Sam Everington, CEO of Engine by Starling Bank on Meeting the Needs of Customers

Sam Everington, CEO of Engine by Starling Bank on Meeting the Needs of Customers

If you missed the keynote address from Sam Everington, CEO of Engine by Starling Bank at FinovateEurope earlier this year, here are some highlights that will make you feel as if you were in the room.

During his address titled, “From payments to core platforms: How can banks leverage data and technology to meet changing customer,” Everington relayed his experience at Starling Bank, detailing how the newcomer has remained competitive by using customer data in context to not only create a better user experience, but also cut costs.

Everington discussed the shifting expectations of consumers, who now anticipate a digital-first experience similar to those offered by big tech companies. Additionally, because customers seek fair, reasonably priced, and affordable services, in today’s current cost of living crisis, it is key that banks keep their costs low in order to retain consumers’ appetites.

Cost, in fact, was a big part of Everington’s keynote. He emphasized the potential cost savings for banks by increasing the use of technology and enhancing user experiences. He acknowledged that in the banking sector, technology is often viewed as a cost center and technology investments are primarily driven by cost reduction.

“In banks especially, technology and technology investment decisions are all about the business case,” Everington said. “Technology is a cost center to be controlled, and technology investment is by and large a cost reduction exercise.”

In his keynote, Everington identified real-time and flexible systems as essential elements needed to meet customers’ ever-changing financial situations, which can fluctuate multiple times a day. Banks need to proactively understand their customers, be aware of the products and services they hold, and respond promptly to any changes.

To address these needs, Starling Bank developed Engine, a technology platform that supports their operations. Engine offers flexibility, comprehensiveness, scalability, and reliability. These features not only enhance the customer experience but also ensure compliance with U.K. regulations.

Ultimately, Everington emphasized the importance of banks having an innovative platform that allows them to adapt and meet the evolving needs of their customers.

Photo by Yan Krukau

Showcasing Asian-American Leadership on the Finovate Stage

Showcasing Asian-American Leadership on the Finovate Stage

Asian-American entrepreneurs, founders, and technologists have been demoing fintech innovations on the Finovate stage from the very start. In 2008, the first year Finovate hosted fintech conferences on the West coast as well as the East, we were thrilled to showcase Weiting Liu of SocialPicks, Peter Pham of BillShrink, and Kenneth Lin of Credit Karma.

Fifteen years later, Asian-Americans continue to play a major role in driving fintech innovation – and in demoing those innovations live on the Finovate stage. Here is a look back at those Asian-American fintech and financial services professionals who led live demos at our conferences in New York and San Francisco last year in 2022.

FinovateSpring 2022 – Coinme – Sung Choi, SVP Strategy & Business Development

FinovateSpring 2022 – HAWK:AI – Steve Liú, General Manager North America

FinovateSpring 2022 – JUDI.AI – Su Ning Strube, Chief Product Officer

FinovateSpring 2022 – Prelim – Heang Chan, CEO and Co-Founder

FinovateFall 2022 – PennyWorks – Ivan Zhang, CEO and Co-Founder

FinovateFall 2022 – Supply Wisdom – Shaun Wong, Head of Product

FinovateSpring 2023 is right around the corner – May 23 through 25 in San Francisco, California. Early-bird savings end on Friday, so register today and save your spot!

Photo by Thirdman

How bunq is Building a Global Neobank for the World’s Digital Nomads

How bunq is Building a Global Neobank for the World’s Digital Nomads

FinovateEurope in London was a veritable bonfire of fireside chats! And now, courtesy of Finovate TV, you can check out many of the conversations we had with leading fintech entrepreneurs and technologists.

Here’s our Fireside Chat conversation with Bianca Zwart, Chief of Staff to the CEO of Dutch neobank bunq. We talked about the innovative fintech’s origins in the wake of the financial crisis, the challenge and opportunity of “borderlessness” in Europe, and bunq’s goal of being the “global neobank for digital nomads and international people and businesses.”

On the origins of bunq

Zwart: We were founded just after the financial crisis of 2008. Our founder and CEO Ali Niknam looked around and he saw a lot of people hurt by what was happening. A lot of his friends couldn’t get a mortgage. They were forced to sell their houses – or they couldn’t get a loan as an entrepreneur. He looked around and he saw that people were just pointing fingers, blaming each other and nobody was actually fixing the problem.

On the uniqueness of bunq’s business model

Zwart: We were completely self-funded by our founder for nearly a decade, which gave us the independence to focus on what we wanted to focus on: building a product that people love to use, to bring a service model back to the banking industry. We were the first to introduce a subscription-based model because we were convinced that if you build a product that people love to use, they are willing to pay a fair price for it. By doing so, your commercial reality is directly linked to user happiness.

On the challenge of Europe’s borderless Millennial and Gen Z consumers

Zwart: We all look at Europe as a continent, but it’s just a mixture of so many different countries. Banking is super personal, super cultural. Consider the difference, for example, between the Netherlands and Germany in terms of how we look at money, how we deal with money payment infrastructure. It’s a completely different ballgame and we want our users to have access to financial services wherever they go without having to worry about that.

Photo by Pixabay

Jonathan Alloy on the State of Digital Banking

Jonathan Alloy on the State of Digital Banking

Jonathan Alloy is a seasoned financial services professional with years of experience in the sector. He formerly served as Vice President of Design Thinking at Credit Suisse, where he was responsible for driving innovation and fostering a culture of human-centered design across the organization. Today, he is Vice President for Customer Experience and Innovation Consulting at Publicis Sapient.

Last fall, Jonathan Alloy and Steven Ramirez, CEO of Beyond the Arc, sat down to discuss the current state of digital banking. Here are some highlights from their conversation.

When it comes to partnerships, how does a fintech work with a bank to get a solution in front of customers?

Jonathan Alloy: Fintechs, or any new entrant into the banking industry, really need to understand that banks have two separate departments at the highest level. There’s a group that likes risk– that’s the front office, the people who take deposits, make loans, and trade securities– they thrive on correctly evaluating risk.

The back office, by contrast, thrives on minimizing risk. They’re looking for reasons to say no to protect the bank’s integrity, its reputation, its cybersecurity, and its trust with customers. They’re going to say no to things, even if they’re innovative, because it violates a policy that they’re incentivized by the bank to uphold. Maybe [the solution being offered] is only available in the cloud and the bank only allows things that are on-prem. That’s a very common example. So when you’re developing a solution, you have to understand the risk profile of who in the bank has the authority to say yes.

What is it about digital banking that excites you?

Alloy: I think the biggest opportunity right now in some ways remains where it was 20 years ago. [This opportunity] is increasingly being where the customer is. This enables us to deliver financial services when, where, and how they want to consume, not just how we want to provide it. And that’s an important distinction.

Whether [you deliver] through mobile payments, through white labeling, whatever the case may be– it’s a matter of getting out in front of the traditional banking silos, breaking down the walls we have internally, and getting it out in the world to understand it from [the customer’s] point of view.

When we look at the world through the eyes of how customers want to make purchases, payments, take out loans, and invest for retirement, we’re going to learn things that we don’t get if we stay in our silos.

Any tips for banks that want to think like a customer?

Alloy: The number one best thing I could encourage everybody to do is go shopping yourself. So you’re CEOs, your CXOs, your executive team, your management team, your middle managers, your front line employees– everybody should be required to go out, and from another bank that’s not you, as well as you, sign up for a new checking account, get a debit card and a credit card, take out a loan, buy a car– whatever your personal financial needs are. Think about, “was this experience enjoyable or tolerable?” In most cases, what we find, is that for most people, banking is barely tolerable. So when somebody comes along with an innovative new idea or a new approach that makes it just that much more better, they’re going to win great[er] share.

Hear more from Jonathan Alloy in the full conversation.

Photo by Andrew Neel

Women Who Demo: Celebrating the Leading Ladies of FinovateEurope 2023

Women Who Demo: Celebrating the Leading Ladies of FinovateEurope 2023

This week starts the official commemoration of Women’s History Month. And with FinovateEurope less than two weeks away, we thought the two occasions provided a great opportunity to showcase some of the women who will take center stage on March 14 at the Intercontinental O2 in London to demo their company’s latest fintech innovation.

  • Ulyana Shtybel, Co-Founder and CEO, Quoroom
  • Mariam Malwand, Manager, New Business, Fyndoo
  • Katalin Kauzli, Co-Founder and Business Development Director, Partner HUB
  • Zehra Cataltepe, CEO and Co-Founder, TAZI AI
  • Nicole Sanders, Product Marketing Manager, 10x Banking
  • Joana Lucas, Sales Development Representative, ebankIT

FinovateEurope starts on March 14 and continues through March 15. Tickets are still available – and early-bird savings end this week. So visit our FinovateEurope hub today and save your spot!

Photo by Pavel Danilyuk

Pinwheel CEO Kurt Lin on the Impact of the CFPB on Open Finance

Pinwheel CEO Kurt Lin on the Impact of the CFPB on Open Finance
CFPB Open Finance

The U.S. is still in the early stages of implementing open banking, but the conversation is well underway. Kurt Lin, CEO and co-founder of Pinwheel, is an industry expert who has spent his career building infrastructure to enable innovators to build the future of the financial system. In a recent interview, he discussed how the role of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has evolved and how recent regulations may bring open banking to the U.S.

How has the role of the CFPB evolved and how will these changes impact consumers?

Kurt Lin: As the fintech space continues to evolve, so does the CFPB. Amid the industry’s boom in recent years, the CFPB has taken the stage as the primary regulator of the sector, supervising and creating regulation at pace with innovation. The CFPB remains dialed into consumer abuses and works to uproot long-accepted but malignant practices such as overdraft fees and depositor fees, along with creating new regulations for emerging technologies. 

Much as we are working to create a fairer financial system at Pinwheel, the CFPB is working to do the same, as is further signaled by recent remarks given by Director Chopra. The latest guidelines indicate that the CFPB is pushing for a world where consumers have more control over their data, leading to increased agency and choice over their primary financial institutions. 

What major regulatory changes are coming that will impact banks and fintechs?

Lin: The CFPB is further codifying Section 1033 of the Dodd-Frank Act to promote open finance. A few examples of initiatives we can expect to see this year: 

Increasing consumers’ ownership over their financial data. Income and employment data is arguably the most important part of someone’s financial life, but the amount of regulation around portability, security, and ownership, doesn’t match up to the significance of this type of information. Under new regulation, we expect things like Direct Deposit Switching (DDS) to become the norm. DDS is at the core of open banking. Income starts at the direct deposit, and having more control over that information and the flow of funds is critical for consumers to remove the immense friction that prevents them from quickly setting up or moving their direct deposits. 

Subsequently, as consumers will have more control over their data, we expect an improvement in how we evaluate creditworthiness and underwrite loans. As it stands, income still isn’t a key factor in a traditional credit score. However, a recent study we just conducted found that over 80% of consumers are comfortable sharing their income and payroll data. That’s a pretty clear signal that the general population is aware that it will be advantageous for them to control and share this information to access better financial products. 

After last year’s FTX scandal, it is very apparent that crypto regulations are coming. What do you envision new crypto regulations will look like? 

Lin: Crypto is not my main domain, however, I have a few thoughts:

There’s a lot of talk about things like regulations to require crypto exchanges to have proof of reserves, etc. to create more transparency and trust in the ecosystem.  

While it’s productive to see this dialogue, there is still a lot of work to be done around establishing clear guidance. For example, what are the right standards, how should this be audited, how do you get visibility into what the true liabilities are, etc.  

I don’t expect clear or immediate action, but I expect increased scrutiny of the ecosystem, particularly around centralized exchanges. This increased scrutiny will also include market participants taking an even more active role in building new tools to better monitor behavior on-chain and using those tools to inform future regulations.  

Are there any areas in fintech and/or banking that you see lacking regulation or oversight?

Lin: Speaking broadly about this topic as a whole, it can be extremely slow to enact new policies such as these. In the meantime, we’re excited about helping to cultivate an open banking-like structure by furthering our partnerships with payroll providers. This is something we’re hyper-focused on this year, which will help more broadly unlock consumer-permissioned income data. This has two benefits: it will give consumers more control over their financial info and enable banks and fintechs to use this data to build more robust offerings.

Photo by Leyre Labarga on Unsplash

Celebrating Black History Month with Voices from the Finovate Stage

Celebrating Black History Month with Voices from the Finovate Stage

For a second year in a row, Finovate is commemorating Black History Month by showcasing those Black and African-American founders and executives who demoed their company’s fintech innovations on the Finovate stage in 2022.

Ariam Sium – VP of Product with FinGoal

Sium not only leads Product at FinGoal, the self-described “Listener. Thinker. Doer” also led FinGoal to a Best of Show award at FinovateSpring last year. In her role at FinGoal, Sium said that she uses the tenets of focus and value to govern each product decision made in the rapidly changing world of fintech.

FinGoal most recently demoed its technology at FinovateFall in September. The Boulder, Colorado-based company offers an insights platform that helps financial institutions better understand their customers.

Joseph Akintolayo – CEO and Founder of Deposits

Akintolayo is a “builder of ethical products that solve complex problems in fintech, insurtech, and social enterprise.” As CEO and founder of Deposits, Akintolayo heads a startup that offers banks, brands, and communities a plug and play solution to deliver financial services such as payments and lending, without requiring coding experience.

Deposits made its Finovate debut at FinovateFall in September. The Dallas, Texas-based company was founded in 2021.

Left to right: Joseph Akintolayo and Samuel Ailemen of Deposits

Samuel Ailemen – Director of Mobile and Identity at Deposits

As Director of Mobile and Identity at Deposits, Ailemen helped lead the company’s demo at FinovateFall 2022. A fraud prevention expert who is “building cool stuff everywhere”, Ailemen leverages his talent as “a software engineer who loves research” to solve real-world problems using new technologies.

Nathan Gibbons – Chief Experience Officer at QuickFi

Gibbons oversees the customer experience at QuickFi, a company that provides “nearly instant,” self-service 24/7 term financing to business equipment buyers. Demoing the company’s technology at FinovateFall last year, Gibbons and colleague Jillian Munson earned QuickFi its first Finovate Best of Show award.

A C-suite executive with QuickFi since 2018, Gibbons previously spent more than 11 years as Project Manager and later Vice President with First American Equipment Finance. QuickFi was launched by founders of First American Equipment Finance in 2018.

Michael Duncan – CEO and Founder of Bankjoy

Founder and CEO of Bankjoy, Duncan demoed his company’s Business Banking Platform at FinovateFall 2022. The company he launched in 2015 offers a range of modern banking technology solutions, including mobile and online banking, as well as a banking API.

Before founding Bankjoy, Duncan spent more than four years as a Programmer/Analyst and later Software Development Manager at Michigan First Credit Union.

Michael Broughton – CEO and Co-founder of Altro

Broughton co-founded and is CEO of Altro, a solution that helps consumers build credit through non-traditional recurring payment processes such as rent and even monthly subscriptions to services like Netflix. Altro’s app is free-to-use, and helps increase financial literacy while boosting existing credit and helping stabilize credit histories. The company made its Finovate debut last May at FinovateSpring.

Broughton is also Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors for the USC Credit Union (since 2017), and was both a Scout at Sequoia Capital and a Thiel Fellow at The Thiel Foundation.

Christen Wright – Head of Product at Spave

As Head of Product at Spave, Wright was part of the three-person demo team that won Best of Show at the company’s Finovate debut last May at FinovateSpring. Spave is a financial wholeness solution that enables users to easily save and donate as they purchase products and services. The Spave app provides purchase tracking and analysis, goal setting, group giving, and more.

Wright has a diverse background, having served in senior management roles at AT&T and Delta Air Lines. A member of 100 Black Men of Atlanta, a mentoring and empowerment organization for African American youth, Wright is a graduate of the University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business, where he earned an MBA.

Anthony Heckman – as Director of Sales at unitQ

Heckman was part of the founding team at unitQ, a company that turns customer insights into data-driven decisions for firms ranging from Chime to fellow Finovate alum Klarna. At FinovateSpring 2022, Heckman led the company’s live demo of its unitQ monitor, which serves as a centralized, searchable, repository for customer feedback.

Heckman founded TWC Advisors in October of last year. The firm specializes in providing go-to-market and sales support to early-stage, high-growth, VC-backed startups.

Photo by Elijah O’Donnell

PayNearMe’s Jill Bohlken on the Unpredictable Lending Environment

PayNearMe’s Jill Bohlken on the Unpredictable Lending Environment

Lenders have always faced some level of uncertainty, but the past few years have truly put the industry to the test. While many have enhanced their systems with new enabling technologies, there are still a number of uncertainties– including inflated income due to Covid relief funds and increased spending power thanks to a student loan repayment pause– that create confusion in the underwriting process.

We spoke with PayNearMe’s Senior Director of Sales Jill Bohlken for some insight into how today’s lending environment has changed and what we can expect to see going forward into this year.

Describe the current lending environment and how it has changed over the past few years.

Jill Bohlken: In one word, the current lending environment is unpredictable. A number of converging market forces are causing some uncertainty among lenders, merchants, and borrowers alike.

We have consumer prices continuing to rise, leading to less disposable income and more borrowing by consumers to cover costs. According to the New York Fed’s Q3 report, households last year increased debt at the fastest pace in 15 years, and credit card balances collectively rose more than 15%.

Meanwhile, seven interest rate increases led to lower margins for lenders at the same time they face increased competition to attract new customers.

External forces like supply chain disruptions continue to inhibit some lending markets, such as auto. And emerging trends such as longer loan terms (upwards of seven years for an auto loan) and instant financing carry increased risk of delinquency, prompting lenders to build reserves and reduce overhead to cover themselves in case of default.

Can you discuss any notable trends or changes in consumer borrowing behavior that you have observed?

Bohlken: Last year, the economy saw unprecedented demand for goods and services driven by a surplus of Covid relief funds combined with a shortage of supply. More recently, we’ve seen loan demand start to normalize due to inflation and higher interest rates. For billers, managing risk and delinquency is always a priority. According to Experian, 60-day delinquencies for new car loans sat at 0.48% by Q3, with used car loans at 1.17%.

A more positive trend was the rise in online loan applications completed exclusively by web and mobile devices. This self-service innovation improved the speed of transactions and accelerated loan approvals, not to mention making the experience more convenient for consumers.

What tools, data, or technologies can help lenders mitigate the risk of default before extending a loan?

Bohlken: The expanding use of artificial intelligence and machine learning to analyze large swaths of data and produce actionable insights is by far the most exciting tool lenders should pursue. Payments platforms can feed a data warehouse to store transaction data in one place, then apply machine learning models to either an individual client’s data or aggregated industry data to create smarter risk models.

For instance, AI can be used to analyze cohorts of customers using hundreds of data points (zip code, income level, credit score, etc.) and assign the group a risk score. AI can even bring in data from government sources, such as unemployment and GDP reports to shed light on risk further. This research helps lenders determine how and where to find high-probability, low-risk customers and adjust their risk analysis and marketing spend accordingly.

How about once the loan has already been extended?

Bohlken: A payments provider can help lenders prevent late or missed payments using a number of tools and strategies, such as sending payment reminders by text, email, or push notification. The provider can offer a wide range of payment channels to allow customers flexibility in how they pay. In cases of chronic late payment, the provider can intervene with offers to help avoid default, such as flexible repayment plans.

What’s especially exciting is that AI and ML now make these strategies even more effective. For example, AI can be trained to constantly scan payments behavior to identify customers who have multiple late payments, then automatically initiate a series of engagement messages that move the customer toward payment. AI can also automate solutions to common payment problems. For instance, if a customer has multiple ACH returns, AI can apply a business rule requiring them to pay with cash or card only.

These automated solutions save lenders both time and money. Not only does the AI circumvent many behaviors that could lead to default, but it also eliminates the time and labor of manually resolving payment problems.

Looking ahead in 2023, will lenders be more hesitant to extend loans to borrowers?

Bohlken: It’s hard to say with certainty, but demand does remain fervent. According to a recent Consumer Pulse study, one in four Americans plan to seek new credit or refinance in 2023. However, according to Experian, auto loan balances have grown by 7.6%, so lenders may want to shore against risk, adjusting the credit profiles of their customers and trimming back-office budgets to keep a higher level of reserves.

At the same time, lenders may lean into the adage, “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” That means putting more emphasis on servicing existing portfolios and maximizing return by reducing delinquency, lowering the cost to collect, and improving operating efficiency through automation and optimization.

If lenders cut back on extending loans, where will the overflow in demand go? Will consumers turn to payday loans, or will alternative lenders be able (and willing) to fill loan demand?

Bohlken: In my interactions with many large lenders I have noticed that many are reducing their workforce, a way of battening down the hatches and right-sizing operations to suit the precarious lending environment.

In terms of consumer overflow, I see movement in several “alternative” types of loans, including buy-now-pay-later, which breaks payments for a large-ticket item into several payments; and buy-here-pay-here, which allows car dealerships to act as both seller and lender. Both these options appeal to customers who may have poor credit and/or limited options for securing traditional financing.

Payday loans, on the other hand, are losing their luster after almost a decade of bad press and heavy regulatory oversight. They still play a part in some consumer borrowing, but most consumers who can find alternatives will do so to avoid the heavy interest rates and fees.

Photo by Ann H

Innovate Thyself: Leda Glyptis on “Bankers Like Us” and the Real Problem with Digital Transformation

Innovate Thyself: Leda Glyptis on “Bankers Like Us” and the Real Problem with Digital Transformation

What are the biggest obstacles to digital transformation in banking and financial services? For Leda Glyptis, self-described “recovering banker” and author of the new book, Bankers Like Us: Dispatches from an Industry in Transition, the fault lies not in the stars, but in bankers themselves.

Fortunately, Glyptis sees bankers as the solution, as well.

“For years I have been blogging and speaking about how the biggest obstacle to progress inside banks is people. And that the only hope for change are also people,” Glyptis told Fintech Futures as the date of the world premier of her book was announced earlier this month. “What is so often approached as a technology journey often falls down or triumphs around the humans that keep on keeping on, the dreamers, the builders, the plumbers, and the storytellers of banking transformation.”

Leda Glyptis will discuss her experiences and insights as a veteran of the banking business in an afternoon keynote address on Day One of FinovateEurope, March 14 through 15 in London. Titled “The Problem With Digital Transformation is You,” Glyptis will discuss the human and structural obstacles to digital transformation with a focus on the kind of mentality and leadership bankers need to embrace in order to bring about the changes in banking and financial services that consumers increasingly demand.

For Glyptis, there is no reason – and no time – to wait for the rise of a younger, more digitally-native generation to do the work of transforming financial services. The time to act is now, and the ones to act are bankers — with “grit, determination and energy to drive change,” Glyptis insists. “Like us.”

Bankers Like Us will be available for pre-order on Friday, January 20th, and is expected to ship after February 10th. This provides plenty of time to get your copy of the book ahead of Glyptis’ keynote at FinovateEurope in March. At the event, after Glyptis’ afternoon keynote address, we will also host a special Networking Break & Book Signing with the author.

In addition to her work as an author, Glyptis is the Chief Client Officer at 10x Banking, a cloud-native core banking platform provider based in London. She is also a Non-Executive Director at leading U.K. cash deposit platform, Flagstone. Glyptis has a PhD in Politics from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), and shares her thoughts on banking and financial services as a columnist – and “resident thought provocateur” – with Fintech Futures. Her latest columns have tackled topics such as the importance of preparation, the role of pain in learning, and the challenge of maintaining the courage of convictions.

Be sure to visit our FinovateEurope 2023 hub to save your spot at our upcoming fintech conference, March 14 through 15 – featuring author Leda Glyptis’ keynote address on the afternoon of Day One.

Photo by Expect Best

Attending CES Behind the Lens of a Traditional Bank

Attending CES Behind the Lens of a Traditional Bank

The Consumer Electronics Show (CES), a tech event that showcases the latest advancements in consumer electronics and technology, is a must-attend conference for those working in the field of tech. But what if you work at a bank?

This year, U.S. Bank sent five representatives to walk the floors of CES to scout out what’s new and what’s possible when it comes to banking technology. Among the group attending last week’s technology showcase were U.S. Bank Chief Innovation Officer Don Relyea and Senior Vice President and Head of Applied Foresights Todder Moning.

We caught up with Relyea and Moning to get their thoughts on the show.

You’ve just returned from CES. Tell us about what U.S. Bank was looking for at the show.

Don Relyea: We are looking for several things. We go to get an understanding of how ready for primetime various technology verticals are for mass consumer applications. We also go to detect new disruptive technology trends well in advance of their readiness for consumers, so we can prepare to take advantage of opportunities – as well as avoid (or leverage) a disruption. A good example is how, a decade ago, we detected the early rise of natural language processing and started testing and learning with it, eventually leading to us being ahead of the curve in releasing an industry-leading voice assistant a decade later.

Todder Moning: We think about it like a “tech safari” or a “future safari” – allowing us to see a lot of the new products or emerging R&D work across multiple tech spaces and across multiple industries. It helps us to see what consumers, business owners, and our employees are going to be experiencing in their lives and helps us better understand what financial solutions are going to become most important to them. We look for how the spaces and tech we follow are progressing and for the weird or unexpected. That gives us new ideas that we take back to start work in our innovation labs and business lines.

Was there any tech on display that had the potential to help improve the user experience?

Relyea: More than I could ever tell you about. A big trend we saw in this space was the leveraging of AI for hyper-personalization across every industry. Companies in so many different verticals were converging AI, digital twins, the cloud, and the sensors in your consumer devices to create highly personalized and useful consumer experiences.

A great example is Incheon Airport (Seoul, South Korea) using a digital twin combined with AI, IoT sensors and consumer phones to give travelers a navigational guide like none other: an augmented reality robot avatar that will lead them around the airport wherever they need to go. Another one I loved was an AI scanner that analyzes your face and detects your skin condition in order to recommend skin care products. When the point of sale becomes your bathroom instead of the mall, that will be a gamechanger.

Moning: Yes, a lot of it.

  1. Sustainability and waste tracking
  2. New experiences in the automotive and transportation industries
  3. The broad use of sensors, AI, displays, and wearables that are bringing services, health, and wellness directly to the consumer
  4. Easier interconnectivity in smart homes and smart devices across product brands to finally start making those contexts easier
  5. Continuous advancement in VR/AR glasses for digital and virtual experiences
  6. Automation and autonomy in vehicles, robots, and other appliances/devices that will help assist or do things for people

How about tech for back office operations?

Relyea: Again, I’ll go to the Incheon Airport example. Not only did a friendly little robot provide guided navigation, but also the airport used the digital twin for operational efficiencies as well, helping to manage air traffic, vehicle traffic, foot traffic, and physical plant operations.

Moning: To be candid, the fintech part of the show was pretty sparse. It’s been that way in years past too. CES is typically far less interesting when it comes to technology we might directly implement to our systems, and much more interesting in seeing how we can integrate into the experiences where consumers would want to use their money. Which, we’re seeing more and more – particularly with embedded finance – is kind of everywhere.

When it comes to implementing ideas like these at a bank, is it better to be on the leading edge to gain a first-mover advantage? Or is it better to wait for other firms to jump in first?

Relyea: It really depends on the use case. In some cases, with fintechs and reg tech, it may be better to be an early mover. In others, where the maturity of the technology is not clear, it is better to wait until the technology achieves a good level of maturity.

Moning: It depends. We like building prototypes to try ideas first. We also like collaborating with or investing in startups when it makes sense. We will go first when it makes sense and we’re ready, like when we were first in ApplePay, first in Zelle, first in real time payments networks, and first to have smart chat services with all three major smart-speaker brands. Other times, we’ve seen the first-in-market attempts by others at really new technology fall flat or miss the mark. So first-mover vs. fast-follower really depends on each opportunity.

If U.S. Bank was exhibiting at CES, what would be the newest tech you would showcase?

Relyea: We get so much out of exploring the show floor, and so we find other ways to launch and showcase our own innovations, but we’re rather proud of our Smart Assistant, including the launch of our Spanish language version this year – the nation’s first voice assistant for banking in Spanish. Other candidates would be some of our work within the real time payments space, perhaps some of our blockchain initiatives or the recent launch of our financial education program for college athletes, which we are doing in collaboration with Opendorse. There are a lot of digital innovations happening across U.S. Bank that combine the best of digital with our amazing team members.

Moning: Some of our voice tech stuff is pretty cool, at the leading edge. We’ve done some really good things with real time payments in auto and some other areas. Our approach tends to be more of one where we work quietly behind the scenes until just the right time to launch it to the public, rather than showcasing our work in prototype or in pilot. I’d love to share more, but we’ll hold some of those cards close to the vest.

Outside of fintech applications, what was the coolest thing you saw at the show?

Relyea: I liked the MPC micro power chip that pulls low amounts of power from dirt and moisture. I haven’t seen anything quite like it before – that can charge a battery array and light an off-grid structure. I’m looking forward to when their tech is commercially available.

Moning: It would have to be the BMW Dee, a concept car that had “e-Ink” panels all over the outside of it, including the windows, and changed color in real-time based on music or your mood. As a sustainability concept, the Under-Ocean Farming that Siemens was showing was amazing. And from Caterpillar, the giant equipment company, they were showing remote autonomy, where you could control a real excavator that was in Peoria, Illinois from a seat at CES in Las Vegas. Pretty incredible.

Photo by Maurício Mascaro

Saying Yes to Your Customers: Reimagining the Customer Experience in Financial Services with Steven Van Belleghem

Saying Yes to Your Customers: Reimagining the Customer Experience in Financial Services with Steven Van Belleghem

It may be a fintech cliche that “every year is the Year of the Customer.” But the obsession over customer experience that is sweeping through financial services is showing no signs of slowing down.

Steven Van Belleghem, author of The Internet of Customer Value, How Web3 and the Metaverse Are Changing the Game in Customer Experience, will deliver a keynote address on Day One of FinovateEurope this year that tackles this topic head-on. An expert in the future of customer centricity, Van Belleghem emphasizes the relationship between enabling technologies, customer-centric thinking, and the human touch in his work. This work includes four international best-selling books, as well as co-founding inspiration agency Nexxworks and social media agency Snackbytes.

Find out more about how to attend FinovateEurope at the O2 in London and catch Steven Van Belleghem’s keynote address live on Tuesday, March 14, at our FinovateEurope hub.

An engaging speaker and colorful writer, Van Belleghem has impressed audiences and readers with his insights into what it truly means to put the customer first – and why it is imperative for companies to do so in order to succeed. In a recent blog post, Van Belleghem explained how “customer culture” has “replaced technology as the holy grail” as a growing number of businesses recognize the value of “really try(ing) to understand what people want and then help them.” He wrote:

“Over the years, software has even become quite good at being creative, but empathy remains that last beacon, something that is typically human. And so a positive culture of being kind, of being human, of saying ‘yes’ to your customers will become a true differentiator. That’s what will bridge the most of that last 10% to get great CX.”

Read his full discussion, which includes Van Belleghem’s explanation of why this last 10% is always the most difficult to achieve, as well as a helpful strategy for keeping even the most promising of enabling technologies in the proper perspective.

Then stop by our FinovateEurope 2023 hub to save your spot at our upcoming fintech conference, March 14 through 15, featuring author Steven Van Belleghem’s keynote address on Day One.

Photo by Image Hunter

Bridging the Empathy Gap with Human-Centered AI: Our Conversation with Uday Akkaraju, CEO of BOND.AI

Bridging the Empathy Gap with Human-Centered AI: Our Conversation with Uday Akkaraju, CEO of BOND.AI

One of the more compelling presentations at FinovateFall this year was the keynote address from BOND.AI CEO Uday Akkaraju. Titled “Why the Future of Finance is Beyond Finance, And How to Get There,” Akkaraju’s discussion looked at the wave of digital transformation in financial services and asked “is there a radically smarter path to profitability while staying relevant to customer expectations?”

We pick up on this conversation in today’s extended interview with the BOND.AI CEO. Akkaraju has leveraged his background in interaction design and cognitive science to help make machine intelligence more empathetic and human-oriented. The result is the world’s first Empathy Engine for finance – a technology that helps bridge the gap between consumers struggling to meet their financial needs and banks that are eager to engage these consumers with new technologies that offer greater personalization and effectiveness.

Founded in 2016 and headquartered in Little Rock, Arkansas, BOND.AI won Best of Show in its Finovate debut at FinovateFall 2018. We talked with the company’s CEO about the how the company is helping financial institutions better serve their customers, as well as what to expect from BOND.AI in 2023.

You recently spoke at FinovateFall on Why the Future of Finance is Beyond Finance. Can you tell us a little bit about what you shared with our audience in that keynote?

Uday Akkaraju: It was my pleasure to be asked to speak again at FinovateFall this year. A lot has changed since I spoke last time in 2018! And a lot has changed for the better in terms of banking.

The pandemic spurred investments in technology and digital channels to reach customers—a benefit for the banking and fintech industry. However, we must now utilize opportunities accelerated by the pandemic to create a future of better financial health for everyone.

I wanted to use my keynote speech to highlight the “Empathy Gap” between what customers need and what banks can offer today, especially given the fast-changing economic environment. For me, it’s essential we discuss how fintech can help bridge the communication gap between banks and customers. Banks need to strategically implement discourse analysis tools with measurable KPIs to ensure they don’t return to past mistakes.

That’s where human-centered AI comes in. In this case, AI is our chatbot-powered Empathy Engine that can converse with customers via an app to get a deeper understanding of their needs. Through conversation, banks can grow their revenue using customers’ contextual information. With more customer data, individual banks can meet and even predict an individual’s needs, improving financial health as they tailor their products and services as a result. Of course, conversational data is only a part of it. You still need the bank data – otherwise, you only get half the truth.

BOND.AI won Best of Show at FinovateFall 2018 with a live demo of its Empathy Engine. You’ve also talked about something you call the “Empathy Gap.” For the uninitiated, what does the “empathy gap” mean?

Akkaraju: The Empathy Engine is our main vehicle for closing the gap between customer needs and a bank’s inability to meet those needs, which we’ve labeled the “Empathy Gap.” We quantify this gap between what banks offer and what individuals need to be worth roughly $34.2 trillion. I like to say the only thing that changes faster than technology is consumer expectations. Unfortunately, banks’ inability to keep up with those expectations leaves them with a lot of money left on the table for them and a lot of lost opportunities for consumers.

The Empathy Engine helps banks to better communicate with and service consumers to close this “Empathy Gap.” We use its ability to talk directly to customers and deliver personalized service at scale. This aids banks in seeing a holistic picture of each individual and better meeting their financial needs.

The main point of my presentation, though, was to make it clear it’s not going to be possible for one fintech or financial institution to close that gap alone. That’s why we created The BOND Network, to connect banks, employers, and fintechs and make it a true network—not just a marketplace—to balance the needs of all three stakeholders.

How does BOND.AI’s Empathy Engine flow from this?

Akkaraju: We launched the world’s first Empathy Engine for finance in 2018. It’s designed to bridge what the consumer needs against what the bank can offer to give a holistic view of customers, including their needs, strengths, weaknesses, and potential.

Right now, for customer segmentation, banks only consider financial data, and that information remains too broad. It fails to keep up with fast-changing consumer expectations or recognize an individual’s circumstantial information. Segmentation should consider both financial and non-financial data to be effective and offer a hyper-personalized approach that talks directly to the customer.

The BOND.AI Empathy Engine was developed in response to this insight. Instead of considering massive amounts of data with lots of noise, the engine moves to a small-data approach, where segmentation happens based on actual and observed behavior rather than traditional correlations and predictors.

Who is BOND.AI’s primary market and how do those customers use your technology?

Akkaraju: Our primary market is currently made up of financial institutions to whom we provide a white-label solution for insights, analytics, and customer communication. These are our core customers, and they are also members and contributors to The BOND Network.

We also have employers on the network who provide our mobile app to their employees as a financial benefit. At this point, we have 28 employers bringing about 300,000 employees into the network, which is set to grow next year.

What makes BOND.AI’s technology unique in the way it solves problems for your customers?

Akkaraju: Our Empathy Engine is the first-of-our-kind, human-centered technology focused on increasing the financial health of institutions and individual consumers. It also powers The BOND Network, which nurtures an ecosystem of financial institutions, fintechs, employers, and employees that all benefit. The engine identifies stakeholder needs and connects the dots to fulfill those needs, thus making this a network rather than a marketplace.

This is how our efforts move ‘beyond finance’. We believe to bridge the Empathy Gap it will take collaborative action to understand people as more than just transactional data and talk to them instead to establish their needs and situational context. With AI tools, we can speak directly to customers from the comfort of their own home or on the go with our mobile app. This intimacy builds trust and strengthens the customer’s relationship with their bank, so people feel able to share their problems.

The best part? Insights are there for everyone across the network to see how they can further close the Empathy Gap.

I think some would be surprised to learn that BOND.AI has headquarters in Little Rock, Arkansas. What does Little Rock offer a company like BOND.AI?

Akkaraju: There’s a lot we feel Little Rock can offer us, which is why we moved here! We were previously based in New York but chose Little Rock strategically for both the company and our employees. The work-life balance is good here. There’s also barely any commute considering most places can be reached in 20 minutes. That’s ideal for a fast-growing start-up where time is money.

There has been a move away from the coast, but tier-two cities are also getting a little cramped. People are happy to explore other options at this point, and Little Rock is an interesting place where both company and employee dollars stretch further.

There are also a lot of possibilities here for us as a start-up looking to connect with employers and their workers. Walmart’s headquarters is here, and many of its vendors are nearby. You don’t need to move to the city to find talent and opportunity. The next thing we’d like to do is start consciously investing in the local talent we think is out there to really prove that to people.

What can we expect from BOND.AI in 2023?

Akkaraju: In 2023 we’re excited for our app to be going direct-to-consumer via employers and expanding our partnerships for The BOND Network. We’ll be using these acquisitions to grow the company organically. These developments will also aid us in our mission to give the power of data back to the consumer and show banks what types of data they can leverage more effectively.

We want to focus on alternative wealth building, giving more people the tools they need to take control of their finances confidently. Budgeting is good, but it doesn’t fix the bottom line and, in many cases, more support is needed. We want to extend the possibilities of financial inclusion by giving everyone access to the tools used by high-net-worth individuals and sharing guidance on how to use them.

Photo by Tara Winstead