5 Trends from Acquire or Be Acquired 2019

WASHINGTON, DC — To get a sense of what trended at Bank Director’s 25th annual Acquire or Be Acquired conference, here’s a link to five video check-ins.  All 2 minutes or less in length, these summarize various topics and trends shared with 1,300+ attendees.

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Acquire or Be Acquired Conference
January 26-28, 2020 | Arizona Biltmore Resort | Phoenix, AZ

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Looking for Inspiration? Look to USAA

Quickly:

  • Next week, my team hosts 350+ leaders from across the United States at Bank Director’s annual Bank Audit & Risk Committees Conference at the JW Marriott Chicago.
  • In advance of welcoming people to this popular event, it strikes me that the business of banking remains difficult despite improving economic conditions; indeed, the drive to digitize a bank’s operations continues to pose significant challenges to most.
  • Digital is, in my estimation, a CEO topic that requires a healthy dose of creativity and ambition.  As such, I’m sharing the following article on innovation — authored by John Maxwell and featured in Bank Director magazine’s current “Great Ideas” digital issue.  It focuses on how USAA taps the creative side of its employees to pre-position itself for the next new products, tools and technologies to benefit its diverse customer base.

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“USAA was the first major financial institution to allow customers to deposit physical checks by taking a picture of them on their smartphones, rolling out the service in August 2009. It wasn’t until months later that Bank of America Corp., the nation’s second biggest bank by assets, said it would test the same functionality, by which point upward of 40,000 USAA members had already used the software to deposit more than 100,000 checks. And it wasn’t until the following year that JPMorgan Chase & Co., the nation’s biggest bank by assets, followed suit.

This was neither the first nor the last time that USAA, a niche player in the financial services industry serving current and former members of the military and their families, had beaten larger rivals to the punch in introducing a big, transformative idea. In 2015, the $78 billion asset company became the first major U.S. financial institution to roll out facial and voice recognition technology that allows members to log in to its mobile app without entering a password.

What is it about USAA that explains how it’s regularly at the forefront of big ideas? Is it serendipity, or is there something more at play? And if it’s the latter, are there aspects of USAA’s approach that can be replicated by other banks that want to accelerate their own internal innovation engines?

One explanation for USAA’s success is that the company has always had to think creatively about distribution because of its dispersed member base. With members stationed at military installations around the world, some in active combat zones, simply building more branches has never been a viable distribution strategy. It has a single bank branch at its headquarters in San Antonio, and it wasn’t until 2009 that it began opening a small collection of financial centers near domestic military bases—there are 17 of these centers currently. This is why USAA so readily embraced mobile banking, which enables its members to access their accounts irrespective of location.

Yet, chalking up USAA’s accomplishments in the sphere of innovation to the idea that “necessity is the mother of all invention” doesn’t do the story justice. More than any other major company in the financial services space, USAA has made it a priority to harness each of its 30,000 employees in order to stay on the cutting edge. It began doing so in earnest in 2010 by launching a so-called ideas platform on the company’s intranet. Anyone from the CEO to frontline personnel to security guards can post and vote on ideas that have been entered on the platform. Between 10,000 and 11,000 ideas were submitted in each of the last two years. Ideas that get at least 1,000 favorable employee votes are escalated to USAA’s in-house innovation team overseen by Zack Gipson, USAA’s chief innovation officer.  Last year, 1,206 employee ideas were implemented, while 189 of them have come to fruition thus far in 2017.

USAA also hosts events and challenges for employees that are designed to elicit ideas for new or improved products and services. There are 28 such activities planned this year, taking the form of multi-week coding and design challenges as well as single-day hackathons where teams are tasked with solving a specific problem, says Lea Sims, assistant vice president of employee and member innovation. At an event in 2015, USAA happened upon the idea for voice-guided remote deposit capture, which uses voice commands to guide visually impaired members through the process of depositing checks on a mobile device. The service went live in July of 2016.

On top of these specific initiatives, USAA uses incentives and a consistent messaging campaign to encourage employees to brainstorm and share innovative ideas. Rewards are handed out to winners of challenges, as well as to any employee behind an idea that gets 1,000 votes on the ideas platform—an additional reward is meted out if the idea is implemented, explains Sims. These rewards come in the form of company scrip, which can be redeemed for actual products. A total of 94 percent of USAA employees have participated one way or another in its various innovation channels, with three quarters of a million votes submitted on its internal ideas platform in 2016 alone. “We put a premium on innovation,” says Sims. “It starts in new employee orientation as soon as you walk in the door to be part of our culture.”

USAA has taken steps to crowdsource ideas from its 12 million members, or customers, as well. In February it introduced USAA Labs, where members can sign up to share innovative ideas and participate in pilot programs of experimental products. “The goal of our membership channel is, quite frankly, to replicate the success of our employee channel,” says Sims. Thus far, over 770 members have signed onto the program, which is still in its early stages but could become a major part of USAA’s innovation channel in the future.

Last but not least, sitting atop USAA’s employee and member-based innovation channels is a team of 150 employees who focus solely on bringing new ideas to life. This is its strategic innovation group, which executes on crowdsourced ideas but spends most of its time brainstorming and implementing large, disruptive concepts such as remote deposit capture and biometric logins. It’s this final component of USAA’s strategy that adheres most closely to the institutional structure articulated by Harvard professor Clayton Christensen, a leading expert on the process of innovation. In his seminal book, The Innovator’s Dilemma, Christensen makes the case that established firms should vest the responsibility to bring ideas to life in organizationally independent groups. This is especially important when it comes to disruptive ideas that threaten to cannibalize other products and services sold by the firm, not unlike the way that remote deposit capture reduces the need for physical branches.

In short, the reason USAA has consistently been at the forefront of innovation in the financial services industry has next to nothing to do with serendipity. It traces instead to the company’s strategy of engaging all of its stakeholders in the idea generation process, harnessing the creative power of 30,000 employees, 12 million members and a select team of internal innovators who focus on nothing but bringing new ideas to life. It’s this structural approach to innovation, and the focus on employee engagement in particular, that offers a valuable model for other banks to follow. Indeed, out of the many big ideas USAA has introduced over the years, its strategy of crowdsourcing innovation may very well be the biggest.”

*John J. Maxfield is a writer and frequent contributor to Bank Director.  To read more of this month’s issue (for free), click here.  In full disclosure, I’m a loyal USAA member — as is my entire family — tracing back to my father’s days at the Naval Academy.  I can attest to the “awesomeness” of the bank’s various mobile offerings — like facial recognition, remote check deposit, the integration of Coinbase (that lets me see the balance of my bitcoin and ethereum balances alongside my checking and savings accounts), etc.

“Statement”: I Am All In On IoT

By Al Dominick | @aldominick

Quickly:

  • Thanks to companies like Amazon, we are closing the gap between the physical & digital world.
  • Given our industry’s relentless pace of change, I think banks should place a big bet on figuring out how to “get involved” with the Internet of Things (IoT).
  • I am personally intrigued by the potential of car-based payments.

Getting smarter about the Internet of Things has been a focus of mine since talking with US Bancorp’s CEO, Richard Davis, in January.  He shared various areas of technological interest for the 5th-largest bank in the U.S. (e.g. biometrics & security to machine learning… distributed ledgers to digital identify). However, his take on our interconnected world and the promise of IoT really captured my attention and imagination.  Since then, I have taken much deeper dives into the world of Amazon’s Web Services, IBM’s Watson and Salesforce’s IoT Cloud.  I’ll not break any new ground for those well versed in the underlying technologies or principles with this post, but I would suggest that those in the banking world think about how connected devices might catapult their businesses forward.

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Take, for example, the potential of a Tesla.  Last week, I had a chance to see one of their high-end model S cars here in DC.  Spectacularly designed, I couldn’t shake the idea that the way we bank might radically change given innovations taking place at companies such as this one.  (*To be fair, I had recently read a McKinsey report that suggests a linking of the physical and digital worlds could generate up to $11.1 trillion a year in economic value by 2025).

Still, if I were running a bank today, I would immediately make a commitment to figuring out what we can do to intersect with the waves of new opportunity being created by companies like this.

I would dedicate both time and resources to figuring out how emerging technologies might enhance our institution’s insight into revenue opportunities, areas of unexpected risk and emerging customer expectations.  I’d welcome as many new ideas in now while I have the chance to consider what remains strategically possible.  Basically, I’d stick a sign on our front door with a simple word: Ambitious.

FinXTech’s Advisory Group

I’m checking in from the edge of the Rocky Mountains — from the iconic Broadmoor in Colorado Springs — where I’m joined by FinXTech’s President, Kelsey Weaver and Bank Director’s Director of Client Relations, Laura Proffitt.  The three of us are here to participate in the Association for Financial Technology’s (AFT) Fall Summit where later today, I will have the opportunity to introduce a new partnership between AFT and FinXTech.  In advance of those comments, I thought to pull the curtains back on a special  Advisory Group that we are building to develop FinXTech in the “best” possible manner. 

As new approaches to delivering financial services emerge, nearly every technology company here in Colorado has practical tools, techniques and talent to help financial institutions prepare for the future.  It is an exciting time to be part of a community like the one AFT draws, as I believe new players will continue to emerge while traditional participants transform their underlying business models to better participate and compete in the coming years.

As the financial industry continues to evolve, so too does the community that my team supports.  As a peer-to-peer based platform powered by Bank Director, FinXTech connects a hugely influential audience around shared areas of interest and innovation; specifically:

  • FinTech companies 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.

Rather then create this community in isolation, we are doing so with the help and support of industry leaders with various backgrounds.  Case-in-point, we are recruiting highly opinionated, ridiculously informed thought leaders to “think around the corner” with us as part of FinXTech’s Advisory Group.

So as we get ready to spend a few days with our peers at this week’s conference, Kelsey, Laura and I are proud that the following men and women have accepted our invitation to share their time and intelligence with us as part of FinXTech’s council:

  • Thomas P. Brown, Partner, Paul Hastings LLP
  • Michael Butler, President & CEO, Radius Bank
  • Michael M. Carter, Founder & CEO, BizEquity
  • Ryan Gilbert, General Partner, Propel Venture Partners
  • John C. Gill, Chief Operating Officer & Chief Risk Officer, Somerset Trust Company
  • Joe Guastella, Global & U.S. Managing Principal, Financial Principal, Deloitte Consulting LLP
  • James C. Hale, III, Founding Partner, FTV Capital
  • Aditya Khujekar, CEO & Co-Founder, Let’s Talk Payments
  • Jimmie Lenz, Director of Technology Risk, Wells Fargo, Wealth and Investment Management
  • Vivian Maese, Partner, Latham & Watkins
  • Bill McNulty, Entrepreneur in Residence, Capital One
  • John E. Pizzi, CEO, BaseVenture
  • Gregg M. Schoenberg, Founder, Westcott Capital
  • Chris Skinner, CEO, The Finanser Ltd
  • Christa Steele, Former President, CEO & Board Member, Mechanics Bank; Founder, Boardroom Consulting LLC
  • John Thompson, SVP & Leader, Program Team, CFSI
  • Andres Wolberg-Stok, Director, Citi Fintech
  • Jon Zanoff, Founder, Empire Startups

In addition to this awesome group, we have some pretty powerful folks that we recently invited (so this list can and will expand in the coming weeks).  But for those of you here at AFT, you will hear Kelsey, Laura and me talk about our enthusiasm for this group & the efforts being made to establish FinXTech as a catalyst that (1) connects a highly influential group of people who care about the future of financial services, (2) are committed to meaningful transformation and are (3) empowered to make change happen.

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To learn more about what we’re doing, I invite you to visit FinXTech.com, a site we designed to deliver authoritative, relevant and trusted content for banks, Fintech companies, investors and services firms.

How We Are Taking a Lean Startup Approach to our Grown-up Business

A lean startup methodology enables entrepreneurs to efficiently build a company by searching for product and/or market fit rather than blindly trying to execute.  I find it helps mature companies too — and thought the perspectives of Stanford Professor Steve Blank, Silicon Valley entrepreneur Ben Horowitz and Y Combinator’s Sam Altman might resonate with bankers, fintech companies and other small business CEOs that are thinking about how to adapt their businesses to new challenges and opportunities. 

Paying It Forward

By Al Dominick // @aldominick

As someone who long aspired to build and run a company, I take great pride in leading a profitable, privately-held, twenty-person-strong small business.  In the past, I have written about my “people > products > performance” approach to leading the Bank Director team.  So when Ben Horowitz (co-founder and Partner of the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz) shares on his blog, “it’s not about how smart you are or how well you know your business; it’s about how that translates to the team’s performance and output,” I find myself nodding in total agreement.

Look, I am so very proud of our team’s accomplishments… but I am even more excited to adapt the lean startup methodology to scale our business.  The approach we are taking builds on the wisdom and experience of others. So for anyone responsible for growing their business, allow me to recommend two “must reads:”

For me, we are “all-in” in terms of taking a lean startup approach to expanding our business without compromising our reputation for going narrow & deep, providing a “Four Seasons” level of experience at our events and delivering outstanding ideas and insights to a hugely influential audience.  In addition, we are supremely mindful to do as Sam Altman says.  That is, create something that a small number of people love rather than a product that a large number of people simply like.

H1: The Core Business

Admittedly, I am hesitant to call our approach to growing Bank Director a bootstrapping effort since the brand, relationships and revenue being generated enable us certain luxuries that many start-ups simply do not have.  Nonetheless, let me show you how we adapted the Horizon 1 (H1) and Horizon 3 (H3) framework depicted above to our business.

What began in 1991 as a traditional publishing company now operates as a privately-held media enterprise delivering original content to CEOs, executives and board members of financial services companies via digital platforms, exclusive conferences and award-winning publications.  Below is a visual example of our transformation vis-a-vis three magazine covers.  As you can see, we have matured in style while expanding our frequency (from quarterly to monthly) as we expanded our distribution channels.

Going narrow and deep works for us since we generate our revenue from the annual conferences & events we host (e.g. our 800+ person Acquire or Be Acquired conference), publications and research we publish and education & training services we provide.

H3: Where the Wild Ideas Live

With three consecutive years of top line growth (and healthy bottom line results to boot), we are in the wonderful position to grow in some pretty cool ways.  But doing so will take more than simple process improvements and expense control.  As we have a strong business foundation in place, I did have to restructure my management team’s individual roles and responsibilities to better suit our H1/H3 setup.  I did so because as Steve Blank points out, “Horizon 3 is where companies put their crazy entrepreneurs… these innovators want to create new and potentially disruptive business models.” As fun as living/working in H3 sounds, let me emphasize how much I rely on the H1 team to “defend, extend and increase” our core business.

Is it working?  Well, we will formally announce a new venture, FinXTech, on March 1, 2016 at Nasdaq’s MarketSite in New York City.  This is the first — and surely not last — project to emerge from our H3 world.  But time will ultimately tell.

We are a collection of creative men and women and I am very optimistic about our future.  Realizing that we want to continuously push to grow and innovate led me to appreciate “the need to execute (to the) core business model while innovating in parallel.”  So today’s post isn’t an attempt to make me look smart; rather, my attempt to acknowledge the inspiration of others and share what’s working for us.

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.

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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.