While Everybody’s Talking About the Future of Banking…

It seems like everyone has an opinion about what the future holds for banking… but what does banking actually look like today?

By Al Dominick // @aldominick

For the past few years, Bank Director magazine’s Editor-in-Chief, Jack Milligan, has spearheaded our Bank Performance Scorecard, a ranking of the largest U.S. publicly traded banks and thrifts. The most recent version, which appears in our third quarter issue, ranked all banks and thrifts listed on the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq OMX.  Jack and his team sorted them into three separate asset categories: $1 billion to $5 billion, $50 billion to $50 billion and $50 billion and above — and we ranked them using a set of metrics that measured profitability, capitalization and asset quality based on 2014 calendar year data.

While this data shines a light on some of banking’s standout performers, my last few months of travel across the U.S. has revealed less familiarity with the banking industry then I expected. So today, instead of focusing on economic, political, demographic or technological forces reshaping the banking landscape, allow me to share some statistics I think are important to know:

  1. Banks with less than $10 billion in assets have lost over half of their market share in the past 20 years.
  2. The corollary? The five largest banks now hold almost 44% of all banking assets in the country.
  3. Despite totaling 89% of all banks, institutions under $1B in assets hold only 8.3% of the industry’s assets.

With competition coming from both the top of the market and from non-traditional players, I have talked with numerous bank CEOs and various members of their executive teams who tell me how imperative it is for them to really focus on improving efficiencies and enhancing organic growth prospects.  In addition, as big banks invest in customer acquisition, and non-traditional players continue to eat away at earnings potential, it strikes me that of all of the risks facing a bank’s key leadership team today (for instance, regulatory, market and cyber) knowing when to buy, sell or grow independently has to be high on the list. After all, the most profitable financial companies are often those whose strategies are intentional, focused and differentiated… and are showing current revenue growth with strong visibility towards future performance.

Of course, any discussion about the world in which banks live today has to acknowledge two significant business threats. Since most banking products tend to be commodities that are available at any number of bank and non-bank providers, the first concerns customer acquisition costs. Personally, I believe such costs will increase as existing customers become less likely to refer their bank to others. This leads to the second threat; namely, banks will lose revenue as customers leave for competitors and existing customers buy fewer products.

So a high-level look at where things are today. I realize this takes a very broad brush to a mature industry. Still, to understand where banks might be heading, I find it helpful to be grounded in where they are today.

5 Fintechs I’m Keen On

My first post in 2015 focused on three “up & coming” fintech companies: Wealthfront (an automated investment service), Kabbage (an online business loan provider) and Dwolla (a major player in real-time payment processing).  Since writing that piece, I’ve kept tabs on their successes while learning about other interesting and compelling businesses in the financial community.  So today, five more that I am keen on.

By Al Dominick // @aldominick

With continuous pressure to innovate, I’m not surprised to see traditional financial institutions learning from new challengers, adapting their offerings and identifying opportunities to collaborate with emerging players.  From tokenization to integrated payments, security tools to alternative lending platforms, the investments (and efforts) being made throughout the financial sector continues to impress and amaze me.  As I shared in 15 Banks and Fintechs Doing it Right, there are very real and immediate opportunities to expand what banking means to individual and business customers.  Personally, I am excited by the work being done by quite a few companies and what follows are five businesses I’ve learned more about while recently traveling between D.C., San Francisco and New York City:

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i2c, a global card processing company, provides back-end processing and settlement for cards, virtual accounts and mobile payments.  What’s interesting about them? According to a brief shared by Bridge by Deloitte (a web platform connecting enterprises with startups to accelerate innovation and growth), i2c recently teamed up with Oxfam, Visa and Philippines-based UnionBank to channel funds to people in disaster-affected communities through prepaid cards.

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With Money20/20 fast approaching, expect to see a lot of #payments trending on twitter.  Trending in terms of financial investment: Adyen, a company receiving a lot of attention for wrapping up a huge round of funding that values the payment service provider at $2.3B.  Adyen, which provides its services to a number of large organizations including Facebook and Netflix, excels in having a highly integrated platform, unlike others with multiple platforms.

Blend labs

When it comes to technology “powering the new wave of mortgage lending,” take a look at the work being done at BlendLabs.  Developing software & data applications for mortgage lenders, the company acknowledges that “accommodating complex rules and regulation changes is time-consuming and costly.” For this reason, the company has quietly rolled out technology that empowers some of the country’s largest lenders to originate mortgages more efficiently and compliantly than ever before while offering their borrowers a more compelling user experience.

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As the head of a company, I know first-hand how much time and effort is spent on efforts and ideas designed to maximize revenue and profits.  So the promise and premise of nCino is hugely attractive.  Co-founded by a fellow W&L grad (and the former CEO of S1) nCino is the leader in cloud banking.  With banks like Enterprise in St. Louis (lead by a CEO that I have huge respect for) as customers, take a look at their Bank Operating System, a comprehensive, fully-integrated banking management system that was created by bankers for bankers that sits alongside a bank’s core operating system.

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While not solely focused on the financial industry, Narrative Science is a leader in advanced natural language generation.  Serving customers in a number of industries, including marketing services, education, financial services and government, their relationship with USAA and MasterCard caught my eye.  As FinXTech’s Chief Visionary Officer recently shared with me, the Chicago-based enterprise software company created artificial intelligence that mines data for important information and transforms it into language for written reports.

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In addition to these U.S.-based companies, you might look at how Fidor, a digital bank in Europe that offers all-electronic consumer banking services, links interest rates to Facebook likes and give cash rewards based on customers’ level of interaction with the bank (e.g. how many customer financial questions answered).  Clearly, the fabric of the financial industry continues to evolve as new technology players emerge, institutions like Fidor expand their footprint and traditional participants transform their business models.  So if you follow me on twitter (@aldominick), let me know of other fintech companies you’re impressed by these days.

How Capital One Can Inspire Your Digital Efforts

While venture-backed fintech firms continue to garner attention for being “ahead of the times,” don’t sleep on the franchise being built by Capital One.

By Al Dominick // @aldominick

Should you look at the term “innovation” and disassociate it with the banking sector, you are forgiven.  But innovative is exactly the description I favor for Capital One Financial Corp. (NYSE: COF), especially as I define the term as an ability to monetize creative ideas, products and processes.  Indeed, the McLean, VA-based bank ranked first among the 20 publicly-traded banks with assets of more than $50 billion in Bank Director magazine’s annual Bank Performance Scorecard and is widely considered at the forefront of taking a technology-based, consumer-centric focus to banking.

As we see in their financial performance, Capital One managed to increase net income and benefited from the high profitability of a substantial credit card operation and the stable funding of a regional banking franchise.  As you can read, the company rated highly on traditional profitability metrics: they posted a return on average assets (ROAA) of 1.53, a return on average equity (ROAE) of 10.33 and a Tangible Common Equity ratio of 9.82.  So while various fintech companies make news for their valuations (*hello Stripe, which received major funding from Visa and other investors, valuing the startup at $5 billion) or loan volume (**hola Lending Club, which originated nearly $2 billion in loans during Q2), I’m paying attention to Capital One’s performance.

Nonetheless, their financial numbers don’t tell the whole story.

As our editor, Jack Milligan, writes in “How Young and Hungry Fintech Companies are Disrupting the Status Quo,” the digital financial services space “is exploding in activity as new technology companies push their way into markets and product lines that traditionally have been the banking industry’s turf.” To this point, many bank executives should take note of Capital One’s focus on technology and its business model.  Its CEO, Richard Fairbank, is focused on leading the digital transformation of banking and is not shy in stating that “the winners in banking will have the capabilities of a world-class software company.  Most of the leverage and most of our investment is in building the foundational underpinnings and talent model of a great digital company.  To succeed in a digital world (you) can’t just bolt digital capabilities onto the side of an analog business.”

Cases in point, Capital One acquired money management app Level Money earlier this year to help consumers keep track of their spendable cash and savings.  Prior to that, they acquired San Francisco-based design firm Adaptive Path “to further improve its user experience with digital.”  Over the past three years, the company has also added e-commerce platform AmeriCommerce, digital marketing agency Pushpoint, spending tracker Bundle and mobile startup BankOns.  Heck, just last summer, one of Google’s “Wildest Designers” left the tech giant to join the bank.

More and more banks are realizing that they have to fundamentally change to keep up with the industry’s digital transformation.  But shifting an organizational structure — and culture — to become more focused on what customers want and expect in an increasingly digital age is no simple task.  Not everyone can offer a broad spectrum of financial products and services to consumers, small businesses and commercial clients like Capital One does.  But all can certainly learn from the investments, partnerships and efforts being made by this standout institution.

In case you’re wondering…

Bank Director’s Bank Performance Scorecard uses five key metrics that measure profitability, capitalization and asset quality. ROAA and ROAE are used to gauge each bank’s profitability.  KeyCorp (NYSE: KEY), of Cleveland, ranked second, and rated highest for capital adequacy, with a TCE ratio of 9.87. In third place, U.S. Bancorp (NYSE: USB), of Minneapolis, topped the profitability metrics with a 1.55 ROAA and 13.53 ROAE. Wells Fargo & Co. (NYSE: WFC) and Comerica Inc. (NYSE: CMA) rounded out the top five.

Reaching For The Summit

When you say the word summit, what do you think of?  For me, it is a book; specifically, Let My People Go Surfing by Patagonia’s founder, Yvon Chouinard. I was reminded of Yvon’s thoughts while flying home to DC from last week’s Bank Board Growth & Innovation conference in New Orleans.  While there, I had a chance to share time and ideas with some 150 bank CEOs, board members and executives. As most banks wrestle with the concept of banking a generation that doesn’t necessarily see the need for a bank, I think Yvon’s opinion that “how you climb a mountain is more important than reaching the top” is a strong reminder for bankers that the little things really do count with customers today.

By Al Dominick // @aldominick

Having been on numerous airplanes over the last few weeks, I have enjoyed the luxury of time without phone calls and sometimes emails and instant messages.  This digital solitude afforded me a chance to really dive into a number of thought-provoking white papers, analyst reports and research pieces.  Three, in particular, stand out, for looking ahead to what banking might become, not merely stating the obvious that bankers are being challenged as never before.

The World Retail Banking Report (from Capgemini Financial Services and Efma)

Abstract: Retail banking customers today have more choices than ever before in terms of where, when, and how they bank—making it critical for financial institutions to present options that appeal directly to their customers’ desires and expectations.

Growing the Digital Business / Accenture Mobility Research 2015 (from Accenture)

Abstract: The emergence and adoption of digital technologies has rapidly transformed businesses and industries around the globe. Mobile technologies have been especially impactful, as they have enabled companies to not only streamline their operations, but also engage more effectively with customers and tap into new sources of revenue.

Disrupting Banking: The FinTech Startups That Are Unbundling Wells Fargo, Citi and Bank of America (from CB Insights)

Abstract: Banks run the risk of being out-innovated and may lose their edge not because of their incumbent, large competitors, but because emerging startups inflict upon them a death by a thousand cuts.  And because a picture is worth more than 1,000 words:

source: CB Insights
source: CB Insights

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Finally, a welcome to our friends at KBW who just hopped into the Twitter pool yesterday. With so many talented men and women working there, I have no qualms suggesting a follow of their handle – @KBWfinthink (h/t to our Emily McCormick for the heads up)

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).

Three FinTech Companies I’m Keen On

It seems not a day goes by where I’m not coming across a story about Venmo.  Maybe I should thank holiday shoppers; more specifically, friends or family member that go in on a joint present for someone.  Rather than accept an IOU, the social payments company has made story titles like “Cash is For Losers!” en vogue by allowing its users to settle debts without cash or check.  So the company’s success had me exploring the world of FinTech and other companies worth taking a look at.  Here are three I’m keen on along with a short overview on what they offer.

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Wealthfront is an automated investment service with over $1 billion in client assets.  The Palo Alto-based company manages a “diversified, continually rebalanced portfolio of index funds” on behalf of its clients.” Their proposition: “Wealthfront takes the guesswork out of sound, long-term investing through effortless automation. Wealthfront manages a personalized online investment account for you that is fully diversified and periodically rebalanced – accessible anytime and anywhere from your desktop, tablet or phone.” For an individual, their service premise is quite attractive, given “the consistent and overwhelming research that proves index funds significantly outperform an actively managed portfolio.”

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I wrote about Kabbage last year (A Pop Quiz on the Future of Banking) as a platform for online merchants to borrow working capital. Per Time’s Business & Money site, “Kabbage financing resembles a line of credit in that customers only pay for what they use, but it isn’t a loan and doesn’t require merchants to use their personal assets as collateral. Rather, as with a business factor, a Kabbage financing is structured as a cash advance against future sales.”

dwolla-logo

Dwolla is a payment network that allows any business or person to send, request and accept money. As they say, they are “not like those other big payment companies that rely on plastic cards and charge hefty fees.” Instead, the company built its own network that “securely connects to your bank account and allows you to move money for just $0.25 per transaction, or free for transactions $10 or less.”

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I’m on record with my feelings that bank leaders have real and immediate opportunities to expand what banking means to individual and business customers by offering services that go beyond a traditional business model.  These three companies provide alternatives to traditional lines of business, and are just a few of the many that are working to create a “newer” normal for individuals and businesses.  If you are interested to share your thoughts on FinTechs worth watching, feel free to comment below about those companies you find compelling.

Be Proud Of The Past But Look To The Future

In Charles Dickens’ “Christmas Carol,” Ebenezer Scrooge spends some quality time with the ghosts of Christmases Past, Present and Yet-to-Come.  Inspired by this holiday classic, and these decorative lights adorning Macy’s in New York City, today’s column mirror’s Dickens’ structure with three points on bank M&A, Capital One and Lending Club’s IPO..

Past: Three Bank M&A Deals You May Have Missed

Last week, my monthly M&A column posted on BankDirector.com (A Few Notable Deals You May Have Missed in 2014).  My premise: to successfully negotiate a merger transaction, buyers and sellers normally must bridge the gap between a number of financial, legal, accounting and social challenges. Couple this with significant barriers these days to acquiring another bank—such as gaining regulatory approval— and it’s no wonder that bigger financial deals remained scarce this year.

For as much digital ink as was spilled on BB&T Corp.’s $2.5-billion acquisition of Susquehanna Bancshares a few weeks ago, here are three deals worth noting from 2014: (1) Ford Financial plans to buy up to a 65 percent stake in Mechanics Bank, (2) Sterling Bancorp’s agreement to buy Hudson Valley and (3) United Bankshares completed acquisition of Virginia Commerce Bancorp.

Certainly, banking acquisitions like these three show a commitment to profitability and efficiency—and reflect solid asset quality and sound capital positions. There is more than one way to grow your bank and these banks are proving it.

Present: Catch the Digital Wave While You Can

A few days ago, the Washington Business Journal’s Mark Holan — @WBJHolan — wrote a very timely and relevant piece about Capital One’s Richard Fairbank, who says “the world won’t wait for banks to catch the digital wave.”  As Mark noted, Fairbank recently shared myriad thoughts at the Goldman Sachs U.S. Financial Services Conference in New York, opining:

“Banking is an inherently digital product… Money is digital. Banking is both about money and also about contracts about how money will be moved and managed. There is not a lot of physical inventory. This business is just crying out to be revolutionized and the world won’t wait.”

~Capital One’s CEO

Fairbank also cautioned the banking industry “has had a stunted and slowed evolution relative to the inherent nature of just how digital this product is” due to regulation, massive capital requirements, risk management issues, and other funding constraints.  He also said most banks are too focused on technology’s impact on physical branches or building the coolest app to satisfy customers.

Future: Why Lending Club’s IPO is Important

When it comes to financial innovation, many investors look outside the traditional banking space.  Take Lending Club, which touts itself as “America’s #1 credit marketplace, transforming banking to make it more efficient, transparent and consumer friendly. We operate at a lower cost than traditional bank loans and pass the savings on to borrowers in the form of lower rates and to investors in the form of solid returns.”  So I think their December 11th IPO on the NYSE is very important for bankers to take note of.

Much as Fairbank talks about transforming Capital One to match consumer’s digital demands, the firm stated in a pre-IPO filing that “borrowers are inadequately served by the current banking system.”  By positioning itself as the future of the lending business, it is not surprising to see entire columns dedicated to the the future of the company, as well as the future of the banking industry (see: The Death Of Banking: A LendingClub Story).  Feel free to draw your own conclusions, but certainly pay attention to upstart competitors like these.

Today is FinTech Day at NASDAQ (here’s what you need to know)

The who, what, when, where and why of FinTech Day at NASDAQ, a collaboration between the exchange and my company, Bank Director, that celebrates the contributions of financial technology companies — fintech for short — to banks across the U.S.

 

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Who: Bank Director, a privately-held media & publishing company focused on issues fundamental to a bank’s CEO, senior leadership team and board members, teams up with the NASDAQ OMX to showcase various technology-driven strategies and tactics successful banks use to fuel profitable, sustainable growth.

What: FinTech Day at the NASDAQ

When: Today, September 8

Where: The NASDAQ MarketSite (4 Times Square – 43rd & Broadway)

Why: Because who says there is no innovation in banking?  During this day-long event, we keep our focus on a board’s level, exploring growth opportunities made possible by various technology products and services.

To Watch: We will welcome a number of executives from the Fintech community throughout the day, along with one of the country’s biggest (and actually, oldest) institutions: BNY Mellon.  Personally, I’m looking forward to chatting with their Managing Director – Strategic Growth Initiatives, Declan Denehan, at 2 PM ET for an hour-long session focused on innovation, competition and staying relevant. Thanks to our friends at NASDAQ, you can watch the live feed for free (click here to register and watch).  At 3:55 ET, I’ll join our publisher, Kelsey Weaver, to ring the closing bell. A webcast of the NASDAQ Closing Bell will be available (click here or here) if you are keen to see how we wrap up FinTech day.

Of Social Note: To follow the conversation, let me suggest these twitter handles: @bankdirector, @nasdaqomx, @bankdirectorpub and @aldominick. For photos from the ceremony and event, you can visit NASDAQ’s Instagram Page or Facebook page later today.  As we are all about being a part of the community and broader conversations, Bank Director will use #fintech for its tweets.

Is Walmart the Next Big Bank

Part four of a five piece series on emerging threats to banks from non-financial companies. To read parts one through three, click on “For Banks, the Sky IS Falling,” “PayPal is Eating Your Bank’s Lunch” and “The Bank of Facebook.”

At the risk of crashing through an open door, did you know that the retail juggernaut Wal-Mart Stores Inc. launched Bluebird in partnership with American Express late in 2012 so users can direct deposit their paychecks, make bill payments, withdraw cash from ATMs and write checks?  Yes, customers also have access to mobile banking, which includes features like remote deposit capture and person-to-person (P2P) payments.  So does this position Wal-Mart as the next SIFI (*no disrespect to CIT following their announced acquisition of OneWest in a $3.4Bn stock & cash deal earlier this week)?

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Cue Robin Thicke

According to Wal-Mart, 95% of Americans live within 15 miles of one of its stores.  So I think its fair to say that Wal-Mart continues to blur lines between banking and shopping as it added yet another financial service to its stores across the country.  Indeed, the retailer announced this spring that customers can transfer money to and from any of its 4,000 stores in the U.S. and Puerto Rico.  As this article in Forbes highlighted, low income workers who don’t have traditional bank accounts are turning to prepaid cards and alternatives to checking accounts.  Banks like JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo are trying to fill that gap with prepaid and reload able cards — something Wal-Mart has been offering for years.

Where Is That Achilles Heel?

Unlike online competitors to a bank, Wal-Mart enjoys huge brand recognition and an established customer base that feels comfortable walking into their local “branch.”  In fact, banks that already operate inside Walmarts reap among the highest fees from customers of any banks in the nation, according to a WSJ analysis.  But the very demographic the retail company serves — one that expects and demands rock-bottom pricing — may not favor a “B of W.”

Indeed, banking at Wal-Mart is a lot more expensive than shopping there.  As noted by in the WSJ, most U.S. banks earn the bulk of income through lending.  Among the 6,766 banks in the Journal’s examination, “just 15 had fee income higher than loan income — including the five top banks operating at Wal-Mart.”  Would the company really want to race to the bottom in terms of pricing its financial products (ones that would not be federally insured) and compete with its own tenants?

If At First You Don’t Succeed…

It is worth noting that Wal-Mart has tried to get into banking since the late 1990s.  It was thwarted in attempts to buy a savings-and-loan in Oklahoma and a bank in California — and later dropped a bid for its own banking charter in 2007.  While I’m not suggesting the new logo depicted above is anything more than a simple rendering by yours truly, it wouldn’t surprise me if the company explored even more creative ways to compete with financial institutions in the future.

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To comment on this piece, please click the white plus sign in the bottom right gray circle on this page or share your thoughts with me via Twitter (I’m @aldominick).  Next up, how crowdsourcing sites like Kiva and Kickstarter allow customers to bypass their bank to get funding for a business idea.

The Bank of Facebook

Part three of a five piece series on emerging threats to banks from non-financial companies.  For context on today’s piece, take a look at “For Banks, the Sky IS Falling” and “PayPal is Eating Your Bank’s Lunch” (aka parts one and two).

As banking becomes more mobile, companies that power our mobile lifestyle have emerged as real threats to financial institutions.  While common in Europe — where Google, Vodafone and T-Mobile already compete head-to-head with traditional banks by offering mobile and web-based financial services — let me play out a scenario where Facebook decides to enter the banking space in order to remain relevant to its vast U.S. audience.

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The New Math?

I recently shared the results of a TD Bank survey — one that shows millennials are banking online and on their mobile devices more frequently than in a branch. In fact, 90% of survey respondents said they use online or mobile tools for their everyday banking activities, such as checking balances or paying bills, and 57% said they are using mobile banking more frequently than they were last year.  So add this idea to  Facebook’s voracious appetite for views, visitors and preference data at a time when users are dialing back on status updates and not sharing candid photos on the site.  The sum of these two parts?  It might not be a matter of will; rather, when, Facebook stands up its own online bank in the U.S.

From Concept to Reality?

What I lay out above isn’t a radical thought; indeed, Fortune magazine ran a story on this very topic (Facebook Wants to be Your Online Bank).  The authors opine:

Someday soon, Facebook users may pay their utility bills, balance their checkbooks, and transfer money at the same time they upload vacation photos to the site for friends to see.  Sure, the core mission of the social media network is to make the world more connected by helping people share their lives. But Facebook knows people want to keep some things — banking, for example — private. And it wants to support those services too.

In a separate piece, Fortune shares “there remains a huge untapped market for banking services, including the exchange of money between family and friends living in different cities, and international money transfers between family in developed and developing countries.”

In fact, Facebook recently made the news when it announced plans to enable commerce from its social networks.  According to a post on Pymnts.com (Is Yelp + Amazon the Mobile Commerce Game Changer?), Facebook is testing a “Buy” button that can enable purchasing directly from a promotion inside a user’s news feed.  Now, I’m not getting into the social commerce conversation; simply pointing out that Facebook’s dive into traditional banking may not be as far off as some might think.

Banks as the New Black?

Facebook is already a licensed money transmitter, enabling the social media giant to process payments to application developers for virtual products.  As much as it has the technological chops — and financial clout — to enter the banking space, its Achilles heal may be the very thing that banks are built on: privacy.  Facebook relies on its members seeing and responding to their friends (and acquaintances) activity and updates.  Noticing a friend make a deposit to the “Bank of Facebook” or take a loan from said institution might not precipitate your own business.  The one thing I can see is an attempt by Facebook to acquire an online bank to jump-start its efforts to reach a specific demographic.  In that case, it might be as simple as “the Bank” powered by Facebook.  Regardless, I’d keep an eye on Facebook’s disclosures and press releases when it comes to payments, social commerce and financial services.

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To comment on this piece, click on the grey circle with the white plus sign on the bottom right or send me your thoughts via Twitter (I’m @aldominick). Next up, a look at the threats posed to a bank’s business by retail giant Wal-Mart.

PayPal is Eating Your Bank’s Lunch

Part two of a five piece series on emerging threats to banks from non-financial companies.  To read part one, “For Banks, the Sky IS Falling,” click the hyperlinked title.

I am not big on scare tactics, so apologies in advance of my next sentence.  But when HP’s chief technologist for financial services, Ross Feldman calls PayPal “the poster child of new technology,” adding, “they are the No. 1 scary emerging player in the eyes of bankers” how can you not be concerned?  PayPal, a subsidiary of eBay, is already a major player in the person-to-person payment business (P2P) and is poised to take a massive bite out of traditional banking revenue.

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What is PayPal Up To?

To preface this part of today’s post, keep in mind that as an unregulated entity, PayPal is not subject to the same regulations and compliance expenses as banks.  I share this oh-so-salient point as the company moves towards mobile payments with its apps and one-touch payment services.  The fact that PayPal embraces these offerings isn’t surprising, as so many bank users — myself included — prize 24/7 convenience.  Certainly,  companies that don’t meet user demands will not survive.

Moving away from individual expectations to small business demands, I am seeing more small businesses switch from traditional merchant accounts offered by the banks to those like PayPal’s.  As Nathalie Reinelt of Aite Group’s Retail Banking group shared, “ubiquitous smartphones and inefficiencies in legacy payments have propelled the digital wallet into the payments ecosystem—consumers are interested in it, merchants are willing to adopt it, and financial services companies cannot ignore it.”

So What’s A Banker to Do?

Where I see PayPal falling short — admittedly, most banks too — is an inability to help customers make decisions on what to buy, and where and when to buy it.  So let me shout it as loud as I can: exploit this achilles heel while you still can!  There are companies like MoneyDesktop (a leading provider of online and mobile money management solutions), Ignite Sales (a company whose “recommendation solutions” helps increase customer acquisition & retention while optimizing profitability), etc. that have been stood up to keep banks relevant.  There is a real opportunity for banks to do more than simply allow the same types of services digitally that were once only available in-person.

The window of opportunity is open for banks to expand what banking means to consumers by offering online services that go beyond their traditional business model.  The question boils down to this: will the board & senior leadership accept the risk to try something new to make sure they aren’t just warding off advances from the B of A’s of the world — but also the PayPal’s and their peers?

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To comment on this piece, click on the grey circle with the white plus sign on the bottom right or send me your thoughts via Twitter (I’m @aldominick).  Next up, pieces on two of the biggest non-bank competitors whose names you may have heard of: Facebook and Walmart.

For Banks, the Sky IS Falling

The first in a five part series on emerging threats to banks from non-financial companies.

For bank executives and board members, competition takes many forms.  Not only are banks burdened with regulation, capital requirements and stress testing, they now have the added pressure of competition from non-financial institutions.  In case you haven’t been paying attention, companies such as Paypal, as well as traditional consumer brands such as Walmart, are aggressively chipping away at banks’ customer base and threatening many financial institutions’ core businesses.  So today’s piece tees up my next four columns by acknowledging the changes taking place within — and immediately outside — our $14 trillion industry.

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The race is on…

A few months ago, at Bank Director’s annual Growth Conference in New Orleans, I polled an audience of CEOs, Chairmen and board members and found the vast majority (a whopping 91%) have real concerns about non-banks entering financial services.  These bankers aren’t alone in their concerns about competition from unregulated entities.  Just days after polling this audience, Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JPMorgan Chase, warned an audience of investors that he sees Google and Facebook specifically as potential competition for the banking giant.  As he notes, both offer services, such as P2P, that could chip away at income sources for banks.

…and its not pride coming up the backstretch

As Emily McCormick wrote, Facebook is already a licensed money transmitter, enabling the social media giant to process payments to application developers for virtual products. Likewise, the retail behemoth Wal-Mart launched Bluebird in partnership with American Express late in 2012 so users can direct deposit their paychecks, make bill payments, withdraw cash from ATMs and write checks.  This makes the results of a recent TD Bank survey about millennials banking online and on their mobile devices more frequently than in a branch so relevant.  Specifically, 90% of survey respondents said they use online or mobile tools for their everyday banking activities, such as checking balances or paying bills, and 57% said they are using mobile banking more frequently than they were last year.

Along the lines of “what is the industry losing”: eventually you’re going to have a generation that has learned how to live without a bank.  That’s a very sky-is-falling, long-term consequence of not adapting.  But there’s also an opportunity for retail banks to do more than simply allow the same types of services digitally that were once only available in-person.  Banks could actually expand what banking means to consumers by offering online services that go beyond their legacy business model.

What I am hearing

Of course, non-banks can, conceptually, expand what banking means to consumers by offering online services that go beyond legacy business models too.  However, the sheer complexity of entering this market is one reason why we have yet to see a startup that truly rebuilds the banking industry brick by brick.  At least, that is the perspective shared by Max Levchin, founder and CEO of online payments startup Affirm, a company with the goal of bringing simplicity, transparency, and fair pricing to consumer credit.  As the co-founder and former CTO of PayPal, Levchin is one of the pioneers within the payments industry.   In a recent piece in Wired magazine (The Next Big Thing You Missed: Startup’s Plan to Remake Banks and Replace Credit Cards Just Might Work), he notes

I don’t know if I want to own a bank. But I do want to lend money in a transparent way, and I want to create an institution people love… I want to be the community bank equivalent for the 21st century, where people say: ‘I trust my banker. He’s a good guy who’s looking out for me.’

Coopetition anyone?

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To comment on this piece, click on the grey circle with the white plus sign on the bottom right.  Next up, a look at PayPal, a the e-commerce business that is “eating the banking industry’s lunch.”