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.

How Capital One Can Inspire Your Digital Efforts

While venture-backed fintech firms continue to garner attention for being “ahead of the times,” don’t sleep on the franchise being built by Capital One.

By Al Dominick // @aldominick

Should you look at the term “innovation” and disassociate it with the banking sector, you are forgiven.  But innovative is exactly the description I favor for Capital One Financial Corp. (NYSE: COF), especially as I define the term as an ability to monetize creative ideas, products and processes.  Indeed, the McLean, VA-based bank ranked first among the 20 publicly-traded banks with assets of more than $50 billion in Bank Director magazine’s annual Bank Performance Scorecard and is widely considered at the forefront of taking a technology-based, consumer-centric focus to banking.

As we see in their financial performance, Capital One managed to increase net income and benefited from the high profitability of a substantial credit card operation and the stable funding of a regional banking franchise.  As you can read, the company rated highly on traditional profitability metrics: they posted a return on average assets (ROAA) of 1.53, a return on average equity (ROAE) of 10.33 and a Tangible Common Equity ratio of 9.82.  So while various fintech companies make news for their valuations (*hello Stripe, which received major funding from Visa and other investors, valuing the startup at $5 billion) or loan volume (**hola Lending Club, which originated nearly $2 billion in loans during Q2), I’m paying attention to Capital One’s performance.

Nonetheless, their financial numbers don’t tell the whole story.

As our editor, Jack Milligan, writes in “How Young and Hungry Fintech Companies are Disrupting the Status Quo,” the digital financial services space “is exploding in activity as new technology companies push their way into markets and product lines that traditionally have been the banking industry’s turf.” To this point, many bank executives should take note of Capital One’s focus on technology and its business model.  Its CEO, Richard Fairbank, is focused on leading the digital transformation of banking and is not shy in stating that “the winners in banking will have the capabilities of a world-class software company.  Most of the leverage and most of our investment is in building the foundational underpinnings and talent model of a great digital company.  To succeed in a digital world (you) can’t just bolt digital capabilities onto the side of an analog business.”

Cases in point, Capital One acquired money management app Level Money earlier this year to help consumers keep track of their spendable cash and savings.  Prior to that, they acquired San Francisco-based design firm Adaptive Path “to further improve its user experience with digital.”  Over the past three years, the company has also added e-commerce platform AmeriCommerce, digital marketing agency Pushpoint, spending tracker Bundle and mobile startup BankOns.  Heck, just last summer, one of Google’s “Wildest Designers” left the tech giant to join the bank.

More and more banks are realizing that they have to fundamentally change to keep up with the industry’s digital transformation.  But shifting an organizational structure — and culture — to become more focused on what customers want and expect in an increasingly digital age is no simple task.  Not everyone can offer a broad spectrum of financial products and services to consumers, small businesses and commercial clients like Capital One does.  But all can certainly learn from the investments, partnerships and efforts being made by this standout institution.

In case you’re wondering…

Bank Director’s Bank Performance Scorecard uses five key metrics that measure profitability, capitalization and asset quality. ROAA and ROAE are used to gauge each bank’s profitability.  KeyCorp (NYSE: KEY), of Cleveland, ranked second, and rated highest for capital adequacy, with a TCE ratio of 9.87. In third place, U.S. Bancorp (NYSE: USB), of Minneapolis, topped the profitability metrics with a 1.55 ROAA and 13.53 ROAE. Wells Fargo & Co. (NYSE: WFC) and Comerica Inc. (NYSE: CMA) rounded out the top five.

Quick Guide: Banking’s Digital Transformation (#Payments)

Developing faster payments capabilities is a critical element within the banking industry’s digital transformation.

In yesterday’s post (The 5 Corners of Technological Innovation in Financial Services), I looked at the introduction of an Innovation Group at Wells Fargo that, in the words of their CEO, “puts an even larger focus on creating the products, services, and technologies” that will allow the institution to stay competitive and allow its customers to do their banking when, where, and how they would like.

As I dug into the Wells story — which received a lot of play from the press — It strikes me that to successfully transition one’s business model, innovation teams such as this one need to work in concert with major business groups like wholesale and commercial banking, commercial real estate, trust and wealth management, and payments / consumer banking.  As I consider how banks actually operate — e.g. how work is done, the degree of automation, the pricing and design of products and underlying compensation systems — I revisited several videos from Bank Director’s annual FinTech Day @ NASDAQ.  One, of Ben Plotkin, Vice Chairman of Stifel / Executive Vice President of Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, stands out, as he shares his perspective on how banks of all sizes can find success.

Ben touched on the payments space, and I too am curious to explore the role banks must play in the emerging payments ecosystem.  Here, Accenture provides valuable context as the world becomes more digital: “speed in all aspects of financial services is increasingly important. The payments ecosystem is no exception. Faster payments are taking shape across the globe—and may become industry standard.  While faster payments can enhance the customer experience and improve cash flows, it introduces a number of complexities, such as capital costs, and accounting and fraud systems impacts. In the short term, providing the impression of a near-real-time payment through memo posting and verifying the certainty of payment could be implemented sooner, and may meet expected market demand.”

Certainly, the trend toward digital money continues to gain momentum, and when it comes to the payment space, there are emerging technologies that have the potential to dominate the financial landscape (e.g. P2P & Blockchain methods).  Case-in-point, Stripe, the California-based online payments company, has raised new investments which have raised the company valuation to $5 billion.  Per a report in yesterday’s Let’s Talk Payments (h/t Brad Leimer @leimer), the funding “was led by financial giant Visa and experts believe this is a huge endorsement for Stripe. The company had previously raised a total funding of $190 million from high-profile investors including PayPal co-founders, Sequoia Capital, Box CEO Aaron Levie, Khosla Ventures, Andreessen Horowitz and others.”  As The New York Times reported, the companies’ strategic alliance will give Stripe access to Visa’s global network of issuers and acquirers.  BI Intelligence Payments Insider notes the companies will also collaborate to create online checkout solutions and buy buttons that can be plugged into developers’ websites anywhere.

How we pay, borrow and invest continues to change the way we conduct our financial payments.  It is fascinating to watch as companies like Stripe, PayPal, Dwolla, etc hustle to simplify how businesses accept payments through mobile applications while banks like Wells Fargo invest to do the same.

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