging financial services.  Much like the information shared by both FinXTech and Bank Director, LTP’s content is fiercely independent, thought provoking and always up-to-date, in a way that continues to inform, engage and inspire.

Creating Better Banking Experiences

Earlier this week, we published our quarterly print issue of Bank Director magazine.  If you haven’t seen it, our talented editor, Naomi Snyder, shines a light on the “tech bets” being made by Fifth Third, a $142 billion asset institution.  Having worked for an IT firm, I appreciate the three questions their President & CEO, Greg Carmichael, asks his team to consider before investing in new technologies:

  1. Does it improve the bank’s ability to serve customers?
  2. Does it drive efficiency?
  3. Does it create a better experience for customers?

As he shares, “not every problem needs to be solved with technology… But when technology is a solution, what technology do you select? Is it cost efficient? How do you get it in as quickly as possible?  You have to maintain it going forward, and hold management accountable for the business outcomes that result if the technology is deployed correctly.”

“The challenges are how to grow the franchise and reposition the franchise to serve our customers in the way they want to be served, which is more of a digital infrastructure.”

-Greg Carmichael, President & CEO, Fifth Third Bank

While Fifth Third plans to invest some $60M this year in technology, Naomi notes that the bank doesn’t have an R&D lab with a staff separated from the rest of the bank and dedicated to inventing things (like its competitor U.S. Bancorp).  Nor does Fifth Third have the reputation of being highly innovative, like a BBVA.  Nonetheless, the regional bank, headquartered in Cincinnati, has a laser focus on developing practical solutions to everyday problems.

So to build on this issue’s cover story — and the efforts we’re making with our FinXTech platform — let me offer my take on who I consider standouts in the payments, lending and retail space today.  Those addressing “everyday problems” may find inspiration from the work being done and/or want to explore partnership opportunities.

Payments + Transfer

When one thinks about payments — and the movement of  value via cash, credit card, check and other transactions — some big names come to mind: Apple Pay, Chase Pay, Square, Paypal, etc.  But don’t sleep on these companies:

Lending

In the lending sector, a lot of people continue to talk about LendingClub’s travails, scoff at SoFi’s change of heart from anti-bank to pro-partnerships and follow Prosper’s efforts to shore up its business.  Within the lending space, these companies also deserve time and attention:

  • Affirm, a digital lender that provides installment financing;
  • Orchard, a technology and infrastructure provider for marketplace lending;
  • Lendio for small business loans;
  • Even, a new kind of financial app that turns variable pay into a steady, reliable income; and
  • Earnest,  a technology-enabled lender that enables one to consolidate and refinance  student loans.

Retail banking

Considering the core functions of retail banking remain the establishment of deposits and making of loans, those pushing the envelope in a way consumers desire include:

  • Ally Bank, known for its “No Branches = Great Rates” tag line;
  • Atom Bank, one of the first Challenger Banks in the UK;
  • Tandem, a new digital bank in the UK;
  • Moven, a pioneer in smart phone banking; and
  • Simple, part of the BBVA family that is reinventing online banking.

While these banks are pushing forward, many legacy institutions will be challenged to meet the expectations of their customers.  They will need to assess the additional risks, costs and supervisory concerns associated with providing new financial services and products.  Accordingly, I’m not alone in believing that financial institutions need to invest in services “for life’s needs” through collaboration and partnerships with companies like those shared in today’s post.

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I realize there are a number of companies “doing it right” in these three sectors – and this simply highlights some of the players that standout to me.  Feel free to comment below on others that I might highlight in future posts.