May 19th, 2013

Finovate San Francisco: lots of ideas and energy

Seventy-two companies presented over two days in a format of 7 minute demos. That’s all, folks. Then the microphone and lights are turned-off. I sorted the 72 topics as follows. Please know that one company could fit into a couple of these categories:

Investment-19; Personal Financial Management (PFM)-18; Payments-15; Mobile Banking-15; Lending-10; Security-10; Cards, credit or other- 9; Identity, e.g. fraud prevention- 7; Small Business focus- 6; Rewards- 4; Back Office-2.

Voted Best in Show: FamZoo, LendUp, Money Desktop (3 time Finovate winner) , PayNearMe, Tip Ranks. A roster of PFM, Underbanked, Mobile PFM, Payments (for the underbanked, imo) and crowd-sourced Investment advice.

I especially liked P2B Investor if only for their courage (“I’m here to fund your brains out” and distributed such tee shirts to remind us of this slogan) and the quality of their presentation. Even in this intense format, a couple of presenters will take 7 minutes to tell a four minute story. P2B’s demo was friendly and to the point: crowd-sourcing for purchased receivables.

Also of note was Intuit’s, now the owner of Mint.com, foray into the small and medium business marketplace.

I’m impressed by the persistence of PFM and Payments demonstrations; the waning of Rewards as I guess that all merchants either figured-out that Groupon benefits mainly Groupon or that coupons can be issued by nearly anyone if one seeks that ‘nearly everyone’ market. What do I mean? Merchants determined that Groupon either attracts one-timers because of the daily deal or existing clients happy for a discount. There are only small increases in the attraction of new and continuing clients. In short, not worth the hassle and cost.

Back Office brings up the rear as though the magic of reliable, secure and available transaction processing is best left to unnamed others. Kind of the electricity or gas-pump model. It’s just there when needed. I feel that presenters should address their back-end integration schemes. To me, partnering with these bold and clever start-ups would be a way for the trusted and unknown Back Office / IT companies to freshen and to revive their brand images. These start-ups may not frighten the enterprise and a gap is widening.

From a couple of big bank execs, I heard the following dismissal, “How are they (the presenting companies) going to make money?” Maybe true and a scan of the alumni list may surprise. Recalls the M&A executive who in 2008 declined a now wished-for acquisition because “How can anybody make money in mobile?”

Large enterprise take-aways from the presenters at Finovate: 1) the design of a mobile banking experience, not to mention the functions available on a large bank’s mobile site, can look interesting, inviting and even fun. No requirement to look like and do like everybody else looks and does. 2) the voted Best in Show at Finovate offer insight into the large swath of Millennials in today’s work force and in the customer bases of all banks. They care about ease of use, social responsibility and they’re likely to prefer the advice of a wide range of unknown and like-minded over the branded professional financial advisor. 3) Technically savvy customers are willing to exchange a measure of personal information, aka privacy, for a just measure of personal value. Location Awareness, photo sharing et al is only the beginning.

Each of the 72 in the Finovate pageant attempts to reduce or to contend with the too often frustrating complexity of understanding and managing our financial affairs. The right ideas are hard to discern; the inevitable result is not.


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