Banking “disruption,” or whatever – part 01

There’s near universal sentiment that traditional banks need to shift to improve and protect their businesses against financial startups, so called “FinTechs.” These startups create banks that are often 100% online, even purely as a mobile app. The release of Apple Pay highlights how these banks are different: they’re faster, more customer experience focused, and innovate new features. 

The core reason FinTechs can do all of this is because they’re good at creating well designed software that feels natural to people and allows these FinTechs to optimize the banking experience and even start innovating new features. People like banking with them!

These FinTechs are growing quickly, For example, N26 grew from 100,000 accounts in 2015 to 3.5m this year. Still, existing banks don’t seem to be feeling too much pain. In that same period, JPMC went from 39.2m digital accounts to 49m, adding 19.8m accounts. Even if it’s small or hard to chart, market share is being lost and existing banks are eager to respond. And, of course, the FinTechs are eager to take advantage of slower moving banks with the $128bn of VC funding that’s fueled FinTech growth.

I wanted to get a better handle on all this, so I’ve put together this “hot take” on digital banking, FinTech’s, whatever. My conclusion is that these new banks take advantage of having a clean-slate – a lack of legacy baggage in business models and technology stacks – to focus most of their attention on customer experience, doing software really well. This is at the heart of most “tech companies” operational differentiation, and it’s no different in banking. 

Large, existing banks may be “slow moving,” but they have deep competitive advantages if they can address the legacy of past success: those big, creaking backend systems and a culture of product development that, well, isn’t product development. Thankfully, there are several instances and case studies of banks keeping transforming how they do business.

That Apple Card sure looks cool

As with you, I’m sure, I’m curious about the excited around the Apple Card. It looks cool, with features like quick activation and tight (perhaps too tight!) integration with the iPhone. The card benefits aren’t too great compared to what’s widely available: the Apple Card gives you 1% to 3% cash back on purchases, with 3% only for Apple purchases.

Two other features got me thinking though.

The cash back amounts show up in your account by the end of the day. In contrast many credit cards offer cashback, it can take weeks or even months for that show up on your account – that cash back period, is perhaps not surprisingly hard to fine for cards. 

The Apple Card has a really quick activation process. Traditionally, getting your account setup, activating a card, can take days to weeks – usually, you need a card snail mailed to you. But once you setup your account, you can start using tap-to-pay with your phone. When I moved to Amsterdam, I setup an ABN AMRO account, and last week I setup an N26 account. In both instances, I had to wait several days to get a physical debit card. I could start transferring money instantly, however. 

There’s no guarantee that the Apple Card will be a competitive monster. Per usual, the huge customer base and trust Apple has boosts their chance. As Patrick McGee at The Financial Times notes: “JD Power survey published last week, before the card was even available, found that 52 per cent of those aged between 18 and 29 were aware of it; of those, more than half were likely to apply.” Apple usually has a great attach rate between the iPhone and new products. Signs point to the Apple Card working out well for Apple and their partners.

Shifting the market with innovation…right?

That snazzy UI and zippy features make me wonder, though, why is this new? Why aren’t these boring, commodified features in banking yet? Let’s broaden this question to banking in general, mostly retail or consumer banking for discussing here. 

Perhaps we have an innovation gap in banking, something that’s likely been ignored by existing banks for many years. These FinTechs, and other innovation-focused companies like Apple, have been using innovation as crowbars to take market share, coming up with better ways of servicing customers and new features.

Is that innovation getting FinTechs new business and sucking away customers from existing banks? To get a handle on that kind of market share shift I like to use a chart I call The Dediu Cliff to think about startups vs. incumbents. It’s a simple, quick way of showing how market share shifts between those two, how startups gain share and incumbents lose it. You chart out as many years as you can in a 100% area graph showing the shift in market share between the various players. Getting that data for banking has so far proved difficult, but let’s take a swag at it anyhow.

Whatever the business models, financial services executives seem to think so as one PWC survey found: 73% of those executives “perceive consumer banking as the one most [banking products] likely to be disrupted by FinTech.” Being lazy, I found a pre-made data set to show this, in Sweden thanks to McKinsey:

Sweden - Screen Shot 2019-08-14 at 4.55.06 PM.png
Sources: “Disruption in European consumer finance: Lessons from Sweden,” Albion Murati, Oskar Skau, and Zubin Taraporevala, McKinsey, April 2018; “New rules for an old game: Banks in the changing world of financial intermediation,” Miklos Dietz, Paul Jenkins, Rushabh Kapashi, Matthieu Lemerle, Asheet Mehta, Luisa Quetti, McKinsey, Nov 2018. 

As the report notes, Sweden is very advanced in digital banking. In comparison, they estimate that in the UK the “specialist” firms have less than 20% share. In this dataset, “specialist” isn’t exactly all new and fun FinTech startups, but this chart shows the shift from “universal,” traditional banks to new types of banks and services. There’s a market shift.

If I had more time, I’d want to make a similar Dediu Cliff for more than just Sweden. As a bad, but quick example, comparing JPMC’s retail banking customer growth to N26’s:

100% area - Screen Shot 2019-08-14 at 4.55.09 PM.png
Sources: “How JPMorgan Is Preparing For The Next Generation Of Consumer Banking,” CBInsights, August, 2018; JPMC 2018 annual report; “N26 is now one of the highest valued FinTechs globally,” N26 Blog, July, 2019.

 

This chart is not too useful because it shows just one bank to one FinTech, though. And JPMC is much lauded for its innovation abilities. At the end, in the summer of 2019 JPMC has 62m household customers, with 49m being “digital,” and N26 has 3.5m, all “digital” we should assume. Here’s the breakdown:

 

bar chart - Screen Shot 2019-08-14 at 4.55.11 PM.png
Sources: “How JPMorgan Is Preparing For The Next Generation Of Consumer Banking,” CBInsights, August, 2018; JPMC 2018 annual report; “N26 is now one of the highest valued FinTechs globally,” N26 Blog, July, 2019.

Growth, as you’d expect, is something else: JPMC had a CAGR of 8%, while N26’s was 227%. If N26 survives, that of course means their growth will flatten, eventually.

Even if it’s hard to chart well, we should take it that the new bread of FinTechs are taking market share. Financial services executives seem to think so as one PWC survey found: 73% of those executives “perceive consumer banking as the one most [banking products] likely to be disrupted by FinTech.” 

To compound the fogginess, as in the original Dediu Cliff, charting the dramatic shift from PCs to smart phones, the threat often comes from completely unexpected competitors. The market is redefined, from just PCs for example, to PCs and smart phones. This leaves existing businesses (PC manufacturers) blind-sided because their markets are redefined. Customer’s desires and buying habits change: they want to spend their computer share of wallet and time on iPhones, not Wintels. 

Taking this approach in banking, there are numerous FinTechs going over underserved markets that are “underbanked” and usually deprioritized by existing banks. This is a classic, “Big D” disruption strategy. One of the more fascinating examples are ride-sharing companies that become de facto banks because they handle the money otherwise bankless drivers earn.

There’s also a hefty threat from behemoth tech companies outside of banking that are stumbling into finance. Companies like Alibaba and WeChat have huge presences in payments and Facebook is always up to something. These entrants could prove to be the most threatening long term if they redefine what the market is and how it operates.

Differentiating by focusing on people

So, there is a shift going on. What are these FinTechs doing? Let’s simplify to three things:

  1. Mobile – an emphasis on mobile as the core branch and workflow, often 100% mobile.
  2. Speed – from signing up, to transferring money, to, as with the Apple Card, faster cash back. While it’ll take awhile to get my card, actually signing up with N26 was quick, including taking pictures of my Netherlands residency card for ID verification. I signed up at 11:29am and was ready to go at 4:05pm, on a Sunday no less.
  3. Innovation – sort of. It’s not really about new features, but innovations in how people interact with the banks. N26 let you create “spaces” which are just sub accounts used to organize budgets and reports; bunq lets you create 25 new accounts; many FinTechs (like the Apple Card) bundle in transaction type reporting and budgeting tools. All of those are interesting, but not ground breaking…yet. 

From a competitive analysis stand-point, what’s frustrating is that feature-by-feature, traditional banks and FinTechs seems to be on par. Throw in services like mint.com and all the supposedly new features that FinTechs have seem to be available don’t look so unique anymore. Paying with your phone amazing, to be sure, but that’s long been done by existing banks.

For all the charts and surveys you can pile on, the difference amounts to a subjective leap of faith. FinTech companies are more customer centric, focusing on the customer experience. When you look at the broader “tech companies” that enterprises aspire to imitate, customer experience is one of the primary differentiators. Their software is really good. More precisely, how their software helps people accomplish tasks is well designed and ever improving.

There’s a sound vision to be plucked from that for banks: “Live more, bank less,” as DBS Bank  in Singapore puts it.

Unshackled

Responding to all of this seems easy on the face of it: if these FinTechs can do it, why not the thousands of developers with their bank-sized budgets do it?

As ever, banks suffer from the shackles of success: all the existing processes, IT, and thought technologies that was wildly successful and drives their billions in revenue….but hasn’t been modernized in years, or even decades.

In part 2, we’ll look at what banks can do to unshackle themselves, and maybe slip on some new shackles for the next ten years.

(There are some footnotes that didn’t get over here.  For those, and if you want to see me wrastlin’ through part two, or leave a comment, check out the raw Google Doc of this.)

🗂 Link: Financial services and cloud: Delivering digital transformation in a highly regulated industry

“The most difficult part of what was a 10-month programme of work was that we were working to transform the current application, which was manually built, on-premise, and converting that into infrastructure as code,” says Niculescu.

“So we essentially took what would be manually-built environments that would usually take us weeks and months and numerous contract amendments to essentially grow and scale environments, and transformed it so that we could do them within the day – but now we can do all of this within 40 minutes, roughly.”

Source: Financial services and cloud: Delivering digital transformation in a highly regulated industry

Banks are handling disruption well – Highlights

Thus far, it seems like the large banks are fending off digital disruption, perhaps embracing some of it on their own. The Economist takes a look:

  • “Peer-to-peer lending, for instance, has grown rapidly, but still amounted to just $19bn on America’s biggest platforms and £3.8bn in Britain last year”
  • “last year JPMorgan Chase spent over $9.5bn on technology, including $3bn on new initiatives”
  • From a similar piece in the NY Times: “The consulting firm McKinsey estimated in a report last month that digital disruption could put $90 billion, or 25 percent of bank profits, at risk over the next three years as services become more automated and more tellers are replaced by chatbots.”
  • But: “Much of this change, however, is now expected to come from the banks themselves as they absorb new ideas from the technology world and shrink their own operations, without necessarily losing significant numbers of customers to start-ups.”
  • Back to The Economist piece: “As well as economies of scale, they enjoy the advantage of incumbency in a heavily regulated industry. Entrants have to apply for banking licences, hire compliance staff and so forth, the costs of which weigh more heavily on smaller firms.”
  • Regulations and customer loyalty are less in China, resulting in more investment in new financial tech in Asia: 
  • As another article puts it: “China has four of the five most valuable financial technology start-ups in the world, according to CB Insights, with Ant Financial leading the way at $60 billion. And investments in financial technology rose 64 percent in China last year, while they were falling 29 percent in the United States, according to CB Insights.”
  • Why? “The obvious reason that financial start-ups have not achieved the same level of growth in the United States is that most Americans already have access to a relatively functional set of financial products, unlike in Africa and China.”
  • There’s some commentary on the speed of sharing blockchain updates can reduce multi-day bank transfers (and payments) to, I assume, minutes. Thus: ‘“Blockchain reduces the cost of trust,” says Mr Lubin of ConsenSys.’

Fixing legacy problems with new platforms, not easy

  • The idea of building banking platforms to clean up the decades of legacy integration problems.
  • Mainframes are a problem, as a Gartner report from last year puts it: “The challenge for many of today’s modernization projects is not simply a change in technology, but often a fundamental restructuring of application architectures and deployment models. Mainframe hardware and software architectures have defined the structure of applications built on this platform for the last 50 years. Tending toward large-scale, monolithic systems that are predominantly customized, they represent the ultimate in size, complexity, reliability and availability.”
  • But, unless/until there’s a crisis, changes won’t be funded: “Banks need to be able to justify the cost and risk of any modernization project. This can be difficult in the face of a well-proven, time-tested portfolio that has represented the needs of the banking system for decades.”
  • Sort of in the “but wasn’t that always the goal, but from that same article, Gartner suggests the vision for new fintech: ‘Gartner, Hype Cycle for Digital Banking Transformation, 2015, says, “To be truly digital, banks must pair an emphasis on customer-facing capabilities with investment in the technical, architectural, analytic and organizational foundations that enable participation in the financial services ecosystem.”’
  • BCG has a prescriptive piece for setting the strategy for all this, from Nov. 2015.

Case studies

  • A bit correlation-y, but still useful, from that BCG piece: “While past performance is no guarantee of future results, and even though all the company’s results cannot be entirely attributed to BBVA’s digital transformation plan, so far many signs are encouraging. The number of BBVA’s digital customers increased by 68% from 2011 to 2014, reaching 8.4 million in mid-2014, of which 3.6 million were active mobile users. Because of the increasing use of digital channels and efforts to reconfigure the bank’s branch network—creating smaller branches that emphasize customer self-service and larger branches that provide higher levels of personalized advice through a remote cross-selling support system—BBVA achieved a reduction in costs of 8% in 2014, or €340 million, in the core business in Spain. Meanwhile, the bank’s net profits increased by 26% in 2014, reaching €2.6 billion.”
  • And a more recent write-up of JPMC’s cloud-native programs, e.g.: ‘“We aren’t looking to decrease the amount of money the firm is spending on technology. We’re looking to change the mix between run-the-bank costs versus innovation investment,” he said. “We’ve got to continue to be really aggressive in reducing the run-the bank costs and do it in a very thoughtful way to maintain the existing technology base in the most efficient way possible.” …Dollars saved by using lower-cost cloud infrastructure and platforms will be reinvested in technology, he said.’ JPMC, of course, is a member of the Cloud Foundry Foundation which means, you know, they’re into that kind of thing.

The coming billions in updating bank’s COBOL stacks

Commonwealth Bank of Australia, for instance, replaced its core banking platform in 2012 with the help of Accenture and software company SAP SE. The job ultimately took five years and cost more than 1 billion Australian dollars ($749.9 million).

Being conservative, multiply $500m across the top 20 banks, and you’ve got $10bn, using $749.8m directly, you get much closer to $15bn.

Better start planning.

Source: Banks scramble to fix old systems as IT ‘cowboys’ ride into sunset

Five banking startups: back office optimatition and retail analytics

You can get a sense of the types of projects and applications of cloud native banks are interested in by looking over these Capital One startup contest winners:

– Credit Kudos – an alternative credit scoring platform that measures credit worthiness using real-time transaction data captured automatically from the borrower, providing a transparent and up-to-date view of a person’s credit profile. Freddy Kelly, CEO of Credit Kudos, said: “Our aim is to change the way credit scoring works, from an opaque black box system to something that allows individuals to get the most value from their data. As a pioneer in lending, we believe Capital One is the perfect partner for us to bring Credit Kudos to the market.”
– Multisense – a secure end-to-end solution put together as a user-friendly mobile platform which includes face, voice and fingerprint recognition which can be combined with GPS and NFC. Aviram Siboni, CEO of Multisense, said: “Being part of this accelerator programme is an amazing opportunity. Not only to get the chance to join forces with Capital One, but also to bring our biometrics authentication platform a step closer to the UK market – it’s such an incredible time for us to innovate alongside Capital One.”
– Pariti – a mobile banking app enabling users to take control of their money, reduce interest payments and start saving. The app connects to separate bank accounts and credit cards and automatically identifies income and bills so users know what they can safely spend each week. Matthew Ford, CEO and Founder of Pariti, said “It is extremely exciting to have been selected to go forward in this process and I look forward to working very closely with Capital One to further develop Pariti and enhance the future of banking.”
– Warwick Analytics – a provider of automated predictive analytics that can remove the 80% of time data scientists need to organise and process data prior to analysis. Dan Somers, CEO of Warwick Analytics, said: “We’re delighted to be part of Growth Labs and working with Capital One – one of the most innovative financial services companies. We are looking forward to collaborating to develop disruptive solutions for them and for this sector.”
– WealRo – a real-time assistant for savings and investing that aims to use AI technology and machine learning to find areas of a user’s budget where savings can be made. Owen Haggith-Khonje, WealRo’s founder, said: “Growth Labs presents a fantastic opportunity for WealRo to receive world-class mentoring, with the hope of building a long term relationship with Capital One that positively shapes the financial landscape.”

There’s a mixture of optimizing existing services (better authenticating, credit scoring, improving data analysis), but also analytics-drive services that encourage customers to keep more money in the bank (savings).

Source: Capital One announces finalists for startup accelerator