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.

Three Strategic Issues Shaping Financial Services

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

Quickly:

  • Banks need to think beyond the notion that they can either build a technology solution or buy it — for inspiration, take a look at how Silicon Valley Bank uses APIs to tap into technology from third party providers.
  • Thanks to products like Amazon’s Alexa, financial institutions must now prepare for “hands-free banking.”
  • Various startups are using behavioral economics to nudge people towards making better financial choices for saving & investing.

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If you have been to any of our conferences, you’ve probably heard me (and others) encourage participants to get up & out from their offices to see what’s happening with their customers, potential partners and competition.  I do my best to practice what is preached — and have recent trips to San Francisco, New York City and Austin to prove it.  As I re-read hand written notes, dog-eared white papers and highlighted sections of annual reports, I realize just how much time I’ve spent talking about technology-driven trends shaping the financial industry.  To me, three of the bigger issues being discussed right now involve:

  1. The push for retail customers, which may already be spurring dealmaking.
  2. How customers experience and interact with their bank — which broadly ties into the question should an institution buy, partner or mimic a fintech; and
  3. Given all the hype surrounding machine learning and advanced decision modeling, leadership teams want to know how to augment a bank’s revenues & relationships with such technologies.

To these three trends, both our editor-in-chief, Jack Milligan, and I agree that most bankers understand the imperative to innovate around key aspects of their business, whether it’s payments, mobile in all its many permutations, lending, new account onboarding or data.

Personally, when it comes to knowing one’s customer (and potential customer), I find any good experience starts with great data.  As Carl Ryden, the CEO and Co-Founder at PrecisionLender, made clear at their recent Bank of Purpose conference, “if you hold your data close to the vest and you don’t do anything with it, it’s not an asset. It’s a liability.”

So with that in mind, let me close by sharing a link to our newest issue of Bank Director magazine.  This is our “Great Ideas” issue, one in which we highlight companies like USAA who crowdsource upwards of 10,000 ideas per year for products and new technology.  At a time when banks of all sizes are starting to take advantage of platform-based services, this new digital issue is one that I am really proud to share.

 

3 Examples of Next’Gen Partnerships

News & Notes from February 13 – 17
By Al Dominick, CEO of DirectorCorps (parent co. to Bank Director & FinXTech) | @aldominick

A few weeks ago, I made note of an interesting new relationship between a bank and a technology firm.  Specifically, BBVA Compass’s announcement that it has been piloting Amazon Lockers in eleven of its Austin-area branches.  This is the first time Amazon Lockers are available with a bank in the United States — and may provide a creative spark to those thinking about how to increase traffic into an existing branch network.

Since sharing my observation on this partnership, I’ve made note of a number of new relationships that reflect the changing nature of the financial industry.  This week, three things caught my eye:

In addition, I took note of Wells Fargo forming a new innovation team (called Payments, Virtual Solutions, and Innovations) to better build out its digital banking experiences.  The three pillars of this effort revolve around payments, artificial intelligence and APIs. For Wells Fargo — and banks in general:

  • Payments are a critical driver of relationships for consumer, small business, and commercial and corporate banking customers.
  • In terms of artificial intelligence, the bank sees an increasing number of opportunities to better leverage data to provide personalized customer service through its bankers and digital channels.
  • Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) technology enables commercial and corporate banking customers to integrate products, services and information into their own digital environments.

So as financial institutions continue to search for new growth opportunities, I intend to share weekly recaps like this as a way to share what I find compelling.  Let me know what you think — and if there are other news & notes I might share.

10 Banks and Fintechs Doing it Right

In advance of April’s FinXtech Summit
By Al Dominick, CEO of DirectorCorps (parent co. to Bank Director & FinXTech) | @aldominick

Quickly:

  • An increasing number of financial institutions are using partnerships with technology companies to improve operations and better meet customer needs.
  • For the past few months, banks and/or fintechs submitted case studies on specific technology solutions helping financial institutions produce real, quantifiable results to our team at FinXTech.
  • With more then 100 submissions in hand, a committee of FinXTech advisors worked with our team to compile a top-10 list during Bank Director’s Acquire or Be Acquired Conference in Arizona last week.

_ _ _

Throughout Bank Director’s annual Acquire or Be Acquired conference, I found myself in quite a few conversations about the continually changing nature of financial services. Many of these discussions revolved around the possibilities generated by traditional institutions partnering with emerging technology firms.  Some of these took place on-stage; for instance, I opened the second full day of the conference by polling an audience of 900+ on a variety of technology-related issues:

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With results like these precipitating editorial coverage from our team and attendees alike, you’ll probably understand why I find the just-released ten finalists for our “Best of FinXTech Awards” so compelling.  Indeed, as the financial landscape continues to evolve, and executives grapple with a fast-changing operating environment that requires partnerships and collaboration, each of these relationships shows what is really possible when leaders explore something new together.

  • Bank of Nova Scotia (Scotiabank) + Sensibill: Scotiabank’s customers can store, organize and retrieve paper and electronic receipts through the Toronto, Canada bank’s mobile banking app and wallet, the result of a partnership with Sensibill, also based in Toronto. The service was launched in October 2016.
  • Franklin Synergy Bank + Built Technologies, Inc.: Built Technologies, in Nashville, Tennessee, improved the loan administration process for Franklin Synergy Bank, in Franklin, Tennessee. The $3 billion asset bank now manages a greater number of construction loans with fewer staff.
  • Green Dot (Go Bank) + Uber: Pasadena, California-based Green Dot Corp., which issues prepaid credit cards, partnered with Uber to provide the San Francisco transportation company’s drivers a fee-free debit card and an instant pay solution that allows drivers to be paid instantly.
  • IDFC Bank + TATA Consultancy Services (TCS): Due to a regulatory mandate, India’s IDFC Bank had just 18 months to expand into rural areas to better serve unbanked customers. The bank’s partnership with TCS, based in Mumbai, India, included the use of micro ATMs, which are modified point-of-sale terminals that expand the bank’s reach in rural areas.
  • National Bank of Kansas City + Roostify: San Francisco-based Roostify improved National Bank of Kansas City’s formerly inefficient and incomplete digital mortgage application process. Customers at the bank, based in Overland Park, Kansas with more than $600 million in assets, can now fill out a mortgage application in a little as 20 minutes, with no need for a phone call or trip to the branch to visit a loan officer.
  • Somerset Trust Company + BOLTS Technologies: BOLTS, based in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, improved the account opening process at Somerset Trust Company, saving the $1 billion asset community bank in Somerset, Pennsylvania, roughly $200,000 in the first year by better automating the process and reducing error rates. Customers can start and complete the process on multiple channels.
  • Toronto-Dominion Bank (TD Bank) + Moven: TD Bank, based in Toronto, Canada, launched a real-time money management application in April 2016, developed by Moven in New York.
  • USAA + Nuance: USAA, based in San Antonio, Texas, made its website a little smarter in 2016 with the virtual assistant Nina, which provides support for USAA’s members. This use of artificial intelligence is the result of a collaboration with Nuance in Burlington, Massachusetts.
  • Woodforest National Bank + PrecisionLender: Partnering with Charlotte, North Carolina-based PrecisionLender to improve its loan pricing strategy helped $4.8 billion asset Woodforest National Bank, in The Woodlands, Texas, grow commercial loans by 16 percent and gain almost 20 basis points in net interest margin.
  • WSFS Bank + LendKey: WSFS Financial Corp., headquartered in Wilmington, Delaware, with $6.6 billion in assets, partnered with the lending platform LendKey, in New York, to expand the bank’s consumer loan portfolio with a student loan and refinancing product.

All ten of these partnerships demonstrate the strongest combination of collaboration and results.  For those interested, my colleague Kelsey Weaver (the President of our FinXTech platform) announces the three “winners” on April 26, 2017, during the FinXTech Annual Summit, at the Nasdaq MarketSite.

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Closing bell ceremony at Nasdaq / Bank Director + FinXTech’s FinTech Day (March 1, 2016)

In advance of that announcement, 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 where and how this annual Summit — and these awards — fits into FinTech Week New York that we are hosting along with Empire Startups starting April 24.

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..

_ _ _

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.

Opportunities Abound at Acquire or Be Acquired

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

Quickly

  • Earnings pressures, regulatory/compliance costs + the impact of technology will continue to make it more difficult for banks to compete and be profitable, which will continue to generate consolidation.
  • The increase in stock prices and capital raising activity is likely to provide an additional catalyst for M&A in early 2017
  • Raising capital is an immediate and viable option for most banks today

_ _ _

Here at Bank Director’s annual Acquire or Be Acquired conference, it is clear that to maximize shareholder value, a bank’s leadership must not only plan for the future but also take advantage of today’s opportunities.

For those interested in following the conference conversations via social channels, I invite you to follow me on Twitter via @AlDominick, the host company, @BankDirector and its @Fin_X_Tech platform, and search & follow #AOBA17 to see what is being shared with (and by) our attendees.

Expect the Unexpected

“If past history was all that is needed to play the game of money, the richest people would be librarians.” – Warren Buffett

#AOBA17 pre-conference intel
By Al Dominick, CEO of Bank Director | @aldominick

This may be a phenomenal—or scary year—for banks. Banks have benefited from rising stock prices and rising interest rates, which are expected to boost low net interest margins. Indeed, the change in the U.S. presidency has resulted in a steepened yield curve, as investors predict improved economic growth. Currently, many anticipate regulatory relief for banks and the prospect of major corporate tax cuts. Such change could have a significant impact on banks; however, those running financial institutions also need to keep an eye on potential challenges ahead.

As we head to our 23rd Acquire or Be Acquired Conference in Phoenix, Arizona, with a record breaking 1,058 attendees Jan. 29-Jan. 31, I am expecting the mood to be good. Why wouldn’t it be? But what is on the horizon are also fundamental changes in technology that will change the landscape for banking. What will your competitors be doing that you won’t be? Our conference has always been a meeting ground for the banking industry’s key leaders to meet, engage with each other and learn what they need to do deals. It is still that. Indeed, most of the sessions and speakers will be talking about M&A and growth.
But this year, more than 100 executives from fintech companies that provide products and services to banks join us in the desert, on our invitation. We want to help banks start thinking about the challenges ahead and how they might solve them.

Here are some things to consider:

  • How will the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency’s limited-purpose fintech charter enable more established fintech companies to compete with some of the incumbents in the room?
  • If smaller banks are indeed relieved of many of the burdens of big bank regulation, will they use the savings to invest in technology and improvements in customer service?
  • How will customer expectations change, and from whom will customers get their financial services?

To this last point, I intend to spotlight three companies that are changing the way their industries operate to inspire conversations about both the risks and rewards of pursuing a path of change. Yes, it’s OK to think a little bit beyond the banking industry.

Spotify
Rather than buying a CD to get their favorite songs, music-lovers today favor curated playlists where people pick, click and choose whom they listen to and in what order. There is a natural parallel to how people might bank in the future. Just as analytics enable media companies to deliver individually tailored and curated content, so too is technology available to banks that might create a more personalized experience. Much like Spotify gives consumers their choice of music when and where they want it, so too are forward-looking banks developing plans to provide consumer-tailored information “on-demand.”

Airbnb
The popular home-rental site Airbnb is reportedly developing a new service for booking airline flights. Adding an entirely new tool and potential revenue stream could boost the company’s outlook. For banks, I believe Airbnb is the “uber-type” company they need to pay attention to, as their expansion into competitive and mature adjacent markets parallels what some fear Facebook and Amazon might offer in terms of financial services.

WeChat
One of China’s most popular apps, the company counts 768 million daily active users (for context, that’s 55 percent of China’s total population). Of those users, roughly 300 million have added payment information to the wallet. So, WeChat Pay’s dominance in the person-to-person payments space is a model others can emulate. PayPal already is attempting such dominance, which Bank Director magazine describes in our most recent issue.

Many of those attending our conference also have done amazing things in banking. I can’t name all of them, but I’d be remiss to not mention CEO Richard Davis of U.S. Bank, our keynote speaker. After a decade leading one of the most phenomenal and profitable banks in the country, he is stepping down in April. We all have something to learn from him, I’m sure.  Let us think about the lessons the past has taught us, but keep an eye on the future. Let’s expect the unexpected.

*note – this piece first ran on BankDirector.com on January 26, 2017