One week on we look back at Finovate Europe from the eyes of Benjamin Ensor and Oliwia Berdak of Forrester.
Finovate came to London again this week and I was lucky enough to attend. Here are my thoughts from the two days:
- This year’s big theme was robo-advice. Every Finovate seems to have an unofficial, accidental theme with a large group of start-ups clustered around the same disruption, like PFM, mobile payments, small business banking or digital wallets. This year it was robo-advice.
- Robo advice is starting to look crowded. Each of the new digital investment managers has a distinct story. Scalable Capital offers a sophisticated quantitative, value-at-risk strategy. MeetInvest helps investors mimic the strategies of famous investors like Benjamin Graham or Peter Lynch.*Investify lets investors choose themes that feel right. DriveWealth offers fractional share investing to allow low-cost access to the US markets. SwipeStox makes it easy to follow other investors through an app. Capitali.se converts ideas into trading rules. Europe has many countries and investors are diverse. Even so, the market is starting to seem crowded. Clearly the cost of managing investment portfolios is falling, which should enable firms to break even with fewer assets under management, but the costs of regulatory compliance and marketing to achieve growth have not diminished. Investment performance will sort the unicorns from the donkeys.
- Personalization is coming; it’s just not here yet. If robo-advice was the most popular theme, personalization struck me as the most important one. In one way or another, at least a dozen of the exhibitors including Innofis, InvestGlass, Livian Technologies, Meniga, North Side, Persado,Personetics,SBDA Group and Strands are using technologies like predictive analytics and machine learning to help financial firms engage customers with relevant and helpful messages based on an individual customer’s context. Financial firms have a few years to demonstrate relevance before other firms start showing how to deliver more relevant advice and recommendations using their customers’ financial data.
- Collaborative advice is becoming a reality. It was good to see firms like Additiv, Backbase,Envestnet and SaleMove building capabilities to deliver human advice through digital touchpoints, and help advisors, agents and bankers help customers more effectively. Despite the growing use of digital self service, most people still want human help for complex or emotional interactions.
- Insurance finally appeared at Finovate. Despite the disruption promised by driverless cars and the obvious potential of telematics, wearables and the Internet of Things, not a single insurance start-up has decided to demo at Finovate Europe in the past five years. So I was delighted to see OutShared, a digital insurance platform spun out of the Dutch direct insurer InShared, showing how digital technologies can improve customer experiences and make processes more efficient in insurance. SaleMove also showed how its collaboration technologies apply to insurance. I hope many other insurance innovators will follow.
- Use the API, obviously. It’s fascinating how quickly APIs have become accepted by both strategy and technology executives as obviously the right approach (though I realize it’s not quite that simple). A couple of years ago hardly anyone mentioned APIs. This year perhaps half the companies did. It’s hard to think of another technology, standard or approach that has become so widely accepted so quickly that it passes without comment or explanation. Well, perhaps biometrics.
- Biometrics continue to impress. I’ve said this before, but it’s remarkable how quickly fingerprint, facial and voice recognition technologies have developed, with impressive capabilities on show from firms like EyeVerify, IDscan and VoicePIN. As my colleagues Andras Cser and Merritt Maxim have written, it’s time to kill passwords.
- Nobody demonstrated QR codes. Phew.
- The Bitcoin bubble has burst. Bitcoin and blockchain companies were notably absent, except forLedger’s hardware wallet . The potential of blockchain technology is still too far out and too unproven for more than experimentation.
I continue to admire all the presenters at Finovate. Summarizing what you do and what problem that solves, and then demonstrating that it works, and being memorable and engaging all in seven minutes is no easy feat. Congratulations to Capitali.se, DriveWealth, EyeVerify, IDscan, SwipeStox and Valuto for winning Best of Show.
Thank you to Jim Bruene, Greg Palmer and the rest of the Finovate crew for an entertaining and thought-provoking two days.
* OK, not truly famous. Famous within investment management.
Games of buzzword bingo and comparisons of on-stage role-play to 1980s’ pornography acting…today’s comments on Twitter prove that it takes guts to face the sometimes cruel Finovate crowd. But if you want to measure the current beat of banking, wealth management, insurance, and startup hearts, there’s no better place than Finovate. Here are a few reflections on Finovate Europe 2016:
- Robo-advice is all the rage. Just when blockchain made it into a Dilbert cartoon, it disappeared from the Finovate stage. The only mention of cryptocurrencies was during Ledger’s presentation of its “hardware wallets for decentralised applications” (bitcoins, basically). This is not a bad thing; Forrester advice is to maintain a healthy level of scepticism. Finovate isn’t the place to prove blockchain’s purported capabilities. We’ve also moved away from personal finance management (fondly called PFM), mobile payments, digital wallets. If you want to be in vogue, you now need to pay attention to digitising investment strategies, biometric authentication and contextual engagement. Apart from the international-payments startup Valuto, this year’s Best of Show winners (Capitali.se, DriveWealth,SwipeStox, EyeVerify, IDscan) all fall under the first two themes.
- Let’s not discount user experience and relevance. Firms like Meniga, Personetics and Strands didn’t win not because their solutions weren’t good, but because audiences are looking to be wowed with something new rather than seeing incremental innovations. This doesn’t mean that what they’ve set out to do – engaging customers with personalised messages and offers – has been achieved. Doing so will require commitment and graft from banking executives. However, it doesn’t set their hearts racing. One way of achieving freshness is by transposing tested digital strategies from personal banking to corporate or private banking (as shown in the presentations of ING Bank Śląski/uselab and Backbase). Still, all these companies are steadily building a convincing story of what incumbents can do to with their rich customer data.
- Everyone is eager, but collaboration is tough. As I’ve written in my previous blog post, tales of successful collaboration between incumbents and startups have proliferated. As many startups hit prohibitive customer acquisition costs, they are eager to benefit from incumbents’ scale, capital, and customer base. White-labelling should be added to the Finovate buzzword bingo. Lendstar, meetinvest, SwipeStox all pitched their services for white-labelling. But as financial services companies seek to differentiate themselves by getting early and sometimes exclusive access to cutting-edge solutions, they will increasingly nurture their local innovation ecosystem. It was interesting to see so many Swiss startups this year, just as wealth management gained prominence at the event. No coincidence, I think.