The final countdown has begun to Finovate in San Jose, a conference that ranks as my favorite show for learning and recharging that vision vibe, especially in key areas of fintech that I’ll outline shortly. 

I’ve stopped counting the number of times I’ve attended the West Coast show, but I’ve certainly enjoyed watching the conference grow up. After my first show, one entrepreneur on a shoestring climbed aboard the San Francisco Muni toting what looked like a cardboard science fair presentation. In time, Finovate smartly moved to San Jose – the self-proclaimed “capital of Silicon Valley” – and this year it is upgrading to space in the voluminous Convention Center.

Some things never change, notably:

  • The gong. That seven-minute clock provides presenters with a sense of urgency, and sometimes the gong offers attendees a sense of sweet relief that no demo will drag on long. Start the over/under betting now on how far into the day we’ll go before the first gong. 
  • Buzzword Bingo. Cross off a space on your card every time you hear a presenter repeat the most inescapable words of day. This year, I nominate variations of “friction” for the free center space.
  • Double-take names. I’ll want to check the pronunciation of, because my high school Spanish instinctively makes me say, “Me llamo…” Neener Analytics just makes me grin. I’ll want to ask Checkbook why it wants to identify with a 20th-century anachronism. But I don’t want to go anywhere FUCO. 
  • Innovative ideas. Wearing my personal finance hat, I will make a beeline to hear more from Unison, which will put up part of a down payment or enable homeowners to tap their equity – in return for a stake in the house. And I’m eager to hear what’s new from PayNearMe, which offers a way for the unbanked to pay bills with cash at CVS and 7-Eleven. 

Based on the nearly 60 presenters, attendees will come away with mind-stretching demonstrations of fintech that is too broad for my brain to full absorb.  To cope, I will focus my eyes and ears on presenters who appear to address five topics that are particularly relevant to my current work at Javelin:

  1. Digitally Empowered Advice. Bank survival depends on evolving along Javelin’s five-stage Digital Banking Maturity Path. Most financial institutions are anchored in the second stage of Transactional Competence.  Innovative FIs will be on the lookout at Finovate for startups that can help FIs position themselves as guides and advisers along a lifelong financial journey.
  2. Personalization. Providing advice and recommendations hinges on the ability to mine data and regularly deliver financial advice on cash flow, savings habits, creditworthiness, and investing. Key buzzwords here: artificial intelligence, machine learning, predictive analytics, and structured and unstructured data. 
  3. Personal finance innovation. The days of “PFM” in a tab are long dead. It’s time to inject personal finance features into every digital login. That will depend on startups plugging into banking platforms with APIs.
  4. Alerts. Financial alerts – and I’m particularly bullish about push notifications – will play an essential role in delivering personalized insight and advice. The near-term channel challenge is coming up with an effective way to deliver alerts in email, text, push, smartphones, Facebook Messenger, chatbots, and whatever else comes along. 
  5. Digital account opening. Online and mobile channels are critical to sales success – yet the majority of successful applicants fail to achieve the ideal outcome of completing an application in a single channel in a single session. Because most digital applicants touch multiple channels, the more practical goal is to integrate the channels in a way that satisfies applicants and maximizes completed applications. 

Note to presenters: If you play with banks in any of those five sandboxes, shoot me an email so we can connect.


About Mark Schwanhausser

Mark strategizes how financial institutions can track and serve customers across the channels they use, and provide a consistent, integrated brand and user experience. Mark helps banks and credit unions profitably enable customers to monitor and manage their money more intelligently through technology such as online banking, mobile banking, personal financial management, financial alerts, and technologies on the horizon. 

Mark led the development of Javelin’s Digital Banking Maturity Path, a strategic framework for assessing a financial institution’s ability to deliver advice in digital channels, and the Financial Journey Model, which builds digital banking on a foundation of time-tested personal finance principles. He has also mapped out strategies to upgrade online banking, digital account opening, and financial alerts in a mobile-first era. 

Before joining Javelin, Mark was a personal finance reporter for the San Jose Mercury News. He covered money and emerging trends in financial services and payments technology.

Mark has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri at Columbia and attended Antioch College.

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