John Maxfield, Executive Editor at Bank Director, recently interviewed Brandon Dewitt, CTO and co-founder of MX, as part of BankDirector’s Experience FinXTech 2020. You can watch their presentation titled “Using Data for Good” on BankDirector’s site here and read a few highlights below.
Based on the conversation, we’ve listed six steps you can take to use data for good.
1. Start with the big picture.
To launch the conversation, John Maxfield talked about something he learned
Brent Beardall, CEO at WaFd. Specifically, Maxfield is struck by how Beardall views banking as a way
to improve a customer’s entire life, from raising kids to getting a
job and beyond. “Banking products are not an end in themselves,” Maxfield
says, recounting the lesson he learned from Beardall. “They're a means to an
Maxfield then spoke about how he learned a similar lesson during a visit to the MX office. In one particular meeting, MX founder and CEO Ryan Caldwell pointed out the window to a group of workers building a bridge and asked whether humanity should collectively want the engineer of the bridge to be worried about their personal finances or to instead be completely focused on their work. Maxfield realized the power of thinking this way. “The only thing I would want the engineer of that bridge thinking about is building a great bridge," he says.
Dewitt supported this line of thinking, saying it’s part of what drove him to invest in using data to empower the world to be financially strong at MX. He says he was so inspired by his first visit to MX headquarters in Utah over a decade ago that he decided to never go back to Indianapolis where he founded and led a budgeting company called MyJibe. “I still haven't been back to Indianapolis,” he says, “much to the chagrin of many of my friends there.”
2. Be mission-driven —not competitor-driven.
Maxfield then talked about the current economic situation we’re in, with more than 30 million people filing for unemployment. “If you've seen those charts, it's like a giraffe among Shetland ponies,” he says. He asked Dewitt how banks should use data to navigate this crisis.
In response, Dewitt talked about the need to be mission-driven. “When you're focused on the success of a mission, you're not focused on the competition,” he says. By not focusing on the competition “you focus on outcomes and what those outcomes will mean to communities, to the people around them, and to our society as a whole.”
Being mission-driven is critical at all times, but especially in a crisis. “Stress on any system manifests what's important and what's not important,” Dewitt says. “It makes acute the best ways that a system can be helped.” In many cases, the best way forward involves partnering with each other —a truth that is especially apparent right now. “The entire landscape has changed overnight,” says Dewitt, “making us focus on how to solve problems for consumers, businesses, and financial institutions.” All of this hinges on being mission-driven.
3. Prepare immediately for increased digital engagement.
Dewitt pointed to internal and external data revealing that digital engagement has quickly ballooned during 2020, largely because the coronavirus crisis has prevented people from going into the lobby of their primary financial institution.
This surge in digital engagement took banks and credit unions off guard, causing online and mobile banking to go down across the country as people kept signing in to see if their stimulus check had hit their account. “As an industry we're generally ill prepared for what it means for every single person in the country to be logging into their bank account every single day,” says Dewitt. He adds that we should plan accordingly, saying, “I think we're going to see most of these people stay digitally engaged. We have a whole new reality upon us.”
4. Do whatever is right by the partnership and by the customer.
“One of the things that we try and instill at MX is a shared vocabulary,” Dewitt says. In practice this means focusing on outcomes rather than simply checking boxes. So, as Dewitt recounts, instead of saying, "We have a contract, and we're going to deliver to a contract," we say things like, "Do whatever is right by the partnership and by the customer."
Dewitt says following this aphorism results in raving fans telling him, "You went above and beyond.” He says, “My response to that is, ‘We didn't go above and beyond. We did what was necessary.’” Then he adds, “Necessity is not always drawn into a contract. Necessity is in the life of an individual who is impacted by our software in some way or another, such that they can be relieved of stress in one way or have clarity in another way.”
Dewitt also says that as part of the effort to develop a shared understanding, MX gives two books to new engineering employees: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig and This Is Water by David Foster Wallace, both of which help MX have “a unified definition of what quality is.” Dewitt says, “Quality is not obeying the letter of a contract. Quality is the marriage of science and romance, and so it may be that we have to do something even if the contract doesn't say it.”
5. Treat everyone as a builder.
As the conversation progressed, Dewitt gave a series of aphorisms he lives and leads by. “One of the aphorisms that we use at MX is, ‘It's everybody's job to get shit done,’” he says. “It immediately conveys that we're not going to have people sitting around the sidelines telling other people what to do.”
In practice, this means that everyone is expected to build. “Jump in. Pick up a hammer. Start building,” Dewitt says. “Start working towards an outcome, or this is the wrong organization for you.”
Dewitt then shared another aphorism that he holds to: Make mistakes of boldness, not of timidity. “This aphorism immediately conveys that you need to be out there doing bold things.” In light of this, Dewitt tells team members, “As long as your actions are doing right by those that we serve, you should be doing bold things without being scared of the recourse.”
6. Create your own reality.
To wrap up the interview, John Maxfield asked Dewitt for parting words of wisdom. In response, Dewitt pointed listeners to two of his favorite essays: “Authority and American Usage” by David Foster Wallace and “In Praise of Idleness” by Bertrand Russell.
Both of these essays have helped Dewitt change his reality. He says, “When you start to understand the ability for you to create your reality instead of being a victim to your own reality, it will be impossible for our industry, our country, and our world to not unlock a wave of entrepreneurship and opportunity that will overcome every sector. So, I would say go out and read those two very simple essays and change your reality. Then go change reality for somebody else. That's how the world gets better.”
“Somebody changed my reality a long time ago,” Dewitt says, “and I am only here and talking to you because of that change in reality. I just would love to see that happen for everyone that's out there —for our industry and for our world.”