Finovate Europe 2012: Innovation In Digital Financial Services

A number of people asked me to repeat my blog post from last year with my impressions from Finovate, so I thought I would.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Finovate, it’s a fast-paced format with seven-minute live demos and pitches from 35 financial technology vendors. It’s produced by Online Financial Innovations, the people behind the excellent NetBanker blog.

I was lucky enough to go along to the show in London today. Unlike last year, when four or five themes dominated the day, this year’s exhibitors were more diverse. Among them were:

Here are a few of my thoughts from the day:

  1. There's plenty of innovation in digital financial services. This year’s show was even bigger than last year, with over 500 eBusiness executives, technology vendors, venture capitalists and journalists drawn from across Europe. That's a good sign for those of us who work in digital financial services.
  2. I still love the format. Seven minutes forces admirable conciseness. What does a technology do, what problem does that solve, and how does it work? Sometimes I can’t quite figure out how some companies make money though — which makes me think I’ve missed something.
  3. The new generation of digital financial services is upon us. Technologies like smartphones and tablets have changed what executives can deliver through digital touchpoints, and continually raise customers’ expectations. eBusiness executives need to think through what it means for the way they sell to and service customers. Firms like Backbase, IND, Mootwin and Sandstone are developing beautiful interfaces.
  4. Not one exhbitor was trying to solve a problem in insurance. Not one innovation from insurance? Leaving aside the insurance jokes, that seems astonishing.  (I thought it was a deliberate focus, but the Finovate team told me there just aren't many companies with insurance innovations bashing down their door to exhibit).
  5. Some of the problems being solved are a lot bigger than others. Firms like BCSG and TradeShift will make a bigger difference to the economy, by helping small businesses survive, than any number of prettier interfaces (however much I happen to like the more elegant interfaces).
  6. Online banking has been one size fits all for too long. Backbase, Sandstone and Figlo all demonstrated interfaces that customers can tailor to suit their own requirements.
  7. We heard less about big data, analytics, open APIs and the cloud than I expected. Probably too much detail for a seven-minute pitch. Firms like Cardlytics demonstrate the power of applying intelligence to data. Content will become modular as firms like Backbase and Ixaris Systems help eBusiness executives pull data, content, functionality and applications out of existing systems and repackage them intelligently for customers.
  8. Although the event was held in London, the British banks were once again notable mostly by their absence. While innovative European banks like ABN Amro, BNP Paribas, ING, La Caixa and Rabobank all had half a dozen or more people at the event, most of the British banks had only one or two. Barclays was the exception. A disappointing showing.
  9. Surprisingly few firms were focused on the opportunities presented by tablets, particularly to improve collaboration between customers and advisors. Wipro was an exception. Nobody has truly cracked how to provide financial advice and guidance efficiently to mainstream customers yet.
  10. Nobody mentioned Near Field Communication (NFC) or contactless payments.

Congratulations to Cardlytics, Dynamics, eToro and Nutmeg for being named 'best of show'.

Thank you again to everyone at Online Financial Innovations for putting on such a great show.

Benjamin

Comments

Figlo Platform

Dear Benjamin,

Thanks, very nice to read your impression of Finovate. Again, surprisingly no one showed an astonishing innovation for the insurance industry. I wonder why?

I do have something to add to this. First, I wanted to clear up that our platform supports financial planning on short, mid and long term. Integrating PFM and financial planning. Secondly, collaboration between financial advisor and consumer is exactly in the heart of what Figlo is doing through the multi channel approach and intuitive user interface.

Looking foward to your reply.

Kind regards,
Ellen van Beek, Figlo

Advisor collaboration

Ellen

Thank you for your comments. You are right that I was being a bit simplistic in the way I grouped the exhibitors, and I recognize that Figlo offers much more than online money management. (I suspect I haven't done full justice to some of the other exhibitors either).

My point was that given how big a problem providing financial advice profitably to mainstream customers is, and given the regulatory changes coming in markets like the UK (the Retail Distribution Review) and the Netherlands (by the Autoriteit Financiële Markten), it was surprising how few exhibitors were focused on that.

I completely agree with you that the problem needs to be tackled by enabling collaboration between advisors and customers through intuitive interfaces and across multiple touchpoints, from face to face to Facebook.

Thank you for taking the time to set me straight.

Benjamin

Advisor Collaboration

Benjamin,

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I agree on your comments, perhaps something to remember for the coming Finovate shows. Maybe untill next year, thanks,

Ellen

Thanks

Benjamin, Good summary, I like your categories.

Thanks again for attending Finovate. Hope to see you at the next one. --Jim

Thank you

Jim

Thank you so much for putting on such a great event and doing so much to drive innovation in digital financial services. Events like Finovate really help to accelerate innovation as people pick up ideas, find technologies, find partners and find funding.

I should make a bet with you about the likelihood of Finovate Singapore in 2013 -- it can't be long before you expand into Asia. ;-)

Benjamin

Digital innovations should

Digital innovations should touch all aspects of Financial Services Institutions (FSIs); including Insurance. And, certainly, slick interfaces are only a small part of financial services’ digital innovations. Smartphones, tablets, RIA, NFC payments, Cloud Computing; Analytics and BI advancements are just few of the many technology break-through of the recent past; that are changing the rules of game for FSIs.

Importantly digital innovations are not an end in itself but means to an end – serving customers with agility, accuracy and proactively. Towards this, leveraging digital innovations to listen to, communicate and engage customers will be crucial for FSIs. FSIs must clearly articulate their goals of digitization (keeping customer at the core) and formulate right digitization strategy. Blindly adopting a digital innovation by an FSI just because their peers are adopting it will do more harm than good to the FSI. Finally, flawless execution of the strategy is equally important.

Anjani Kumar, Principal Consultant, Infosys Limited

The purpose of innovation

Anjani

I agree with you. Pursuing innovation for the sake of it, or just to keep up with competitors, is unlikely to succeed. It's striking that many of the most innovative companies in financial services don't compare themselves with their peers at all, but instead look to the customer leaders in other industries.

Many of the eBusiness and channel strategy executives we work with are working hard to make the cultures at their firms more customer centric and banish the 'we sell products' mindset that has taken root in many financial firms. (I don't mean that selling products isn't important, it's just the wrong starting point). I completely agree that serving customers efficiently and generating profits by creating better customer experiences is the ultimate goal. Weren't those always the rules? Perhaps I'm not cynical enough. ;-)

If anything, I would argue that execution is actually more important and more difficult than strategy. Developing the right strategy is (relatively) easy compared with executing that strategy in established businesses filled with legacy processes, legacy technologies, vested interests and some outdated thinking.

Best regards,

Benjamin

Changing the way FinServ sees Social

Greetings Benjamin,

As presenters at Finovate UK we were encouraged by the amount of requests we received for information from financial services professionals in regards to managing social media. Our conversations with some of the biggest banking institutions in EMEA have shown us that there is a solid commitment to enabling advisers and other banking professionals to leverage social once policies and technologies are put into place. We're also happy to see that an industry traditionally tied to on-premise-only solutions is opening up to Cloud deployment where solutions such as ours are concerned. In fact, we'll be releasing a white paper in the coming weeks highlighting such as deployment with a known banking leader who we feel is leading the charge in this regard. The UK is setting the bar for what safe and compliant use of social should be in highly regulated industries and Finovate was an excellent venue for opening up new lines of communication!

Taking advantage of social technologies

Sarah

Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I think many eBusiness executives in financial services have found social media challenging, both because of the innate conservatism of their firms and because of a lack of clear regulatory guidance in most jurisdictions.

Financial firms have mostly used social media for marketing to date, but through our research and work with clients we're now seeing greater sophisitication and more interest in and use of social technologies for customer service.

I look forward to seeing your white paper. I look forward to seeing 'the UK setting the bar'. It's not a national competition, but we've found that financial firms in Australia, the US, Canada, Spain and France have often been more innovative in using social technologies than those in the UK in the past few years (which is odd as the UK generally is among the leaders in marketing sophistication). I look forward to being wrong. :-)

Your point about a gradual shift from on premises only to cloud deployments is also interesting, and in line with what we are hearing elsewhere.

Benjamin

Digital Innovation In Finance

The above article is great.Thank you so much for putting about such a great event and doing so much to drive innovation in digital financial services. This kind of events really help to accelerate innovation as people get ideas, find partners and find funding.