The pent-up demand for client engagement was on display—both literally and figuratively—as FinovateFall returned to the live stage in New York City Sept. 13-15.
Seventy mostly early stage companies showcased their latest financial technology in seven-minute live demos—roughly double the number delivered at Finovate’s virtual events over the past 18 months (you’ll find a listing of the audience-selected Best of Show winners here).
As always, I focus closely on overarching themes poised to shape the fintech dialogue. Here are some of my key takeaways:
The demo roster covered a broad array of product categories, continuing a recent trend and illustrating the vibrant nature of our current fintech ecosystem. Two recurring themes did emerge, however.
Solutions designed to serve the small and midsize business (SMB) market–widely acknowledged to be a prime financial institution (FI) opportunity and one in need of enhanced tools–received the most coverage.
The other big trend was data, primarily in the service of customer engagement. There’s little question that data has established itself as “the new oil” for FIs, both as a lubricant for efficient operations and because of its high value and precious nature.
Presenters’ emphasis remained firmly on market growth over cost reduction–another healthy sign. As one example, voice solutions continue to be top of mind, ranking behind only SMB and data among the most frequently demoed categories.
Although the opportunity to generate contact center efficiencies was clearly communicated, these companies’ message focused squarely on the potential to improve customers’ omnichannel experience.
I heard more callouts to credit unions as desired partners than at any past Finovate. Speaking offline to a few presenting firms, their rationale was quite clear: credit unions offer faster sales cycles with more ready access to decision makers and less procurement bureaucracy.
In the past, a perceived tradeoff was the shortage of credit unions’ implementation bandwidth. Several fintechs have alleviated this concern, however, by designing more “plug and play” solutions that reduce the required onboarding effort.
In another happy continuation of recent trends, I cannot recall a single “banks are dinosaurs” tone emanating from the stage over three days. Collaboration and partnership between fintechs and FIs are clearly the order of the day.
Credit union and bank leaders may still wish to keep an eye on their lunch, but at least no fintechs are professing their intent to steal it any longer.
On the other hand, neobanks may prove to be the new source of direct competition. As we discussed in a recent post, this newly invigorated category of digital startups has swiped a page from the credit union playbook, targeting value propositions to niche segments with a “common bond.”
Listen to a CUNA News Podcast with Micheal Herman, president of AdvantEdge Digital.
In a keynote presentation, PayPal Ventures’ Peggy Mangot reinforced the point that most of these neobanks focus on owning the customer experience, partnering with an FDIC-insured institution for back-office infrastructure and compliance needs.
Mangot advises watching which monetization levers these startups choose to deploy. She believes consumers will pay a monthly subscription fee for demonstrated value, and considers whether these players will need to rely on product cross-selling to achieve profitability.
Finally, it’s worth noting the elephant that wasn’t in the room. Although data transfer network Plaid was nowhere to be found on the Finovate agenda, I lost count of the number of times its name was invoked by presenters--usually in the context of its background role as an enabling technology and the extent to which APIs and data flow are fundamental to so many of these solutions.
It’s a stark reminder of the “data is the new oil” message noted earlier and an indicator of how that potentially shifts the power dynamics across the ecosystem.
With the fall conference season now kicking into gear, it’ll be interesting to see how this conversation evolves as more credit unions and fintechs add their voices, whether virtually or on site.
GLEN SARVADY is managing principal at 154 Advisors.