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.

How the Math Works for Non-Financial Service Companies

As you probably deduced from the picture above, I’m in Chicago for Bank Director’s annual Chairman & CEO Peer Exchange.  While the conversations between peers took place behind closed doors, we teed things up with various presentations.  An early one — focused on FinTech — inspired today’s post and this specific question: as a bank executive, what do you get when you add these three variables:

Stricter capital requirements (which reduces a bank’s ability to lend) + Increased scrutiny around “high-risk” lending (decreasing the amount of bank financing available) + Increases in consumer product pricing (say goodbye to price-sensitive customers)

The unfortunate answer?

Opportunity; albeit, for non-bank financial services companies to underprice banks and take significant business from traditional players.  Nowhere is this more clear then in the lending space. Through alternative financial service providers, borrowers are able to access credit at lower borrowing costs. So who are banks competing with right now? Here is but a short list:

  • FastPay, who provides specialized credit lines to digital businesses as an advance on receivables.
  • Kabbage, a company primarily engaged in providing short-term working capital and merchant cash advance.
  • OnDeck, in business to provide inventory financing, medium-term business loans.
  • Realty Mogul, a peer-to-peer real estate marketplace for accredited investors to invest in pre-vetted investment properties.
  • BetterFinance, which provides short-term loans for consumers to pay monthly bills and purchase smartphones.
  • Lenddo, an online platform that utilizes a borrower’s social network to determine credit-worthiness.
  • Lendup, a short-term online lender that seeks to help consumers establish credit and avoid the cycle of debt.
  • Prosper, an online marketplace for borrowers to create and list loans, with retail and institutional investors funding the loans.
  • SoFi, an online network helping recent graduates refinance student loans through alumni network.

As unregulated competition heats up, bank CEOs and Chairmen continue to seek ways to not just stay relevant but to stand out.  Unfortunately, the math isn’t always in their favor, especially when alternative lenders enjoy operating costs far below banks and are not subject to the same reserve requirements as an institution.  As we were reminded, consumers and small businesses don’t really care where they borrow money from, as as long as they can borrow the money they want.

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Thanks to Halle Benett, Managing Director, Head of Diversified Financials Investment Banking, Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, A Stifel Company for inspiring this post. He joined us yesterday morning at the Four Seasons Chicago and laid out the fundamental shifts in banking that have opened the door for these new competitors.  I thought the math he shared with the audience was elegant both in its simplicity — and profound in its potential results.  Let me know what you think with a comment below or message via Twitter (@aldominick).