The FinTech Ecosystem

Last Friday, I had the pleasure to be invited to the White House’s FinTech Summit, where, as the Wall Street Journal reported, the half-day event “largely focused on how government agencies can tap into the innovation, in which new firms are offering small-business owners and consumers faster forms of loans and digital payments.”  Certainly, collaboration between technology companies and traditional financial institutions has increased — think proofs of concept, partnerships and strategic investments — but much still needs to be done.  As I took notes during the event, I did so with an eye towards the platform we built — and the ecosystem beginning to develop — with FinXTech.

FinXTech is a platform that promotes collaboration between the most forward thinkers in the industry – in order to create real innovation, change and a better future for all.

As new technology players emerge and traditional participants begin to transform their business models, there is growing sentiment that successful institutions need to enable financial services for life’s needs through collaboration and partnerships with the very fintech companies that once threatened to displace them.  I tackled this issue in a piece I wrote (A Fear of Missing Out).  A few things didn’t make the final cut that I thought to share here.  Of note:

  • I asked Michael Tang, partner and head of global digital transformation and innovation at Deloitte, how might bank executives determine the amount of money they should allocate to innovation.  He shared that industry metrics range from 2-7% of revenues (and also depend on incremental or moonshots-type initiatives).
  • Even as technology will force narrowing margins, there may be opportunities to develop new profit pools and forcing some incumbents to “move upstream” to serve more sophisticated and profitable cohorts (source: Disaggregating the impact of fintech).
  • The playing field will level as firms of all sizes will be able to take advantage of emerging networks and platform-based services. Ultimately lowering cost, improving compliance, and focusing on markets where they have a true competitive advantage (source: Disaggregating the impact of fintech).

The rapid transformation of the financial services industry — due to technological innovations and shifting customer expectations — is quite remarkable.  If you missed what Adrienne Harris, special assistant to the president for economic policy, wrote in a blog post following the White House FinTech Summit, it is worth your time to read.

The Convergence of Bob Dylan and Banking

Some of the most visible innovations in the banking world today are platform-based, data intensive and capital light.  Personally, I’m just as encouraged by “incumbent” institutions supporting new fintech entrants — with infrastructure and access to services — as I am creative new companies (like Nymbus, nCino, etc.) providing smaller and mid-sized banks with sophisticated new capabilities.

This video, filmed during Bank Director’s annual FinTech Day in New York City at the Nasdaq Marketsite, is but one of eight videos we’ve shared on BankDirector.com.  To see what industry leaders from Silicon Valley Bank, the Fintech Collective, BizEquity, DaonDeloitte Consulting and the World Bank’s IFC think are the challenges & opportunities facing traditional banks, I invite you to take a look at this compilation of videos FinTech Day Recap: Rapid Transformation Through Collaboration.

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Al Dominick is the President & CEO of Bank Director, a privately held media & publishing company designed around strategically important business issues that a CEO, executive and/or board member(s) need to know — and be prepared to address. An information resource to the financial community since 1991, we publish Bank Director magazine, host conferences like “Acquire or Be Acquired,” conduct board-level research, provide board education & training programs, run BankDirector.com… and recently launched FinXTech.

5 Fintechs I’m Keen On

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

By Al Dominick // @aldominick

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

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

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

Blend labs

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

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

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

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

The 5 Corners of Technological Innovation in Financial Services

To grasp what the future of banking holds, look no further than the five areas of focus for Wells Fargo.  Last week, the best performing large bank in the United States launched an “Innovation Group” in San Francisco.  As they share, this team will will work in partnership with its major businesses to meet evolving customer needs and stay ahead of the shifting competitive landscape.  Initially, such efforts will center on five areas:

  • Research and development;
  • Innovation strategies;
  • Payment strategies;
  • Design and delivery; and
  • Analytics.

As a nationwide, diversified, community-based financial services company with $1.7 trillion in assets, Wells Fargo now has six innovation labs along with its startup “accelerator.”  Given that a number of the world’s largest finance sector companies are reviewing their business models following the rapid growth of “fintech” entrants in the sector, the investment in both time and resources by Wells Fargo gives shape to the potential future of banking.

Wells Fargo Labs invite customers to “Come out and Play: Be one of the first to test out latest ideas and technologies – from still-in-development beta offerings to newly launched products.”

Personally, I’m drawn to this new addition to the Wells family in light of a report by the World Economic Forum, supported by Deloitte Consulting, entitled The Future of Financial Services:How disruptive innovations are reshaping the way financial services are structured, provisioned and consumed.

As noted by the paper’s lead author, “for decades, banks and insurers have employed similar, highly profitable business models. But they realize those models are coming under pressure due to fintech innovations… Financial technology companies are deploying online platforms, have small capital bases, and make strategic use of data, to acquire customers and revenues at a fast pace. Banks and insurers noted that, and are contemplating their response.”  So as major players like Wells Fargo explore the “transformative potential of new entrants and innovations on business models in financial services,” seeing the cards they are putting on the table provides real color for what the future holds for many here in the U.S.

Finding That Competitive (FinTech) Edge

On a flight to Boston yesterday morning, I found myself reading various research and analyst reports about forces effecting change on the banking community.  As Bruce Livesay, executive vice president and chief information officer for First Horizon National Corp. in Memphis, Tennessee recently shared with our team, “you can’t have a discussion about banking without having a discussion about technology.”  As such, today’s piece about finding your FinTech edge.

A simple truth with a profound impact: the interaction, communication, coordination and decision-making in a large, regulated bank is vastly different than those of an up-and-coming FinTech company.  No matter how much both sides want to work with the other (to gain access to a wider customer footprint, to incorporate emerging technologies, etc.), the barriers to both entry and innovation are high.  Still, the need for institutions to better target customer segments while rolling out product offerings that differentiate and cross-sell naturally intersect with the use of technology.

Over the past few months, I’ve looked at nine technology companies that I think are doing interesting work (you can find write ups here, here and here).  As I go deeper into this space, I realize defining the FinTech sector might prove as elusive as understanding the genesis of each company’s name.  Still, let me take a crack at it and define “FinTech” as those financial technology companies that sell or enable:

  • Acquisition & engagement tools
  • Mobile payments offerings
  • Lending options
  • Security products
  • Wealth management support
  • Analytics
  • Money transfers
  • Asset management
  • Automated planning / advice

Regardless of the FinTech companies populating each product line, it is clear that the cumulative effect is a transformation of the fabric of the financial industry.   As I read in a recent Deloitte report (2015 Banking Industry Outlook), FinTech applies not just to customer-facing activities, but also to “internal processes, including balance sheet management, risk, and compliance.”  Moreover, learning from non-bank technology firms and establishing partnerships is fait accompli for most bank executives and board members today.

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As I’ve shared in the past, I am a big believer that many banks of all sizes have immediate opportunities to expand what banking means to individual and business customers.  If you’re curious for examples on what’s working — and why, take a look at this special supplement to Bank Director magazine that highlights a number of interesting technologies that have re-shaped the fortunes of various community banks.  For more on the board’s role in oversight of this important sector, take a look at our Editor, Jack Milligan’s, white paper on the topic.

On Bank Branches and a Bank’s Brand

When I think about top performing banks, I typically consider those with the strongest organic growth in terms of core revenue, core noninterest income, core deposit growth and loan growth.  Sure, there has been a lot of talk about growing through acquisition (heck, last week’s post, “Seeking Size and Scale” looked at BB&T’s recent acquisitions and my monthly column on BankDirector.com was entitled “Why Book Value Isn’t the Only Way to Measure a Bank“).  But going beyond M&A, I’m always interested to dive into the strategies and tactics that put profits on a bank’s bottom line.

Build Your Brand or Build Your Branch

Earlier in the week, KBW’s Global Director of Research and Chief Equity Strategist, Fred Cannon, shared a piece entitled “Branch vs. Brand.”  As he notes, “branch banking in the U.S. is at an inflection point; the population per branch has reached a record level in 2014 and is likely to continue to increase indefinitely. The volume of paper transactions peaked long ago and with mobile payment now accelerating the need for branches is waning. As a result, many banks see closing branches as a way to cut costs and grow the bottom line. However, branches have served as more than transactional locations for banks. The presence of branch networks has projected a sense of identity, solidity and ubiquity to customers that has been critical to maintaining a bank’s brand.”  He then poses this doozy of a question:

“If branch networks are reduced, what is the replacement for a bank’s identity?”

Fred and his colleagues at KBW believe banks need to replace branches with greater investments in brand. As he shares, “some of this investment will be in marketing, (as) a brand is more than a logo. We believe banks will also need to invest in systems, people, and processes to project the sense of identity, solidity, and ubiquity that was projected historically by branch networks.”

United Bank, An Example of a High-Performing Bank

One example of a bank that I think is doing this well is United Bank.  On Wednesday, I had the chance to check out their new financial center in Bethesda, MD.  With dual headquarters in Washington, DC and Charleston, WV, the $12.1 billion regional bank holding company is ranked the 48th largest bank holding company in the U.S. based on market capitalization. NASDAQ-listed, they boast an astonishing 41 consecutive years of dividend increases to shareholders – only one other major banking company in the USA has achieved such a record.  Their acquisition history is impressive — as is their post-integration success.  United continues to outperform its peers in asset quality metrics and profitability ratios and I see their positioning as an ideal alternative to the offices Wells Fargo, SunTrust and PNC (to name just three) operate nearby.

A Universal Priority

Clearly, United’s success reflects a superior long-term total return to its shareholders.  While other banks earn similar financial success, many more continue to wrestle with staying both relevant and competitive today.  Hence my interest in Deloitte’s position that “growth will be a universal priority in 2015, yet strategies will vary by bank size and business line.”  A tip of the hat to Chris Faile for sharing their 2015 Banking Outlook report with me.  Released yesterday, they note banks may want to think about:

  • Investing in customer analytics;
  • Leveraging digital technologies to elevate the customer experience in both business and retail banking;
  • Determining whether or not prudent underwriting standards are overlooked; and
  • Learning from nonbank technology firms and establish an exclusive partnership to create innovation and a competitive edge.

With most banks exhibiting a much sharper focus on boosting profitability, I strongly encourage you to see what they share online.

Aloha Friday!

Seeking Size and Scale

With Wednesday’s announcement that BB&T has a deal in place to acquire Susquehanna Bancshares in a $2.5 billion deal, I felt inspired to focus on the mergers & acquisitions space today.  You see, if 2013 was the year of the merger-of-equals (MOEs), it seems that 2014 has become the year of “seeking size and scale.”

As I’ve shared in past posts, 2013 was characterized by a series of well-structured mergers which produced a dramatic improvement in shareholder reaction to bank M&A.  For example, Umpqua & Sterling,  United Financial Bancorp & Rockville Financial and Bank of Houston & Independent Bank.  Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen some pretty interesting transactions announced that are not MOEs; specifically, Sterling Bancorp buying Hudson Valley Holding in New York, Banner picking up AmericanWest Bank in the Pacific Northwest and the afore-mentioned BB&T deal.

Don’t Be Fooled, Size Matters

As evidenced by the Sterling and Banner acquisitions, the desire for scale and efficiencies is prompting certain institutions to expand.  While regulatory costs and concerns have been cited in previous years as deterents to a transaction, isn’t it interesting that both of these deals position the acquiring institution near the $10Bn threshold (*important as crossing this asset threshold invites new levels of scrutiny and expense).  But like John Thain suggested earlier this year, “the key is being big enough so that you can support all of the costs of regulation.”  Still, comments made by Richard Davis, chairman and chief executive of U.S. Bancorp, about the BB&T agreement should temper some enthusiasm about the biggest players jumping in to the M&A space a la the $185 Bn-in-size BB&T. “This is not a deal you’d ever see us do,” he said at conference in New York hosted by Bank of America Merrill Lynch, adding “it’s both out-of-market and it’s fairly expensive.”

I’m Serious, It Matters?!?

Earlier this year, Deloitte published The Top Ten Issues for Bank M&A.  In light of the BB&T deal, it is worth revisiting.  To open, the authors opine “size matters when it comes to regulatory constraints on the banking sector: The bigger the players, the more restrictions on banking activities, including M&A. Banks with less than $10 billion in total assets face the least restriction, while the very largest Systemically Important Financial Institutions (SIFIs) experience the highest level of constraints. Among the major regulatory actions that are expected to hold considerable sway over bank M&A in 2014 are the Volcker Rule, Basel III capital requirements, global liquidity rules, stress testing, and anti-money laundering (AML) and Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) compliance laws.”

Who I’m Taking to Buy a Lottery Ticket

Finally, a tip of the hat to Frank Cicero, the Global Head of Financial Institutions Group at
Jefferies. He reminded me on Wednesday that every prediction he made in a piece he wrote for BankDirector.com at the beginning of the year has come to pass…fewer MOE’s, bigger premiums, regional banks returning to bank M&A.  Personally, I’m wondering if he wants to walk into the lotto store with me this weekend?

Aloha Friday!

Good is the Enemy of Great

Jim Collins once wrote “good is the enemy of great,” opining that the vast majority of companies “never become great, precisely because the vast majority become quite good – and that is their main problem.”  I have heard many use the title of today’s piece to explain the unexpected; most recently, while talking with a friend about Jurgen Klinsmann’s decision to exclude Landon Donovan from his 23-man World Cup roster (hence today’s picture c/o USA Today).  While I’ll steer clear of any soccer talk until the U.S. takes the field against Ghana in a few weeks, Collins’ statement sparked the three thoughts I share today. Indeed, being “just good” will not cut it in our highly competitive financial industry.

usatsi_7848706_168380427_lowres Let’s Be Real — Times Remain Tough

In yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, Robin Sidel and Andrew Johnson began their “Big Profit Engines for Banks Falter” with a simple truth: “it is becoming tougher and tougher being a U.S. bank.  Squeezed by stricter regulations, a sputtering economy and anemic markets, financial institutions are finding profits hard to come by on both Main Street and Wall Street.”  Now, the U.S. financial sector and many bank stocks have “staged a dramatic recovery from the depths of the financial crisis;” as the authors point out, “historically low-interest rates aren’t low enough to spur more mortgage business and are damping market volatility, eating into banks’ trading profits.”  While I’ve written about the significant challenges facing most financial institutions – e.g. tepid loan growth, margin compression, higher capital requirements and expense pressure & higher regulatory costs — the article provides a somber reminder of today’s banking reality.

Still, for Banks Seeking Fresh Capital, the IPO Window is Open

Given how low-interest rates continue to eat into bank profits, its not surprising to hear how “opportunistic banks capable of growing loans through acquisition or market expansion” are attracting investor interest and going public.  To wit, our friends at the Hovde Group note that seven banks have filed for initial public offerings (IPOs) already this year, putting 2014 on pace to become the most active year for bank IPOs in a decade.  Based on the current market appetite for growth, “access to capital is becoming a larger consideration for management and boards, especially if it gives them a public currency with which to acquire and expand.”  If you’re interested in the factors fueling this increase in IPO activity, their “Revival of the Bank IPO” is worth a read.

Mobile Capabilities Have Become Table Stakes

I’m on the record for really disliking the word “omnichannel.”  So I smiled a big smile while reading through a new Deloitte Center for Financial Services report (Mobile Financial Services: Raising the Bar on Customer Engagement) that emphasizes the need for banks to focus more on a “post-channel” world rather than the omnichannel concept.  As their report says, this vision is “where channel distinctions are less important and improving customer experience becomes the supreme goal, no matter where or how customer interactions occur, whether at a branch, an ATM, online, or via a mobile device.”  As mobile is increasingly becoming the primary method of interaction with financial institutions, the information shared is both intuitive and impactful.

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To comment on today’s column, please click on the green circle with the white plus sign on the bottom right. If you are on twitter, I’m @aldominick.  Aloha Friday!

Joining a Bank’s Risk Committee?

Risk committees, chief risk officers, risk appetite programs, stress tests and enterprise risk management programs were not a major part of most board’s focus six years ago — but they are now.  As a risk committee typically coordinates risk oversight with the audit and other committees, today’s post builds on yesterday’s piece, Joining a Bank’s Audit Committee.  Please understand, there are so many risks that can undermine a bank today that this column simply tees up the where a committee member might focus his/her time.

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Most bankers understand the concept of financial risk.  For those directors joining a risk committee?  Let’s just say they really need to understand the risks of running an operation that relies on numerous internal processes, systems and people to be successful.   Indeed, a committee member must focus on the full range of complex and often interrelated risks, including:

  • Strategic
  • Credit
  • IT
  • Market
  • Operational
  • Compliance
  • Liquidity
  • Legal
  • Reputation

Yes, risk oversight is a fundamental responsibility of the entire board; however, I hear that individual risk committee members should develop a broad view of issues across their organization to both see and know how they relate to one another.  My two cents: (a) its imperative to define your own bank’s risk appetite before communicating risk management plans throughout the bank (b) if you have one, work with your chief risk officer to determine what forward-facing metrics you want consistent focus on in order to identify and react to emerging threats.

If you’re interested…

Here are three resources that can help you go deeper into this topic:

Tomorrow’s focus: a check-in from the Bank Board Training Forum at the Hermitage hotel in Nashville, TN.

Quality never goes out of style

Wait... there was something going on other than the Stanley Cup finals this week?
Wait… there was something going on other than the Stanley Cup finals this week?

Today’s title, inspired by my uncle who founded and continues to run Computech, a very successful technology firm here in the D.C. area, is both simple and profound.  I believe the three points shared below reflect the same spirit of craftsmanship and professionalism he built his firm on.  Working smarter, building better, doing it right the first time… themes I picked up this week and thought to share below.  And yes, #LetsGoBruins!

(1) One of the work questions most frequently asked of me at conference cocktail parties and in social settings concerns the future of banks. So the fact that the St. Louis Fed published a study that examines banks that thrived during the recent financial crisis proved irresistible.  After all, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  I’ve alluded to this research in a previous post; for me, it is interesting to note that some of the most profitable banks, in the short-term, are not necessarily the best banks.  Instead, the so-called “best banks,” in my opinion, get creative in offering new products. They watch closely what is working for other banks in and out of their own market. They watch what products and services are being brought to market by vendors to our industry.  This survey, in a broad sense, backs this up.

(2) In the St. Louis Fed’s survey, the authors conclude that there is a strong future for well-run community banks.  In their estimation, banks that prosper will be the ones with strong commitments to maintaining risk control standards in all economic environment.  This aligns neatly with most discussions about a board’s role and responsibilities. Indeed, one of the critical functions of any bank’s board of directors is the regular assessment of their activities and those of the bank’s management in terms of driving value. As C.K. Lee from Commerce Street Capital explains, this may be defined as value for shareholders, value for the community and the perception of strength among the bank’s customers and regulators. Over the last few months on BankDirector.com, he’s explored the concept of tangible book value (TBV) and its relationship with bank valuation. He also looked at internal steps, such as promoting efficiency and growing loans, which boards could take to drive more revenue to the bottom line and drive bank value.  The “final installment” of his series is up — and if you are interested in two additional factors that drive value in both earnings production and market perception, a good read.

(3) Over the last few weeks, I have shared my take on a few issues near and dear to audit committee members.  These committee members have direct responsibility to oversee the integrity of a company’s financial statements and to hire, compensate and oversee the bank’s external auditor.  So on the heels of Deloitte’s trouble with New York’s Department of Financial Services comes this week’s final point.  In case you missed it, the state’s regulator cracked down on Deloitte’s financial-consulting business, essentially banning them from consulting with state-regulated banks for the next year.  Big enough news that the American Banker opined “it will send waves through its bank customers, competitors and federal regulators.  Banks will have to scrutinize their relationships with consultants, brace for the possibility of a wave of regulation of consulting practices and have backup plans in case a key advisor ever receives a punishment like the one New York state dealt Deloitte.”  As many begin to re-examine the relationships they have with outside vendors, here is a helpful evaluation assessment tool offered by the Center for Audit Quality, a nonpartisan, nonprofit group based here in Washington, D.C.  While specific to an audit committees needs, the sample questions highlight some of the more important areas for consideration.  As with CK Lee’s articles on building value, this form is worth a look if you’re considering the strength of your vendor relationships.

Aloha Friday!