FinovateAsia: Finding Opportunities in Emerging Markets and Financial Inclusion

Day Four of FinovateAsia Digital focused on two issues that have only become more pressing in recent months: the role of emerging markets as sources of innovation and new markets in fintech, and the rise of financial inclusion as a moral – as opposed to simply economic – imperative.

For many entrepreneurs, corporate leaders, and consumers the fact that these themes have come to the forefront in 2020 is bittersweet. Global interconnectivity is now challenged by coronavirus-fighting lockdowns and quarantines. Efforts to bring more diverse voices to the fintech industry – and to bring the benefits of financial technology to more people – will put additional pressure on companies and entrepreneurs who are already negotiating technological disruption, increased competition, and economic uncertainty.

Here are some of the highlights from the fourth day of our all-digital conference. Visit our FinovateAsia Digital hub and register today to join us for hours of live and On Demand access to more insightful commentary on the trends shaping fintech innovation in the Asia-Pacific region.

On the importance of technology as a tool in advancing financial inclusion around the world

How can we use technology to include more people in the formal financial system? How can we reduce (the number of) unbanked and underbanked? Perhaps by 50% or more by 2022?

Half of the world’s unbanked adults reside in Asia. And there are more women than men who are unbanked. We can use technology to change that. Some of the top reasons for not having an account in a financial institution include: not having enough money, it costs too much to open an account; it’s too far to get to a branch; there’s not enough or insufficient documentation to prove you are who you say you are; or a lack of trust. A lot of these can be resolved with the proper business models, value proposition, and technology.

–Theodora Lau, Founder, Unconventional Ventures

On the biggest challenge Singapore faces in maximizing its opportunity as an international fintech hub

For us, for Singapore in particular, I think the ability for the cross-border business activity to start to pick up again (is key). Clearly during COVID-19 elements of that would have slowed down. So at the moment most countries are thinking about how do we get our domestic market back in shape again.

And the way that Singapore (sees it) – and I think this is a view from quite a few countries, not just around the region, but around the world – is if we start to think just domestically, then we miss a big trick here in terms of real growth and that will materially impact GDP. And so you have to start thinking about things as collections of countries, as regions, as a world. Because that way, if we all kind of plug together, we can stand up together rather than the opposite of that where everyone becomes a bit more nationalistic, the barriers come up, and we all end up a little bit worse off in terms of business activity.

–Pat Patel, Principal Executive Officer, Monetary Authority of Singapore

On the role of readiness and the public sector in helping the fintech industry survive COVID-19

It’s a difficult time to be a fintech, but when you look at the various different aspects that make this challenging, with collaboration, sales, these are things that many successful fintechs have had in place in southeast Asia for many years – and indeed globally.

We’ve been talking to a number of B2B fintech companies that are doing very well in the roboadvisor space, in the payments space. It’s one of those areas that, before COVID-19 started, you really needed to be ready for it. And after COVID-19, it’s even more important to have those collaboration tools and remote sales tools in place.

–Zennon Kapron, Founder & Director, Kapronasia

Available both live (Singapore time) and On Demand during the conference week, FinovateAsia Digital is a unique opportunity for those interested in learning more about fintech in the Asia-Pacific region. Browse our all-digital presentations, interviews, and discussions; network with fellow attendees; and gain key insights into the trends driving fintech innovation in critical, emerging markets. Visit our FinovateAsia Digital Hub and register today.

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Adapting to Make Payments from 6 Feet Away

NCR has been in the finance industry since 1884, so it’s seen a lot of changes in how consumers make payments and interact with their bank.

Adam Crighton

A lot of those changes have taken place in the past six months as the coronavirus has driven massive changes in consumer habits.

To get a sense of what the industry looks like from a company that makes not only software services but also self-service kiosks, point-of-sale terminals, ATMs, barcode scanners, and more, we consulted Adam Crighton, Senior Vice President & General Manager at NCR Digital-First Self-Service Banking.

What changes in demand for contactless banking have you seen since the coronavirus hit?

Adam Crighton: Obviously at a time when bankers and tellers are unable to service customers face-to-face, digital experiences really have become a lifeline for many people. People are using digital banking to conduct transactions from home, they are connecting with tellers and branch staff through live digital chat sessions, and self-service capabilities like Interactive Teller Machines (ITMs).

With that heightened need for customers and businesses to connect remotely, some financial institutions may be feeling they have fallen behind in terms of digital delivery and digital transformation. The pandemic has not created this level of demand, but it is fair to say it has certainly accelerated it. We do see that many customers that prior to banking were not using digital banking are now much more inclined to try a digital app or self-service kiosk.

How has NCR adapted (or accelerated the scale of) its products and services to suit these new needs?

Crighton: From an NCR perspective our mission is to help our customers keep commerce running whether it’s banking, retail, or restaurants and to really stay connected with their customer base. Many of our customers that have invested in our digital banking solutions and ITMs over the last several years have told us that it has really been their go-to in terms of leveraging these technology platforms to compensate for things like branch closures, and generally more limited access to branches based on restrictions around the world.

Keeping their staff and customers safe is obviously something very top-of-mind at the moment while still trying to provide a high level of service that is convenient, intuitive, easy-to-use, and accessible on an extended basis. The digital and self-service channel has always been safe and trusted channel from a customer and client perspective, and I think that the situation and circumstances around the pandemic have actually strengthened and reinforced the strategic value of how it can help our customers support their customers.

Additionally, we have introduced innovative new offerings. Take, for example, our Anti-Microbial Coating Service for self-checkout machines, ATMs, point-of-sale machines including restaurant kiosks – which significantly limits the ability for viruses to live on surfaces, reducing the possibility of transmission through touch.

What types of systems did you have in place before the virus hit that helped you remain agile to pivot or accelerate operations to serve the increased demand for contactless banking?

Crighton: NCR is uniquely positioned to help our customers continue to deliver great service to their customers in the new environment that we are all operating in. We are migrating at different paces in different countries and geographies out of the pandemic slowly but surely and encouragingly, and we need to be thoughtful about which consumer behavior expectations will remain with us going forward and how can we provide value add and assist our customers in how they evolve the branch ecosystem going forward.

Self-service historically has been very much focused on the consumers for obvious reasons, and the pandemic from a work environment point of view has considerations and implications for all of us. So one aspect of the environment that the pandemic has created is the opportunity to collaborate with our customers and consider how the branch ecosystem evolves from the perspective of the branch staff and what we can do from a self-service technology and software point of view. We can evolve our operations in a way that adds value and helps staff to be more efficient going forward and realign their focus potentially, but most importantly, support a very safe working environment.

Specifically looking at in-person payments, what do you think the landscape will look like a couple of years from now after the dust has settled with the coronavirus?

Crighton: NCR is helping retailers minimize the amount of time spent touching things in the store via touchless tech that helps customers go through self-checkout without touching anything, by scanning and paying on their mobile device in the store, and physical distancing tech, which helps store clerks clear transactions on mobile device while staying six feet apart from the customer.

NCR is helping restaurant customers shift to a digital-first mindset and stay operational enabling the restaurant for takeout, with contactless solutions, curbside ordering and pick-up, mobile payments — from the way food is served to how we pay the check.

How about in-person banking needs such as ATMs and teller services? What will these services look like?

Crighton: From our perspective we feel strongly that banks, financial institutions and credit unions should really shift their focus to a digital-first mindset. Not a digital-only mindset, but certainly a digital-first mindset.

Obviously at a time when bankers and tellers are unable to service customers face-to-face, digital experiences really have become a lifeline for many people. People are using digital banking to conduct transactions from home, they are connecting with tellers and branch staff through live digital chat sessions, and self-service capabilities like ITMs. Certainly we believe many of these behaviors will continue into the future.

Photo by Morning Brew on Unsplash

Kids Love Cash: Insights from the COVID-19 Crisis

If digital transformation is sweeping financial services – and this trend has been accelerated by the global public health crisis, as we are often told – then what’s up with the huge and enduring demand for cash?

“I certainly would have expected, if you’d asked me prior to COVID: would COVID put a big dent in cash? I would have said “absolutely” because not only are people not going out, it has a dirty connotation to it,” Fiserv Senior Vice President David Keenan said during the Q&A portion of his recent webinar presentation, Looking Under the Hood of Today’s Payments Ecosystem.

“And yet if you look at the data,” he added, “that’s not what’s happening.”

This was one of many fascinating takeaways from Keenan’s research on payment trends in the COVID-19 era. That research was presented this week in a webinar that also looked at the rise of digital enablement in financial services and the inevitable transition to real-time payments. Keenan’s presentation is now available for viewing on an on-demand basis.

Toward the end of his discussion, which explained how and why companies need to be able to provide “the right options at the right time to create a winning payment experience,” we asked the Fiserv SVP why he began his presentation, which featured insights on digital enablement and real-time payments, with a discussion on the importance and endurance of cash.

Keenan said the decision to start with cash was deliberate – and given the program’s theme of “safe, fast, convenient payments” it is perhaps easy to understand why. For all of cash’s drawbacks – including the fact that paper money increasingly is seen as “dirty” in an ever-more touchless world – Keenan showed research from the Federal Reserve indicating that cash remains a preferred payment method in the U.S. – only trailing debit. Moreover, for about 85% of those surveyed, cash usage over the past 12 months had remained the same, or increased.

But perhaps most interestingly, this data also revealed that cash’s most passionate champions are under the age of 25. And this preference for paper money does not take away from GenZ’s appreciation of debit, which is on par with 25-to-34 year old, 35-to-44 year old, and 45-to-54 year old cohorts. Nor was credit usage impacted by GenZ’s preference for cash; GenZ credit usage was comparable with both 25-to-34 year old and 35-to-44 year old age groups. The main difference between GenZ and other cohorts was in the use of electronic payments, where its usage was typically half that of other groups surveyed.

A further note on the enduring preference for cash: while cash usage patterns have returned to trend after a brief, coronavirus-induced drop in March, the amounts of cash being used – which began increasing in March – have remained elevated.

Keenan speculated that what might blunt these accelerating cash trends could be a major response to the coronavirus – such as a vaccine. He said, “as long as we’re living in this one-step-at-a-time, back-to-the-new-normal, we believe cash is going to be an important part (of payments).”

Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

Ethical AI, Corporate Governance, and the Future of Financial Services

For every conversation about AI that begins with insects, moves quickly through primates, and then launches into the stratosphere of high-minded conceptions of superintelligence, talk about artificial intelligence among executives and entrepreneurs in the financial services and fintech world is far more grounded.

This was the message from Clara Durodié, CEO of the Cognitive Finance Group and author of Decoding AI in Financial Services: Business Implications for Boards and Professionals. Among the more provocative speakers at our conference in Berlin earlier this year, Durodié is likely to make an equally strong impression in her return to Finovate as part of our all-digital FinovateAsia conference in July.

“Technology is a tool to support the business, not a toy to engage and have fun in excellence centers,” she announced early in her address to our FinovateEurope audience. “Technology in our industry is a serious tool. (Technology) needs to follow business strategy, not the other way around.” She likened the responsibility to use technology ethically and with purpose to the responsibility of earning a license to drive. Durodié made it clear that, like a driver and a passenger sitting side by side in a moving vehicle, both technology creators and technology users stand to benefit from a commitment to responsible behavior.

Businesses that embrace a more ethical approach to technology – especially a technology as powerful as AI – are also those that are most likely and able to transition away from what Durodié has called a “product-centric” today to a “customer-centric” tomorrow. She has pointed out that AI can be a powerful tool for personalization in business contexts, while simultaneously enabling companies to move to a qualitatively and quantitatively new level in terms of automated business processes.

“The work we do is around deployment of ethnical AI for business growth and profitability.”

Who makes sure this happens? While the immediate onus is clearly on the business leader, CEO, or founder, Durodié emphasized that much of the business’ leadership will – or should – come from its board of directors, particularly in high-level areas like corporate governance, business strategy, and fiduciary responsibility, where ethical guidance is paramount. “This is challenge number one,” she said of startups and their relationship with their board of directors.

And not just any board of directors. Durodié referenced a study from MIT that indicated that simply having one individual with a “technology” background on a board of directors improved the likelihood that the company working with that board would yield 38% return on assets on a yearly basis. “And if you compound that every year,” Durodié added, “you can see why the people who actually do things right from the beginning will be ahead of the game.”

For Durodié, the conversation on governance is intimately linked (“married forever”) with the conversation on ethics, and it is important that companies develop processes and systems that are “explainable, auditable, and accountable.” This is especially important when the data involved is financial data, and when the technologies to be deployed against this data are as powerful as AI.

“Financial data on our customers is highly sensitive. And we need to treat it as such and protect it as such,” Durodié said. She noted that the companies that will succeed in effectively deploying AI will understand this challenge, and have the moral compass to build tools that are “robust and helpful.” “Algorithms have parents,” she noted. “Every bias, every conditioning we have, comes through the way we generate the data and design systems. It’s very important.”

Check out Clara Durodié’s keynote address from FinovateEurope. And visit our FinovateAsia page to learn more about her upcoming participation in our all-digital, fintech summer conference in July.

Cognitive Finance Group is a specialist consultancy that advises boards of directors on best practices in the adoption, selection, and implementation of AI-based systems.

Tools for Digital Transformation in the COVID-19 Era

Photo credit: Georg Eiermann

With ongoing stay-at-home orders in place due to COVID-19, companies of all sizes across many industries have had to find a way to take their operations into the digital realm. So while digital transformation had previously been on financial services firms’ radars, it has quickly evolved into a priority.

Bajaj Allianz has experienced particular success with its digital transformation efforts. To get some insight into best practices, we caught up with KV Dipu, President – Head Operations, Customer Service & Communities of Bajaj Allianz.

Many firms have recently had to fast-track their digital transformation efforts. What is your advice to ensure a smooth transition?

KV Dipu: The key is to move from the classic two-speed approach to a big bang approach. Since the accelerator (CEO, CXO or COVID-19 – no prizes for guessing!) for digital transformation is obvious, the most effective starting point is the touch point which generates maximum friction in terms of process performance vs. customer feedback. Secondly, transformation efforts follow use cases, not the other way around. Only when business owners own use cases do transformation efforts bear fruit! Thirdly, look for early wins to create competitive fervor across departments.

Disproportionate awards for early birds can help propel the lagging units forward. Fourthly, since deployment and adoption are entirely different buckets of fish, a strong reward program for fast adoption helps. Lastly, agility – defined here as the ability to recalibrate one’s approach with amoebic speed- in an era when the situation is changing by the day is important to carry the transformation through!

Bajaj Allianz has success in collecting and digitizing data with IoT-based devices. Talk to us about this initiative.

KV Dipu: Charles Darwin said, “It is the long history of humankind that those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.”

At Bajaj Allianz, we strongly focus on collaboration and 100% adherence to regulatory compliance when initiating IoT projects. DriveSmart, our IoT-based telematics program, offers five unique benefits to customers: driving optimization, geofencing, 24/7 road assistance, social integration, and gamification. Some of these benefits are possible only through IoT. For instance, geofencing lets you know if the car strays off the beaten path! Similarly, social integration lets you know if a friend is on the route to your weekend destination!

Likewise, when we launched our “connected school” initiative which included an IoT-enabled solution combining safety, security, as well as insurance coverage for school students, we addressed parents’ worries around school travel. We tracked children using RFID cards and geofenced their travel routes to ensure maximum safety.

Do you have other IoT device projects in the works?

KV Dipu: We have also leveraged IoT to digitize our health insurance medical check-up process. It is now automated and paperless end–to-end; we even won the Celent Model Insurer 2020 Award for the same!

What other tools have you relied on to enhance digital operations?

KV Dipu: We have deployed an array of tools to enhance digital operations. For starters, we walked the talk on blockchain when we deployed it in the area of claim settlement for international travel insurance. In case your flight is delayed beyond the terms and conditions in the policy, you don’t even need to notify us of the claim! Once you submit your documents, we get to know of the flight delay and can send you the amount even when you are still in the airport. Similarly, our bot leverages AI to offer 24/7 assistance via the website, Whatsapp, and even Alexa! We have also deployed robotic process automation (RPA) to automate a range of activities in the back office.

One of the most difficult aspects to digitize can be tools that rely heavily on collaboration and communication. What was your experience in making communication digital?

KV Dipu: We have had a wonderful experience making our communication digital! Our motto during the current phase of social distancing was to stay digitally connected with our employees, customers, and partners while being physically distanced. With our employees and partners, work from home became an opportunity to bond from home by celebrating virtual birthday parties and organizing painting, cooking, and singing team activities using digital collaboration tools. With customers, digitizing communication involved a shift from the call centre to digital servicing tools such as Whatsapp, bots, website, app, and portal.

We also leveraged social media to connect with customers. The highlight was digital launches of new products! In fact, based on recent engagement levels, we scored the highest brand engagement rate in the insurance industry! Since we continuously engaged our customers using email, SMS, and digital platforms and enabled transactions on digital assets, our customer satisfaction scores actually improved!

How are you balancing the need to keep things as stable as possible for customers and employees during an uncertain time with the need to drive digital change?

KV Dipu: Communication is the key when trying to perform a balancing act between stability for the present and digital change for the future. We embarked on a multi-modal communication exercise, informing customers that we are just a call or click away. With employees, we propelled our home-grown engagement program christened “Celebrating You” with a strong focus on four fulcrums: fun at work, digital learning, virtual town halls, and videos and podcasts for mental health and physical workout tips.

Digital change gets established as customers experience the ease and convenience of digital assets. Work from home, for instance, given the win-win for both – employees save on commutes to work, firms save on expensive real estate – is likely to be a permanent feature. Similarly bots, Whatsapp, portals, and websites with 1-click features are here to stay. Tomorrow’s organization chart may well show a manager leading a team of both humans and machines!

Personalization and One-to-One Communication

Gregg Hammerman has seen first hand what works when it comes to personalization. In fact, in 2012, he launched a company built around the entire premise of personalization.

Hammerman is now CEO of Larky, a mobile engagement platform that enables financial institutions to put the right message on an account holders’ lock screen at the right place and time. However, personalization and push notifications– while effective– can be difficult to implement. Not only do the timing and location have to be perfect, there is a careful balance between messaging and spam. On top of that, privacy is often a top concern for both financial institutions and their end users.

We caught up with Hammerman to tap his expertise on implementing a personalized user experience.

When it comes to personalization in fintech we often hear of sending offers to the right consumer at the right time in the right place. What is the most challenging aspect of this?

Hammerman: It’s critical to make sure that these communications are relevant, meaningful, and helpful to the consumer. We work closely with financial institutions to create experiences that use these communications to make people feel like they are part of a special club.

Three key things make our programs a success. First, we recommend segmenting an audience so you can tailor messaging for a person who has a mortgage, someone who recently purchased a car, a student with a new checking account, and other unique parameters that shape consumer habits. Second, scarcity is a powerful component. Consumers want to know that they have access to something special that isn’t available to everyone. Third, communications need to be fresh. Consumers want to see new messages and new experience opportunities on a regular basis.

What measures does Larky have in place to keep banks from fatiguing their customers with too many alerts and messages?

Hammerman: We work closely with our financial institution clients to give them complete control over how they communicate with their customers. The financial institution is always able to increase or decrease messaging frequency based on what is the best fit for their audience.

From an end-user perspective, account holders can snooze messages, turn off some types of notifications, and more. A lot of this discussion returns to making sure that these communications have high value. If every time I go for an auto repair, my financial institution tells me that I can save $100 because I’m a valued account holder, I’ll never fatigue from that message.

Thinking about geo-targeting, how does Larky balance a user’s privacy with the need to know their physical location?

Hammerman: Larky has been on the forefront of user privacy since our initial solution launched in 2013. We believe that users have the right to access any information that is collected or stored about them, and the right to obtain that information and have it destroyed if desired.

We are in compliance with all regulations from Europe and California. We plan to continue to lead and innovate on privacy. We don’t sell the data that passes through our servers. It’s not part of our business model. We have never and will never share any user information with any third parties.

Aside from knowing a consumer’s location and the best time to send a relevant offer, how else does Larky help banks with personalization?

Hammerman: We’re now working with financial institutions to leverage data from their other systems to help personalize communications. For example, we help improve new account holder onboarding with touchpoints that welcome and educate new clients and help them become more engaged with the financial institution.

We’re able to help financial institutions create campaigns that reach out to only their account holders who have an auto loan, just one account with the financial institution, recently started direct deposit of their paycheck, and much more. We’re finding that partnering with financial institutions to personalize the right message to the right consumer increases the impact of the campaign and includes account holder engagement.

Apiax on Why 2020 is Turning Out to Be the Year for Regtech

News from regtech companies has been flowing in 2020. Not only that, we saw significantly more regtech companies at FinovateEurope earlier this year than we have at previous events.

To get some insight into what’s driving this, we caught up with Apiax Co-founder Ralf Huber, who has over 16 years of legal and compliance experience within the financial industry and helped launch Apiax in 2017.

Talk to us about how Apiax makes regulations digital. Aren’t most regulations already available in a digital format?

Ralf Huber: Yes and no. It depends on your definition. PDF documents are technically a “digital format” but they are one-dimensional and still require a lot of manual interpretation. Truly digital is, in our meaning, responsive and machine-readable regulations.

Considering the pace of innovation in business you would expect to find more digital solutions in legal and compliance, but in reality it is lagging far behind with manual processes and text-based resources. As well as costly and inefficient, the ambiguous terminology can be difficult to interpret, which ultimately puts the business at risk. We want to change that.

At Apiax, we transform text-based manuals into responsive and machine-readable compliance rules. These rules combine individual case attributes with relevant regulations for precise dos and don’ts to any given business scenario.

In practice, you can access guidelines through user-friendly apps and be compliant at the touch of a button – as opposed to reading 50+ pages from a policy or manual. Alternatively, companies can integrate the rules directly into their internal applications and workflows to serve as a “compliance plug-in.”

What is behind the name “Apiax”?

Huber: Apiax simply refers to what it enables you to do.

API stands for Application Programming Interface and is the technology we use to integrate our compliance rules into digital processes, like a compliance layer. It allows for rules to work behind the scenes of existing infrastructure to identify, block, or notify of noncompliant actions. Once compliance has gone digital, it supports business growth and helps create highly efficient processes whereby compliance is the only possible outcome. This is also known as compliance by design.

AX refers to “ask,” a spelling version used historically and still today in some parts of the world. In other words – ask the API!

How has COVID-19 impacted Apiax? Have any opportunities arisen out of the crisis?

Huber: COVID-19 has shaken entire industries and many companies have had to re-evaluate core business practices and compliance frameworks because of it.

We at Apiax trust the capabilities of technology and understand its central role in making organizations lean and resilient. Our digital-first solutions reflect the way we already operate and do business ourselves.

Lately, we have seen broader industry endorsement as financial institutions aim to keep their compliance units operational when team availability becomes challenging. Many companies look for ways to digitalise their core client-facing processes, a transition which requires machine-readable compliance expertise. Paper-based documentation and text-based policies do not fit into this digital workplace and accessibility is poor.

Now, more than ever, it is important to share know-how seamlessly and independently of team availability — especially with business stakeholders. Adapting to today’s challenges will help shape future best practices and key processes. We will all learn and come out of this better equipped to tackle uncertainties and change. In the meantime, we are here to help with that transition. Simply drop us a message.

Regtech seems to be becoming more mainstream in fintech. Tell us why 2020 is turning out to be the year for regtech solutions?

Huber: RegTech has traditionally taken hold in the financial services industry with its undergoing wave of technology and constant regulatory scrutiny. Building on a tough decade of post-recession initiatives and an influx of financial regulations, many organizations look for ways to minimize the burden and spend of compliance measures in favor of growth objectives and innovation.

Meanwhile, technology has made it possible to add user experience and accessibility to regulation – two concepts that used to be far away from each other. RegTech enables organizations to better stay in line with compliance standards whilst materializing growth plans with a stronger go-to-market readiness.

If you missed Apiax’s demo at FinovateEurope earlier this year, you can watch the full demo video below.

Building a Financial Advisor for Main Street America

We recently chatted with SuperMoney Founder and CEO Miron Lulic to give us an update on the company’s platform that helps consumers reach their financial goals.

Miron, who strives on “creating something from nothing,” founded SuperMoney in 2013. The California-based company has raised $1 million and topped $2 billion in loan requests on its platform last August.

SuperMoney’s mission is to help Americans reach their financial goals. Tell us a bit about how you do that.

Miron Lulic: SuperMoney offers the most comprehensive, transparent and objective resource to compare financial services. There are a lot of personal finance blogs that write articles for whatever service is offering the best payout. SuperMoney is built as a platform to help find any financial product or service. The content found on our product profiles are dynamically generated based on stored data attributes. We are better than anyone at giving people the facts. Our community members provide a qualitative dimension about their experiences by indicating whether they would recommend or not recommend a service. These two dimensions combined help people make better financial decisions.

Furthermore we’ve made it easy for people to get competing personal loan, auto loan, auto refinance, and student loan refinance offers through our loan offer engine. We’re tightly integrated with all the leading online lenders so that consumers can submit a single application and get real loan offers back in real time.

Lastly, we provide a lot of financial education content that is financial goal focused. We are diligently working on expanding our ability to give people actionable advice that goes beyond basic content.

SuperMoney helps users with a handful of financial goals– from buying a house to getting out of debt. Which of these goals is most popular among your user base?

Lulic: Getting out of debt is the most common goal among our users. Our platform helps consumers find the best financial strategies for their unique circumstances. In some cases, that means refinancing credit card debt with a debt consolidation loan. For others, it might mean talking to a credit counselor.

We like to refer to ourselves as the “Financial Advisor for Main Street America.” Most Americans are not looking for help with tax loss harvesting strategies. They are looking to get out of debt, establish savings, and eventually buy a home. We are building the tools to help tackle these basic goals.

What is SuperMoney’s business model? How do you make money?

Lulic: We sometimes, (but not always), receive compensation when we refer users to financial service providers found on our website. This is similar to the model sites like Nerdwallet and Credit Karma use. The difference is that our unified platform provides the tools to compare a wide selection of financial services in an objective way, not just the ones that provide us with compensation.

In 2018, SuperMoney launched a product to help small businesses offer POS financing options to their clients. Do you plan to extend this further, for example, to larger businesses or to online retailers?

Lulic: Yes, we are in the final stages of launching an exciting new service that will open our financing platform up to a broader set of partners. We hope this will help millions of new users make smarter and more informed choices.

What’s next in the innovation pipeline for SuperMoney?

Lulic: We feel there is a huge opportunity to leverage artificial intelligence in the financial advice and planning arena. This is already happening in the investment sector with roboadvisors and AI-powered analysis. Yet, we have hardly scratched the surface when it comes to personal financial planning for everyday consumers. Our goal is to simplify the experience and provide smarter suggestions to users who are looking for basic financial advice.

Technology, Financial Inclusion, and Banking in Frontier Markets

As the current COVID-19 pandemic reminds us, technology has a critical role in helping us respond to unforeseen events. Whether it is development of treatments and vaccines in the case of public health emergencies, or the ability to offer services and solutions to keep businesses running and workforces productive, technological innovation takes on an entirely different light at times of crisis.

One of the major themes of our FinovateEurope conference in February had to do with the ethical deployment of these financial technologies in areas like emerging markets and the frontier. These are regions where challenges from public health crisis to financial inequality can be all the more acute.

Mel Tsiaprazis, Group Chief Operating Officer at Crown Agents Bank, is one of the women who helped lead that conversation at our event in Berlin. A financial services specialist with international experience in markets such as Europe, Asia, and Oceania, Tsiaprazis believes that the combination of financial inclusion and financial education is key to ensuring financial wellness for future generations. Much of her support for diversity in financial services is revealed in the work she does as an angel investor and advisor for fintech startups.

We caught up with Ms. Tsiaprazis to discuss her work at Crown Agents Bank, the importance of ethics in fintech innovation, and the challenges of banking on the financial frontier.

Finovate: You are relatively new to the post of COO at the bank – What have been some of your early priorities?

Mel Tsiaprazis: It’s my nature to dive straight into a new challenge, so while it’s only been a year I feel like we’ve already made great progress. My priority when joining was to help drive the bank’s ambitious plans for digital transformation, so making sure we have the right infrastructure and passion to build on our technology focus has been really important. Joining at the same time as the Segovia acquisition was announced, then running with the integration, was really exciting. You can feel that becoming more technology-driven has helped keep us agile and pushing for more.

Finovate: Can you tell us a little about Crown Agents Bank and the markets it serves?

Tsiaprazis: In simple terms, Crown Agents Bank moves money to, from, and across developing, emerging, and frontier markets. We really pride ourselves on serving markets that most other players can’t. Many players don’t have the adaptability of a boutique bank like CAB or the unique relationships and expertise that we have built up over nearly two centuries, which is part of why it’s crucial we continue to serve these territories. For many countries, we provide vital access to the international market, by offering cross-border payments and FX solutions.

Our coverage spans the Caribbean, Central and South America, Asia Pacific, and our knowledge of Africa is particularly high. Within these regions, there are countries that are particularly vulnerable to natural disasters or political and economic volatility, so our services are often essential for enabling aid to reach the people who need it most.

Finovate: You participated in our FinovateEurope Power Panel on AI and Data Management in February. What were the key points you emphasized in that discussion?

Tsiaprazis: That was a really fantastic discussion! One of the key points I emphasized on the panel was how AI can help to solve societal challenges. A lot of governments worldwide are rushing to foster AI investment and develop formal AI frameworks to help spur economic and technological growth, and we need to pay close attention to the positive impact that this boom can have.

The other thing that I think is important in every AI discussion is to talk about how we can shift from fear to acceptance. What many people don’t realize is how ingrained AI already is in our daily lives – and how helpful it is – so as an industry we need to help people recognize the benefits of AI and build trust.

Finovate: You’ve spoken before about the challenges of developing or frontier markets when it comes to the lack of liquidity in local currency and the lack of financial services infrastructure. Are there ways that technology can respond to these concerns?

Tsiaprazis: Technology is an absolutely crucial part of the solution to these issues. Low liquidity and poor or absent financial infrastructure have been an issue in frontier markets for generations, but the strides we’ve made in technology over the last few years have and will be transformational.

For example, automation has already made a considerable difference in trading currencies in terms of reducing the time and cost of transactions. For markets where a large volume of cash inflow comes from remittance payments, minimizing the cost for the sender is really vital.

We’ve already seen how mobile wallets can transform access to financial services for a population. M-Pesa in Kenya is still a fantastic example of how technology leapfrogs a lack of infrastructure to reach consumers. Our payments gateway, powered by Segovia, enables International Development Organizations, for example, to reach individuals directly by allowing them to pay into mobile wallets.

Technology provides optionality in markets where financial infrastructure is considered to still be developing. We are proud to be able to offer FX to last mile delivery payment options from ACH to mobile transactions.

Finovate: One of the interesting things I’ve heard you discuss is the mutually-reinforcing relationship between financial inclusion and the need for better knowledge of local markets. Can you explain the importance of this mutually-reinforcing relationship?

Tsiaprazis: The lack of local knowledge of emerging and frontier markets can make it exceptionally difficult to serve those with limited infrastructure in the right way. A strong understanding of local financial processes and more complex environments are vital to providing financial services in hard-to-reach territories. It also helps to build trust and relationships with key organizations in that region.

Where the relationship becomes mutually reinforced is when financial inclusion increases and we get more data on people within the market. As we understand consumer behaviors and markets are better understood, more players are willing to serve them and we are able to reach more people with financial services. When the two complement each other well, we can make a real difference in improving access to these services.

Finovate: You champion gender diversity in the financial services industry through angel advice and investment in startups that support this cause. Who are some of these companies – especially in financial services? Why do you think it is an effective way to bring about the change you seek?

Tsiaprazis: Diversity is vital in all forms. It comes in numerous guises including but not limited to race, age, gender, and work experience. It is all important to the future profitability and health of an organization. Gender challenges more specifically though, within the world of startups are exacerbated. When looking for investments, I factor in BCG research which showed startups launched by women are significantly better financial investments. For every dollar of funding, startups launched by women generate 78 cents, while male-founded startups generate less than half of that at just 31 cents. Sadly, I am also very alert to the fact that only 3% of the total capital invested in 2018 in U.K. fintech companies went to firms with female founders. This challenge isn’t only in startups, we see this gender fragmentation in the top VC firms that invest in startups with only 7% of partners in the top 100 VC firms are women, according to research by Crunchbase.

While 72% of founders say that diversity in their startup is extremely or very important, only 12% of startups are diversity leaders in practice. With only 1 in 10 startups having diversity leaders, I place greater emphasis on this 10% portion not because of their background, but because startup track record shows these are sound investments. The question remains, how do we actively change the distribution of investment? How do we encourage a broader more diverse group of co-founders/startup colleagues? In my experience, the latter is answered by not only focusing on recruitment, but on retention strategies for diverse backgrounds (perhaps targeted at working/single parents, apprenticeship-like approach for high school leavers or non-degree colleagues). Encouraging a workforce reflective of your client base starts with recruitment but ends with retention.

There is no magic bullet to solve this challenge. My advice to those thinking of starting a startup is to remember you may be a superhero and a brilliant SME, but you can’t do it alone. Be wise on diversity recruitment, prioritize retention even more, and embrace lateral thinking that sets you apart.

KONSULTA’s Roland Woerle on Innovation, Incumbency and Insurtech

The impact of technology on the insurance industry continues to be one of the more underrated developments in fintech. And while the level of disruption varies from one region to another, the intersection of insurance and technology is the growing source of innovation.

This year at FinovateEurope, we spoke with Roland Woerle, founder and partner of, a boutique advisory firm, based in Austria, with a focus on the European insurance industry. KONSULTA helps insurers and brokers increase revenues, improve their customer experience, and manage business transformations.

“We are different, refreshing, highly-competent, fun, value-driven, and 100% customer focused,” Woerle described KONSULTA by way of introduction. “We are trying to help insurance players in their transformation, innovation, and customer/employee value propositions.”

Finovate Research Analyst David Penn talks technology and innovation in insurtech with KONSULTA’s Roland Woerle

Woerle is also senior representative at Vienna-based Match-Maker Ventures, where he helps startups that have already reached the proof-of-concept level scale their businesses. Previously, Woerle spent more than five years as Chief Operations Officer (Nordics/ Austria and CEE) for global financial services firm Aon, and more than ten years as Chief Operating Officer (Austria, CEE, CIS, and Nordics ) for leading insurance broker Marsh.

We talked about the role of technology in accelerating processes in insurance, and which business models benefit the most from the cost savings of technologies ranging from robotics to satellites. We also discussed the key distinction between companies with innovation teams and companies with innovation cultures, and the challenges businesses face in developing the latter from the former.

“Large insurance organizations they are still struggling with (this),” Woerle said. He pointed to issues with the company’s best and brightest often being pre-occupied with other, day-to-day tasks, as well as an incentive structure that does not reward what he called a “try and fail fast” approach to innovation, as major obstacles. Add to that insurance companies’ traditional risk aversion and it’s easy to see why “unconventional ideas,” as Woerle referred to them, face a challenging road to adoption.

Here are some of the top takeaways from our conversation with Roland Woerle this year at FinovateEurope in Berlin.

On platformification and the future of the insurtech

Woerle: (The platform economy) is highly relevant for insurance. We had a good debate in the afternoon, discussing where insurance companies might go into, and how they might become platform providers and solution providers for platforms. The industry as such might evaporate over time and morph into the platforms.

It’s a bit of a scary thought on the one hand. But, on the other hand, it’s a great opportunity for those who actually partner with the right platform providers. They can actually grow and grasp new opportunities in the market.

On the main ways the technology is changing the traditional insurance business

Woerle: I think that there are probably three areas where technology is really changing (insurance). First of all, it primarily speeds up the processes along the insurance value chain. Whether it’s distribution, underwriting, customer service … there’s huge potential for claims … just to make the process faster.

I see also tremendous potential on the B2B side, especially the large B2B speciality insurance lines like marine, where you can actually use satellite tracking, blockchain contracts in much more innovative ways around data analytics to drive down the tremendous costs in that industry.

On the relationship between insurance incumbents and insurtech startups.

Woerle: It’s still a difficult relationship to make work. I guess it’s the same as in the fintech space. It’s one of the things that KONSULTA is actually focusing on. We are working with startups and working with industry leaders to better match them to make sure it’s a win/win case for both of them.

They need to be true partnerships. Incumbents cannot see a startup just as a supplier. This won’t work. They will fail any procurement process. They will not “tick the boxes” which they need to tick. (Incumbents) need to nurture (startups). They need to see them as strategic partners.

So bringing them together, speaking the same language, seeing where value is added on both sides, and how can they make a win/win situation … I think that is the way to succeed.

Watch the full, six-minute interview on Finovate TV.

Why a Focus on CX is More Important Now than Ever

The past couple of years in financial services have brought a lot of discussions about the client experience. In fact, that was the topic of my interview last fall with Martin Lange, Director of Client Experience Strategy at BNY Mellon. Is the sudden focus on customer experience all hype?

“Any of us who have been in client experience for a long time would say it’s been around for awhile,” Lange said, adding, “But the industry is looking for new ways of differentiation. And new ways of differentiation– as we’ve learned from other industries– is the client experience.”


So why is a focus on customer experience more important now than last year, last month (or even last week)? It comes down to differentiation.

Last year we wrote about fintechs vying for customer deposits and mindshare by boosting interest rates on savings accounts up around the 3% mark. With the Federal Reserve cutting rates to near-zero, that strategy will be increasingly difficult to follow through with.

Recognizing that this is a difficult time for everyone, banks can offer consumers two simple things that may be hard to come by to improve the customer experience (and no, it’s not toilet paper).

The first is kindness. When customer service representatives have a kind and friendly disposition over the phone it can bring customers a bright spot, especially if they are in isolation from other human beings. Kind words in email and social media correspondence are also easy ways to retain consumer attention.

Financial services companies can also differentiate themselves with compassion. Waiving certain fees, especially when they are small, can be an easy way to only maintain a customer when they are struggling. Even better, banks can follow in the footsteps of Goldman Sachs, GMC, Ford, and other financial institutions by waiving payments for a month without charging interest. When the economy improves clients will remember which firms stood by them during hard times.


When it comes to challenges in creating a stand-out client experience, Lange noted two hurdles. The first is attribution. Firms need to know that a spike in sales or client acquisition is attributed to certain actions or events, such as an improved user interface, and was not driven by other changes such as pricing or an altered service structure.

“The other challenge is a culture challenge,” said Lange. He explained that instead of structuring operations around process improvements, where employees fall into the habit of looking for the next thing to fix, firms need to be proactive and design an experience first and allow the design to follow that experience.

Leading with a design idea, Lange said, “can be emotional, and it’s based on empathy. It’s not based on Excel spreadsheets, which the industry is very used to… there are human beings that are interacting and we want to design for human beings.”

Check out the full interview with Lange below:

How Banks Make Digital Transformation Work

One of the more consistently insightful observers of the fintech industry, author Chris Skinner, highlighted the rise of central bank digital currencies as one of the more surprising conversations at FinovateEurope this year.

“China’s about to launch one, there’s going to be a digital dollar from the Fed at some point probably,” Skinner said. “And the implications of that on cross border payments and infrastructure was one of the topics that was a little bit off track to me because it hadn’t come up before. So I enjoyed that immensely.”

That said, the man behind and chair of the Financial Services Club spent the majority of our conversation in Berlin talking the discussions he’s had with leaders in the banking industry who are tackling the challenge of digital transformation head on – and succeeding. These insights are at the core of Skinner’s upcoming book, Doing Digital, to be published in April.

Skinner also shared some insights on banks and their role in digital identity management. He noted Head of OP Lab for Finland’s OP Financial Group Kristian Luoma who pointed out that even in a future in which banks aren’t involved in payments or authentication due to intermediaries like Square and Apple ID, for example, there is still a critical role for banks to play. But banks must be ready to share the ball.

“It’s one of the few times I’ve heard a bank actually stating that in such a clear way, because most banks still think they have to own and control everything,” Skinner observed. “The idea of being just a player in a system – that’s the way we have to think for the future.”

Here are some of the top takeaways from our conversation with Chris Skinner this year at FinovateEurope in Berlin.

On why a “bare-knuckle approach” to the challenge of successful digital transformation is appropriate – if not required

Skinner: Digital transformation is not easy, it’s really hard, it takes years, it involves balancing business-as-usual with business-as-unusual, and it’s something that had to be led by the chief executive and chairperson and cannot be delegated. I find too many banks think that digital (transformation) is a project or a function or a budget that can be delegated. But that’s absconding the reality. The reality is that you have to own it.

On the swim-or-sink approach companies that succeed in digital transformation have adopted to ensure a digital-positive culture

Skinner: The most difficult thing in any transformational project is getting the middle management to buy into the project and participate. And commit. Because often the middle management are the most worried about what’s happening. They think they are going to lose their job or they might lose their part of the organization or they might lose their power. They might lose their people. They might lose their promotion. So they fear change rather than embrace it. And it’s really a case of: how do you bring those people with you?

On the progress some innovative banks are making toward digital transformation.

Skinner: One of (the banks I interviewed for Doing Digital) had a head of ecosystems. It’s the first time I ever met anybody at a bank who’s called the “head of ecosystems.” His pure role was to go out and find appropriate partnerships – in the world of APIs and apps and analytics – on open platforms and bring them in to work with the bank. At the time, they had about ten partnerships, and I think today they’ve more than doubled that number. So there are some banks taking it very seriously.

Watch the full, 10-minute interview on Finovate TV.