What Is FinXTech Connect?

WASHINGTON, DC — Last month, our team celebrated ten years of “Bank Director 2.0.” As I look back on what we’ve accomplished, a few projects stand out. Today, I’m shining a light on the development of our FinXTech Platform, which we built specifically for financial institutions.

Bank Director’s FinXTech debuted on March 1, 2016 at Nasdaq’s MarketSite in Times Square. Positioned at the intersection of Financial Institutions and Technology Leaders, FinXTech connects key decision makers across the financial sector around shared areas of interest.

We initially focused on bank technology companies providing solutions geared to Security, leveraging Data + Analytics, making better Lending decisions, getting smarter with Payments, enhancing Digital Banking, streamlining Compliance and/or improving the Customer Experience.

As our brand (and team) grew, we heard from a number of bank executives about the challenges they faced in discovering potential technology partners and solutions. To help solve this issue, we built FinXTech Connect.

Sorting through the technology landscape is no easy feat. Nor is finding, comparing and vetting potential technology partners. But week-by-week, and month-by-month, we added to this proprietary platform by engaging with bankers and fintech executives alike. All the while, asking (whenever we could) bankers who they wanted to learn more about at events like our annual Summit or Experience FinXTech events.

Banks today are in the eye of a digital revolution storm. A reality brought about, in no small part, by this year’s Covid-19 pandemic. So I am proud that the work we do helps banks make smarter business decisions that ultimately help their clients and communities. To wit, the various relationships struck up between banks and fintechs to turn the SBA’s PPP program into a reality.

As we look ahead, I’m excited to see Bank Director’s editorial team continue to carefully vet potential partners with a history of financial performance and proven roster of financial industry clients. For those companies working with financial institutions that would like to be considered for inclusion in FinXTech Connect, I invite you to submit your company for consideration.

Who is the Next nCino?

WASHINGTON, DC — With this week’s news that nCino is readying itself for an IPO, I thought to postulate about who “the next nCino” might be in the fintech space. By this, I mean the tech company about whom bank executives cite as doing right by traditional institutions.

For context, nCino developed a cloud-based operating system for financial institutions. The company’s technology enables both customers and financial institutions to work on a single platform that’s optimized for both retail and commercial accounts. In simple terms, they provide everything from retail and commercial account opening to portfolio management for all of a bank’s loans.

In its IPO filing, the company says it works with more than 1,100 financial institutions globally — whose assets range in size from $30 million to $2 trillion. Personally, I remember their start and been impressed with their growth. Indeed, I’ve known about nCino since its early Live Oak Bank days. I’ve gotten to know many on their executive team, and just last Fall shared a stage with their talented CEO, Pierre Naudé, at our annual Experience FinXTech conference in Chicago.

Al Dominick, CEO of Bank Director + FinXTech, Frank Sorrentino, Chairman & CEO of ConnectOne Bank and Pierre Naude, CEO of nCino at 2019’s Experience FinXTech Conference in Chicago, IL.

So as I think about who might become “the next” nCino in bankers’ minds across the United States, I begin by thinking about those offering solutions geared to a bank’s interest in Security, leveraging Data + Analytics, making better Lending decisions, getting smarter with Payments, enhancing Digital Banking, streamlining Compliance and/or improving the Customer Experience. Given their existing roster of bank clients, I believe the “next nCino” might be one of these five fintechs:

While I have spent time with the leadership teams from each of these companies, my sense that they might be “next” reflects more than personal insight. Indeed, our FinXTech Connect platform sheds light on each company’s work in support of traditional banks.

For instance, personal financial management (PFM) tools are often thought of as a nice perk for bank customers, designed to improve their experience and meet their service expectations. But when a PFM is built with data analytics backing it, what was seen as a perk can be transformed into a true solution — one that’s more useful for customers while producing revenue-generating insights for the bank. The money management dashboard built by Utah-based MX Technologies does just that.

Spun out of Eastern Bank in 2017 (itself preparing for an IPO), Boston-based Numerated designed its offering to digitize a bank’s credit policy, automate the data-gathering process and provide marketing and sales tools that help bank clients acquire new small business loans. Unlike many alternative lenders that use a “black box” for credit underwriting, Numerated has an explainable credit box, so its client banks understand the rules behind it.

Providing insight is something that Autobooks helps small business with. As a white-label product that banks can offer to their small-business customers, Autobooks helps to manage business’s accounting, bill pay and invoicing from within the institution’s existing online banking system. Doing so removes the need for small businesses to reconcile their financial records and replaces traditional accounting systems such as Quickbooks.

The New York-based MANTL developed an account opening tool that comes with a core integration solution banks can use to implement this and other third- party products. MANTL allows a bank to keep its existing core infrastructure in place while offering customers a seamless user experience. It also drives efficiency & automation in the back-office.

Finally, Apiture’s digital banking platform includes features such as digital account opening, personal financial management, cash flow management for businesses and payments services. What makes Apiture’s business model different from most, though, is that each of those features can also be unbundled from the platform and sold as individual modules that can be used to upgrade any of the bank’s existing systems.

Of course, these are but five of hundreds of technology companies with proven track records of working with financial institutions. Figuring out what a bank needs — and who might support them in a business sense — is not a popularity contest. But I’m keen to see how banks continue to engage with these five companies in the months to come.

What Makes M&T A Great Community Bank?

A few months ago, the Wall Street Journal ran a story about M&T Bank appearing “to be just another big regional lender — but that doesn’t account for its CEO.”  Their piece coincided with our editorial team’s preliminary analysis of this strong financial institution.  We wondered: what’s behind M&T’s consistent success, why and how does M&T work like a community bank — and how is M&T playing a unique role reshaping public schools in Buffalo, New York?  These questions form the basis for Bank Director Magazine’s current cover story.  Authored by our Editor-in-Chief Jack Milligan, what follows is an account of how this upstate New York bank grew by making “quality loans to worthy borrowers” while following the lead of its dynamic Chief Executive..
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Any bank that exceeds $50 billion in assets carries the regulatory designation of being a Systemically Important Financial Institution, or SIFI. As such, they are subject to stricter supervision by the Federal Reserve than smaller banks receive, including higher capital requirements and mandatory stress testing. A community bank is an amorphous concept that means different things to different people, but certain characteristics are implied in the common understanding: It usually has a strong business focus and makes most of its money from lending, it has deep roots in the community because that is where its customers are located, and it is small. “Small” within this context is also imprecise. Certainly any institution that meets that definition under $1 billion would be considered a community bank, although many institutions over that threshold level would make the same claim.

But what about a Buffalo, New York-based $123 billion asset bank that operates in eight states and the District of Columbia?

M&T Bank Corp., the top ranked bank in Bank Director’s 2017 Bank Performance Scorecard for the $50 billion and above asset category, lives in both worlds.  M&T is the country’s 18th largest commercial bank and must adhere to all the requirements of a SIFI. But it also has deep roots in the communities it serves—as deep as most smaller banks. M&T not only meets the consumer and business banking needs of those communities, but also spends time and money trying to make them better places to live.

In this, M&T reflects the interests and values of its 83-year-old chairman and chief executive officer, Robert G. Wilmers, who has run the bank since 1983 when it had just $2 billion in assets. Wilmers believes deeply in the importance of strong local communities, if his 2016 letter to M&T’s shareholders is any guide. In the letter, Wilmers expressed concern about the health and well being of middle-class families and small-business owners who form the foundation of M&T’s customer base. The culprits that Wilmers identified are a monetary policy that has kept interest rates low, and excessive regulation. Low rates have benefited the wealthy more than middle-class families, who tend to be savers rather than investors. And M&T’s customer research has found that while small companies could benefit from borrowing at today’s low rates, many business owners are reluctant to expand in what they feel is an overregulated environment.

“Policies designed to benefit the majority have perversely only benefited a few,” he wrote. “The impacts of these decisions … are real,” Wilmers added. “In particular, the middle class and small businesses are losing ground. So, too, are their communities.”

M&T has a relatively straightforward business model compared to other institutions its size. M&T focuses its lending on consumers and small- and middle-sized businesses, and also provides wealth management and fiduciary services through its Wilmington Trust subsidiary to individuals and corporations. It doesn’t have a capital markets operation or wide array of specialty lending businesses, so it has some of the business model characteristics of a community bank, if not the size.

As is common with many Scorecard winners, M&T’s performance was marked by its balance. It did not place first in any of the five metrics that make up the Scorecard—return on average assets, return on average equity, the ratio of tangible common equity to tangible capital, nonperforming assets as a percentage of loans and other real estate owned, and net charge offs as a percentage of average loans. Its best scores were fifth place finishes for return on assets and net charge offs out of 22 banks in the $50 billion and above category. Scorecard winners tend to be those banks that do well on all of the metrics rather than dominating one or two.

The bank reported net income for 2016 of $1.32 billion, a 22 percent increase over 2015. Although fee income growth was essentially flat in a year-over-year comparison, loan growth was strong in 2016, with commercial and industrial credits growing 11 percent and commercial real estate loans 15 percent for the year. Residential real estate loans actually declined 14 percent last year as the bank let many of the jumbo mortgages that came with its 2015 acquisition of Hudson City Bancorp run off. M&T also shed nearly $2.6 billion in interest-bearing deposits it acquired with Hudson City, a thrift that relied on certificates of deposit for most of its funding. This 34 percent decline in high-cost liabilities, combined with its strong loan growth, resulted in a 22 percent rise in the bank’s net interest income for the year. M&T’s efficiency ratio dropped from 58.0 percent in 2015 to 56.1 last year, and this improvement also helped boost its profitability.

Over the long term, M&T has been a good performer in terms of asset quality and their earnings profile … and they tend to do well among large bank peers,” says Rita Sahu, a credit research analyst who covers M&T for Moody’s Investors Service. Sahu points out that M&T’s expenses were higher in 2014 and 2015 because of some charges related to the Hudson City purchase, and also because the bank had to spend heavily to strengthen its Bank Secrecy Act compliance infrastructure before the Fed would approve the Hudson City acquisition. Putting those issues behind it also helped boost the bank’s profitability last year.

M&T has attracted a strong following among institutional investors who value its predictability. The bank hasn’t posted a quarterly loss going back to 1976, and also had the lowest percentage of credit losses among money center and superregional banks during the financial crisis. Investors especially appreciate how much the bank’s stock price has, well, appreciated. Frank Schiraldi, an equity analyst at Sandler O’Neill + Partners who covers M&T, says the stock’s total return since June 1997 is 747 percent. This performance easily beats both the S&P 500 and SNL Mid Cap U.S. Bank Index for total return. M&T’s own investor presentation points out that just 23 of the 100 largest U.S. banks that were operating in 1983 when Wilmers took over are still around today. Among those, M&T ranks number one in stock price appreciation, with a compound average growth rate of 15 percent. “That’s pretty special,” Schiraldi says.

An important contributor to M&T’s performance last year was the acquisition of Hudson City, which closed in November 2015. Headquartered in Paramus, New Jersey, Hudson City operated on a traditional thrift model with its reliance on high- cost time deposits to fund a home loan origination platform that was heavily focused on jumbo mortgages, a product that M&T did not offer. So why did M&T do the deal? “If you looked at our distribution network prior to Hudson City, it was like a bagel and New Jersey was the hole,” explains Vice Chairman Rich Gold. “We had it surrounded, but we had nothing in New Jersey. This strategically filled a hole and now when you look at our distribution we’re covered from New York all the way down to Richmond, Virginia.”

While Hudson City was important for its geography, there were certain things it didn’t offer. As a traditional thrift, it had only a small percentage of core deposits and little in the way of business or consumer loans. “Our challenge now is to make something more out of the franchise than what it was,” says Gold. That transformation is underway, and it’s a process that M&T is very practiced at. Hudson City was M&T’s 23rd acquisition of either branches or whole institutions since 1987, and many of those deals involved thrifts. Gold says that successfully introducing a bank culture to a thrift takes time, and is facilitated by taking experienced M&T managers and seeding them throughout the old thrift franchise. “They understand the drill,” he says. “They understand what needs to be done. They understand the cultural complexion of [M&T] and are able to not only represent that but teach it.”

Announced in August 2012, the Hudson City deal would take over three years to close because of deficiencies the Fed found in M&T’s risk management infrastructure, particularly its BSA and anti-money laundering compliance efforts. The acquisition of Hudson City was going to substantially increase M&T’s asset size, and the Fed required that the bank strengthen its risk management program accordingly. “We probably did outgrow our infrastructure,” says Gold. “That’s shame on us. We missed that cue and we shouldn’t have, and I think we all recognize that and readily admit that.” M&T would eventually invest hundreds of millions of dollars building out an enterprise risk management infrastructure, including BSA and anti-money laundering compliance, an effort that was led by Gold.

And yet for all that, Hudson City has still turned out to be a good acquisition for M&T, even if it took much longer for the benefits to surface than anyone there expected. “It was still accretive from an earnings standpoint and from a tangible book value standpoint, so financially it was still a very good deal,” says Schiraldi. The Hudson City deal could also turn out to be a big driver of M&T’s growth over the next couple of years as the bank continues to build out the New Jersey franchise.

The bank made a $30 million tax-deductible cash contribution to the M&T Charitable Foundation in the fourth quarter of last year, which reduced its net income by $18 million, or 12 cents of diluted earnings per common share. For all of 2016, the M&T Charitable Foundation contributed $28 million to more than 3,600 not-for-profit organizations across its footprint, and its employees contributed over 234,000 volunteer hours.

Of course, many banks support community activities with their time and money. But few bank CEOs have stated their commitment quite so publicly as Wilmers has, and one undertaking in particular reflects both his values and interests—as do many things at the bank. With an undergraduate degree from Harvard College and an MBA from Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration, Wilmers has put his stamp on the bank during the 34 years that he has run it. Its relatively simple business model of checking accounts, loans and investment management advice fits comfortably with Wilmers’ description of the role that banks are supposed to play. “Banks are there to take care of people’s surplus liquidity, and help them buy a car and build a house and manage a business,” he said in an interview. “Part of that is making sure that things go well in the community, and that’s sort of like being for Mother’s Day.”

Wilmers is not the easiest interview for a journalist. He is polite and courteous, but has a tendency to reply to most questions with a brief answer or a deflection. An hour spent with him is to experience a fox hunt from the perspective of the hound. But Wilmers’ commitment to community—and particularly education—is real. He gives full voice to both in his 2016 shareholders letter, with roughly half of its 34 pages devoted to those concerns. (He also spent a lot of time complaining about bank regulation.) But when asked whether the American Dream, as it is embodied in middle-class families and small-business owners, is beginning to fray, Wilmers had this to say: “[Thirty years ago], 70 percent of the work force didn’t have a high school degree. Thirty years from now, 70 percent of the work force will need more than a college degree, in a time when arguably our educational system is getting worse, not better. That’s a big, big problem.”

And it’s a problem that M&T has spent its own time and money on. In 1993, the bank took over School 68, a poorly performing public school in the northeast section of Buffalo, an inner city neighborhood where, today, 33 percent of the residents live below the poverty line, and the unemployment rate is nearly 12 percent. School 68 was converted to a not-for-profit charter school in 2004 and renamed the Westminster Community Charter School, and today it teaches 550 students in kindergarten through the eighth grade. M&T has invested $16.6 million in the school to date, which includes a significant renovation to the building, and it manages all of the school’s operations. “Bob’s whole goal with Westminster was to see if he could change student academic outcomes and students’ lives and [their] families’ lives,” says Pamela Hokanson, president and senior director of schools for Buffalo Promise Neighborhood (BPN), an umbrella organization that oversees the school. As a charter school, Westminster receives about 60 percent of its funding from the State of New York. M&T and the Annie Casey Foundation provide the balance of the funding.

Walking through the facility with Hokanson and Principal Rob Ross on an afternoon in late May of this year, the halls were full of the joyful noise of children who seemed very happy to be there. Tuition is free and the school has a 95 percent attendance rate, the highest of any school in the City of Buffalo, according to Ross. “Of course, social ills creep in every now and then, but our goal is that the students’ experience in school should be safe, it should be positive, and we want them to walk away thinking of something they did today, whether it was the book they read or how they solved a problem with classmates as they were working through math or science,” Ross says.

In 2011, M&T was awarded a five-year, $6 million grant by the U.S. Department of Education to establish BPN, which M&T matched and Hokanson was then able to use as leverage to raise an additional $18 million from other organizations. The Buffalo Promise program now includes two additional schools, one of them an early learning center that was built in 2013 and acts as a feeder to Westminster. M&T contributed $3.5 million toward its construction. The bank also spent approximately $1.5 million renovating homes in the BPN footprint in 2014 and 2015.

M&T’s financial support is vital to BPN in other ways as well. Hokanson is actually an employee of the bank—her bank title is administrative vice president—but she is just one of eight bank employees who work for BPN. Sixteen other BPN employees are funded through an Annie Casey Grant and the M&T Charitable Foundation.

It is doubtful that M&T makes much, if any, money off of the nearly 12,000 residents who live in the BPN community. But it is a community that Wilmers and M&T have invested heavily in nonetheless. And there are children at Westminster whose lives are being changed as a result. Some years back, BPN created a scholarship program, also funded by M&T, that pays the tuition for its best students to attend the top private high schools in Buffalo. There are currently 30 students in the program. In May, the school hosted a dinner that was attended by all of the previous scholarship winners, plus the new class. Ross smiled when he talked about “seeing the dining hall filled with grandmas, and moms and dads and realizing that every one of those kids—yes, they got a scholarship—but they were working really hard not just to keep the scholarship but excel.”

Trying to make lives better. By anyone’s definition, that’s the work of a community bank.

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Our Bank Performance Scorecard is a ranking of the 300 largest U.S. banks, broken into three asset size categories. For a full explanation of the Scorecard and all of the rankings, click here.

A New Research Report on Marketplace Lending

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

Quickly:

  • Lending is an estimated $15 trillion industry in the United States — and the banking industry’s share in this market is estimated to be around $6.6 trillion (~ 44% of the overall market).
  • Within the FinTech sector, lending is the largest segment in terms of funding from investors, and market altered the lending landscape.
  • Marketplace lenders — online platforms that match borrowers with lenders — will likely see some consolidation in ’17 and continue to converge with banks through partnerships, white label contracting and yes, even mergers.

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Fintech lending has grown from $12 billion in 2014 to $23.2 billion in 2015 and is expected to reach $36.7 billion in 2016, a year-over-year growth of 93 percent and 58 percent in 2015 and 2016.  This market, according to Morgan Stanley Research, is expected to grow further and reach $122 billion by 2020.

As noted throughout our Acquire or Be Acquired conference, partnerships between a bank and a tech company can take on many forms — largely based on an institution’s available capital, risk appetite and lending goals.  With FinTech solutions gaining momentum, many advisors here have encouraged banks to look at viable alternatives to meet consumer demands, maintain and expand their lending revenue and give formidable competition to those looking to take that marketshare.

With this in mind, I invite you to take a look at a new Fintech Intelligence Report on Marketplace Lending (to download the PDF version, click: fintech-intelligence-report-lending).  The research paper, developed by Bank Director’s FinXTech platform and MEDICI, a subscription-based offering from LetsTalkPayments.com, explores current market dynamics along with technology & partnership models.  As noted in this report, the gains of new FinTech companies were widely thought to be at the expense of banks; however, many banks recognized the potential value from collaboration and built relationships with FinTechs.

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While our Acquire or Be Acquired conference wrapped up yesterday, you can take a look back on the conversations + presentations that found their way onto Twitter via @AlDominick, the host company, @BankDirector and our @Fin_X_Tech platform, and search #AOBA17 to see what was shared with (and by) our attendees.

Bank Director’s new Tech Issue

Earlier this week, we published the December issue of Bank Director Magazine, our annual Tech Issue.  Stories range from the changing nature of mobile banking to institutions moving into the cloud to a venture capitalist’s perspective on the future of banking.  I invite you to take a look.

Since starting this blog in 2012, I’ve shared my optimism that 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, FinTechs and consumers.  So as I read through this current digital issue, a few key takeaways:

  • When San Francisco-based Bank of the West, an $80.7 billion asset subsidiary of BNP Paribas Group, analyzed last year the bottom line impact of customers who are engaged in online banking and mobile banking, it found some surprising results. Digital customers, or those who were active online or on their mobile phones during the previous 90 days, had lower attrition rates than nondigital customers, and they contributed higher levels of revenue and products sold, said Jamie Armistead, head of digital channels at Bank of the West.
  • Automating the small-business lending process requires some deep thinking from boards and management about how much faith they’re willing to place in technology, and their ability to embrace the cultural change implicit in basing lending decisions more on data than judgment. “The marketplace is demanding quicker decisions through technology,” says Pierre Naude, CEO of nCino, a maker of bank operating systems. Bank customers, he says, are clamoring for special products and specialized coding that enable greater automation of the small-business lending process. “Bankers are waking up to the fact that speed and convenience will trump price. You can lose a customer to an alternative lender if you don’t have it.”
  • As our Editor, Naomi Snyder, shares in her welcoming letter, banks tend to have the usual board committees (think audit, compensation and risk).  But we know that few have a board-level technology committee.  So I wonder if 2017 is the year that more institutions decide to create such a group to become better informed and better prepared as the digitization of the banking industry continues?

Concomitant to this issue’s release, Chris Skinner shared his perspectives on the state of FinTech our FinXTech platform.  In his words, “it is apparent that the fintech industry has become mainstream just as fintech investing cools. What I mean by this is that fintech has matured in the last five years, going from something that was embryonic and disruptive to something that is now mainstream and real. You only have to look at firms like Venmo and Stripe to see the change. Or you only have to consider the fact that regulators are now fully awake to the change and have deployed sandboxes and innovation programs. Or that banks are actively discussing their fintech innovation and investment programs… Fintech and innovation is here to stay.”

Clearly, the pace of change in the banking space continues to accelerate.  Accordingly, I encourage you to check out what we’re doing with both Bank Director and FinXTech to help companies who view banks as potentially valuable channels or distribution partners, banks looking to grow and/or innovate with tech companies’ help and support; and institutional investors, venture capitalists, state & federal regulators, government officials and academicians helping to shape the future of banking.

Creating Better Banking Experiences

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

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

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

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

-Greg Carmichael, President & CEO, Fifth Third Bank

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

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

Payments + Transfer

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

Lending

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

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

Retail banking

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

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

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

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

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.

adyen-logo

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.

Looking for Great FinTech Ideas

A fundamental truth about banking today: individuals along with business owners have more choices than ever before in terms of where, when and how they bank. So a big challenge — and dare I suggest, opportunity — for leadership teams at financial institutions of all sizes equates to aligning services and product mixes to suit core customers’ interests and expectations.

By Al Dominick // @aldominick

Sometimes, the temptation to simply copy, paste and quote Bank Director’s editor, Jack Milligan, is too much for me to resist. Recently, Jack made the case that the distinction between a bank and a non-bank has become increasingly meaningless.  In his convincing words:

“The financial service marketplace in the United States has been has crowded with nonbank companies that have competed fiercely with traditional banks for decades. But we seem to be in a particularly fecund period now. Empowered by advances in technology and data analysis, and funded by institutional investors who think they might offer a better play on growth in the U.S. economy than traditional banks, we’re seeing the emergence of a new class of financial technology – or fintech – companies that are taking dead aim at the consumer and small business lending markets that have been banking industry staples for decades.”

Truth-be-told, the fact he successfully employed a word like ‘fecund’ had me hunting down the meaning (*it means fertile).  As a result, that particular paragraph stuck in my mind… a fact worth sharing as it ties into a recent Capgemini World Retail Banking Report that I devoured on a tremendously turbulent, white-knuckling flight from Washington, D.C. to New Orleans this morning (one with a “minor” delay in Montgomery, AL thanks to this morning’s wild weather).

Detailing a stagnating customer experience, the consultancy’s comprehensive study draws attention “to the pressing problem of the middle- and back-office — two areas of the bank that have not kept pace with the digital transformation occurring in the front-office. Plagued by under-investment, the middle- and back-offices are falling short of the high level of support found in the more advanced front-offices, creating a disjointed customer experience and impeding the industry’s ability to attract, retain, and delight customers.”

Per Evan Bakker for Business Insider, the entirety of the 35-page report suggests “banks are facing two significant business threats. First, customer acquisition costs will increase as existing customers are less likely to refer their bank to others. Second, banks will lose revenue as customers leave for competitors and existing customers buy fewer products. The fact that negative sentiment is global and isn’t limited to a particular type of customer activity points to an industry wide problem. Global dissatisfaction with banks is likely a result of internal problems with products and services as well as the growing number of non-bank providers of competing products and services.”

While dealing with attacks from aggressive, non-bank competitors is certainly not a new phenomenon for traditional banks, I have taken a personal interest in those FinTech companies looking to support (and not compete with) financial institutions.  So as I set up shop at the Ritz-Carlton New Orleans through Wednesday for our annual Bank Board Growth & Innovation conference, let me shine the spotlight on eight companies that may help address some of the challenges I just mentioned. While certainly just the tip of the FinTech iceberg, each company brings something interesting to the table:

As unregulated competition heats up, bank CEOs and their teams need to continue to seek ways to not just stay relevant but to stand out.  While a number of banks seek to extend their footprint and franchise value through acquisition, many more aspire to build the bank internally. Some show organic growth as they build their base of core deposits and expand their customer relationships; others see the value of collaborating with FinTech companies.  To see what’s being written and said here in New Orleans, I invite you to follow @bankdirector, @aldominick + #BDGrow15.

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).