Just In Time For Finovate: Adding More Fun (And More Focus) To Fintech Applications

FinovateFall 2013 Combined

How can we add more fun to fintech applications?
…or at least a bit more focus?

As you look above at the dominant themes of applications at this week’s Finovate in New York – aka the Disneyland of Fintech™ – do you envision a series of engaging user experiences? How many of these seven minute demos will inspire us to actually use the product or service ourselves, as opposed to just offering it (or copying it) for our bank, credit union, or (hopefully well-funded) fintech startup?

Do you get a sense that you’ll be seeing great singular purpose financial applications that offer a simple premise and a simplified (yet elegant) user experience that truly engages its intended audience? Let me know what your score card looks like after two days of seventy demos. We can compare notes.

While respected analysts like Aite’s Ron Shevlin have great points about what they’re looking for at Finovate, I’m thinking holistically about the range of experiences I’ve seen demoed over my seven years of attending this conference and how many of these applications I’ve actually been excited to use – compared to every other application I carry in my pocket every day. I can only think of a handful of fintech apps seen at Finovate that are still on my mobile device today.

Think about your own application usage. Beyond the utility of email, contacts, search – what apps are still offering engagement past the initial few days of appcitement? You likely use plenty of social apps, from Facebook to Twitter to different flavors of chat. You might do some shopping (or in-store price comparisons), check the weather, get directions. And beyond the occasional payment, mobile deposit, transfer, or balance check…how much time do you spend with your financial applications? That’s what I thought.

While we see the occasional interesting user experience in Finovate offerings, and maybe some targeted applications to certain segments that add elements of gamification, I’m wondering why we don’t more of these critical elements in a single application. If you saw Jim Marous’s great post Lipstick on the PFM Pig?, you’ll get a sense of what I mean.

Something as complicated as personal financial management can be simplified if we approach it through engagement at the transaction level and adding focus toward understanding user behavior around financial management – keeping the customer (and their data) at the center of a personalized experience (see more this through Mapa’s recent research on Designing PFM tools with the customer in mind).

While Finovate regularly offers the best of the best ideas in financial innovation – it is, after all, my favorite conference primarily because of the fast pace of the demos and the ability to access so many interesting people in the space, I always come away asking this question of over half of these solutions: why don’t we have higher expectations? Why don’t we set the bar higher than some blatant push toward an eventual acquisition or exit? Let’s move financial services forward – let’s inspire and be inspired to create something great that moves us beyond this box around financial services.

Why can’t financial services be more focused, more aspirational? Why can’t we approach solving real financial problems – or at least address some realities around financial decisions – through leveraging a more rigorous focus on user experience and needs based design? Why can’t our financial lives offer a bit more fun, some whimsy. Even a taste of occasional serendipity? I’m quite serious.

We need to offer something more, well…more interesting (and more engaging) to survive the great contraction coming soon to the formerly diverse financial services industry.

After all, there will be blood.

I’d prefer to see the future of financial services evolve beyond big banks and their boring apps on one side (107 financial institutions control 81% of all assets in the U.S. market) and small, fragmented startups offering financial alternatives that never gain traction beyond the user base of a small local bank or credit union on the other.

There is an alternative universe where financial applications can exist and offer real value to consumers and small businesses – and help the sub-$20 billion financial institutions survive the coming contraction – if we simply look at our product and service offerings differently – and offer applications that drive solutions that address these often singular financial moments of truth.

I’m not the only one thinking this way…the Financial Brand had a great recent piece on making financial applications more fun to use – by focusing on driving engagement metrics by meeting consumers’ needs, requiring little effort, and simply by being enjoyable.

With that in mind, let’s add a new Best of Show category to Finovate – choosing applications that have a proven ability to drive deeper active use of the applications and improve the financial lives of our application’s end users (yes, those customers, members, and clients we care deeply about) – and by doing so in a fun, focused, and simplified manner guaranteed to be installed on the mobile device and driving active engagement over an extended time. In a series of post-Finovate blog posts, I’ll attempt to do just that – evaluate these solutions along that criteria (and by asking for feedback from you).

Let’s see how the next two days of Finovate inspires us.

First up on the first day is three-time winner MoneyDesktop. If I know anything about their team, they’ll be ready to show us (and inspire us) to drive a singular engaging user experience.

Now if only the rest of fintech would follow suit.


Day One At Finovate PostScript Lots of interesting ideas at Finovate today, but hands down (as expected) the most chatter outside of the Apple event 3,000 miles away came from my friends at MoneyDesktop. Here’s their promo video: MoneyDesktop Guide Me.

Breaking Banks Bonus: If you missed last week’s episode of Brett King’s radio show Breaking Bank, you missed Eric Mattson (co-founder of Finovate, along side Jim Breune of NetBanker fame) talk about how Finovate got started and what to expect at this week’s show. It’s a great history of how the conference got started. I highly recommend it.

8 thoughts on “Just In Time For Finovate: Adding More Fun (And More Focus) To Fintech Applications

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  2. It’s about driving ongoing usage once the novelty wears off, which requires first engaging the user and then changing their behavior in a way that drives ongoing and regular usage. I like the idea of adding gamification elements to financial apps for a number of reasons, so long as they are tastefully applied. They can drive behavioral change through getting at the user’s inner psyche (competitiveness, goal-orientation, social status, etc.). Our industry has built some really cool apps, but as you clearly stated (and I’ve experienced exactly the same thing), they were cool for a moment, but didn’t motivate me as a consumer to make lasting behavioral changes, and so, they’re no longer on my devices. Jim, I do also agree that there is a pretty large challenge here… People don’t get that into managing their finances. It’s a chore, and for most people, a reality check they’d prefer to do without, so as an industry, we’ll have these headwinds to deal with as well.

  3. “Fun” is a noble bar to clear regarding apps development, but you’ll have a hard time convincing me it’s an important hurdle regarding financial services.

    A firm called Flurry tracks mobile apps usage. The most frequently used apps are weather, sports scores, and news apps. Why? Because they’re “fun”? I doubt it. It’s because people are interested in knowing the weather forecast, how they’re favorite teams are doing, and how screwed up things in the world are.

    The majority of Americans are simply not very engaged with the management of their finances. A “fun” app might help change that, but “by how much?” is the key question.

    1. I agree with the sentiment Ron…just trying to combat the thought that application ROI has only to do with cross sell and merchant rewards – having a financial application that gets used – preferably multiple times a week is / should be one of our key metrics across the spectrum. I know my financial allegiance has to do with how well an application functions, how easy it is to use, and the amount of ‘fun’ I have using it. While I use weather, email, and other utility apps because I have to, when a better app comes along to perform that function…I’m using the one that is more engaging. So I think we must re-energize this focus for user centered design in financial applications with critical emphasis on using simple work flow to make singular aspects of managing our money a bit more enjoyable.

  4. Now that Finovate is 7 yrs old, I would love to see selected alumnus presentations – success stories, adoption drivers, updates – as a shot of inspiration for the rest. I personally feel, some of the innovations shown out there are no longer innovations and there is a need for stricter screening for Finovate to retain its USP.

    1. Very good idea – a few of us have bantered about this idea – it’s a seven year review on the financial impact of all of these companies and how they have altered (or not) the overall financial landscape…

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