Where is Banking’s Prime Account?

Where is Banking’s Prime Account?

amazon prime cardOf the 227 reports I authored at the helm of Online Banking Report, I am proudest of Building the Amazon.com of Financial Services written in mid-1998 (see notes 1, 2). The gist of it was that in the Internet era banks should broaden their offerings beyond checking, savings and loans. And importantly, that many of these opportunities did not require a banking charter. In fact, in many cases it would be better to not have one.

While many of those Amazon-like opportunities are still available today, there is also a massive new one. Amazon Prime which accounts for about $6 billion in annual revenue across 70 million subscribers. And that’s just the subscription revenue. It doesn’t include the sales lift across the Amazon marketplace. Considering that Amazon reported $2.4 billion in net income last year, just 40% of estimated Prime revenue, you can see how important it is.

So banks, where is your Prime program? Not free shipping, of course, but the ever-improving bundle of value-add services available for an annual/monthly fee. The price that your most engaged customers will pay to get the very best services you offer.

It’s a classic marketing strategy, right of Mktg 101 or maybe 201. And one that banks used themselves in the 1980s and 1990s when they created Gold, and then Platinum, credit cards chock full of so-called benefits even their product managers didn’t fully understand.

Retail banking, which has left more than $10 billion on the table by offering digital banking services free of charge, can employ this strategy with a bundle of digital services such as:

  • Extra security
  • Credit report alerts
  • Plain language security guarantees & insurance against account theft/fraud
  • Enhanced debit/credit cards
  • Free overdraft protection
  • Ultra-fast server
  • Same-hour customer service response via text/email/voice
  • VIP look-and-feel across all channels

It’s high time to turn digital banking into its own profit center. It will help you properly allocate capital to the growth channels, while investing less in those that are tanking a bit less robust.

Author: Jim Bruene is Founder & Senior Advisor to Finovate as well as
Principal of BUX Advisors, a financial services UX consultancy. 


  1. It was that report that prompted Elon Musk to call me out of the blue one day and ask that I help him with his banking startup, X.com, which eventually morphed into PayPal. Although, stupidly I didn’t pursue the job opportunity, I did consult for him during X.com’s first year when they were still trying to buy or build a commercial bank (against all my advice).
  2. The report was updated in late 2000.

Mobile Paths

Mobile Paths

mobile banking clipMobile has been an important part of banking for six or seven years, but have you recently thought through the longer-term strategic implications?

For younger customers, the relationship with their bank, like with most large tech companies, is through their phone. Young customers don’t even think about the people behind the service. As long as it’s working.

Given this reality you have two choices.

  1. Embrace the anonymous service provider model of Google, Microsoft, Facebook and most big tech companies. Go for scale, low costs, and state-of-the-art digital services. Offer robo-savings, automated chat bots, and self-service. Hire great programmers.
  2. Go in the other direction. Humanize your service by inviting customers to connect with people at your financial institution, either in person (traditional banking model, also used by Apple with its hardware) or through chat services (Amazon). Optimize around people and connections with the customer. Have new customers in for a chat, invest in social networking and custom interfaces. Hire great account reps.

It’s easier to stay anonymous. You avoid all those messy interactions with customers. But it may be harder to gain loyalty, cross sales and referrals as a no-name service provider. Another concern on the credit side, is whether that anonymity comes at a price in terms of higher loan defaults?

Building a human connection can cement customers possibly for generations, but has higher costs in terms of staffing, customer service, and brick and mortar investment.

Either way is a legitimate strategy. But you need to choose.

Author: Jim Bruene is Founder & Senior Advisor to Finovate as well as
Principal of BUX Advisors, a financial services UX consultancy. 


1. Picture by 123rf.com (licensed)
2. Inspiration by Seth Godin

Is Money the OS for Living?

Is Money the OS for Living?

os-logosSince the day I started writing about financial services 21 years ago (yikes), people have asked me if I’m running out of things to write about. Most people can’t imagine how you’d write four paragraphs on banking innovations, let alone 40,000. But running low on ideas is the least of my concerns. The underlying topic, money, is massive and ever-changing with new technology, regulations, and consumer tastes.

Money impacts us every single day. And for most people, it’s an almost 24/7 pursuit, and defines what they do all day, where they live, who their friends are, how they spend their leisure time, how happy they are (up to $75k annually in the USA anyway), and even how long they live. So if you are in the business of managing money, be it storing it, spending it, maximizing it, or protecting it, you have a vital role.

It’s not a perfect metaphor, but you could call money the operating system (OS) of living. That’s probably overly tech/hipster, but then again that’s what we do for a living. And if money is the OS, then payments, insurance, wealth management, and so on, are all apps running across it. Which kind of makes sense in a Friday afternoon way of thinking.

What does that mean for running your financial services business? YOU ARE SO FREAKING IMPORTANT IN YOUR CUSTOMERS’ LIVES! That’s a blessing and a curse. They can’t live without you, which is great for revenues, but you also can’t afford big mistakes. That means service, security, trust, user experience all have a higher bar than the average tech or service company. And that’s expensive.

But thank goodness for mobile. It’s a miracle device in so many ways. But aside from chatting and photo sharing, its biggest impact could be on financial matters. Mobile is a free, 24/7 connection to money. That could be disconcerting, especially for the majority of consumers with money worries. So it’s the job of the bank, credit union, PFM provider, to use that connection to ease anxiety, rather than exacerbate it.

But that’s no easy task, given that money is the one of the biggest sources of anxiety in the country, accounting for three of the top-10 worries according to a 2015 study conducted by Chapman University (Hi Charlie). Unlike many posts, I don’t claim to have an answer here. But there are strides being made by pioneers who harness spending data to let customers know how much “free cash” they have at the moment (e.g., Simple’s Safe to Spend) or where they stand on their monthly budget (e.g., Moven and Capital One’s new Inform app) as well as chatbots that have your back (e.g., Bank of America’s chatbot Erica demo’d this week).

It’s a great time to be a bank/financial technologist. Enjoy making a difference!!

I’ve Got 99 Fintech Problems and a List Ain’t One

I’ve Got 99 Fintech Problems and a List Ain’t One

With apologies to Jay-Z (and a hat tip to The Middle Ground which, unbeknownst to me, came up with a better twist on his lyrics), we point you to the latest reference for those looking to solve real financial services problems.

The fintech wizards at Singapore’s MAS recently published a list of 100 problems in financial services. The problem 100 fintech problems tocstatements, and suggested enabling technologies, were crowdsourced from around the world. The list is as an aid for participants in its 2016 hackcelerator (which has a 31 July deadline for submissions for the S$20,000 prize), but it’s also a good reference for anyone in the fintech startup space.

While I’ve seen bigger lists (in 2014, we published a report with more than 1,000), the MAS version covers more diverse topics than most, addressing regulatory bottlenecks, trade finance opportunities, financial inclusion, along with the usual payments and consumer banking issues. Check out the table of contents (inset) and the full PDF here.

The Personal Finance Operating System

The Personal Finance Operating System


ms-dos2Ever since Microsoft made its vast fortune off the back of MS-DOS, becoming the “operating system for ____” has been a software nirvana. And look what happens when you substitute financial terms for computer terms in the OS definition. It describes a position that fintech companies around the globe aspire to: “the software that controls/manages the flow of money.”

Financial Operating System
1.  Software that manages personal finances, controlling and scheduling spending, managing deposits, transfers in/out, communications and security.
Abbreviation: FinOS

Intuit has captured this spot for small businesses (SMB) in the United States with Quickbooks. But even Intuit has given up trying to be the OS for consumers. Why? It’s too hard to gain trust while also providing enough value to wrest consumers away from their primary bank or credit union.

So guess what, all you bankers and CUsters? You are the de facto operating system for your customers’ finances. Embrace it, but don’t take your good fortune for granted or you may find yourself irrelevant to the next generation of consumers. Like successful tech companies, you need to keep upgrading the system. Here are a few core features missing at most financial institutions:

  1. Complete fraud protection
    >> 100% guarantee against losses
  2. Advocacy
    >> Make it an open network, even if a product recommendation sometimes leads outside your FI
  3. Credit for all
    >> If you can’t make the loan yourself, deliver customers to someone who can
  4. Rational fees
    >> Fees are fine, large PENALTY fees should be avoided
  5. Family connections
    >> Real-time funds-transfer, spending tracking, and so on
  6. Risk management
    >> Insurance for anything I’m worried about
  7. Business intelligence
    >> Help me grow/start/manage my business even if it’s just a hobby


(1) See also Part 1: The technical side of the bank as an operating system.
(2) OS definition at top from Dictionary.com
3) MS-DOS picture courtesy of Computer History Museum

The New New in Financial Technology

The New New in Financial Technology


It’s about this time every year that someone tells me there just isn’t that much new going on, at least not like the “old days” (which could be last year, 2007, or 1997). Usually, they want me to change their mind, offer up some crazy examples of how the world of financial services is about to be turned on its head.

But things just don’t move that fast in the world of money, nor should they. In the past 50 years, there’s been a banking technology game-changer every 10 years or so:

  • 1960s: Credit cards move unsecured consumer lending outside the branch
  • 1970s: ATMs moved cash withdrawals out of the branch
  • 1980s: Call centers moved customer service and account queries out of the branch
  • Late 1990s: The internet moved account queries away from the telephone, mail and ATM
  • Late 2000s: Mobile moved account queries away from the (desktop) web, and check deposits out of the branch
  • Late 2010s: ????

We are still hard at work on the mobile phase which started very late in the last decade. Apple didn’t allow outside apps until mid-2008, and it wasn’t really until 2009/2010 that mobile banking came into its own. And the Great Regulation push after the Great Recession, has stifled innovation somewhat.

However, halfway through the 2010s, I’m still unsure what history will show as the groundbreaking change of the decade. Here are three contenders:

  • Wearable computing: That’s just a workaround before less cumbersome technology comes along
  • Bitcoin/blockchain/crypto technology: It may be on the chart in the next decade, but I don’t think it gains dramatic traction in the next four or five years (at least not in countries with stable fiat currencies)
  • Crowdfunded/marketplace lending: While initially commercialized by Zopa, Prosper, Lending Club in the 2005-2007 period, it really didn’t get going until after the worst of the financial crisis had run its course in 2010/2011 (and after the SEC shut down the U.S. companies for half-a-year in 2008/2009).

My prediction: All three contenders are interesting and potentially huge. But I don’t think wearables or crypto will gain enough traction in the next four or five years to be considered the game-changers of this decade. But I do believe history will show that direct investor-to-customer lending (aka P2P lending or crowdfunding) begin to take hold in the mid-to-late 2010s.

Last year, total worldwide volume in crowdfunded loans was just $11 billion. That’s just 1% the size of a Chase, BofA or Citibank. So clearly, there is a long, long way to go before we start considering crowdfunded lending to be a disruption. But I believe it will begin to take measurable deposits and loans away from banks, credit unions and credit card issuers by 2018/2019.

We are due for a new game-changer, and I doubt we will be wearing it on our wrists.


Picture credit: PixGood

Six Digital Myths Hampering Banks’ 2015 Strategic Planning

wrong turn signs.JPG
In late summer, I published a two-part post detailing the most important retail banking projects for next year (here and here). I’ve got another installment or two in the pipeline, but since it’s already starting to feel like we are making our final descent into 2015, I wanted to take a step back and explain WHY those projects rose to the top. 

So here, in semi-prioritized order, are six myths that continue to hamper the strategic planning of retail banks (at least in the United States). 
Myth 1 >> Bank branches are needed for “complex” financial matters

: Branch banking is on the way out.
Prediction: The U.S. brick-and-mortar footprint will fall 30% to 40% by 2020.
  • I get that people like the local branch. My wife loved Blockbuster. My grandparents operated a much-loved corner grocery. But neither survived when the economics turned against them. Bank branches will survive in my lifetime, but their footprint (square feet & staffing) will decline 5% to 10% per year for the foreseeable future. 

  • Name one thing done in a branch that can’t be done more efficiently and/or more effectively through digital means or an ATM (let’s assume that the customer believes resolution can be obtained from either method). Sure, people still go to the branch for advice and problem solving since that’s a long-standing tradition and it’s comforting to talk to a nice person in a pressed blue shirt. But it’s also an inefficient way to get things done, for both the bank and the customer. My last trip to the branch was to open a college checking account at the bank we’ve held accounts for seven years (and whose associates know us by sight). It took an hour! And that doesn’t include the travel time for two trips to the branch (we forgot to bring a SECOND picture ID). It all could have been done in a few minutes online or via mobile had that option been available. 

Myth 2 >> Desktop online banking is still needed for “serious” work
TruthBanking by the desktop has peaked, too. 

Prediction: The amount of time spent banking online via desktop will fall 20% to 30% by 2020.
  • Many people still think that “important work” requires a browser and the real estate of a 13-inch screen. I agree for writing or design tasks, that’s true. But the average banking interaction amounts to looking at a few two- and three-digit numbers and typing a search term every now and then. Those things can be easily done on mobile. 

  • In fact, by building the UI mobile first, designers are forced to focus on the most important data elements, creating a better experience. 


Myth 3 >> Marketplace (P2P) lending won’t be used by “our” customers

Truth: Consumer and SMB lending could be disrupted by new players (but that’s far from a given). 

Prediction: Marketplaces take 5% to 10% share by 2020

  • I’m not one to throw “disruption” around lightly. In fact, it has never appeared in a title in my 10 years of blogging. Why not? Because I’ve been working in the online banking industry for 22 years and have seen nearly ZERO market share shift in the U.S. banking system over that time. The only major U.S. Internet-only success was ING Direct (now Capital One). And they don’t count because it was a division of a huge legacy player expanding their geographic reach. (Note: There has been market share shifts in the acquiring side due to PayPal, Square and others, but that was mostly wrested away from non-banks.)
  • But marketplace lending (aka P2P) is the first thing I’ve seen that actually is taking share away from legacy players. Lending Club is over $2 billion; Prosper and Zoka are over $1 billion; and SOFI is probably there as well. And there are more than 100 equity and debt crowdfunding companies funding small and medium businesses. While this is still small change in the multi-trillion consumer and SMB lending market, there are signs that these companies are posed to grab meaningful share. 
  • What makes the lending marketplace model potentially disruptive is that they can bring together large pools of capital with very different risk tolerances and price the loans dynamically, which is much harder for traditional players to do (though regulation is a wildcard here as marketplaces could end up with draconian “safeguards” that would render their risk-based pricing advantage moot)
  • But I don’t count out the big players yet. While it’s not easy, they can and probably will, copy the marketplace lending model, and perhaps continue their role as primary credit providers. However, having been a lending-product manager at a major bank, I can attest that it is extremely difficult to change historic patterns in loan underwriting. 
Myth 4 >> Consumers gravitate to best-of-breed providers for every financial need
Truth: Consumers HATE to proactively work on their finances and will often settle for what’s most convenient. 
Prediction: The primary “financial institution” (which can mean many things) will gain share of wallet going forward IF they integrate other services into online/mobile banking.

  • Ever since I’ve been involved, it’s been debated whether banks could be “the one-stop shop” for financial services. In the pre-Internet era, it was prohibitively expensive to put world-class mortgage bankers, investment advisors, insurance experts, remittance providers, SMB services, and so forth into the branch-based delivery model. 
  • But in today’s interconnected “API” world, that is not the case. The financial provider with the most trust — or as Richard Crone says, “The company that enrolls, controls” — can deliver the best of everything related to money management, retirement planning, value investing, and risk management/insurance. Consumers actually do gravitate towards one source if they believe it’s delivering value across disparate items. Case in point: Amazon.com. (Note: I penned my favorite report of all time around that theme, Building the Amazon.com of Financial Services (original in 1998, updated in 2000.)
Myth 5: Consumers trust YOUR security (it’s the others that keep letting them down)
Truth: Your customers are VERY AFRAID you’ll cause a nightmare scenario security-wise. Why do you think people log in so many times each week? 
Prediction: You can thank Apple for making biometrics mainstream.
  • I’m not sure how banks have gotten away with such lax consumer/SMB-facing security for so long. It’s a testament to the strength of their core businesses that they can cover billions in losses every year. 
  • It’s also an unintended consequence of offering all digital banking services free of charge. Every tweak to the website and mobile app are new costs without any tangible revenue bump (see Myth 6 below). 
  • But we are finally reaching the end of the username/password era with better authentication via smartphone, far more sophisticated back-end fraud-monitoring, and seamless biometrics (aka TouchID). I, for one, will be able to sleep better, knowing our business isn’t constantly on the brink of a devastating cybertheft.


Myth 6 >> Consumers won’t pay for digital banking value-adds
Truth: A lucrative segment of the population prefers deluxe or premium versions of goods and services. 
PredictionFinancial institutions are leaving BILLIONS on the table each year due to their lack of creativity in charging for value-adds. I give up trying to predict when it will happen, but once one of the Big-4 launches Platinum Digital Banking, the entire industry will rush to copy. 

Thoughts: I’ve written about this so many times, I’ll just point you to the most recent post (here).

Since our comments are broken, hit me up on Twitter @netbanker with your thoughts. 
Picture credit: Get your six-pack of wrong turn signs on eBay

Why (Most) Banks Need Not Worry About Apple Pay (Yet)

image I’ll admit to being caught up in the hype. The 48 hours after Tim Cook revealed Apple’s long-rumored foray into payments were some of the most exciting times in fintech since the 1995 to 1997 period when most of the online “firsts” happened (see note 1).

And we’re seeing more thoughtful fintech posts in the past week than we used to see in an entire year. Thanks especially to Tom Noyes, Cherian Abraham, Brian Roemmele, Celent’s Zilvinas Bareisis and finally today from Gonzo’s Steve Williams for helping me see beyond the hype.

I can add little that hasn’t already been said to the discussion about NFC, payment ecosystems, or the future of mobile payments. Clearly, it marks a turning point for mobile payments and improved U.S. security, and the play-out will be fun to watch.

The one area I haven’t seen covered: What does all this mean for the 10,000 U.S. banks and credit unions not on the 11-name list at launch (note 2)?

So here’s my take on the impact of Apple Pay on small- and medium-sized FIs over various time horizons: 

In the short term (2014): ZERO

In the medium term (2015-2016): ZERO

In the long run (2017+): Something, but impossible to quantify at this point
                                     (it could even be net positive)

Here’s why bank/CU execs (outside the top-20 credit-card issuers) should not lose sleep over what Apple is doing:

1. Apple Pay (in the physical world) can be used only at contactless terminals
Supposedly, there are 220,000 contactless terminals in the United States. But if you’ve ever tried to use one, you know that 200,000 of them are either not working or are buried behind beef jerky on the counter. This will change rapidly as merchants upgrade during the next few years.

2. It’s complicated to use (at first)
First, you need an iPhone 6, then you need to figure out how to use Apple’s Passbook program, log in to iTunes or take a picture of your card, successfully authorize it, enable TouchID and so on. Millions of early adopters will figure all that out, but then they won’t be able to find a working contactless terminal (see #1) and then they’ll forget all about it.

3. The number of your customers that care enough to move deposit accounts for NFC payments is near zero (for now)
Let’s do the math. Assume that a year from now there are 5 million Apple Pay active users (making at least one transaction per week) or 2.5% of U.S adults. If you have 20,000 customers, that means 500 will be active users of Apple Pay. Most will be happy to use their existing Capital One, Citi, and other rewards credit cards for the transactions. Very few will care that your debit card doesn’t work on the system. Let’s say it’s around 25%. That means you have something like 125 customers who are disappointed with your mobile payment capabilities. If they like you otherwise, how many will move their checking account to get an Apple Pay-enabled version? While the number is probably zero, let’s say it’s 5% to 10%. That means you could lose 6 to 12 customers. Using the 80/20 rule, only one or two of them are profitable. Will it hurt to lose two profitable customers? Sure, but it’s not going to be on your top-10 or top-25 list of worries.   

4. There are ways to mitigate any lost wallet share to Apple-Pay issuers
Even if my math in #3 is way off, or you are concerned that you will take a material hit to the bottom line, or you just want to be part of Apple Pay, easy routes will undoubtably be built to get your cards enabled into Apple Pay. Maybe not in 2014 (or even 2015), but certainly within the next couple years. And even if I’m wrong and you are locked out of the iPhone indefinitely, you can create an Apple Pay poaching program where your customers make their charges on a bigco bank card, then you automatically pay those charges off and essentially transfer them to your customer’s checking account.

So my final advice. If you have an employer (or spouse) that’s been reluctant to fund your iThings, now is the perfect time to do an upgrade (just don’t show them this post).


Chase homepage shown to existing customers (15 Sep 2014)
Note: All three links on bottom of page go to the iPhone6 “Apple Pay” features page at Apple.com which leads with Chase (link)



1. Or perhaps 1999 when Paypal/X.com made P2P payments happen or even 2005/2006 when Zopa/Prosper/LendingClub launched consumer credit exchanges.
2. See Apple Pay launch event clip here, complete with transcript.

2015 Digital Banking Strategic Planning (part 2)

Continuing on the 2015 strategic planning theme (see part 1: insurance, lifetime transaction archives and subscription fees)….

Here are numbers 4, 5 and 6 in my semi-prioritized list of 2015 priorities:


4. Small business debt crowdfunding

While commercial lending in the United States is up this year, the small business segment is still vastly underserved. And while there are good reasons why banks choose to avoid riskier SMBs, none of the reasons make a lick of sense to a business owner. I know from experience. 

Luckily, we live in an era where strangers are willing to lend directly to other strangers via the Internet, provided the returns are attractive enough (thank you Zopa, Prosper, & Lending Club for leading the way). So banks and credit unions, time is a-wasting. Partner with one of the many crowdfunding platforms to extend credit to your small business customers. You can even grab some no-risk loan-fee income in the process. 


5. Mobile deposit time-based fees

Mobile check deposit is one of the more magical services to appear in the digital age. Who would have guessed even five years ago that you could instantly deposit a paper check by snapping a picture of it from your smartphone? And strangely, that there would be no fee for such a miraculous service. 

This feature, that gets people talking about their bank (in a good way), probably needs to live on as a free benefit. However, there is no reason that all deposits must be treated the same. We recommend a tiered approach based on the time it takes to access deposited funds and the amount of the deposit. 

For example, Regions Bank has a brilliant, and from what I hear, very profitable pricing strategy (see post). 

     Immediate credit >>> 1% to 3% of check amount, with $5 minimum
     Credit the same night (8 PM cutoff) >>> $3 per check
     Credit within two days >> $0.50 per check

     There is also a $1 fee to temporarily raise your daily deposit limit to deposit a large check.


6. Relationship mortgages

In late 2009, I refinanced my home through what was then ING Direct. While the process wasn’t perfect (see post), it went pretty smooth, and I’ve been happy with the bank even as it transitioned to Capital One ownership. I chose a 5-year term (with 30-year amortization) because it was an absurdly low rate at the time (though who knew that wasn’t even close to the bottom). 

The bank has been encouraging me to refinance almost a year in advance of the end of that deal. I finally took them up on their offer. You’d think that since they knew my life history and have pretty much owned my home for 4.5 years, that it would be relatively simple to update. But it doesn’t work that way. While the phone-based refi process has been relatively smooth (there was no online refi option for my loan), I feel like I’m going through the exact same process as a new customer. 

I know the bank has its hands tied by regulation and secondary market requirements, but they could at least make me FEEL as if I were saving time by rolling over an existing loan. How about accessing my account (which I’ve had for 13 years) and letting me verify that the info is correct instead of making me fill out every field over and over again? 

To most families, the home mortgage is the biggest financial bet they will ever make, and it’s time that financial institutions create relationships with the mortgage at the core.  

To be continued………..

2015 Digital Banking Strategic Planning (Part 1)

imageI was on a call today with the digital strategy committee of a large U.S. bank. It was clear from their line of questioning that they are grappling with how to prioritize among the many major opportunities on the digital side.

I won’t list any of the specific topics here, but you could guess most of them (though one would surprise you I think). But the conversation got me thinking about what I’d recommend for next year if I was working in a bank, credit union or consumer fintech company.

In semi-prioritized fashion, here are my first three recommendations for 2015. More will follow.


1. Insurance

How are you going to replace NSF fee income once the CFPB gets around to capping it? (Timing hint: There’s a big election in 27 months.) One place to look: Insurance. It’s one of the last frontiers for retail banks, especially in the United States. FinovateSpring 2014 alum Insuritas (demo here) says it can launch your very own insurance store within 90 days. So if you move fast enough, you could have this running by end of year.


2. Lifetime transaction archives

I believe digital services will increase bank loyalty two or three-fold. So instead of accounts turning over every 7 years or so, it will be 15 or 20 years for digital-first households. Why? Once banks come to their senses and start archiving all your transactions like Google does for email, it will be much more of a pain to move.


3. Subscription fees

Back to the Gmail example. How much could Google charge me now that I have 100,000 messages archived there? $100/year easy. Probably more. Banks should be thinking the same way. Get #2 done, then charge $4.95/mo for a Peace of Mind package that includes lifetime archives, mobile document/receipt capture, priority customer service, and so on.  


To be continued………..

My 2014 Wishlist for Digital Financial Services


Like most people, I speculate on the future all the time. But unless specifically asked, I gave up making a laundry list of predictions for the new year. While it’s fun for the writer, it’s often a mixed bag for the reader. 

It seems most predictions are either obvious and therefore boring (“We’ll see an ever-increasing shift to the mobile channel”) or moon shots that are provocative but totally random (“Square will buy a bank and tweet its call report every quarter”).

That said, I do have a wish list for the new year. But don’t confuse these with predictions. In fact, this list is the complete opposite. I hereby predict none of these will happen in 2014. Banks and regulators, prove me wrong!

1. Gmail-like priority inbox/feed for my financial transactions

2. Hybrid loans that blend bank financing, P2P, and friends & family funds (blog post coming soon).

3. No login option for mobile access to my primary bank accounts (Chase, BofA, US Bank, Capital One, Wells).

4. No more telephone calls (and cryptic voicemails) from the fraud department at my credit card issuers. Instead, in its place will be two-way text messaging (thanks Citibank and Discover for adopting this practice in late 2013).

5. Fraud insurance on my business banking accounts paid for as a percent of assets (e.g., $5+ per month per $50,000 covered with a $5,000 deductible).

6. Let non-accredited investors participate in regulated and transparent crowdfunding sites (just copy the U.K. model please; see our May 2013 Online Banking Report).

7. Open up competition by regulating P2P lenders as lenders (what a concept!), not as securities issuers (an SEC-driven over-correction in the aftermath of the 2007/2008 crash).

8. The Amazon/Kayak/Hipmunk/Expedia of insurance so I can find and purchase everything in one place.

9. Bring Pay As You Go auto insurance to Washington State (my post).

10. Eliminate financial price controls (Durbin, I’m looking at you) and focus regulatory efforts on transparency, open markets and level playing fields.

11.  Smartphone-controlled power outlets (wait, that already exists).

Good luck getting back in the groove everyone!

New Banking Business Models

image There will likely be a few more post-mortems on Perkstreet’s failure to create a viable business using a debit-card rewards model (note 1). Whether its downfall was due primarily to unfortunate commodity pricing (my theory), lack of demand from the debanked (see Ron Shevlin’s post), or something else entirely, it’s interesting to ponder just what problems are big enough to support VC-backed bank-like entrants (note 2). 

I wrote the following piece for our OBR clients a year ago (note 3). It seems even more pertinent today in light of Perkstreet’s failed $15 million bet.  


Embracing New Business Models for a Digital World

For 20 years, online and mobile banking has been bolted on to traditional business models. Exceptions are few: ING Direct, PayPal, Virgin Money and several other smaller players (note 4).

The bolt-on strategy worked amazingly well. Major U.S. banks have lost virtually no deposit, loan or fee-income market share to upstarts in the Internet era. Robust profits allowed incumbents to build online and mobile capabilities without sacrificing their brick-and-mortar channel.

But the banking world changed in 2008. Worldwide recession, regulatory price controls, an uncertain lending environment, low rates and increased competition from VC-backed startups have all combined to make holding on to market share less certain.

We see three areas where financial services startups could gain ground:

  • Digital financial advocate
    : Consumer advocate in the cloud always watching over your transactions and financial well-being; and can tap investors (crowdfunding) to get you some needed cash
    How: P2P lend + aggregation/PFM + P2P pay + insurance + service + safety
    Who: Mashup of BillGuard + Mint + Lending Club
  • Virtual CFO/CPA
    Digital business partner supporting financial activity, accounting and capital needs
    How: Payments + P2B lending + aggregation + bookkeeping/accounting + fraud protection
    Who: Cross between Funding Circle and Xero
  • Personalized mutual fund
    : Personalized and highly automated mutual fund/ETF
    How: Simple UI + limited options highlighting appropriate choices (think Hipmunk) + systematic savings + automated rebalancing
    Who: Betterment on steroids

These businesses require sophisticated software, such as PFM modules, fraud protection, and business management functions. It will be fascinating to watch it unfold.

Photo credit: ThePeacefulMom

1. My apologies to Dan, Jason and the rest of the team. I imagine it’s frustrating to see your valiant efforts reduced to fodder for blog posts. We’d be happy to host if you want to publish a guest post with your observations.  
2. If IBM really paid nearly $1 billion for Trusteer, I guess you can add “fighting financial malware” in the category of big problems.    
3. See Online Banking Report #208/209 (subscription)
4. Certain other countries have experienced more disruption. But in most developed countries the incumbents as a whole have held on to most of their market share.