Tag Archives: mobile

eBay cyber attack highlights value of card on/off tools

eBayEbay is yet another giant consumer brand that has fallen victim to a cyber attack. Like many of us, I raced to change my password when I heard the news break early Wednesday morning. Of course the news media and many eBay users assumed the worst had happened and that personal and financial information had been breached. Fortunately, the attack was limited to a corporate network and only a small amount of employee login credentials were breached. EBay’s PayPal business unit did not show evidence of user personal or financial information being exposed. Few.

Given the frequency of these high profile breaches, it seems like only a matter of time before hackers are able to break into the networks of the most trusted consumer brands and financial institutions. Target experienced a massive breach late last year that many consumers are still dealing with today.   High-end retailer Neiman Marcus experienced a breach as well. Larry Ponemon, chairman and founder of the Ponemon Institute, which specializes in data-security issues, said “It shows that even the best of Internet sites are vulnerable to cyber attacks … you can’t stop this tidal wave.”

Yikes! What are consumers to do?! Even the perceived most secure websites, businesses and financial institutions are vulnerable to cyber attack. I think the best form of protection is to empower consumers to control when, how and where their credit or debit card data is used. If consumers can limit the use of, “turn off” or block the use of a card, they are empowered to protect themselves from any resulting damages from these cyber attacks.

Ondot Systems provides one of the most compelling solutions to help consumers take control of their payment cards.  The Ondot solution lets consumers…

  • Turn a credit card on or off
  • Limit the use of a card to a specific retailer or spend category
  • Limit card use to an area near them or to a specific geographic region

Ondot SolutionsThe eBay cyber attack highlights the consumer value of Ondot solution    Imagine that you were a victim of a data breach and that your credit card information may have been sold on the black market. Sadly, this is the case for millions of US consumers. The Ondot solution empowers you to prevent any fraudulent transactions should a fraudster purchase your data and attempt to buy things on or offline. For example, upon hearing about the breach you could easily turn off the card immediately giving you extra time to determine if it’s necessary to cancel the card. Or, if you limit card use by geo proximity to you, use of the card will be denied to any cyber criminal across the world attempting to purchase items. You are empowered to protect yourself from fraudulent payments BEFORE they even happen. That’s cool.

Ondot Systems does not provide a direct to consumer solution. They are actively pursuing relationships with the major payment processors and financial institutions to white label the technology. I’m wondering though if this technology is relevant enough that consumers could actually ask their bank card providers for it….or be willing to switch to a card provider who has this technology deployed already. The Ondot solution could prove to be a strong differentiator that may attract many new customers to a bank’s credit card offering.   With the increase in data breaches, I’m hoping my bank will provide this functionality soon. If not, I am open to learning more about who does offer this technology.

Ondot has the wind at its back now. However, this technology is not new and competitors have built similar solutions. From what I understand from my patent attorney friends, this technology is not particularly defensible for there are many ways to skin that technology cat.  Meow.  Ondot must build strategic partnerships with the largest payment processors first to grow market share…and do it quickly.  These processors will pave the way to deploying to small and mid tier banks.  Ondot’s big hurdle will be in how easily the solution is deployed at the bank.  As we know, these smaller banks get heartburn if a solution integration requires a big internal commitment.  However, it appears they have addressed this hurdle with seamless integration into the universally accepted payment standard and with deployment support. Once deployed, Ondot’s next challenge will be in how well they engage these banks in co-marketing the solution to the consumer.  Many mid and lower tier banks run lean on marketing so the key here will be how to take advantage of current marketing channels to drive adoption.  However, I have a feeling consumer word of mouth may be the most effective channel.

Ondot is a formidable competitor and is well positioned to be the market leader.  Now it’s about how well they execute.


Avoiding the boom-chickaboom clubs at Finovate in San Jose

I have attended several Finovate events over the past few years in their exotic 🙂 locals of San Francisco, New York, London and Singapore. As a denizen of the south end of the San Francisco Bay Area, I was surprised and excited to see that the next FinovateSpring event will be hosted in San Jose at the City National Civic.

Screen Shot 2014-04-18 at 11.59.10 AMSan Jose is roughly 50 miles south of San Francisco and has long time positioned itself as the capital of the famous (if not infamous) Silicon Valley. San Jose is home to many tech giants including eBay/PayPal and Cisco. Apple, Google, Yahoo and Facebook are located in cities just 20 minutes up the 101 or 85 freeways. San Jose is also home to the San Jose Sharks who are snapping at the heals of the LA Kings in divisional play offs.

Even though the San Jose area is home to many world famous brands, technologies and teams, it is NOT a booming cultural mecca of historical sites, tourist attractions and a bustling night life. In fact, the downtown San Jose area rolls up the sidewalks after work hours and most restaurants close down around 9pm. Unfortunately, any nightlife is limited to the standard “boom-chickaboom” type clubs that blare “Rhythm of the Night” on a speaker turned up to 11.  Yes, I’m aware that I’m mashing together several pop culture references here.

So where to go and what to do when we all descend on San Jose for FinovateSpring on April 29 and 30? For starters, I’ve listed below a series of local restaurants that are great to host business dinners at and are within walking distance of the Civic.

Original Joe’s  – Does not accept reservations and good for smaller parties.

Il Fornaio – Accepts reservations and hosts larger parties.

The Grill – Accepts reservations and hosts larger parties.

Firehouse – Accepts reservations and hosts larger parties.

There are a few options for after dinner entertainment…but they are limited. The San Jose Sharks will be in Los Angeles unfortunately. However, there may be something happening at the SAP Center worth attending. The nearby Hotel De Anza and the Fairmont Hotel hosts jazz musicians in their lobbies most nights for something more low key.  However, avoid the bars and club scene in downtown San Jose.  There was a fatal stabbing at a bar just last week…and it even happened on a night early in the week.

Screen Shot 2014-04-18 at 12.00.19 PMAs a resident of the south bay area, I recommend visiting the nearby town of Los Gatos. Los Gatos is a small town tucked to the side (map) of the Sillicon Valley and is a 15 min drive or cab ride South/West of San Jose. There are several great restaurants in the downtown area and many interesting bars for after dinner drinks and strategy sessions. “Rhythm of the Night” is seldom heard.

I’ve listed my favorites based on personal experience. I recommend making reservations at all restaurants for each is well known in the area.

Restaurants

Nick’s

Cin Cin

The Lexington House

Bars

Carry Nations

C.B. Hannegan’s

The Black Watch

Cabs can be hard to find in the area so ask the restaurant/bar host to call one for your party.  Keep in mind that Los Gatos is also a great town to just walk around in too.  If you are into exotic cars, the Los Gatos Luxury Cars  dealership has a store on Main St where one can drool over Aston Martins, Bentleys and Lamborghinis.  There are also several gift shops and clothes boutiques to purchase a peace offering for the home front. There is an Apple store too in case you forgot your iPhone charger at home.

I hope you enjoy FinovateSpring and have a chance to explore the Silicon Valley.


Mobile payments innovators must eat more fast food

Like a good citizen of the FinTech community, I downloaded the major payments apps to my iPhone including PayPal, Square and Dwolla. I also searched for opportunities to add loyalty cards to my phone’s Passbook. I deposited a small amount in each payments app and added my Starbucks card to Passbook eager to make a payment with my mobile device. Unfortunately, each of these payments apps and features remain unopened after a year from downloading. I have not been successful in finding stores in my local area that accept payments from Square or PayPal or have a loyalty card compatible with Passbook, aside from Starbucks.   To make matters worse, I typically just open up the Starbucks app directly and avoid Passbook all together!  Clearly the mobile payments or wallet value chain is broken and innovators are struggling with defining how customers and businesses want to use the mobile device to drive their purchases.

Screen Shot 2014-03-31 at 3.45.39 PMThose of us who follow FinTech closely are well aware of the struggle for defining the mobile wallet correctly. “Wallet” is a loose term these days.  Most people believe payment apps are wallets even though a wallet typically includes feature or cards beyond just payment tools.  If this wallet perception is true, then why are apps like Square and PayPal NOT the driver of mobile wallet ubiquity? I think getting closer to the correct definition of the mobile wallet requires us to pay close attention to what’s happening at retail…specifically at the fast food franchise level.

National fast food chains such as Burger King and Wendy’s are launching mobile apps that enable customers to order and pay for food using a credit card.  These apps are retailer specific mobile wallets that will enable the brands to build deep customer relationships by understanding buying patterns to then reward customers with specials offers and discounts. Frankly, I’m a little surprised it has taken the fast food guys so long to build and launch these apps. Starbucks has been doing this for over two years. Over the past few years Starbucks has clearly won my loyalty as they guide my purchasing through bonus star offerings. There are significant implications for mobile payments innovators if the Burger King and Wendy’s apps are widely adopted and are successful in generating more revenue and creating deeper customer relationships.

First of all, consumers are saying they want brand specific apps that enable them to pay and reward their loyalty. Think the Starbucks app.  These mobile applications are essentially loyalty cards.Screen Shot 2014-03-31 at 3.44.39 PM Secondly, consumers are also saying they are willing to pay with their credit card through the application…and don’t need a new payment platform. For example, the Burger King and Wendy’s applications require the consumer to enter in credit card information upon sign up to make purchases. The consumer makes purchases on the same Visa, Mastercard or AMEX platform used to make all their online and offline payments. These mobile payments will also be covered by the policies defined by each credit card to protect against fraud. Given the entrenched credit card payments system and fraud protections, there is really no consumer need to sign up and manage another payment platform.

Brands and retailers will be monitoring closely the success of these fast food applications. If these applications continue to be effective payment empowered loyalty cards, what role does the mobile device play?  Similar to a real wallet, the mobile device is the holder of the many branded loyalty and payments apps.  Does this put the mobile devise in a unique position should these retail brand specific apps be successful?  Yes, for the mobile device IS now the mobile wallet.  No one should have a heart attack and die from digesting this concept.  It’s nothing new and is a recurring theme a several mobile payments conferences.  Daniel Mattes, the CEO and founder of Jumio, articulated his vision for the mobile device as a wallet at Money2020.

However, there has been such focus around the mobile wallet being an individual application that many people think of Square and a few others as being wallet innovators.  This is starting to change as people digest what Apple may be doing in the payments space.  Thinking this through, Steve Jobs may have had a similar vision. Passbook is a feature to store tickets and loyalty cards. It’s not a stretch to envision storing encrypted credit card information and ID on the device. I think it’s safe to assume that Apple will not be entering just the payments business….but will most likely be defining and enabling the iPhone to be a true digital wallet. Expect Samsung to follow a similar strategic path.

The big question will be how long it will take for the mobile payments vertical to evolve to this point. A lot of money has been invested in Square, Flint and PayPal to invent another platform. However, Visa and Mastercard will be active and well funded suppliers in the mobile payments war. It will be a matter of time until the right mobile device features emerge that enable the major credit cards to easily plug themselves in to mobile transactions. Once the right device feature emerges, the mobile payments vertical will be locked up quickly.  Unfortunately, this means many payments apps will become part of those “hey, do you remember….” so common at cocktail parties.


Why the Moven MoneyDesktop partnership is now a hot tango

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Last week Moven announced an expanded strategic partnership with MoneyDesktop.  The two companies have been dancing together for a while.  However, this recent move changes their dance from a waltz to a passionate tango.  To refresh memories, Moven is a disruptive and leading innovator in the mobile banking space. MoneyDesktop is a cutting edge developer of personal finance management (PFM) tools and eye-popping UI.  Together, Moven and MoneyDesktop bring unique and compatible assets that when combined will ignite the FinTech “dance floor.”  Vavoom.

The recently announcedpartnership is focused less on providing a dazzling user interface and more on a back-end feature that will make the Moven value proposition even more relevant for consumers.  Moven will use MoneyDesktop to aggregate financial information from external accounts.  Conversely, MoneyDesktop will gain access to a growing consumer audience who is willing to leave their current bank for a financial institution that provides a better mobile banking experience.

MoneyDesktopMoneyDesktop continues to win awards at several FinTech conferences for their innovative solutions and clean functional user interface design.  The primary buyer groups of their technology are online banking executives at mid and small tiered financial institutions.  MoneyDesktop is boasting that over 400 financial institutions and 29 online banking, core and payment network providers use their technology.  However, each of their clients is an “old school” FI striving to update their online and mobile banking experience to avoid losing customers.  A relationship with Moven enables them to partner with an innovator who is proactive in acquiring new customers by building a strong mobile banking experience from the ground up.  MoneyDesktop is well positioned to benefit from the mobile banking revolution.

Moven also continues to win awards and provide groundbreaking mobile banking technology and services.  Moven’s solution is driven from the mobile device and offers features of major banks….without the fees.  However, like the other mobile bank innovators, like GoBank, they face the hurdle of acquiring enough users to scale their business.  Let’s face it,  all of us have accounts with the major banks.  Telling a customer to drop any current banking relationships they have to join a mobile driven bank is a tough sell.  Moven’s partnership with MoneyDekstop helps address this hurdle.

MoneyDesktop’s aggregation technology is as much a product feature improvement as a customer acquisition tool for Moven.            Consumers can now join Moven and use the solution to track their banking activity with all financial institutions.  Moven becomes the financial hub.  Well-planned cross-sell marketing from Moven will inform users of other great features and tools.  Eventually, the consumer will start to fall in love with the Moven solution and will depend on it more as a primary banking tool.  Well, at least that is the goal.

The key for this strategic partnership will be how well both parties can execute and take advantage of the open opportunities to deliver customer value.  If they do it right, their tango will catch the attention of the millions of unsatisfied big bank customers.  I hope Moven and MoneyDesktop have a big dance floor.


Banks, make account opening easy from a mobile device and win customers

SimpleFinancial technology bloggers have written a lot recently about the implications of BBVA’s acquisition of Simple and Facebook’s acquistion of WhatsApp.  I know, what does the WhatsApp acquisition have to do with FinTech?  Industry pundit, Jim Marous, points out that the WhatsApp acquisition points to an ENORMOUS industry trend that sends a huge warning signal to all financial institutions.   That trend, and this should be no surprise, is the significant shift for consumers from the desktop to the mobile device in not only social media, but in banking too.  The warning signal? Consumers want to engage with their bank through the mobile device as the primary channel of engagement.  Banks need to get their mobile house in order or customers are headed out the door, through the windows and maybe even through the ATM.  The most salient mobile app feature that banks must get right to address this trend is account creation.  Banks who make account creation easy from the mobile device will turn the tide …and will attract more customers away from banks who do not embarce mobile.

Marous sites, “While Facebook was built for the desktop and migrated to mobile, WhatsApp was built for mobile first, giving the network an advantage in today’s marketplace.”  Similar to Facebook, a bank’s consumer products and user experience has been desktop based and is gaining momentum to migrate to mobile devices.  I am a Wells Fargo user and have downloaded the mobile app that offers a snapshot into my bank account online.  Aside from remote deposit capture, the application offers very little additional value that leverages the power of my mobile device.  As I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, there are many FinTech innovators who are creating banks and banking technology that put mobile first.  GoBank, Moven and Simple are prime examples.

The most significant opportunity to drive mobile banking adoption is to fully leverage the camera feature on a  smartphone.  Yes, most banks do utilize the camera by enabling mobile deposit capture and photo bill pay.  However, the camera needs to be enabled for a much more significant  functionality: The ability to capture the PII needed to open a bank account without asking the consumer to key it in using a device key pad.   Without this feature, the mobile channel will always be secondary to the online banking channel where consumers create and manage banking relationships.

Jumio Netswipe

Financial technology innovators Jumio and Mitek  are making great strides in leveraging the device camera to capture customer data. Jumio recently launched at FinovateEurope a technology that uses the device camera to scan an ID and extract the needed PII to open up a banking account. The technology then “deposits” this needed data into a bank account registration form.  Wow.  Cool. The technology addresses the significant consumer pain point of using a tiny device keyboard to open up an account ….which is a process filled with typos, frustration, and high abandon rates.   The Jumio platform makes opening a bank account fast and easy.

 

The mobile camera ID scanning technology sounds great…however, from the consumer perspective I can identify several potential hurdles or concerns that have to be addressed.  Where does the picture of the scanned ID go?  Is the image in my device photo stream?  If I lost my phone, could the thief see this data? If the ID image lives in a cloud, who’s cloud is it?  What happens if the cloud provider is breached?  There are so many questions here that need to be addressed!  One thing is for sure, innovators need to have the data security technology locked down and messaging at the ready to educate customers on why this ID verification technology is safe.  After all, consumers don’t readily distribute copies of their ID to just anyone offline…and it’s no different in the online world.


Finally! Innovation attacks the mortgage lending process with GoRefi!

We recently refinanced our house to take advantage of a rate one point lower than our current mortgage.  Wow, that’s a big chunk of money each month. However, the process to realize that savings was PAINFUL!  We worked through a broker, Finet Mortgage, who we’ve used for several transactions.  The team at Finet does a great job finding the best rate and is very helpful in managing the laborious document submission process.  Unfortunately, despite Finet’s best efforts, the refinance process is still not pleasant due to the lender’s processes, document requirements and lack of communication… that results in frequent rush requests to find certain pieces of paper.  All the back and forth frequently results in a longer time to close…and frequently in increased fees to get the work done.

There is so much room for improvement here.  EVERYONE has similar painful experiences.  There has got to be a better way!

GoRefiThere IS a better way and the innovation is coming from GoRefi.  I spent some time with their leadership and learned more about their product and value proposition.  Banks, be ware, GoRefi is well positioned to turn the mortgage lending process on its head…and can pass savings off to consumers at a lower interest rate.

GoRefi takes the friction out of the mortgage lending process by focusing on the major frustration points my wife and I complain about: poor lender communication, long times to close and elimination of exorbitant fees. GoRefi positions itself to:

  • Provide an interest rate .25% lower than most banks
  • Provide a 30% savings on closing costs
  • Close the transaction in 14 days…instead of the industry 60

Wow, this sounds great.  So, why did we use our broker and NOT GoRefi?

My wife and I have managed between us over 10 real estate transactions and I have to admit I’m a little hesitant to use GoRefi.  I’m sure many others experienced and inexperienced people may be hesitant as well.  I think the hesitancy can be appeased if GoRefi:

  • Articulates their legitimacy as a lender. I’d like to know if GoRefi is the loan originator…or if they also shop around to other lenders for the best rate. If they do make the loan, where does the money come from?  Where do their rate quotes come from?
  • Communicates their stability as a company.  Most people don’t care who originates the loan.  However, I personally find it frustrating when our loan is resold…and resold…and resold.  This is concerning for it means we need to revise our bank’s bill pay tool to submit payment.
  • Defines how they treat and protect all the data submitted.  At this point GoRefi does not clearly define what precautions they take to protect our identities and PII.  How do we know GoRefi is not a lead gen site that resells the information provided to legitimate and not-so-legitimate companies?  Yes, GoRefi does provide this information on a Security and Privacy page…but the links are in the breadcrumbs at the bottom of the home page.  This information needs to be FRONT AND CENTER.

Having met these guys it is clear they will have responses and processes in place to address each of my reasons for hesitancy.  However, consumers will not ASSUME this and need to be directly informed….or “spoon fed” this information.

Now assuming these concerns are addressed and a consumer does apply for a loan refinance, GoRefi must treat any customer like the Queen of England. GoRefi closes their refinance process definition with a bold statement:

Screen Shot 2014-02-28 at 1.10.47 PM

I think this is where GoRefi will win (and win BIG) customers or will crash.  As soon as the customer starts submitting the required documents, a GoRefi rep must become the customer’s best friend.  The rep must be available to answer any questions and must keep the customer informed of where they are in the process…at all times.  GoRefi must over communicate.  If not, consumer trust in GoRefi will quickly erode and lender will seem like all the others.

The big question that pops into my mind is can GoRefi afford the headcount needed to bring on these high touch reps? These reps are important hires and they each need to deliver an exemplary customer experience.  After all, GoRefi is striving to transform the lending process with consumers…and I think they are well positioned to do so.


Can Apple Benefit from a Strategic Partnership with PayPal?

The fact that Tim Cook hinted that Apple might be getting into payments is no surprise.  It’s more of a “duh.” Apple has the user accounts, consumer credit cards on file, and millions of iPads and iPhones in market.  The launch of Touch ID and the iBeacon sensor only connect the dots even further.

Apple’s Passbook paves the way for expanding the wallet beyond loyalty cards and into the ability to make online and offline payments. The launch of the Touch ID addresses security concerns and helps prevent unauthorized payments should the phone, or “wallet”, be lost.

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In the online world, it’s not a far stretch to imagine a consumer using their Apple ID to authorize a charge to their credit card for a purchase made on an e-commerce site.  However, competitive pressures from Visa, MasterCard, and PayPal may make convincing e-commerce sites to accept Apple payments that much harder.  One recent article points to Apple making payments as part of the iOS developer kit…which would easily provide code needed for a developer to add a payment feature to their mobile commerce app.

However, the opportunity for Apple gets more challenging in the offline retail world.  Yes, iBeacon creates a network to enable mobile payments through detecting and authenticating a mobile device.  Cool. However, Apple faces the challenge of convincing merchants to adopt the payment processing hardware, dongles, etc.  Google, Stripe, Square, and Dwolla also face this problem, among others. Even with its big brand recognition and marketing strength, Google was not able to grow offline retail adoption of its wallet.

So what are the opportunities for Apple moving forward?  Apple could build its payments business through acquisitions, or strategic partnerships.  Square has been a leading innovator in the payments space, is building merchant adoption and has a strong focus on UI/design given their recent hardware release.  While a Square acquisition may be expensive, Apple would quickly acquire payments processing technology, a growing user base of merchants and a design focused group of developers.  Bloggers have also identified Stripe as a potential, less expensive acquisition.

I think Apple can benefit the most, however, from a strategic partnership with PayPal.  Recently a LOT has been written about PayPal feeling the heat from Apple and pitching to help build out their payment network.  Some people see this as a signal PayPal is feeling threatened.  Yes, the competitive threat is there.  However, PayPal has many elements that Apple needs to be a leader in this category.  I think together, PayPal and Apple can create a break through wallet that defines the mobile wallet.

First of all, PayPal has addressed many of the cross-boarder (currency) trade challenges that Apple will eventually face.  Remember, Apple products are ubiquitous and they face hurdles in every new market they enter. We all know that Apple will not want to limit payments to the US market.

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Secondly, PayPal has a merchant program in place and is regularly improving the product feature set. This in market learning will only improve PayPal’s ability to deliver a solution merchants actually want and can easily adopt.  PayPal is also co-marketing with merchants to drive consumer adoption.

Lastly, PayPal is seen as the “most trusted” mobile wallet brand as defined by a 2013 Javelin study. Why is this important?  In light of the recent data breaches, mobile security will be a big factor for not only consumers, but for merchants.  Yes, Apple’s fingerprint ID is fantastic to access the device and authorize transactions.  However, there is a lot happening in the payment processing back-end that PayPal has focused on securing for almost 20 years. A partnership with PayPal will enable Apple to address this hurdle and avoid a dreaded data breach.  Should the unthinkable actually happen, culpability would most likely NOT fall squarely on the shoulders of the world’s number one brand.


Banks, are you paying attention to what T-mobile just announced?

 

T-mobile just announced that they plan to provide mobile banking services to their customer base.  These services include a pre-paid debit card, a mobile banking app, and a basic checking account.

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Clearly T-mobile is continuing to offer value to their customer base that has signed up for a phone using a pre-paid contract…. and it’s working.  T-mobile is quickly winning customers in the coveted 18 – 35 target market…the segment that is most likely to engage with mobile banking.

T-mobile is partnering with The Bancorp Bank to provide this customer value.  Sprint was the first carrier to partner with Boost Mobile to provide similar banking features to its customers.  These strategic partnerships provide a great deal of value to both partners in the mobile and banking verticals. Many T-mobile and Sprint customers have pre-paid contracts so it’s not a far leap to understand this segment would also see value in a pre-paid debit card and low fee banking products.  The banks providing these services gain access to a mobile savvy customer base that is not being well served by the Top 100 banks.

These strategic partnerships should raise the neck hairs of executives at the remaining mobile carriers and at the Top 100 banks. Yes, Verizon and AT&T are big guerillas.  However, similar to bank sentiment, mobile carrier sentiment is low too.  Consumers are tired of paying high fees for mobile service. However, by providing additional value to a high life time value audience, these carriers can attract customers away from the larger carriers…even if it’s a slow and steady rate.  Remember the tale of the tortoise and the hare?  AT&T and Verizon should consider opportunities that may be available with yet “un-wed” mobile banking providers like GoBank, Moven or Simple. I’m wonder if the pay as you go mobile provider, Ting, is talking with any of these similarly minded banking providers? There could be an interesting partnership there.

From the banking perspective, executives are aware that it’s all about mobile.  Contrary to recent articles touting that top banks are aware of the importance of mobile, it’s well understood that most banking technology innovation will occur OUTSIDE of the banking industry.  I’ve heard this big bank mobile focus described as a mobile arms race.  However, I think banks may need to buy their “arms” from outside the banking industry providers, to continue the metaphor.

Over time, maybe within just 5 years, a young and frustrated segment of customers will be evaluating and switching to banking providers who meet their needs in the most cost effective way through a channel that is most convenient.  It’s no secret that this channel is mobile.

Banking executives must quickly evaluate how they can meet the needs of customers beyond banking and providing special offers that can be found already in a Penny Saver. Because of the negative sentiment towards banks, financial institutions may consider being an unbranded, silent partner where they provide the banking back end and rely on a partner to provide the branded consumer facing front end.  However, could a big financial institution that is used to being the “alpha male” in a relationship be open to playing a more balanced role with an innovative partner?  Over time, the bank’s future as a leading financial institution may depend on this as the coveted 18-30 population ages and mobile banking becomes more ubiquitous. *

* The use of the word “ubiquitous” is brought to you by Starbucks, a brand with retail locations everywhere. 🙂


Know your customer first to find the right strategic partnerships

This week I had a conversation with an executive at a mobile banking company. We spent a majority of our time discussing the strategy of using strategic partnerships to build a customer base, deliver products that meet customer needs and generate revenue. This executive shared an unfortunate experience where his team was pushed into a partnership where they provided most of the product development resources and had to commit to the lion share of the marketing spend to promote.  Unfortunately, the double barrel commitment yielded little return in helping the company achieve its goals. The partnership was more of a distraction and had high opportunity costs. Frustrating.

Strategic partnerships are an important lever to pull to grow revenue, drive acquisition, build out technology, and increase product functionality.  However, it’s mission critical that the right strategic partnerships be established or the relationships will be a distraction and take critical focus off of what is important.

One of the most important exercises a company must go through is to understand who their customer is and how the company will meet customer needs.  Without this understanding, it will be impossible to find the right strategic partnerships. Once the customer is understood, companies need to evaluate potential partners across 4 factors.

The first factor is access to the right customer.  Will the partner enable a company to market their product to a customer segment that will generate revenue and have high life time value?  If not, the partnership will yield access to consumers whose needs are not met.  As a result, little value will be provided to the company.  Unfortunately this happens far to often as young companies rush to find ways to acquire new users and monetize as quickly as possible.  As we all know, this is a symptom of a short-term focus and a need to show growth to current and would be investors.

The second factor is to understand the required investment needed to realize the value of the strategic partnership.  For example, eBay entered into a strategic partnership with PayPal to meet the needs of its users to pay for things securely online.  Yes, eBay had to invest product resources to integrate the PayPal technology into its listings.  However, the investment had a very positive ROI for it brought huge value to eBay buyers and sellers. The product partnership proved to be very successful, as we know, and eventually resulted in eBay acquiring PayPal.

The third factor is the company’s internal resources and willingness to support the partnership.  I’ve seen many companies stumble on this factor. I was part of an organization that needed to partner to quickly provide product features to remain competitive.  It was one of those standard “make vs buy” debates that resulted in the executive team deciding to move forward with a partnerships strategy.  Unfortunately, employees outside of the executive committee did not feel they had the resources needed to support any technology partnerships and quickly dug their heals in and resisted any discussions. Needless to say, any partnership agreements quickly stalled in the implementation process.

The last factor is both parties’ shared interest in a successful outcome.  The partnership must be of equal or greater strategic importance to both partners.  While at Excite@Home I managed a strategic partnership with Paramount Pictures that was designed to increase awareness that Excite was a destination to learn more about the latest blockbuster movies. I managed a team of developers, designers and marketers to build solutions to promote Paramount’s movies across the Excite@Home network.   We busted our butts to get things done.  Unfortunately, Paramount didn’t have much interest in promoting us as defined in our partnership agreement.  We were lucky to get an Excite@Home logo placement on the front page of the Paramount website…but were nowhere close to receiving any offline placements.  Paramount reminded us of this too frequently.  Such is life in the big city. It will always be Silicon Valley vs Hollywood.

So blah.  What is the conclusion to my bloviation? Before company executives start frothing at the mouth to strike strategic partnerships, it’s important to do the introspective work first.  Who is your customer?  What customer needs are being met with the product?  What needs are not being addressed by the product?  Only with this sense of corporate self-awareness can companies enter into fruitful strategic partnerships.  Without doing the upfront work first, it’s like searching for a spouse without knowing what qualities one is looking for in a mate.


Mobile must remain a priority for large banks to retain customers

My family and I received several checks from family members as gifts and as payback for gifts purchased.  My wife typically handles the day-to-day checking account and generally handles making deposits at the nearest Wells Fargo ATM.  I suggested that she try using the mobile deposit feature on the Wells Fargo mobile application.  Being the wife of someone who works in FinTech, she agreed to try out the feature….despite all the negative feedback about the application. Unfortunately,  she successfully validated the negative comments splattered across iTunes.

The biggest disappointment came through the application crashing after each attempt to deposit a check using the mobile deposit feature. What I found most interesting were my wife’s comments after the 3rd attempt. “Well, Wells Fargo, I guess you REALLY don’t want me to use this feature,” was the first comment.  The second comment was “What happened to the pics of the checks I took before the app crashed? Are they stuck in the app or are they with Wells?  Can someone steal the money?”

Three interesting thoughts came to mind as I digested her valid complains.  One, when it comes to getting customers to try new features that involve their money, banks better be sure the feature works for the customer the first time.  Yes, app crashes can happen for many reasons.  Unfortunately, several reviews reflected the same frustration and experience my wife had…which implies that improvements need to be made to the application. From my wife’s point of view, Wells Fargo implicitly told her mobile deposit is not ready for prime time and to keep using the ATM.  Wells needs to track that these customers are and target them with a “mea culpa” CRM program to win back their trust with new technology. After all, according to a recent study, 49% of consumers will change banks for a better mobile experience.

Secondly, I think my wife’s concerns about where the check pictures have gone after the application crashes point to an engrained reaction that stems from frequent e-commerce transactions.  I think similar “where’s my money now?” concerns come up when a consumer enters in a credit card number online, presses submit and the site crashes. “Did my credit card go through? Do I need to re-enter my credit card? If I do, will I get double charged?  Is my card number safe?”  All are common questions following an e-commerce site crash.  I think it’s only natural for my wife to ask similar questions after a mobile banking application fails.  In-application messaging must be delivered immediately to consumers to quell their anxiety when things don’t go as planned.

Lastly, the low application star rating and poor review indicate that mobile is NOT a big priority for Wells Fargo. In an effort to win customers, I would imagine that the mobile team would quickly iterate and redeploy an application as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, Wells Fargo is not the only major bank that appears less focused on winning customers through mobile.  Chase and Bank of America have similarly low rated mobile applications. If these major banks do not step up their focus on mobile, the door will remain WIDE OPEN for innovative mobile banks like GoBank and Simple to entice customers through compelling mobile banking experiences.


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