Filmmakers have Sundance. Financial tech pioneers have Finovate, a show that in a short several years has positioned itself as the go-to, be there now showcase for hot banking tech tools.
The Seattle-based company hosts multiple annual shows – in New York, Asia and Europe as well as San Francisco – but it’s the San Francisco show, held in the belly of the tech beast in a trendy South of Market hall, that remains the can’t-miss show.
Also from Finovate:
This May’s edition brought out 1,300 attendees – “the biggest attendance ever,” said a Finovate executive – as well as 72 presenters (each of which paid in the low five figures to strut their stuff in public, said representatives of companies that were, in fact, presenting).
Even so, an irony of Finovate is that at any moment, maybe 25% of the crowd – sometimes more – are not in the presentation hall. They are jawboning privately, often with exhibitors, often with other attendees, and they are busy swapping business cards and making connections.
They also are swapping stories, predictions, sometimes snark.
Read on for five things you just don’t know because you weren’t at Finovate Spring 2013.
1. Google Wallet is RIP. Multiple experts, including a top analyst with a leading tech research firm, made exactly that prediction to this reporter. The smoking gun: the ouster last week of Google Wallet guru Osama Bedier.
The rest of the story is that, plainly, Google has gotten close to zero traction with its mobile wallet, mainly because it is on only a handful of devices, mostly Sprint phones. It also is in few merchants because it requires them to be NFC capable and most retailers have opted to sit this upgrade out, at least for now.
The NFC-based Isis pilot, spearheaded by AT&T and Verizon Wireless, also is said to be going no place.
But it’s the whispered Google Wallet demise that dazzles because the well- funded tech innovator as recently as six months ago appeared to be fully backing the tools.
Wallet, said the experts, won’t exactly go away. It will live on as an online payment tool – a la PayPal – and it also will have life as a kind of P2P enabler (where money can be “attached” to Gmail via Wallet).
But until the mobile wallet gets more coherence, Google is electing to pull back to the sidelines, said the experts. When might that change? Be patient. Nobody now expects mobile wallets to take off for another few years, possibly as many as five.
Google has plenty of time, said one expert. It can pull out now and, five years from now, swoop in, buy a wallet leader and be right back in the hunt.
Next: Pay By Picture
2. Picture Pay Gaining Traction. They laughed – or at least many sneered – when Mitek CEO Jim DeBello debuted his pay a bill by snapping a picture of it at the Money2020 show last fall, but what a difference six months makes.
Buzz at Finovate around Allied Payment Network’s Picture Pay tool was loud and mainly positive.
The trigger is that adoption of mobile bill pay remains anemic, with many institutions privately admitting to single-digit usage among mobile banking customers. The hurdle is that data entry, on a small screen and a smaller keyboard, is error prone.
“Internet bill pay has terrible adoption rates,” said Allied Payment Network CEO Ralph Marcuccilli in an interview.
“We are seeing more use of Picture Pay than of mobile bill pay,” said Robb Gaynor, CTO at Malauzai, a mobile apps developer that has implemented a pay-by-camera tool at several banks, with several credit unions in the rollout queue, said Gaynor.
The big plus: image quality on newer smart phones is spectacular. It has gotten very easy to snap an image that works, said Marcuccilli and, for those smartphone owners who often take pictures (of food, co-workers, plants, and the rest of their moments in life), taking a picture of a bill really is very easy and it is much faster than trying to populate a bill pay form on a phone, said Marcuccilli.
Bottom Line: DeBello – whose patents underlie the Allied Payment and Malauzai tools – just may still get the laugh here.
Next: The Eyes Have It
3. The Jury Is Out on Biometric Logins. The opinion is just about universal that the user name/password login – which has been around for 25 years on the Internet, perhaps longer – is hopelessly broken. From Zeus keyloggers (which capture data as it is typed in) through hacks into website login caches, there just are so many ways the privacy of that data is compromised.
That is why many Finovate attendees honestly found themselves rooting for companies with biometric log in tools, such as Eye Verify – which uses an eye print, said to be as unique as a fingerprint – and IBSS (Internet Biometric Security Systems), which uses voice authentication as well as facial authentication.
The problem with biometrics: “They look like support nightmares to me,” said a vice president of IT at a top 500 credit union. He envisioned the member with a bad cold whose voice sounds totally different, or the member with irritated, blood shot eyes whose eye print is rejected – and exactly what would support do to help them get in?
The vendors insist that rejections – due to sore throats or hangovers, for instance – will be much rarer than worriers imagine.
But the fears persist and, interested in biometrics as credit union IT executives were at Finovate, none told Credit Union Times they would recommend pulling this trigger. Biometrics just isn’t ready for prime time, at least not as far as credit unions go.
Next: FIS Does Finovate
4. FIS Wants To Be Your Mobile Main Man. The Jacksonville, Fla., tech behemoth may not have a rep for cutting edge tech, but Doug Brown, a vice president, was at Finovate with authentic tech hipster Chris Gardner – presently CEO of Paydiant, a mobile payments platform, and a serial tech entrepreneur whose cloud-based technology is powering some of FIS’ mobile offerings.
The message: FIS has the mobile tech a credit union or bank needs. For instance: Brown demoed FIS’ Cardless Cash Access which lets a consumer withdraw real money from an ATM using only a smartphone (no debit card required).
Brown’s big message: the mobile wallet has become a space financial institutions can and should dominate (see the Google Wallet RIP entry above). Consumer trust in FIs may be eroding but, right now, said Brown, they still have more confidence in FIs managing their money transactions than they do in letting tech powerhouses (such as Apple or Google) do it.
Next: Of Micronotes and Bucket Lists
5. VanBeek’s Bucket List. Ask Kris VanBeek, CEO of the $829 million Rye, N.Y.-based USAlliance Federal Credit Union, why he was at Finovate doing the presentation for Micronotes, a tiny company that makes digital selling tools that can be integrated into websites such as USAlliance’s, and he said, with refreshing candor, “Presenting here has been on my bucket list.”
It helps that VanBeek is a big booster of the Micronotes tools – which aim to engage digital banking customers in timely, pertinent online chat that as appropriate will trigger a phone call from a human rep. “With people not coming into the branch so much, we needed another way to remind members of the products we have that may suit their needs. Micronotes does this in a way that I believe works,” said VanBeek.
He indicated that the tool often results in real sales of products such as car loans. “It’s getting our message out to people who want to hear it,” said VanBeek.
And of course he was delighted to check off that bucket list to-do.