Tomorrow’s Ideas Spark Interest But Fail to Excite
SAN FRANCISCO — Seventy-two financial tech innovations. Seven minutes apiece to tell the story. There’s the challenge companies that exhibited at this year’s Finovate conference in San Francisco faced.
On the plus side, there were 1,300 attendees, including many from huge financial institutions but also a good sprinkling from credit unions such as Alaska USA Federal Credit Union, Alliant Credit Union, America First Credit Union, and those were just the A’s.
On the downside, many of the 72 presentations failed to wow much of a jaded, sophisticated audience, judging by informally gathered feedback.
But a few did.
Probably the biggest winner with credit unions was Micronotes, a tiny Cambridge, Mass.- based developer of selling tools that integrate into a financial institution’s online banking. And that is because the company enlisted Kris VanBeeek, CEO of the $829 million, Rye, N.Y.-based US Alliance Federal Credit Union to do its presentation. “Presenting at Finovate had been on my bucket list,” said VanBeek in an interview.)
Micronote “helps us engage with members–to talk with them about appropriate products–and this is important because we are not seeing them that often in our branches,” said VanBeek. “We needed a way to engage in the digital channel and Micronotes does that for us.”
A survey of credit unions in attendance at Finovate found four big themes. The first was the age of the nonbank. Exhibitors included GoBank from prepaid card company Green Dot; Moven, which sees itself as a new style mobile bank for a new generation; and Refundo, a banking product squarely aimed at unbanked immigrants.
The sense among credit union executives in attendance was that this is a trend to watch, and it may attract some of the consumers who were drawn to credit unions in the Bank Transfer Day hubbub.
But the good news, suggested one executive, is that as new entities serve the presently unbanked that may remove a political hot potato from the fire, lessening pressures on traditional institutions to reach out to serve these communities.
The second, big trend was the land rush to create compelling but easy to use security tools to make banking safer for consumers but also more reliable for institutions.
Several presenters focused on biometric logins such as eye scans or voice recognition to authenticate users instead of the traditional username and password. Interest among credit union executives was wide but so was skepticism that the technology is ready for prime time. “There just aren’t enough standards for us to adopt this technology,” said Joe Toth, an IT executive with CME Federal Credit Union, a $230 million Columbus, Ohio, institution. “The potential is there, but these tools are not ready yet, at least not for us.”
Other companies focused on stepping up the rigor of account on boarding, and a case in point was Authentic ID, an Atlanta-based startup that has acquired access to Department of Homeland Security databases. It is easy to fool most financial institutions by presenting a high-grade fake drivers license, but his company’s access to DHS information would flag that fake, just about instantly, said Cohen.
Cohen added that about the only way he can think to game the system is for a crook to pay a state motor vehicle department employee to key in fake data, something he admitted does happen from time to time, but that sophistication generally is beyond the skills of most rogues.
Another big theme was that personal financial management remain a work in progress, a fact illustrated by presentations from MoneyDesktop and also Intuit’s Mint, now available in a version designed for distribution via banks and credit unions.
Credit union executives, asked to comment on the PFMs at Finovate, indicated that their memberships remained anemic users of PFM, but they also indicated they kept a watchful eye on the space because it looks to be sticky in terms of member retention. That is, a member engaged with a PFM on a credit union website, or via mobile banking, is less likely to change banking allegiances than are members who aren’t PFM users. That loyalty is of growing importance, said a credit union executive because the stickiness of online bill pay is steadily eroding as new ways to populate bill payee entries gain a foothold.
“I am impressed by Mint,” said Robert Bodily, an IT manager at America First Credit Union, a $5.8 billion institution in Riverdale, Utah.
E-wallets also won some interest from credit union executives. A consensus was that there were fewer e-wallet exhibitors than in prior years, and the reason for that, suggested experts, is that the challenge of the market is coming into sharper focus as more products fall by the wayside. But the potential appeal of wallets on the smartphone nonetheless wins interest.
Joel Swanson, electronic services manager at AlaskaUSA Federal Credit Union, a $5.3 billion institution in Anchorage, indicated he had keen interest in learning more about the cloud-based e-wallet tools presented at Finovate by FIS.
Andrew Schol, a vice president of IT at First Financial Credit Union, a $418 million institution in Albuquerque, NM, said that all the wallets presenters, including Escardgot and GoNow, caught his eye. “We will talk to them, we are very interested in mobile wallets.” Both those solutions revolve around creating a new card capable of holding and presenting multiple existing credit cards.
Still aren’t seeing anything to implement tomorrow? That was a shared reaction at this year’s Finovate, where no particular innovation seemed to wow the audience as a must have, immediately. Said America First’s Bodily: “There are a lot of good ideas here. But they tend to be in their infancy. But some will mature and become really good products and when they are ready, we want to know about them.”