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5 Takeaways from 40 Demos at Finovate Day 1

Posted by on Oct 1, 2018 in Conference Summaries
5 Takeaways from 40 Demos at Finovate Day 1

Finovate can be a tough crowd.

The conference has set the bar high when it comes to product pitches. This is not a venue for the faint at heart or for vendors with buggy demos. The crowd attending this year’s Finovate Fall does not suffer fools kindly as a number of firms discovered during their presentations.

But most of the demo went smoothly and gave us a wide cross-section of new technologies that could revolutionize any number of areas of fintech: artificial intelligence, robo-advisor, customer experience, corporate finance, cybersecurity and lending solutions.

This was my first time at Finovate and I found it to be informative and fast-paced. Lots of information to process in a short time. Well run conference overall with only minor technical glitches.

There were 40 demos on Monday (yes 40!) and I’ve covered most of them here for you.

Artificial Intelligence

Appen

Appen has an interesting business model. They use a curated form of crowdsourcing to help firms who need large data sets to train machine learning algorithms. Appen’s strength is in providing what they call “human-annotated” data. Apparently,  humans are still better than software at managing subjectivity, understanding intent and resolving ambiguity.

Exagens

Exagens has built an autonomous AI-powered financial assistant that they have named, Personal Banker. They claim that their product has helped their client Desjardins, which is a federation of Canadian credit unions, to open 90,000 new accounts with $500mm in new deposits.

Their application combines behavioral science with machine learning and analyzes customer conversations to increase engagement and conversion rates by 4X.  One example, is that the system does not recommend calling people if they have recently paid fees since they would be less receptive.

Exagens is headquartered in Canada and was founded in 2013.

NestReady

@NestReady uses machine learning to increase qualified leads, drive conversions, and increasing portfolio retention for banks and other lenders.  They are headquartered in Canada, have raised $5.7 million, and their platform is live with 10 clients in the U.S. and Canada.

Anything that can provide actionable intelligence will make the end user’s life easier and increase their productivity.

Robo-Advisors

AccessSoftek

The four pillars of banks digital future: Mobile & online banking, omnichannel lending & account opening. roboadvisor that can be seamlessly integrated into a mobile banking. They claim to have 400 clients with over 5 million end users

$1.4T – aggregate assets of community banks
$33T – stock market

Aixigo

Aixigo has developed a digital wealth integration layer to build model portfolios, algorithmic models and models of models.

The company is headquartered in Germany and was founded in 1999. They have 105 employees and their solutions reach 3 million end customers who are concentrated in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. 875 portfolios per second.

There might be a bit of a language barriers during their initial push into the US.  Reading through the English version of their website that is trying to explain how their robo-advisor software helps customers understand their options, they say that “with such functions you avoid abortions due to ignorance or lack of understanding”.

Consumer Retail Apps

I had a hard time naming this section, because these apps are all so different. But the common theme is that they are all designed to be companions to and enhance consumer retail transactions.

Bumped

Bumped is an app with a different spin on consumer loyalty reward programs. They want to consumers to link their credit cards to a Bumped account and received cash back in the form of retailer’s publicly-traded stock.  Turning shoppers into shareholders!

It is similar to what Acorns is doing with their Spare Change Roundup feature combined with the Found Money loyalty program that rewards consumers with money deposited into their investment accounts whenever they make a purchase at a partner retailer. While Acorns invests in a generic basket of ETFs, Bumped purchases fractional shares of the stock of the company you’re purchasing from and their brand partners include Home Depot, Target, CVS, and Spotify. (See Acorns: We’re Not Just Gathering Assets, We’re Building a Brand)

Surprise! There are no fees associated with Bumped investment accounts. This could be a differentiator if they can get Acorns’ customers to care about the fees they pay, but I don’t see that happening.

Acorns has a huge lead with over four million customers, so Bumped has an uphill battle for Millennial eyeballs.  They already have an impressive list of partners, but this list needs to grow exponentially to encourage enough consumers to download and use the app.

While the individual stock angle will get them some marketing heat, it puts a serious limitation on their reward program since it only open to companies with publicly-traded shares.  That is a very small fraction of the total US retail market.

Bumped is headquartered in Oregon and has raised $14.1 million in a Series A funding round.

Bucket

Bucket is a combination mobile app and point of sale (POS) system that is trying to eliminate the need for merchants to give physical coins when making change by instantly converting them into digital cash and the into gift cards, charitable donations or savings. They generate revenue on their customers deposits sitting at a partner bank.

Their goal is to mobilize the value of coin by targeting the more than 80% of global consumer transactions that are still made using cash. Unfortunately, this stat is highly skewed by the tremendous volume from developing countries. In the US, cash only accounts for 31% of transactions.

In the EU, cash is exchanged in 70% of retail transactions, with heavier usage in the poorer countries in Eastern Europe.

And that’s going to be a problem for Bucket Technologies, the founders of Bucket, in the long run.  While overall global usage of cash is actually increasing (I was surprised by that), it’s concentrated primarily in lower income households and developing countries. These consumers are inherently less likely to use this kind of app.

With the POS component, Bucket will also have to convince hundreds of retail chains to install their software. At the same time, different marketing is required for lower income consumers to convince them to download the app. Most only use 6-7 apps regularly, so you’re fighting for their attention. It’s the worst kind of chicken and egg scenario.

I would suggest that Bucket looking to becoming an RIA as well (at least in the US). Then they could open an account for every customer and provide the option of investing in a basket of index ETFs.

Billshark

This was one of the best business ideas and company execution I have seen today.  Their demo was well-rehearsed and did a good job explaining the strengths of their service and their value added.  They would be a good partner for banks with their white-labeled API solution and they appear to build customer value right from the start.

Billshark offers a free service that claims they can lower consumer and small business bills through cancellation, negotiation and curated shopping. The company was founded in 2015, is headquartered in Massachusetts, and has 70,000 customers.

“Messaging works. Folks who get prompted to try Billshark in text messages are 3 times more likely to complete a negotiation request vs. ones who discover the feature on their own” – Ivo Parashkevov, Charlie co-founder

I was wondering how the process works and how they make money. So, I signed up for the Billshark service and found out a few interesting details:

  • This is not an automated service. They appear to have a call center staffed with people (referred to as “sharks”) who specialize in negotiating the type of bills you give them. I never knew that Verizon Wireless Bill Negotiation was a speciality. But apparently, it is. Along with every other mobile carrier, cable companies, home security. I don’t see how this business can scale if there are bunch of people behind the scenes doing all the work.
  • Revenue Model: They take a 40% cut of any savings they can negotiate! Wow! I was stunned when I saw this number. I remember those eBay stores that would sell your stuff for you only took 30% and they were doing a lot more work!
  • Once you submit a bill to them you cannot refuse to accept the savings. Not sure why someone would refuse to save money, but it must have happened since they put this in their FAQ.
  • They do not negotiate bills for utilities, insurance or credit cards.
  • They offer a separate service to help negotiate business bills.

SmrtSvr

SmrtSvr was one of my favorite products from Finovate Fall Day 1 . Targeting workers in the gig economy or anyone else, like consultants, who get paid via 1099’s, SmrtSvr helps with complicated and difficult tasks like estimating and paying quarterly tax payments and also saving for them.

While millions of Americans manage their own taxes, it’s especially common for self-employed workers. But the requirement to pay quarterly taxes, which hits about about a third of gig workers, can be a surprise. Since planning is  a bothersome chore that many people ignore, the result is having to pay the IRS with a credit card because you didn’t save for taxes as you went along.

SmrtSvr has their own digital bank which enables them to open a savings account for every customer and also link to their checking account to monitor deposits.  Once a check for 1099 work is deposited, a small portion can be automatically transferred to the savings account to be used for upcoming quarterly tax payments.

The company is also a certified batch payment provider to the IRS, which enables them to make tax payments on customers’ behalf out of their savings account.  If you don’t have enough for scheduled payments, the app make recommendations to catch up.

The only downside I could see was that to compare income and expenses requires manual input of every expense. I’d like to see them use data aggregation to connect to credit cards to automatically capture expenses.

Overall, the app is a powerhouse of tools and automation that brings a W2-like experience to gig workers.

Marketing & Training

Launchfire

They’ve actually built a game, which looks a lot like SimCity to me, where you build your own bank. During the process, you learn all about the real bank’s products and services. Pretty smart product placement.

I’d be interested to see a pre- versus post-game survey on consumers’ brand recognition and product awareness to measure the game’s effectiveness.

Bank customers that use gamified marketing from @Launchfire are 91% more likely to recommend digital products to others #finovate

Customer Experience

Digital Onboarding

The eponymous fintech firm, Digital Onboarding, uses a combination of customized web pages, gamified incentives and text messaging to motivate customers to complete online account activations. A significant number of prospective customers abandon an online activation at some point.

Ted Brown, the firm’s CEO, reported that new customer onboarding is the number one issue facing retail banks today.   Traditional marketing is not effective in motivating traditional bank customers, he stated, 25-40% of checking accounts are closed every year.

Digital onboarding’s software remove human bias from marketing decisions and let bots take over, Brown stated.

There were two customer touch points that Digital Onboarding believe they can offer better customer experiences:

  • Website Layout – Their marketing automation tool analyzes bank websites to identify format improvements, and compares to other banks and can also automatically run A/B testing.
  • Messaging Cadence – When to deliver texts & emails that remind people of process steps. The system shuffles dates/times when messages go out and reports on which combination delivers the best results.

It sounds to me that a lot of what Digital Onboarding does is similar to part of what’s offered by digital marketing firm Hubspot.  I wonder if Digital Onboarding’s focus on banking would give them an edge or if any firm can make use of Hubspot to improve customer response?

Digital Onboarding has 12 employees and has raised $500K. The company was founded in 2015 and is headquartered in Massachusetts.

RelayItfinovate fall 2018

Relay Networks calls themselves a “secure customer messaging company” that helps businesses better engage their customers through a private channel for sales and support.  It looks like they use text messages with links to direct customers and prospects to a personalized, news-feed style interface where a company can post messages

and interact with them.

CEO and co-founder Matt Gillin asked, “If feeds can change the way we interact with friends, why can’t it do the same thing with businesses and customers?”

The jury is out on whether enough people want another feed in their life that they have to check and scroll through to find the information they’re looking for. But Relay Networks seems to have found a niche.  Launched in 2010, the firm is active in multiple industries and has raised $26 million, with 23+ million total users, and over 1 million customer engagements weekly.

Fintech is just one of six verticals they support (others include healthcare and energy) and they automate many functions including scheduling, cross-selling and bill payment, their Finovate demo was focused on how they can improve onboarding.

One example of how their messaging can help is to prompt prospective customers to complete an online account opening form that they abandoned. Their messaging sits as an overlay across many customer interactions, so they may not have all of the

details or be able to dive into a specific one. This is different to the approach of NestReady that is tightly embedded in specific processes. Which approach is right? I guess it depends on your client U/X model.

Relay also offers tool that allows adminan to drag and drop components to design, configure, and automate personalized digital customer experiences through their CX Builder tool.

Salemove

SaleMove has developed a platform that enables firms to communicate with clients a number of different channels including chat, video and co-browsing.

Founder and CEO Daniel Michaeli explained the importance of having “pure human”, human-to-AI, and “pure AI” communication interaction options, noting that “Bots know the rules and humans know when to break them.”

1. Pure Human
  • Video, Audio, Phone, Chat or Co-browsing
  • Setup less than a month
  • Central console accepts all incoming channels
2. Human + AI
  • Agent receives intelligent actions
  • Create single question micro-bots
  • How much homeowner’s insurance should I buy?
  • Add New Engine (IBM, Amazon, Custom)

3. Pure AI

Salemove is a 4x Finovate Best of Show winner.

I’ve seen Salemove before at other conferences and have been impressed with their technology. (See 7 Impressions from the Orion Advisor Conference)

Systelos

Systelos is working on a platform that creates recommendations and connectivity between wealth advisors and their clients that includes public equity, insurance, tax, other integrated services. Interesting UX.

Systelos claims that their technology is “a new way of exchanging value between advisors and their clients.”  They have built a system designed to help advisors move beyond the traditional method of communicating value such as statement returns.

Sorry for the typo in the above tweet. My questions was why would an advisor use the

Systelos dashboard when he/she already has at least three active dashboards already?  Maybe I’m thinking too practically?

From their demo and website, it appears that Systelos is trying to combine slices of what advisors already have in CRM, risk profiling and financial planning into one unified experience. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of value added, in my opinion, because an advisor would still have to go directly to the other systems to update them anyway.

They claim that they are combining behavioral analysis with a comprehensive financial view.  Their dashboard combines investments, taxes, estates, and insurance with a recommendation engine that builds a customized value proposition for each client.

Customer expectations have changed, they stated during the demo.  You need to make collaborative decisions.

Family dashboard with a real-time feed of all client interactions – highlight changes to clients portfolios

Tolerisk

Tolerisk is a risk assessment and profiling tool for financial advisors that helps to answer important questions such as, “What’s the right level of risk?” and “What’s the probability that I run out of money?”

The company announced that they are expanding their services to support 401(k) plan participants with a goal of eliminating the use of generic target date funds. (See 5 Ways Big Data Can Improve Risk Tolerance Questionnaires)

According to founder Mark Friedenthal, Tolerisk’s use of dynamic mortality probabilities and directly mapping the risk profile to asset allocation will allow advisors to automatically adjust a client’s investment mix as they get older.

The company has integrations with popular CRMs such as Redtail and Wealthbox and plan to connect to wealth platforms from Orion Advisor Services and BlackDiamond in the future.

Tolerisk was founded in 2014 and is headquartered in New Jersey 

Cybersecurity

Averon

Averon has designed a system to eliminate the need for passwords as well as SMS-based two-factor authentication technology.  They have developed a system that uses QR Codes to enable instant logins using any smartphone.

Two factor authentication using SMS codes are broken, they declared from the stage.

What happened in above was that I took a screenshot and my phone automatically tried to execute the QR Code and take me to their demo site. Successful proof of concept!

One example of how this technology could prevent fraud is that Instagram was hacked via SMS codes sent to fake SIM cards. You shouldn’t blindly use in the same security measure with sensitive customer data that is not safe.

Customers who are victims of fraud are 2X more likely to switch banks they reported.

One of the best closing lines of any demo today, “SMS was never designed for security. It was designed for teenagers.”

Averon is headquartered in California and has raised $16 million in funding.

Ninth Wave

Ninth Wave is a data aggregation solution that claims to solve the security, ownership,

transparency & data management challenges of open banking.  On the first day of Finovate, a press release was put out by Enterprise Engineering, Inc. (EEI) saying they were spinning out Ninth Wave as a wholly-owned subsidiary.

CEO and founder George Anderson: “Our goal is to dramatically improve the safety of financial data sharing through innovation” and “put privacy, security, and control back where it belongs.”

EEI’s clients include eight of the top ten wealth managers, three of the top five U.S. banks, two government agencies, multinational financial services corporations and large credit unions from all over the country.

SecuredTouch

SecuredTouch offers a way for financial services firms to move beyond current user authentication methods like username/password, key fobs or even fingerprints, which are all subject to hacking and remote attacks.  I’ve been a big proponent of getting rid of passwords, although I thought that fingerprints were secure, until I saw this demo!

SecuredTouch technology creates a unique profile for each user by collecting and analyzing more than 100 physical behavior parameters, such as user finger pressure, finger size, mouse movements and/or touchscreen coordinates.

They leverage behavioral biometrics to uniquely identify and measure patterns in human interaction with any computing device. Behavioral biometrics adds an additional layer of security and provides seamless, continuous user authentication virtually impossible to imitate due to the innate nature of these characteristics,

according to the company.

Powered with machine learning capabilities, the solution continuously monitors and improves its accuracy, learns a wide variety of pattern elements for each individual and analyzes everything in the background, dynamically improving the security layer.

These behavioral biometric profiles are effective at detecting a remote attack called credential stuffing, which is when  hackers create bots to automatically enter stolen credentials into websites to check if they are valid. They demoed an example of a user using voice recognition versus playing back a recording of his voice. The correctly identified the latter as a recording and blocked the login attempt.

I believe that this type of technology should be adopted by every website, not just financial services. Medical records, email, and social media all should be secured with behavioral biometrics to block hackers who are stealing passwords by the millions.  It would also make passwords obsolete, which would save everyone an incredible amount time and effort.

Tala Security

Tala Security demonstrated their ClientPod product, which is designed to block client-

side scripting attacks. These are attacks that take place in the browser of an end user who could then be connecting to the website of a bank or other financial institution.

A typical example of a client-side attack is a malicious web page targeting a specific browser vulnerability that, if the attack is successful, would give the hacker complete control over the client system. Client-side attacks are not limited to the web setting, but these are the examples that were used in the demo.finovate fall 2018

Most security vendors have been focusing on protecting servers from remote attackers, so client-side attacks have become more popular among hackers. One particularly annoying attack has been from hackers tricking users into installing bitcoin mining code (called crypto-jacking attacks) through compromised Javascript.

Tala Software, which has raised $3 million since being founded in 2016 and has 6 employees, can help firms understand their “attack surface” meaning which part of the app is compromised, what platforms

are vulnerable, how users are being attacked, etc.  It also can identify trojans (hacker code hidden inside innocuous programs) and other dangerous malware activity.

While David Pinski obviously disagrees, I think companies should give Tala a look when it comes to protecting their mission critical applications.

Investment Research

ETFLogic

I found ETFLogic to have a unique solution that should do well in the wealth management space.  Their “Quant-in-a-Box” software answers questions around the liquidity and risk of ETFs using quant tools and analytics that traditionally have been difficult for advisors to understand or calculate.

According to the 2018 Trends in Investing Survey from the Financial Planning Association an incredible 87% of financial advisors use ETFs.

ETFLogic can compare details between multiple ETFs including expense ratios, underlying components, and performance.  They can also identify value/growth exposure in ETFs even if they do not have those words in their name.

Their TruCOST Trade Guidance tools provides transition analysis to show the portfolio impact of moving between different ETFs.

They seem to be a relatively small company and a niche platform, but the implications of the technology are exciting for ETF.  Currently just 12 clients including ETF issuers, traders, and hedge funds, but hopefully this exposure will get more firms interested in their tools.

Corporate Finance

iGTB

iGTB has developed a corporate treasury solution that they refer to as a contextual banking platform (CBX).  It connects directly to the firm’s accounting platform (one example they gave was QuickBooks, which must be relatively small companies) to import transactions and analyze them.

The system leverages artificial intelligence and machine learning to generates actionable insights for financial professionals at banks and corporations whether they are the treasurer, the CFO, or the AP clerk.

One example shown in the demo was analyzing transaction history and Identifying an F/X exposure created from invoices denominated in a foreign currency. The system checked the balance of that currency and if there isn’t enough, it recommends solutions such as a currency forwards contract to mitigate the exposure.

The CBX system is available in a white label format so that banks can provide it to their corporate clients.

iGTB has 5,000 employees, is headquartered in London, and was founded in 1985.

The company’s products are live in 90 countries and provide services for 192 banks.

Lending Solutions

Nordigen

allows lenders to get loan applicant account histories and verify income & other risk critical insight. Founded in 2016 and headquartered in Riga, Latvia, Nordigenannounced $800,000 in new funding this week in a round led by Seedcamp and Finnish venture capital firm Inventure.

Ouch!

I more of a visual learner.

Roasting the Demos & Suggestions

They take demos very seriously at Finovate. Companies tried to get away with showing screenshots or slideware in prior years when their product wasn’t ready. This year that was banned, but a few shifty vendors got around the prohibition by linking to static web pages!

4 minute demos? I thought 8 minutes was rushing. I like the real-time voting aspect. Maybe a gong and giant hook for low scoring demos? Most audiences don’t have any questions or don’t have any good questions in my experience. Maybe a panel of judges to give feedback after each demo?

5 Takeaways from 40 Demos at Finovate Day 1

by Craig Iskowitz