Departing Administration Leaves Gift of Fintech Principles

By Al Dominick | @aldominick

Quickly:

  • The White House’s National Economic Council left a “framework for fintech” for the incoming administration.
  • I’ve been part of several conversations at the White House that helped shape today’s perspective.
  • I shared these thoughts on both our platforms – BankDirector.com and FinXTech.com earlier today (so apologies if you’ve seen this already).

It may strike some as odd that President Barack Obama’s White House’s National Economic Council just published a “Framework for FinTech” paper on administration policy just before departing, but having been a part of several conversations that helped to shape this policy perspective, I see it from a much different angle.

Given that traditional financial institutions are increasingly investing resources in innovation along with the challenges facing many regulatory bodies to keep pace with the fast-moving FinTech sector, I see this as a pragmatic attempt to provide the incoming administration with ideas upon which to build while making note of current issues. Indeed, we all must appreciate that technology isn’t just changing the financial services industry, it’s changing the way consumers and business owners relate to their finance–and the way institutions function in our financial system.

The Special Assistant to the President for Economic Policy Adrienne Harris and Alex Zerden, a presidential management fellow, wrote a blog that describes the outline of the paper.  I agree with their assertion that FinTech has tremendous potential to revolutionize access to financial services, improve the functioning of the financial system, and promote economic growth. Accordingly, as the fabric of the financial industry continues to evolve, three points from this white paper strike me as especially important:

  • In order for the U.S. financial system to remain competitive in the global economy, the United States must continue to prioritize consumer protection, safety and soundness, while also continuing to lead in innovation. Such leadership requires fostering innovation in financial services, whether from incumbent institutions or FinTech start-ups, while also protecting consumers and being mindful of other potential risks.
  • FinTech companies, financial institutions, and government authorities should consistently engage with one another… [indeed] close collaboration potentially could accelerate innovation and commercialization by surfacing issues sooner or highlighting problems awaiting technological solutions. Such engagement has the potential to add value for consumers, industry and the broader economy.
  • As the financial sector changes, policymakers and regulators must seek to understand the different benefits of and risks posed by FinTech innovations. While new and untested innovations may increase efficiency and have economic benefits, they potentially could pose risks to the existing financial infrastructure and be detrimental to financial stability if their risks are not understood and proactively managed.

A product of ongoing public-private cooperation, I see this just-released whitepaper as a potential roadmap for future collaboration. In fact, as the FinTech ecosystem continues to evolve, this statement of principles could serve as a resource to guide the development of smart, pragmatic and innovative cross-sector engagement much like then-outgoing president Bill Clinton’s “Framework for Global Electronic Commerce” did for internet technology companies some 16 years ago.

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.

The Promise of 8 Blockchain Companies

Yesterday, I spent the majority of my day at the Economist Conference’s “Finance Disrupted” in New York City.  As an early hook to their first panel discussion entitled ‘Building the blockchain: The promise and perils’, we learned that venture capitalists invested nearly $500 million in blockchain business last year — up from $2 million just three years ago.  While I’ve shared my perspectives on the potential applications for blockchain in previous posts (Blockchain 101 – a Primer for a Bank’s CEO and Board), panels like these underscore the immense potential of this technology.

“Blockchain technology continues to redefine not only how the exchange sector operates, but the global financial economy as a whole.”

– Bob Greifeld, Chief Executive of NASDAQ

Like many, I see potential for blockchain technology to revolutionize many areas of the financial industry — think securities trading, payments, fraud prevention and regulatory compliance.  Moreover, a new report from Deloitte explores how blockchain could be used in loyalty rewards programs.  Still, as our industry transforms, there is real uncertainty around what the future of the banking industry will look like.

This is why I take note of comments like those from BNY Mellon’s CEO, Gerald Hassell. On his Q1 earnings call, he opined “we think blockchain can be transformative.  We’re spending a lot of time and energy on it, but I think it’s going to take some time to see it play out in a full, meaningful way. We actually see ourselves as one of the major participants in using the technology to improve the efficiency of our operations and the resiliency of our operations.”

While additional big-time players — such as Goldman Sachs, Visa and NASDAQ — garner headlines for their investments in crypto-currencies & blockchain technology, I spent last night and this morning looking at eight blockchain companies that might help you to form your own opinions on the potential of this technology:

For more about these companies — and their funding sources — I encourage you to check out this piece on Lets Talk Payments.  Not familiar with LTP?  It is a fast-growing global destination for news, insights & data-driven research in emerging financial services.  Much like the information shared by both FinXTech and Bank Director, LTP’s content is fiercely independent, thought provoking and always up-to-date, in a way that continues to inform, engage and inspire.

Without A Destination, What Good Is A Map?

Highlight: as executives grapple with a fast-changing operating environment that requires partnerships and collaboration, many wrestle with where they want to be vs. where they need to be.

In this video, I share my thoughts on growing through partnerships (between traditional banks and financial technology firms), becoming “data richer” and enhancing the customer experience you’re delivering.

FWIW, this video lives on FinXTech.com, a site designed to provide authoritative, relevant and trusted content to a hugely influential audience, specifically:

  • Fintech companies who view banks as potentially valuable channels or distribution partners;
  • Banks looking to grow and/or innovate with fintech companies’ help and support; and
  • Institutional investors, venture capitalists, state & federal regulators, government officials and academicians helping to shape the future of banking.

As a platform powered by Bank Director, FinXTech connects this hugely influential audience around shared areas of interest and innovation.  FinXTech specializes in (1) bringing valuable bank relationships to fintechs, and (2) offering banks valuable relationships with fintechs in a way no one else does.

Banks Have to Grow to be Competitive

As I reflect on my time at Bank Director’s Growing the Bank conference, I can’t shake the fact that many banks across the United States continue to struggle to grow their deposits and/or expand asset bases.  What follows is a piece authored by Tim Melvin, a gifted writer who joined us at the Four Seasons outside of Dallas.  Tim specializes in value investing and has written numerous articles in various publications on the subject of value investing, the stock market and the world around us.  With his permission, I’m sharing his perspectives on our event.

I just returned from the Bank Director 2016 Growing The Bank Conference in Dallas and I have to say it was one of the more interesting meetings I’ve attended this year. This conference covered everything from the 30,000 foot view of the rapidly changing banking industry to the nuts and bolts of day-to-day stuff and I came away with an even deeper appreciation of the industry and the opportunity.

The threats and potential posed by what are commonly known as Fintech companies was heavily featured during the two-day event. Nobody is quite sure if they’re friend or foe yet and there was a lot of wary circling like a road weary cowboy and an unsure Indian trying to decide to break bread together or lock hands on throats. Mobile and cybersecurity were also topics on everyone’s minds, as both are going to play an enormous role in deciding if a bank grows or withers away to obscurity.

Closer Look At Fintech

The Fintech discussion was perhaps one of the most interesting of the meeting. While banks may see some of the Fintech lenders like LendingClub (NYSE: LC), Sindeo and On Deck Capital (NYSE:ODNK) are seen as a real threat to traditional lenders, I think we will find that it’s not as big a threat as we might currently think.

The first time we have a credit hiccup or recession, these lenders will find out just how important to success a core deposit-based funding source can be. When markets dry up in the bad times, investors aren’t going to as easy a source of funds as they are in the current benign and yield starved markets. I think what’s far more likely to happen is the technology that allows for high-speed decision making, easier underwriting and razor focused marketing will end up being sold to the banks to improve their offering.

As Steven Hovde of the Hovde Group warned the crowd in Dallas, “Fintech and banks are going to end up marrying up. It’s the only way you are both going to survive. If you think you can do it on your own, you are sadly, sadly mistaken.”

Naomi Snyder, the editor at Bank Director, put a little differently when she wrote an article for the magazines website following the conference: “The tech companies have something many banks lack: innovative products and simple, customer-friendly digital solutions for a changing world. Meanwhile, the banks have some things many of the tech companies lack: actual customers and a more stable funding base.”

Although the fast-moving high tech kids of Fintech and the stuffy old bankers may at first appear to be as mismatched, as James Carville and Mary Matalin may need to find a partnership that has worked out as well as theirs has. They may not initially like each other but they need each other.

Mobile Banking

I think Dave Defazio of Strategycorps scared a lot of community bankers when he talked about the future of mobile banking in his session. He pointed out the tremendous lead that the bigger banks have in this space and the competition from apps like Apple Pay, Venmo and other apps that, to be honest, I’ve never even heard of before but are increasingly popular for managing finances and making payments among the millennial set. For folks who think the ATM and drive-up window are newfangled innovations the world of mobile banking is a bit frightening. What makes it even more frightening is that if you don’t compete well in the mobile space, you won’t retain the next generation of customer. They expect everything to be done on the fly and right now using mobile devices.

The millennial customer is just different. The use their mobile device to pay for their Starbucks (NASDAQ: SBUX), pay their share of the bar tab, watch movies, read books, pay bills and manage their finances. Apparently you can even use an app to collect your boarding pass, as I found out after running out of the bar after the first day to get to the business center and print out my boarding pass exactly 24 hours before takeoff. When I returned and expressed my disappointment at getting a B slotting on Southwest (NYSE: LUV) I was told that I should just get the app to avoid this in the future.

I didn’t even know there was an airplane app, but now I can count myself among the airplane app aristocracy thank to my slightly younger and far more tech savvy friends at Bank Director.

I caught up with Defazio on Tuesday morning and we chatted a bit more about the challenges and opportunities of mobile banking. He told me over coffee, “Banks are not just competing against other banks’ mobile apps, but instead against the very best apps on the planet, apps like Uber to Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) to Waze. Customer expectations are very high, and banks must make it their mission to have an app that people can’t live without. Community banks must do a better job of responding to changes in customer behaviors and expectations. The big banks have raced out to a big lead. The time is now for banks to go beyond transactions and do a better job of connecting with their customers’ mobile lifestyles. In particular, I’m seeing the big banks add mobile tools that assist people with their shopping tasks. They know that helping people save a dollar is just as good as helping them make a dollar of interest.”

I chatted with several bankers and the discussion of mobile frankly scares many of them. One banker said if this is the future of banking, then community banking is just dead. I think he overstated the case, but community banks are going to have to aggressively look for partners like Strategycorps to build and offer a much better mobile experience. Those that can’t, or don’t want to, should consider hanging out the for sale sign right away as they simply won’t be competitive in the future. They can probably get a better multiple in a deal now than in a few years when deposits are bleeding out to more mobile sensitive banks at a rapid rate.

Steven Hovde gave a talk on the search for efficiency in the industry. Hovde is an investment banker serving community banks, a majority owner of several smaller banks and is part owner of a real estate development company that borrows from banks so he sees all sides of the industry. He pointed out that the more efficient a bank is the higher then returns on assets and the higher valuation of the institutions stock. Both of these make for happier shareholders. He said the best way to gain efficiency in the banking industry today is to grow the size of the bank.

Right now, we have historically low net interest margins, growing regulatory costs and a huge need to spend money on technology, especially in mobile and cyber security. GDP growth is slow and there are no real signs that it will improve dramatically anytime soon. The loan markets are increasingly competitive and the regulators are focusing on the one area where community banks had an edge, commercial real estate. It really is a “grow or die” world and the majority of banks need to get to $1 billion in assets to quit operating in survival mode and the $5 billion level to thrive in the current economy.

The best way to grow remain via mergers and acquisitions. Hovde told us, “As the regulatory environment becomes increasingly difficult to maneuver for smaller banks, we expect deal activity for smaller institutions to continue as they search for greater efficiencies.” While this is not necessarily great news for bankers running smaller banks, it’s good news for me as bank stock investor and I continue to seek out and buy smaller publicly traded banks.

That’s A Wrap

The Growing the Bank Conference is more of a nuts and bolts, but I walked away with two overriding insights. First banks must look to partner with or even buy the innovative aggressive fintech companies. They cannot compete with them without disastrous consequences so they must partner with them. For their part, most of the fintech competitors need the banks and their large customer base and deposit funding. It may be a shotgun wedding in some cases, but nuptials will be needed for both to survive and thrive.

My second takeaway is that although it sounds like a slogan, “Grow or Die” is a real thing. To thrive in today’s difficult markets, banks need to grow to at least that $5 billion asset level. With the exception of a few niche small town and rural banks the $1 billion asset level is really needed just to be a viable competitor. The best way to grow in a slow growth economy is to buy smaller banks or engage in a merger of equals that increases returns for the ban, as well as shareholders. All of this is good news for us as small bank investors.

The Trade of the decade in community bank stock rolls on.

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To read more of Tim’s work on Benzinga, click here and to follow Tim on Twitter, his handle is @timmelvin.

Early Takeaways from Bank Director’s Growing the Bank Conference

With continuous pressure on bankers to grow earnings, developing clear strategies, repeatable practices and incorporating exceptional user-experience technologies has to be high on almost every executives to-do list.

How do you bank?

By taking a pause before answering this question, you will appreciate how, regardless of age, we all expect greater pricing transparency, ease of use and always-on access to personal information as part of an integrated banking experience.  The challenge for most bankers?  What many consider state-of-the-art today — in terms of features and services — quickly becomes part of the norm that will be expected and insisted upon in the coming years.

At this morning’s Growing the Bank Conference, I jotted down a few thoughts that builds on this “how do you bank” query.

  • When it comes to the classic build or buy technology decision, partnerships are now de rigueur — with 87% of our 240+ person audience indicating they see technology as presenting opportunities to banks (and not threats).
  • Historically, banks organize themselves along a line of products; however, many have suggested re-orienting operations around customer needs and expectations.
  • To retain deposits, banks should ramp up their customer relationship programs, increase cross-selling efforts and invest in product lines that attract stable deposits.

While we haven’t gotten deep into the payments space (yet), I do encourage bank executives to think about the dramatic growth in that area of banking  — which continues to transform how efficiently banks connect with their customers.  Likewise, I wasn’t kidding when I suggested attendees spend some time reading the OCC’s “Supporting Responsible Innovation” white paper.

Finally, a “did-you-know” that I meant to share from the stage during my conversation with Brian Read, Executive Vice President, Retail Banking, Umpqua Holdings Corp. and Umpqua Bank.  According to the Federal Reserve, 85% of mobile banking users — a bank’s “most advanced” clients — still use branches from time to time. So as he shared with us, there really is a place for a physical presence in banking today.

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*FWIW, we’re in Dallas at the Four Seasons Resort and Club Las Colinas in Dallas, Texas where the annual Byron Nelson golf tournament wrapped up yesterday evening.  The picture above is of Jordan Spieth — the former number one player in the Official World Golf Ranking and two-time major winner — a gift to some of my team who were intent on getting a photo of him.  As a former student of St. Marks, I will not hold it against him that he went to Jesuit, a rival high school.

There’s A New App For That

This morning, my company officially launched a state-of-the-art app to deliver a new monthly digital magazine which complements our quarterly, print-version.  A huge amount of time and effort went into the design, development and approval process, so I am very proud to share that Bank Director’s free app & digital magazine is now available for download through Apple’s App Store, Google Play and Amazon.com.  A HUGE thank you to our team that built it.  Also, my apologies to anyone looking to imitate this new offering.  It is home-grown and totally customized to the informational, educational and training needs of bank officers and directors today.

By Al Dominick // @aldominick

Since 1999, the number of commercial banks and savings institutions in the United States has decreased from 10,220 to approximately 6,500.  On the surface, this would not seem to be a robust market in which to base a business model.  However, among those still in the banking business, there is a tremendous appetite for information that will help a CEO, CFO, General Counsel, Chairman and board of directors to maintain a competitive edge — and that is the role that my team at Bank Director fills.

We designed Bank Director’s digital magazine specifically for tablet devices and incorporate interactive features such as animated infographics, video interviews and real-time polling.  Starting today, it can be accessed for free by downloading the app through Apple iTunes, Google Play or Amazon.com.  Unlike the print version — in circulation since 1991 — these digital issues have a distinct editorial focus each month.  Case-in-point, we light up the first issue with a cover story on the legal and compliance issues facing institutions interested in banking the marijuana industry.  Subsequent issues focus on attracting talent, growing the bank, serving on the audit or risk committee, handling governance and overseeing technology.

While many companies in the content business are moving away from print or simply discontinuing operations, we are ramping up to meet the needs of our audience.  This is not simply a replica of, or replacement for, our print publication.  It is a dynamic new product that allows us to stay on top of emerging trends.  For those of you familiar with our quarterly print publication, I hope this provides you added insight each month to the issues facing our industry.  For those of you not as familiar with Bank Director, I invite you to take a moment to experience this great new content now available anytime, anywhere.

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