Top Takeaways from Senior Finance and Fintech Leaders: Data, Relationships, Resiliency, an...
March 30, 2023 | 2 min read
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Now in its fifth year, the MX Fintech Festival continues to bring industry leaders together to discuss innovative ways to integrate digital technology into banking.
Adam Savage, former co-host of MythBusters, and Omar Hatamleh, former CIO at NASA, keynoted the first MX Fintech Festival of 2020 in the snow-covered mountains of Sundance, Utah. They were joined by a range of banking experts, including Sam Maule, Managing Partner NA for 11:FS; Scarlett Sieber, CIO at CCG Catalyst; John Derrico, VP of Data Strategy at Mastercard; Mary Kate Loftus, Director of Digital at M&T Bank; Jason Henrichs, CEO at Alloy Labs and co-host of Breaking Banks; Tania Goodine, EVP of Strategy and Innovation at Libro CU; Ron Shevlin, Managing Director of Fintech Research at Cornerstone Advisors, and executives at MX.
Adam Savage of MythBusters talked about his love of creating things he finds delightful. Driven by curiosity, Savage has been creating such things — from suits of armor as a young kid to a Blade Runner blaster replica as a young man — his whole life.
At every step, he’s been driven by the urge to uncover his own point of view, calling this process “the most important power there is.” It’s a process that requires constant iteration, which results in inevitable failure as well as self-discovery. Savage put it bluntly: “I iterate. I fail. That’s the point.”
This concept works at two levels in banking. One, by creating something that calls out to you at a personal level — such as a new initiative in financial services — you overcome your fear of failure and learn what your point of view actually is. Two, by getting your team to create something new, you can uncover your collective point of view and build an innovative team culture that will set you up for success again and again. In either case, this process of self-discovery is a joy and, for Savage, one of the core purposes of living. Ryan Caldwell, CEO at MX, put it well when he told Savage, “You give us permission to let the inner child be. And that’s a big deal.”
Shane Evans, Chief Revenue Officer at MX, focused his remarks on the imperative for convenience. He cited Walter Dods, former chairman at First Hawaiian Bank, who was fond of saying, “Give me convenience or give me death.”
This attention to convenience is core to the rise of companies such as Uber and Amazon, which have streamlined the purchasing process and won millions of customers as a result.
So, how do you start offering a more convenient experience for your users? “Find one thread in your business and figure out how you can drive one case,” said Evans.
In short, it’s not a matter of being everything to everyone. Instead, it’s a matter of narrowing down, of finding one way you can make banking more convenient and building step by step from there.
Brett Allred, Chief Product Officer at MX, told the story of playing Cracker Barrel’s peg game with his 8-year-old son and being unable to solve it despite dozens of attempts as they ate their meal. When they returned home from the restaurant, he asked his son if he thought a computer could help solve it. His son said yes, and they worked together to create a computer program that could win the game, which it effortlessly did.
Allred posed a similar question to the audience: Can a computer help solve our personal financial problems? He then demonstrated how, with the help of aggregation routing, a user experience built to engage, automated finance, and digital nudges, it’s possible to offer solutions that enable true financial strength. The hurdle is to innovate on the frontend and the backend. “We’ve got to learn to stop copying traditional models and start creating new ones,” Allred said. Once we do that, we’ll be positioned as an industry to give users true financial guidance.
To read more about what Allred presented, read “The Next Revolution in Personal Finance: The Financial Feed” by Ron Shevlin.
Some bankers are tasked with building experiences that delight end users. Others are tasked with making sure that everything stays within regulatory compliance. At times, these two groups are at odds with each other, as they sometimes work at cross-purposes. It doesn’t have to be that way, according to Jane Barratt, Chief Advocacy Officer at MX.
So, how do you unify these two seemingly contradictory efforts? One way is by making outcomes the primary goal. After all, as Barratt pointed out, “You can have a great user experience that sets someone up for a 28% credit card rate, but that’s not a great outcome.” Along these same lines, if you offer an amazing interface but compromise security, you’ll end up with terrible outcomes when you inevitably suffer a data breach.
Barratt listed four questions to consider as you build an outcomes-driven organization: 1) Are customer outcomes built into your strategy? 2) Who is responsible for customer success in your organization? 3) Are you prepared for a bi-directional data flow via APIs? 4) Are you ready to measure the ROI of positive customer outcomes?
By using these four questions as a guideline you’ll be well on your way to building an outcomes-driven organization.
John Derrico, VP of Data Strategy at Mastercard, proposed that we should think of data the same way we think about cooking. That is, just as good meals are made from a range of ingredients that have each come with tradeoffs (organic, nutritional value, price, etc.), there are a lot of options to consider when choosing the right data strategy. To drive his point home, he cited famed chef Julia Child who said, “You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces, just good food from fresh ingredients.” It’s the same with data. You don’t have to do something insanely complex or ambitious. Just make sure your data is clean and that you’ve pinpointed the right reasons behind your data initiatives.
Along the way, it’s important to tinker and record your findings. In this vein Derrico said, “Sometimes cheap learnings are better than deep learnings.” Derrico showcased three ways forward on this front: “Build trust with clear dialogue about data that resonates with all. Deliver value with strategy and consumable data capabilities. Identify and enable data champions throughout the enterprise.”
“I always get annoyed with the idea that banks don’t get technology,” said Sam Maule, Managing Partner NA for 11:FS. “That is such bullshit. Banks have always been an adopter of technology.” Mary Kate Loftus, Director of Digital at M&T Bank, agreed, saying that from her perspective, banks are getting better and better on this front. Scarlett Sieber, CIO at CCG Catalyst, added that traditional institutions are in a good space because they have trust on their side, which is pivotal to winning in this industry.
This trust factor works largely because banks and credit unions have an enormous head start when it comes to compliance. Tania Goodine, EVP of Strategy and Innovation at Libro CU, said that her credit union places enormous emphasis on compliance alongside innovation. Sieber shared that when she was at BBVA, her innovation team had compliance officers helping every step of the way. This combination of trust and innovation leads to success in banking.
Jason Henrichs, CEO at Alloy Labs and co-host of Breaking Banks, said that although banks are doing well on many fronts, they have to rethink their strategy to stay ahead. “Banks aren’t focused on the outcome and that’s why Rocket Mortgage is doing so well even though they’re more expensive,” he said. He talked about how for many people it’s worth paying a bit more to have a digital loan process than it is to have to visit a branch, and the more people who get used to the digital loan process, the less people want the traditional method. There’s little room for complacency.
According to Sieber, traditional players have to learn how to shut off legacy products — even when there is a vocal minority of users who want them — if they’re going to speed ahead at the right pace. This way, traditional players can free themselves up to focus on things that matter most, such as open banking and finding the right partners for ongoing technological improvements.
When asked what companies in financial services should do to get ahead, each panelist gave essential directives. Loftus said that companies should ask what their growth strategy is and how they’ll best act on that strategy. Sieber said that companies must “focus on partnerships — and fast.” She added that doing this will help financial services companies “scale without re-inventing the wheel.” Goodine said that above all, “People need to believe that you are different from the crowd.” If they can’t tell what value you uniquely offer, they’ll go elsewhere. Maule agreed, saying, “Find out what you do well and partner.”
Omar Hatamleh, former CIO at NASA, talked about the rise of superconductors, which enable computing power exponentially larger than what we enjoy today. That, combined with big data, 3D printing, and AI, will change everything we think we know about the world.
Hatamleh then showcased a number of astonishing examples about how today’s cutting-edge innovators are pulling us into the world of tomorrow. For instance, he showed how inventors studied Japanese lily pads that completely resist water to create yogurt lids that don’t get yogurt stuck to them. He also showed how a group of scientists improved the efficiency of turbines by studying the fins of blue whales. In addition, he showed how a company used iridescent paint patterned after iridescent butterflies to light a highway at night without using electricity. Each of these solutions are possible today thanks to advances in computing power and a diversity of approaches to innovation. By keeping futurists at hand, inventors in financial services will be able to navigate the future in innovative ways.
Brandon Dewitt, Chief Technology Officer at MX, told the story (covered in American Banker) about learning he had stage-4 cancer. At the time he was told that he only had 30 to 90 days to live, but with the amazing help of team members at MX (who researched his cancer and got him to the right doctors), his cancer is in remission.
Dewitt talked about the need to remember the nobility of banking — the need to remember that one of the leading causes of death today is suicide, which is largely driven by finances. While banks can cause financial stress, they can also be part of the cure. By focusing on empowering the world to be financially strong, banks can (and should!) improve the lives of end users and reduce the rate of suicide in the process. As Dewitt says, we should “be passionate to the point of ridicule” in this pursuit because lives are at stake.
Ron Shevlin, Managing Director of Fintech Research at Cornerstone Advisors, led a conversation about digital transformation, a term he takes a bit of issue with in part because he worries it’s become a buzzword. For the sake of clarity, he’s in favor of “digital integration,” which helps people understand that digital should be integrated into all areas of banking, from branches to contact centers and beyond. “People mistakenly think digital is a channel,” Shevlin said. “In reality it’s a technology, not a channel. It should be integrated. It should be part of everything.”
According to Shevlin, leaders in this space are those who have a clear vision about what they’re going after as well as a way to measure their effectiveness (or ineffectiveness) in meeting that vision. One powerful example of this is USAA, which has managed to be a leader in digital banking by focusing relentlessly on a single core demographic: actively deployed military members. This clarity of vision has enabled USAA to exceed the needs of this demographic. As they’ve done this, USAA has innovated on the digital front again and again, integrating digital into everything they do.
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