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What I learned by attending the world’s largest Fintech conference: Money 20/20

November 1, 2016

Money 20/20 is the world’s largest Fintech conference.

It was one of the most organized and thought provoking conferences I’ve ever been to.

It took place last week in Las Vegas, and I was lucky enough to attend it. More than 10,000 participants, 1,000+ CEOs and 500 speakers from all over the world attended this event in an effort to better understand the latest trends in financial services innovation.

In addition to the organization of the event, it really does attract top senior executives from all over the world. Kudo’s to Anil, Simran & Jonathan for putting this together.

money_20_20_about_usSome of the panels were really good, informational and grounded in reality – chip and pin credit cards, mobile wallets and payments or robo-advisors. All of these innovations are already here, and we can see how they can be optimized to be made even better.

Others were more optimistic and set with a foot in a future that’s not quite here (even if we can sort of guess at their potential while we’re stuck on the implementation): blockchain technology adoption, predicting future market behavior through advanced data analytics or machine learning and artificial intelligence use cases for customer finance.

Whether real or futuristic, most of the panels were entertaining and posed ambitious questions and hypotheses for what Fintech can do for all of us.

My top five takeaways from the conference

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The real & clear innovations:

  • 1 – PayPal and Facebook announced a joint partnership. PayPal will become a payment option within Messenger, allowing customers to buy products via chat bots while transacting within their chat app. Not clear how it’s going to play out, given Facebook’s own transaction platform. Notable however for pushing the boundaries of two distinct industries and underlying technologies: chat bots and frictionless payment options.
  • 2 – Apple’s new Mac Book Pros will have touch IDs on the Touch bar. Apple demonstrated how you can purchase something off the web by using the touch ID. Again, Apple is setting the tone for yet another industry – FinTech. With the new Mac Book Pro’s users will be able to check out directly from their new Touch bar.
  • 3 – With the adoption of “chip and pin” technologies, POS companies are racing to develop and deploy new hardware that will help customers check out faster (like in the good ol’ days of swiping a credit card). Lots of exciting new payment processing technologies coming out in 2017.

The “future is near, but not here” innovations:

  • 4 – The financial industry is warming up to the blockchain underlying technology. It is becoming appealing because it is the only financial infrastructure that has not been hacked in its eight years of existence. It is notable because banks and financial services companies want a piece of the action. It’s newsworthy because hundreds of millions of dollars are invested in blockchain every quarter. But after six workshop sessions, I’m still not clear on how we get from where we are today to blockchain mass adoption. Most panelists briefly mentioned the challenges with scaling up the blockchain adoption and the security & governance considerations, but there weren’t any clear next steps on how to deal with them.
  • 5 – Intelligent credit scoring models. Artificial intelligence and machine learning can be leveraged to predict and fulfill customers’ expectations. In the financial world, the biggest problem banks are facing is that based on the current algorithms and predictive analytics, almost 50% of the time when a customer requests a line of credit he or she is denied the request. Denial comes at a high cost for banks – users do not return for another application; and for customers – as their score continues to go down after a rejection. This track was appealing in theory because of the potential for new credit risk models which can be developed while using Fintech underlying technologies. What wasn’t clear is how exactly would this be implemented and what data can be leveraged to create better risk models.

In addition to these key takeaways, I attended a series of targeted panels where I got great insights from various executives currently transforming the Fintech world from within. Here’s what I learned:

Credit Karma panel: “Building a billion-dollar company with CEO Ken Lin.”

Credit Karma is a ten-year-old free credit and financial management company. Its users get free weekly updated credit reports from Transunion and Equifax. Based on consumers’ credit report changes, Credit Karma suggests various financial products to its users for which they are likely to be accepted (credit cards, personal, student or car loans etc). In the last ten years, the company has grown to an active user population of approximately 50 million active users.

CEO Kenneth Lin presentation highlights:

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  • Payment as a form of financial technology has reached its maturity. It’s doubtful it will experience exponential growth next year. Wallet companies cannot succeed independently as there is no revenue channel. Expect strategic partnerships with various retailers in the future for wallet companies to be monetized.
  • The digital landing space continues to see growth but it’s unclear where it is headed as an industry. With 35% of Fintech venture capitalist money going to lending in 2016, we should see some really cool Fintech products being launched next year.
  • Blockchain will continue to see tremendous growth into 2017 as banks and other financial companies figure out a way to integrate this technology into their existing processes and back-end systems.
  • Biggest opportunity in Fintech for next year is in how credit data is collected and leveraged. Currently, close to 50% of customers applying for various lines of credit get rejected. That’s a huge opportunity loss for banks and lending agencies.  Biggest challenge for next year is how to make data collection more efficient and effective to ensure that lending forecast algorithms do not reject customers who are perfectly able to pay back a loan.
  • Buying and selling real estate remains at an all-time high. The cost of selling a house is around 6%. Real estate is one industry that can benefit from Fintech initiatives to drive down cost and increase transparency in the selling-buying process.

 

John Sculley, former Apple CEO, keynote speech highlights

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  • Financial companies are in a race for their lives, but the race is happening in sprints. The industry will likely see exponential growth – rapid, sudden and profound changes, versus the typical linear growth coming from small incremental improvements.
  • Fintech is positioned in a great space from a profitability point of view. Financial services account for 7% of the GDP and 4% of jobs in the country. Financial industry corporate profits have gone up three times in the last 30 years.
  • New companies that are able to translate complex financial concepts into easily digestible bits of information will become the alternative to traditional banks. Banks are still struggling to adopt to new financial technologies and customers’ expectations.
  • Traditional banks that do not take Fintech seriously will experience their own “Kodak moment.” In 2012, Kodak – the company that invented the first digital camera – went bankrupt at almost the same time Instagram was being bought for 1 billion dollars by Facebook. The question is, will the big banking players actually keep up with the times and leverage financial technologies? Where would that take us? The future is still up for grabs.
  • The path to improve someone’s credit score is tedious and lengthy. It takes up to 6 months to repay a credit scope, which is why 50% of people get turned down when applying for credit. The middle class gets punished heavily by traditional credit report scoring models. Someone with a 640 credit score borrowing 20,000 dollars will get a 20% interest rate, almost double what a user with a 740 score will get.

 

Fintech is not a fad. It is here to stay.

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We might not get to blockchain mass adoption anytime soon, but that doesn’t mean we won’t see a plethora of other Fintech innovations launched along the way. The happy marriage of payments and chat bots are already being tested in various markets and industries. This has a huge potential for financial institutions to use personalization in their automated interactions with their customers and reduce the cost to serve their audience. The use of big data to inform credit score models is very appealing, but still far fetched.

As the CEO of a company that is fully invested in taking Fintech innovation to the next level of mass adoption, I’ve gotten my money’s worth from going to this conference. And to celebrate this year’s Money 20/20 Event, we have also published our own guide on Fintech Insights: a look at how Fintech is changing our financial lives.

The free white paper can be downloaded here.

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