Fintech in Extraordinary Times: Leadership and the Importance of Productivity

With a global pandemic reshaping the way we live and work, Finovate VP Greg Palmer and his Finovate Podcast turned to two of our industry’s most insightful observers this week to help put the current challenges to fintech in context.

Ron Shevlin, Managing Director of Fintech Research at Cornerstone Advisors, is one of the world’s top fintech influencers. Author of the book Smarter Bank and a columnist for Forbes, he has provided keynotes and moderated panels at industry events including FinovateFall.

On the challenges facing business leaders during the COVID crisis

We’re wrestling, all of us, with three major concerns: our physical health, our mental health, and our financial health. And if you’re an executive at a fintech company, a bank, a credit union, whatever it might be, you’re wrestling with those things in multiple dimensions: your personal physical, financial, and mental health; your family’s physical, financial, and mental health, your employees’ three areas of health and your customers’. You add that up and it’s pretty daunting …

Listen to Greg’s full 20 minute conversation with Ron Shevlin.


Alyson Clarke is a Principal Analyst with Forrester Research. Among our Analyst All-Stars at FinovateFall 2019 last year, she is a specialist in digital business transformation, creating digital and customer “obsessed” cultures, and digital strategy and innovation.

On how a likely post-COVID-19 recession will affect fintechs and financial services firms

I think we’re clearly going to see fintech funding slow – especially for new or less established startups. In fact, I think it will slow across the board from VCs to corporate funding. I think that will be some of the downside for the fintechs.

In terms of financial services and banks, they’re going to do what they naturally do and that’s focus on cost-cutting and making the operations more efficient. Sadly, some of that focus will be on automation and things like that for the sake of reducing headcount. The problem with that is that they really need to be focused on productivity, not just cost-cutting, because (managing) recessions is about preparing for the upturn.

Listen to Greg’s full 15-minute conversation with Alyson Clarke.

And be sure to check out all the interviews from the Finovate Podcast.


Here is the latest news from our Finovate alums.

  • Microsoft and Plaid collaborate to enable people to import bank and credit card account data into a new PFM solution, Money in Excel.
  • Newly-rebranded Transact Bank (formerly Colorado National Bank) to deploy core banking technology from Fiserv.
  • Vymo introduces new Work from Home solution to help agents and relationship managers work remotely.
  • Insuritas partners with Indiana-based Security Federal Savings Bank.
  • Tradeshift launches Tradeshift Engage to foster digital collaboration between suppliers and buyers.
  • Signifyd releases COVID-19 Business Continuity Package to help ecommerce businesses during the pandemic.
  • NYMBUS launches SmartLenders program to help small businesses impacted by COVID-19.
  • Dwolla appoints Brady Harris as CEO.
  • iProov releases new Android SDK with user experience improvements, easier integration, and performance enhancements.
  • Breach Clarity to waive fees for six months during COVID-19 crisis.
  • PayActiv partners with Paychex to give businesses the ability to grant their workers immediate access to earned wages.
  • Onfido, Admiral Markets, and GetID collaborate to drive omnichannel identity verification in Estonia.
  • Jack Henry’s lending suite now supports Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).

Finovate Alumni Features and Profiles

Teslar Teams Up with Liberty National Bank to Boost Commercial Lending – The Oklahoma-based bank will use Teslar’s technology to boost productivity, increase transparency, and streamline its commercial lending process.

IdentityMind Global Acquired by Acuant – The deal offers Acuant access to IdentityMind’s digital identity product, a SaaS platform that builds, maintains, and analyzes digital identities and helps companies perform risk-based authentication, regulatory identification, and detect and prevent synthetic and stolen identities.

Vymo Offers Work From Home for Sales ProfessionalsVymo, the company whose intelligent sales assistant makes life easier for on-the-go sales pros, has unveiled a new enhancement to help sales teams at this time when customer engagement is even more challenging. 

Azimo Partners with Siam Commercial Bank – SCB clients will benefit from Azimo’s digital money transfer program that uses RippleNet, a blockchain-based money transfer service. Using RippleNet, Azimo will be able to instantly deliver payments from Europe to SCB client accounts.

CRIF to Acquire Strands – The union will bring Strands’ personal financial management and business financial management solutions to CRIF’s client base that includes 6,300 banks, 55,000 businesses, and 310,000 consumers across 50 countries.

Ocrolus’ Nicole Newlin On Digitization, Visualization, and the Age of Partnerships – We caught up with Nicole Newlin, VP of Solutions for Ocrolus, to talk about how the company leverages artificial intelligence to automate critical business tasks like underwriting for lenders.

EVO Payments Raises $150 Million to Help Manage COVID-19 Crisis – Merchant acquirer EVO Payments, the parent company of EVO Snap, has secured $150 million in cash to help fortify the company’s balance sheet, retire debt, and provide funding for future investment opportunities during the COVID-19 crisis.

How Lending-as-a-Service Can Impact Small Businesses in Need – One of the brutal facts of the COVID-19 outbreak is that it will be difficult for small businesses to survive. The self-distancing and shelter-in-place orders, while temporary, are taxing for already cash-strapped merchants.

Plaid to Power Microsoft’s New PFM Tool – Further proving that every company is a fintech company, Plaid has formed a partnership with Microsoft.

More Than $1.3 Billion Raised by 13 Alums in Q1 of 2020 – Finovate alums raised more than $1.3 billion in the first quarter of 2020, matching their best, first quarter performance to date from two years ago. 

No Static At All: Finovate’s Greg Palmer Hosts Fintech’s Latest Podcast

Kick off your high-heeled sneakers – fintech’s got a brand new podcast.

The new program, the Finovate Podcast, was launched this fall by host Greg Palmer, Finovate VP of Strategy. New episodes of the show are released twice a week on Mondays and Wednesdays.

We talked with Greg about what the Finovate Podcast brings to the fintech community, what topics the podcast will focus on, and what guests the podcast will feature in the weeks and months to come.

Finovate: You just posted your 14th Finovate podcast. What kind of reception has the podcast received from the fintech community so far?

Greg Palmer: So far the reception has been really positive! Certain episodes have been more popular than others, but listeners seem to be responding well to the format. Part of the reason I wanted to do this podcast in the first place was because I feel like I’m always talking to interesting people who know so much more than I do, and I wanted to share their insights with a broader audience.

I’m finding that a lot of people aren’t really aware that some of the things that they take for granted would surprise others in the space, and it’s always fun when we can uncover something like that. And on the other side, the folks I’m interviewing all seem to believe that I’m making them sound smart – they are smart, of course, but I’m glad I’m making them sound like it!

Finovate: How does the Finovate podcast differ from some of the other fintech or technology podcasts out there?

Palmer: A lot of podcasts in the space are longer-form, and require a lot more time and attention. I deliberately wanted to create a podcast that was shorter, punchier, and more efficient. Partly that’s because of how my brain has been wired after working at Finovate for so long, and partly it’s because I think that’s the show I would want to listen to. Our episodes top out at about 13 minutes, which makes them a lot more digestible. And just like with the content on stage at Finovate events, if an episode isn’t your cup of tea, no worries, the next one will have a completely different focus.

Finovate: Who are some of the guests you’ve already had on the program? If someone were to go back and only listen to one or two of your previous podcasts, which ones would you highlight and why?

Palmer: We’ve already had a number of great guests, including our Best of Show winners from FinovateSpring 2019, and some non-product folks like Ghela Boskovitch, Karen Mills, Wayne Miller, and Alissa Knight. If you were going to start with one, I’d take the Ghela one first, she’s such a fascinating person, and we were able to get into some really good stuff on our first chat. Karen Mills was great, and so was Alissa Knight. I’m not supposed to play favorites with the Best of Show winners, but I really enjoyed speaking with Jeff LoCastro of Neener Analytics. Kevin Gosschalk from Arkose Labs was another fun one.

Finovate: Podcasts are an increasingly popular media channel. What can podcasts do to help stimulate interest in, conversation about, and broader coverage of financial technology?

Palmer: For me it comes back to the difference between the way people converse vs. the way they communicate in writing or other channels. I think fintech as an industry has a lot of mystique around it, and some of the concepts can be really intimidating. That intimidation can put people off or keep them from engaging with solutions that they should. A conversational podcast can really help to make some of the basic concepts easy to understand, and it can humanize the people behind the tech, which really helps. The more open, honest conversations we can have about the tech that’s driving the space, the better it is for everybody, and that’s where a podcast can really be an important asset.

Finovate: How has the podcast experience been for you? You are typically either on the stage talking to large audiences or behind the scenes working with startups. What do you get to do differently as a podcast host that you enjoy the most?

Palmer: I have to say I love it, and not just because I got to go out and buy some cool new audio toys to play with! My role on stage at Finovate events is to put other people in a position to shine, and my work behind the scenes with presenters ahead of time has very much the same goal. I want the people who come across our stage to be able to reach the audience in a meaningful way and create a real connection with them, even if they only have seven minutes in which to do it.

In the podcast, though, I get to be a more visible part of the conversation, which I appreciate, and it lets me try out some of my own thoughts on the space in a way that I haven’t been able to before. I think the biggest change since I’ve been doing the podcast, though, is the way I look at the people I interact with. Now that I have an amplifying outlet for the insights that I discover, I’ve started to look at people through this lens of “What can you tell my audience? What do you know that other people don’t know?” It’s a really interesting way to talk to people, and in my limited experience so far, I’m finding that I’m learning a lot myself as I ask those questions in my own head.

Finovate: Where do you see the Finovate podcast a year or two from now? What are your goals for the program?

Palmer: I want to grow the show, obviously, and I want to keep bringing a variety of guests in from all across the fintech ecosystem. My ultimate goal, though, is to use this platform as a way to share knowledge, and push the ecosystem to be better. There are a lot of exciting aspects of fintech, but there is so much work to do, and I hope my podcast can help people move forward in a confident way. If the Finovate Podcast can get to a point where it’s helping to inspire people, excite people, or even scare them a little bit, then it’s a huge success in my book.

Find out more about the Finovate Podcast. Want to amplify your message? Get involved as a supporter of the show.

ANZ Bank Posts Podcasts in Snazzy Microsite

Some of the features built into financial websites are at least as much for show as they are for actual customer utility. Podcasts probably fall into that category. Really, who wants to listen to a bank's four-minute treatise on "home loan jargon" or nine minutes on "paying off your home loan sooner" (see screenshot below)? The answer: people serious about understanding the mortgage process and getting a fair price, an important market segment.  

Podcasts are just rebranded versions of streaming audio, a technology that predates Web 2.0, iPods, and even broadband. But today, the name has a definite cachet thanks to Apple, and they draw website viewers, and the occasional listener.

Because of the low cost and favorable ROI, it makes complete sense for financial institutions to repurpose marketing, service, and educational messages into audio files and post them to your website (see previous coverage here). Many of the programs will have a multi-year shelf life, so over time they will get a significant number of plays.

While you are at, spend a few more dollars to do the things Australia's ANZ Bank did in their podcast microsite at <anzpodcasts.com.au>, the best banking audio education center we've seen.

  • Create a microsite with fresh graphics and modern colors (see screenshot below)
  • Use a unique URL to find the site, in this case <anzpodcasts.com>
  • Allow users to subscribe via RSS and iTunes (see bottom of screenshot below)
  • Make it clear that the "podcasts" can be streamed directly to the desktop, right now (see green play buttons below)
  • Post a FAQ with more detail on the podcasts
  • Post a survey to see how the podcasts resonate with customers

Finally, the most important way to leverage the podcast, something often overlooked:

  • Post a transcript of the audio program so that those preferring to skim the information can do so

Note: The top background has moving bars that provide the look of music playing through a graphic equalizer or some type of meter. It's a nice touch, but the bank should turn it off after a few cycles so that it doesn't distract the viewer.

Podcasts and RSS Feeds from City National Bank

We are starting to see RSS feeds used at public financial institutions, primarily to keep shareholders up-to-date on new filings and press releases.

Consumer feeds are still relatively rare, but are growing quickly. By this time next year, we predict as many as half of all major U.S. banks and credit unions will be producing feeds as part of their online marketing mix.*

One bank in front of the curve is Beverly Hills-based City National Bank <www.cnb.com>. The bank has seven RSS feeds and three podcasts (see below). They've even added an RSS feed button on the bottom of most website pages (see End Notes). The podcasts are just read-throughs of the articles. That's OK, but the bank should let customers know not to bother subscribing to both. 

Newsfeeds
The newsfeeds are geared primarily towards business users (2 feeds) and shareholders (3 feeds), but there's also a Personal Finance feed and a Market Perspectives feed. The bank has published three Personal Finance articles so far: the first on Aug. 16; another two weeks later on Aug. 30; then, after a two-month hiatus, a third one today.

City National Bank RSS list

Podcasts
The bank is also podcasting more thoroughly than we've seen before, with not one but two monthly podcasts: personal finance and international business. The company also produces a weekly market perspectives podcast (see list below). Users can subscribe to the audio reports via a newsfeed (RSS) or directly into Apple's iTunes using the appropriate button.

City National Bank podcast listing

*Preliminary forecast. See the final forecast numbers in our upcoming report, Online Banking Report #135, Web 2.0-itizing your Bank (to be published in early November).

End Notes (click on link below for more screenshots)

City National homepage includes links to newsfeeds (lower left)
Note also: link to remote deposit capture service (mid-page)

Citynational_home

RSS page loads whenever clicking on an RSS link from another City National page (see RSS button in lower-right corner)

Citynational_rsshome

City National podcast directory (note the integrated iTunes button)

Citynational_podhome

Should You Launch a Financial Podcast?

Fccu_podcast_logoPodcast was voted the 2005 Word of the Year by New Oxford American Dictionary. That alone is enough to make it an interesting marketing technique, even though it’s more associated with music than banking.

So far, two U.S. financial institutions have jumped on the podcasting bandwagon:

  • The first financial podcaster was Stockton, CA-based Financial Center Credit Union <fccuburt.org>. Its rambling, 56-minute first effort, Personal Finance Tips, from CEO Michael Duffy, was posted on Apple’s iTunes on August 30. The program is more philosophical than factual and sounds almost unscripted, as if the CEO just sat down and talked about whatever came to mind for an hour. It’s hard to imagine anyone other than his mother or marketing manager listening to the whole thing. Since then, they’ve published two more installments of the series: a 31-minute Personal Finance Tips, posted Oct 17, and a nine-minute discussion of phishing and pharming on Dec. 14. The latter program, which did NOT feature the CEO, was a more appropriate length and dealt with facts and actionable information.

    Fccu_podcast_page_1While the content is of questionable value, the website design is good, positioning the CU as hip and with it. The podcast series is entitled, Talkin’ About the Benjamins, and features a clever visual of Ben Franklin with the signature Apple earphones on his head (see inset above left). The credit union has a link on its homepage to a dedicated podcast page (click on inset above for closeup) that explains how to subscribe to the series via Apple’s iTunes site or to download directly from the CU site in MP3 format.
  • The first bank to post a podcast was UMB Bank <umb.com> out of Kansas Umb_podcast_1City. The first of the three planned recordings was posted Dec. 5, The Ins and Outs of 401(k) Retirement Plans. The bank also makes its podcast available for free downloading at the iTunes store or directly at the bank’s website. The recording is a question-and-answer session with UMB Portfolio Manager Casey Matthews. The UMB program is also relatively amateurish, with the participants nervously chuckling at their own jokes. At more than 24 minutes, it’s too long, but for a listener with little knowledge of retirement plans, it’s not a bad educational program.

    In contrast to the marquee placement of FCCU’s podcasts, UMB bank buries the program in the middle of a long list of content within the News and Information part of the website (click on inset above for a closeup). This considerably diminishes the marketing value.

Analysis
The question isn’t really whether to podcast or not, but rather whether audio/visual content should be added to your website. The answer to the second question is a resounding YES. It’s time to leverage the high-speed Internet connections enjoyed by the majority of your customers with professional audio and video content. There are numerous programming tools that can be used; the most common is Macromedia FLASH, to develop good audio and video programming.

There isn’t really a pressing need to provide the information in the proprietary iPod format. The number of users who will want to download your sales pitch and listen to it on the train ride home can be counted on one hand. However, given the hype surrounding everything iPod, it’s not a bad idea to post your work as an iPod recording.

If you do end up with a podcast, keep these tips in mind:

  • Keep it short and to the point: Strive for a tight, overall length of no more than 5 to 10 minutes. If the subject matter needs more time, break the broadcast into multiple parts.
  • Make it professional: Listeners expect a degree of professionalism from their bank that they don’t expect from other podcasters. If you can’t afford to hire a pro to develop the program, try tapping into the eager broadcasting majors at a local university or community college. At the very least, develop a script and practice before broadcasting.
  • Use a Q&A format: We like UMB’s format, pairing an interviewer with a bank expert. Had they kept to the 10-minute limit, it would have been worth listening to.
  • Lose the humor: Banking is serious. It’s OK to use some humor in advertising and promotion, but a broadcast from the bank should not include any attempts at humor, and NO laughing at your own jokes.
  • Post it at iTunes: Easily explain how to find it, so that users can quickly subscribe to future broadcasts.
  • Most important, marry the audio broadcast with visual aids: UMB’s 24-minute podcast on retirement savings would be much more effective with supporting visuals, especially as they run through several examples of after-tax returns of various investment options. A standard webcast using PowerPoint and an audio presentation would be far more effective, although less likely to land you a write-up in the local newspaper.

JB