Imagining Innovation – What Banks Can Expect Beyond 2014

(Re-Post From My Two Part Interview With BankNxt – Part 2)


Stories from the Vault: Real Insight from Real Bankers

In this year’s final installment of the BANKNXT exclusive series on innovation in banking, acclaimed financial technologist Bradley Leimer shares his thoughts on what the next wave of technology holds in store for banks in and beyond 2014.

This is the second installment of this interview.

Bradley Leimer

Bradley Leimer, financial services industry technologist, consultant, and commentator, leads digital strategy for Northern California-based Mechanics Bank. His focus is on developing and integrating technology applications and partnerships geared toward improving the client experience and profitability of digital channels. He brings additional perspective from leading marketing and technology efforts within the bank and credit union industry and from a decade driving database marketing and analytic programs for more than 6,500 national, regional, and community bank clients. Bradley is a sought after adviser for startups entering the financial and payments space

“How you view the current environment likely correlates to your sense of urgency and overall disruption in the banking industry. While we may not all agree on the impact, the shift to digital will certainly have consequences. We’re moving toward an era of engagement banking – a marketing, sales and service model that deploys technology to achieve customer intimacy at scale.”

You’re recognized as a leading financial technologist – what are some of your over-arching goals in leveraging technology within financial services?

While people may associate me with fintech, I certainly tweet enough about it, I think I might be more of a social scientist or macro-economist at heart. I’ve always been very curious about consumer behavior and why people act the way they do. Especially why they buy what they buy, how they pay for goods and services, how the movement of goods reflect societal value, and what society gets in return for those exchanges. While there are certainly differences in delivery and scale across social and economic spectrums and geography, there are basic human needs that financial applications help fulfill. Whether that need is fulfilled by an existing bank today, or will be in the future is another story.

We shouldn’t be selling products and services; we’re facilitating daily human needs and enabling people’s dreams. My ultimate goal is to be part of making these functions more inclusive, to really improve the banking system as whole. I think the way we leverage technology in the future will have a lot to do with helping our industry move forward. I also think it’s critical that technologists, and everyone in banking really, strive to be perpetually curious and always working to understand how we can improve the lives of the people and businesses in our communities, to see the bigger picture of where dots are connecting a ways off into the distance. It’s a critical time for banks to review their place in society and in their communities, not just here in the U.S., but worldwide. The traditional banking model certainly has some cracks in it.

Is the difficulty banks have in embracing change one of their biggest obstacles in terms of innovating?

I think it’s about more than just embracing change. Our industry is overly fixated on regulation and risk. We’re too afraid to experiment. And at this point of history in financial services, FIs under twenty to fifty billion in assets don’t have the scale to screw around and not take additional risks to stand out. We start with ‘no’ as our default answer far too often. This mindset leads to a legacy of friction that disruptors are starting to exploit. Our model simply must adapt to changes more quickly. We must keep up with the simplicity, usability and transparency customers now demand. The disruptors see that the future of financial services will be won by removing traditional barriers and rapidly embracing the shift in consumer and business behavior. Things are moving incredibly fast.

Do you think that the digital channels could help community banks recreate that traditional ‘one-to-one relationship’ feeling that was previously the domain of small town bricks-and-mortar banks?

I think it’s incredibly valuable to have smaller, community based financial institutions as a natural economic hedge to promote financial inclusion and drive more equitable financial relationships with local businesses and consumers. I wrote a piece about this question earlier this year as part of American Banker’s Future Model of Banking series called “There Will Be Blood: The Era of Engagement Banking”. In this piece, I tried to make it perfectly clear: The rise of personalized digital financial and payment experiences are the likely death knell for community banking institutions. The next five to ten years is absolutely critical if you are a financial institution with under twenty to fifty billion in assets.

Decades ago financial relationships were much simpler. You put money in a local bank or credit union and you accessed your accounts in person or wrote checks. When credit and debit came along, you had cards linked to these accounts at that local bank and accessed cash through ATMs. We pushed people out of the branch and ‘Oops’, now they aren’t coming back (and branches aren’t convenient anyway, so why should they?). Now your financial life is much broader, your financial relationships have wider scope and are likely at seven or more institutions. With the rise of the app ecosystem, your financials decisions are becoming much more integrated with other decisions you make throughout the day. Decisions that are more likely driven by a national bank, credit card, or third party financial experience than anything else. While every industry is impacted by the rise of highly personalized digital experiences, it’s very hard for smaller banks to keep up without scale and agile development. Ask Blockbuster how they fared as Netflix and digital flipped the equation. The same will go for banking.

While there are an increasing number of digital opportunities to leverage financial decisions before, during, and after payment, which is becoming the crux of what many disruptors in financial services are targeting (the form and frequency of payment and the associated revenue of those decisions), there’s thankfully more to banking revenue than choosing a particular payment rail. In an industry where the top 150 banks control 81% of deposit relationships and 75% of lending relationships, scale is obviously critical. But there’s great revenue opportunity in niches if your technology can deliver, so even though I come across as pessimistic, I’m actually hopeful.

What should fintech companies be doing or focusing on to help banks achieve a more personalized banking model?

I’d love to blame legacy technology partners for every problem we’re facing, but I can’t. Consumers have changed, technology has changed, and financial experiences have changed. We’re the ones that haven’t changed enough in response. The conservative nature of financial institutions’ is stopping them from embracing real innovation. But still, technology is a critical factor, and the smaller the FI, the more reliant they are on external technology partners bringing new innovations to the table. From core banking to digital service delivery, especially as API driven strategies multiply, we’re seeing entirely new business models emerge for building financial applications and legacy fintech players, just like their banking clients, are having a hard time keeping up. What used to take a year of development can now take months; what took months now can take weeks. Application development is becoming cheaper and faster. The fintech partners we choose to do business with need to be more agile and able to differentiate solutions from big bank services. They need to help the FIs drive more digital revenue to create opportunities to better compete.

How do you compete with Chase, or Wells Fargo, or Bank of America? We need to stop the process of just copying their technology and offer differentiation of value through innovative products and services. This sometimes starts with some navel gazing; clearly defining the type of financial services firm you are trying to be and who you are trying to serve. That done, you can begin to focus on serving customer needs by choosing the right technology and service partners, or continue to build out your own teams, in order to be more responsive to the market and your customer. It’s not rocket science, but we often get this step wrong.

You’re an advocate for incorporating social media and networks into banking, would you say that ‘social’ or ‘mobile’ has been the biggest disruptor to date?

It’s the proverbial chicken and the egg question in a digital context. Both social and mobile have fundamentally changed how we communicate and interact with our customers forever. Social and mobile financial applications have combined to form this perfect storm that is fundamentally shifting the financial relationship back to the consumer and in many ways away from banks themselves.

Banks really missed the initial opportunity in social, which was to drive more personal service relationships with their customers across the channel of their choice, along with the transparency and intimacy that goes along with that. Remember, social isn’t just about networks, it’s about something much bigger than that; the change of expectation that has arisen because of social activity. The industry is coming around to
these larger changes and embracing more socialized, personalized services and customer interactions. There are many great examples, from USAA to Fidor to Simple, where social is a primary component of a scalable business model… unless you’re HSBC and don’t know who Brett King is, and you missed the post about closing his account in the Huffington Post. The key is using social to help people understand their own financial picture, let their data tell a personal story. Help them in context when they need you, and work toward developing a deeper customer relationship through both digital and personal means. It can be done and it is being done today.

Mobile is a bit different, I think we’re a bit more evolved there, but I shudder to think that most bank customers think mobile deposit is our most innovative service. We need to get much better at designing more engaging financial experiences through our mobile applications before someone else does, namely payment providers with deep retail partnerships. As it is, less than half of financial institutions have a mobile banking app. Long term, I see the continued rise of financial applications dominated by non-bank providers – maybe permanently. You can see what type of social and mobile technology inspires me a bit here.

The other question around these two topics that I’m interested in is if the rising expectation of immediacy and intimacy will ever really butt heads with demands for security and privacy. Consumers seem destined to share more and more personal information, but is that starting to shift with the rise of temporary messaging and images like SnapChat? With all the NSA news around data snooping, and a perpetual stream of compromised financial data, are consumers going to put the genie that is social and mobile back in the bottle and choose privacy and transparency? I’m not sure they will, and I think there are many opportunities for banks to lead in these areas.

What is your vision for the future of banking, taking into account the rapid advancements we’ve seen in just the last few years?

Technology is simply accelerating an existing shift in traditional relationships with our customers and this is having an impact on the banking industry’s historical sources of revenue. While we may not all agree on the impact, the shift to digital will certainly have consequences. The banking model is moving towards a truly contextual, customer-centric view. Shifts in consumer behavior demand less intrusive authentication, social connectivity and crowd sourcing, hyper-personalization of everything from offers to usability, as well as tailored assistance and support at critical moments. We are now face-to-face with an engaged customer base that expects a completely frictionless experience. As we move further into the realm of digital experiences, the next decade will be even more incredibly disruptive than what we saw in the recent economic downturn. As I’ve said before: There will be blood.

Delivering contextually aware financial services in beautifully crafted experiences is becoming a necessity to maintain relevance with digital natives. Over the next decade we’ll see: an incredible focus on customizing financial data and personalizing interfaces for varied consumer segments; a focus on simplified authentication using multiple forms of bio-metrics and contextual assessments, from proximity to login patterns; attention shifting to real-time money movement at low or no-cost; further integration of social media into both marketing and banking applications; leveraging and connecting offline and online behavior to disrupt the payment and procurement paradigm to serve up personalized insights – just think of how we could use SKU level data; offering service alternatives through proximity awareness such as actionable notifications that prompt users through their mobile device to move money or pay bills to avoid fees or to better manage their current account spending, continuous assessments of financial wellness that prompt the consumer to take a specific action after a transaction, as well as delivering daily or on-demand personalized information around the customer’s financial health and aggregated account status. I could go on, the possibilities are practically endless.

The reality is that banking is no longer something customers just do. It’s becoming an experience they will completely control. We are moving away from a banking relationship defined by the goal of being a customer’s primary financial institution to one where we focus on becoming their primary financial application. It’s no longer about wallet share. It’s about app-driven mindshare – being ready for the moment our customers reach into their pockets for their mobile device, or their glasses, or other form of wearable technology, and start thinking about their financial relationship choices – before, during and after a financial moment of truth.

The question really is, how is your bank or credit union going to survive the next decade?

Prue Duggan is a writer for BANKNXT, a contributor to several other FinTech and innovation related websites, and community manager at leading Bank 2.0 software company, Backbase. With a background in advertising, branding and content strategy, Prue is a passionate observer of how the web is changing the way consumers and brands interact online and the evolving science of UX design. She has worked as a copywriter for large retail brands, from Nike to Tommy Hilfiger and first became interested in the nexus between communication and technology while working at

What Inspires Financial Services Innovation?

What Inspires Financial Services Innovation?

What drives us to make things better? Why do we push harder to improve a process, a customer journey, to make continuous tweaks to our application interface…what motivates us to think differently and drive innovation? Whether you’re someone on the financial front lines or the founder of a fintech startup, these are your customers, your members, your clients – the ones that make or break your product, your company, your profit and your underlying ability to pursue all of your passions. That’s what we’re doing by innovating in the financial space – helping people pursue their life’s passions by removing friction from our financial applications.

What’s your inspiration to innovate?


First off, a warm greeting from San Francisco! I know we have people on the webinar from a lot of different time zones, so we appreciate your tuning in. I’d like to thank Backbase for hosting this ongoing webinar series. I consider them to be one of the most truly innovative partners in the fintech space, so please stick around for their half of the discussion and to ask questions.

We have a lot to talk about, so let’s dive in.

My focus at Mechanics Bank is on developing our client facing applications, expanding our technology partnerships, and building out our digital strategy. While I’d love to call our bank a 110-year-old startup, I think we’re in the beginning stages of tackling the real technology challenges facing banks like ours – but I am really excited about what we’ve been able to do the past couple of years as our bank has leaned forward into fintech development and innovation. We are working diligently to improve the financial lives of our customers, both through internal development, and through being an active partner and constructive advocate within the fintech community.

I see banks like ours as needing to move beyond a set of me-too applications – we need to push ourselves and our partners to truly deliver something brilliant – something that meets the changing set of consumer expectations and behavior. If you follow me through social channels like twitter, or see my thoughts on my blog or commentary in industry publications , you’ll see my continued focus on working toward this idea of engagement banking – a marketing, sales and service model that deploys technology to achieve both customer intimacy and scale. We’ll look at some examples today.

You’re likely tuning in to this webinar because, like me, you have chosen the spectrum of financial technology as your form of improving the world in your own way. Good thing that fintech never sleeps, that it’s such an invigorating place to be. Especially if you’re in payments, or building out new form of customer experience through mobile. Believe me, there’s room for all of us – as long as we continue innovating and adapting to changes in customer behavior. Because in many ways we aren’t yet solving all of our customer’s problems. At best, we’re close to helping them reach a greater level of financial independence, at worst, we’re setting them back by denying them a better solution.


I heard the term ‘Kodaked’ used as a verb a few times at last week’s Next Bank Asia conference in Hong Kong – I think that’s an apt expression for today’s discussion. Kodak was formed in 1885 and dominated the film industry for a hundred years – at one point it controlled 90% of film and 85% of camera sales. But then it invented the digital camera in 1975 and the rest is history. A good question to ask is how many of Kodak’s employees were users of the very products that caused Kodak’s decline? There are parallels to banking.

The crux of the argument around the change happening to the banking model is that banks are being dis-intermediated – but I think in many ways the industry, at least certain players, are responding – and in many ways reverse engineering the attacks to its foundation.


At March’s Bank Innovation conference here in San Francisco, our opening panel was challenged when Kristoffer Lawson, Co-Founder of Finland based Holvi, said that we weren’t really discussing, in his opinion, anything all that innovative – and I would agree with him to a certain extent – but not about what’s going on in the banking model itself. I’ve been in the financial services vertical for nearly twenty years – and the developments of the past few years – from social to mobile to payments – has creaky old banking processes starting to really move. There is quite literally a new development worth talking about every single day. That said, I strongly suggest you visit Holvi and see their approach to interface design and to banking itself – they’ve done a lot of great work around socially collaborative finance.

Holvi’s value proposition is an interesting one. It challenges the role of bank’s in society itself– and it’s reflective of experiments happening through the financial ecosystem, from Bitcoin to Zopa. So what’s your take on the health of the traditional banking model? Is it dying or is it innovating as we move more and more services to digital?


As Zig Ziglar said, ”People don’t buy drills, they buy holes”. And Kodak ignored the hole to protect the drill. So what is the banking model really protecting? As the banking model shifts, are most bank’s even protecting the right holes?


2013, after all, will be the year that there are more mobile devices than people on the planet. While this slide shows an older statistic, the fact that more people have mobile phones than have access to use a toothbrush (or to clean drinking water for that matter), is kind of an interesting development for humans. We now have more computing power in our pocket than what got us to the moon, and yet people still overdraw their account.
Something doesn’t add up.


We use our phones for absolutely everything – especially when shopping or doing research for potential purchases before we buy – a critical component of the context for the development of financial applications. When is the last time you forgot your phone? If you left the house without your wallet, would you go back for it? But I bet you do it all the time for your phone.


Some of the fastest areas of growth for mobile activities revolve around banking and payment, from retail and credit services to direct mobile payments themselves. Mobile can make day to day banking activities more a more engaging experience – we have the ability to deliver transactions and context at the most relevant point – when the customer is about to use, is using, or just after they used their money.


Mobile is also critical to financial application development because of the adoption trends toward younger and more affluent customers. But as we see the development of a digital divide forming, we shouldn’t assume that the underbanked are not engaging with our technology because they don’t have smartphones – I would say they do – it’s more likely our applications aren’t meeting their needs. Look at the rapid rise in mobile focused pre-paid, P2P and location based payments, from GoBank to Bluebird to Venmo to PayNearMe.


With evolving hyper-connectivity, smartphones and even smarter financial applications, peer to peer and crowd funding, open source banking fueled by the rise of non-banking partners integrating through APIs, the friction of day to day banking transactions is being removed – most often by players outside the banks themselves. There are not many areas of banking that aren’t going through significant change…and it’s having a pretty dramatic impact on the industry itself – although you wouldn’t know it by looking at one key stat.


Banking income is on the rebound – the industry recorded near record profits for 2012. Some of the post recession growth is a reflection of changes to loan loss reserve, security gains and losses, rebounding mortgage activity and efforts to gain efficiencies.

So what does this mean for the industry going forward?


Despite near record profits in 2012, most of the growth is driving further consolidation and contraction within the industry. It could be that as we move from 14,000 financial institutions down toward, say, less than half that in a decade, the new safe zone for economies of scale moves to 10 or even 15 billion in assets. The imperative to grow, to embrace this digital transformation, is really about survival.


Our competition – from large players to startups – have to be licking their chops, thinking of areas where they can continue to nibble at our revenue streams, from changes in the lending model to the competition in payments…but overall, banking, despite its challenges, remains a lucrative industry with large embedded players that are starting to mobilize.

So, what are we doing with those record profits?


Some of us built fancy new branches…


And deploy really big tablets in them …


Maybe make them feel like our homes or our offices…

Or like the Starship Enterprise…


Aite Group’s Ron Shevlin had this message for bank’s focused on building out that Apple retail experience in their branch networks – I hope that works out better than it did for JC Penney.


I hear this from my peers quite frequently – driving change and innovation inside a financial institution can be painful, even hazardous to your health. We’re not agile, we’re over-regulated, and our decision making and processes are bloated. Stop with the excuses already. Are we so afraid of risk that we can’t move to improve our technology and services to better our customer’s financial lives? Sometimes innovation simply means getting things done as Sam Maule from the Carlisle and Gallagher Consulting Group. Let’s break new ground because I think it’s worth the effort to tunnel through granite.

Ron Shevlin asks a key question – why don’t banks innovate? Why haven’t we seen large-scale, transformational change — or innovation — in the industry? Because — until recently — there has been no need for the industry to change. The elements of change simply weren’t in place. Ron goes into recent changes in technology, demographic shifts toward Gen Y and Millennials, and finally into a convincing dialogue around the changing economic equation driving the revenue model – he concludes that “we may actually see some innovation in the industry over the next few years. It’s not like the banks are too stupid or don’t how to innovate. They haven’t had the economic imperative to innovate. Until now.” I highly suggest you follow Ron’s work, both at Aite and on his industry blog.


How do we provide a safe framework for innovation in large financial organizations? While there are some good examples from throughout financial services, from innovation labs, startup incubators and accelerators, from Citi Ventures to Amex to Capital One to Discover, sponsored meetups with developers with Silicon Valley Bank and others, there is one example I am really drawn to, and that is from SWIFT’s formation of Innotribe in 2009.


Kosta Peric, co-founder of Innotribe tells a fascinating tale in his book the Castle and the Sandbox about how you can transform conservative companies using innovation – it’s a great read and is highly recommended. What are the concepts around Innotribe?

Chris Skinner provides a great description of Innotribe – a small viral spacecraft that helped spread a new species called creators – the people within the organization that help transform the culture of a larger structured financial organization by initiating change, new ways of thinking – Innotribe acts like a startup inside its larger parent – making its parent act more quickly to the changing environment.


The book explains that if the core business of an established company is the “castle” (well protected and built to last), innovation is best carried out in “sandboxes” – environments outside the castle where experimentation with new ideas and concepts is easier. The idea is to then bring these experiments back to the castle to make it stronger. How do you do this? Find the intrapreneurs inside your company – find those people that have patience, perserverance, and passion. Having just helped judge some of companies that entered Innotribe’s 2013 StartUp challenge, and being fascinated by their disruptive incubator project centered around digital identity (the Digital Asset Grid) led by Peter Vander Auwera – I can report that Innotribe’s approach to sparking innovation is alive and well. My hats off to the Innotribe team on what they’ve achieved – I highly recommend Kosta’s book. …


One of the more interesting things from Walter Isaacson’s book on Steve Jobs was his penchant to take long walks with people and just talk about subjects that mattered to him. Let’s take a little walk of our own as we imagine what banking would look like from four of the most influential technology providers.


While seemingly going through a rough patch now (are they the world’s largest company today? Ask that question again after the next iPhone launches), Apple is a force of innovation unto its own. While Google may be winning mobile platform market share, the real money being made in mobility is going to Apple – from the sale of the devices themselves to the battle of the app stores to the success of their retail efforts. We owe much to Steve Jobs and Apple for innovation in design and process – if they were a bank, I think we would see them incredibly focused on the customer onboarding experience, simplification of security, flexible payments, engaging product delivery from retail to app to online, and on the customer – merchant relationship – and we might see this focus come to the forefront as the rumors of NFC and biometrics emerge as part of the new phone release. I’d love to see more excitement and attention to the customer as we launch financial products as we see in an Apple keynote. In many ways, I’d compare them to the big five banks because of their size – but in the end Moven and Simple make better comparisons because of their dedication to the user experience. I personally don’t think Apple is anywhere near done innovating.


Google is perpetually experimenting, dominating critical digital infrastructure like search and now mobile OS development. As they move into driverless cars, extending internet connectivity through Google Fiber, breaking new ground through a project like Google Glass – they show they are concerned about remaining relevant and making 10X investments. A bank like Google would be forward thinking and be planning out massive infrastructure investments that would pay off in the long term, a bank like NAB in Australia or a USAA in the States perhaps. As Google goes about collecting every inch of data from the digital spectrum , they are working on new ways to monetize that data. We start seeing that information itself is really a commodity- Insight from that data is what is the most valuable thing. So it’s not about big data – it might be about providing the minimum amount of information required to help a customer get the appropriate results in order to take action. Big data becomes small, personalized to the nth degree. Here are a few examples.


Banks have been working to best leverage transaction data for decades. Historically we’ve used this data to model financial and insurance products and then now more and more consumer items with Truaxis (now MasterCard), Cardlytics, and Bankons (now CapOne), and card linked offers through companies like Cardify. We’re seeing offers popping up within online banking, within locationally aware mobile banking applications from Intuit and Amex, from Foursquare to Capital One. But how can we refine these offers? Focus on creating less friction by demonstrating that you know your customer’s data and their needs – create a better value exchange. Since there’s a fine line between being influential and being invasive, our focus might be on providing options to record customer taste and preference – perhaps providing options to tap into their social graph – this way we can focus on delivering more effective offers in the proper context. But there is much more to this.


Enter Nerture. This company combines online and mobile search data with transaction data – and, get this, they have found the secret sauce to provide tier 3 or SKU data to its partners – that’s itemized receipt level data to you and me. Imagine what you can do with this amount of context – you know what the consumer is shopping for before they buy, whether it’s a car, a concert, or a vacation, and then you can provide assistance or offers in order to deliver the most appropriate service to your client in the most appropriate time and context. And then you have the ultimate prize – proof of purchase down to the product SKU level. But this data isn’t just for marketing, it can provide even greater refinement to value driven services to improve personal and business financial management tools. How much did I spend on groceries the past quarter? Can’t I buy those non-perishable items like toilet paper and peanut butter from another source and then save more for that vacation? Now you can the idea. Nerture is still forming its business model and is in active discussion with industry players – please contact me if you are interested in learning more. The possibilities are engaging indeed.


Facebook is the 800 pound gorilla of social – while not the first, it is and will continue to be the biggest social experiment in human history. That is, unless the next generation rejects its use of personal data once and for all and moves on the next big thing. If Facebook were a bank – we’d be worried about our transactions appearing as ads – or about large scale changes to privacy policies – can you imagine the fun they would have with the FDIC, FFIEC, or the CFPB? But Facebook is an experiment, and so you have to sit back and learn from the ubiquity of social sharing and appreciate the ongoing willingness to alter the user experience for a billion people – most recently with Facebook Home – demonstrating an amazing ability to reinvent itself for mobile in less than a year’s time. It also shows us about their drive to shift new experiences on top of a mobile OS – to bring front and center content, notifications, and activity – whether we want it or not. Fidor from Germany is the bank comparison that comes to mind – the bank that defines itself as a community and drives social banking innovation. This philosophy extends right through to its motto: ‘banking with friends’.


Amazon is the world’s largest marketplace. While you might describe Amazon as the world’s biggest personal shopping mall – I would suggest that it is the largest repository of interesting data next to Google – it’s where we first saw the mass experiment of reviews deployed, as well as the culmination of personalization driven by algorithm, combining a Pandora-like crowd source of recommendation that drives an incredible commercial engine. Comparisons in my mind are to credit card giants like Capital One, Amex, and Citi – or even the large payment networks themselves like Visa and Mastercard which combine worldwide card activity and analytics for effective cross sell and micro-personalization – something all banks need to master. Also known for placing big bets – like with the Kindle – Amazon is building a 10x organization focused on long term customer value. Are we selling products in similar ways?


Seth Godin says: The goal is not to find customers for your products, it’s to make products for your customers. A customer simply wants to send money to their kids at college. Or they want a new car, a new home. Or to take a vacation once a year. In comparison, we sell them products, not dreams, not the end result. Maybe we need to be better at communicating the value that banking brings to the needs of our customers – we’re sometimes not the best storytellers in regard to our own services – especially through digital. But I’m getting a little ahead of myself.

Many of us are locked into partnering with the established ecosystem of large fintech players who have primarily focused on further developing online banking during the past decade and are now playing catch up to deliver applications designed to reduce friction through mobile financial engagement. Tell me why I can do more in an online browser than through our mobile applications? It’s a four screen world across two primary application schemas, and whether through native applications (my preference), or HTML5 development, we should develop for application consistency across channel – leveraging the best design for each devices. That’s easier said than done. But it should be our primary goal as we fight for relevancy.


And you might argue that we’ll see a fifth and sixth screen soon – if Google Glass and other wearable devices like watches creep into our daily life. Ukrain’s PrivatBank is already planning banking apps to use Google Glass – so how long will it be until building apps for more types of wearable tech is the norm? I look forward to automating my family’s grocery needs as our refrigerator talks to other connected devices throughout our house and then advises our financial accounts to deliver groceries as needs arise. We need to have flexible development processes and agile partners in place to meet the changes in technology and consumer behavior.


If the internet changed the way people find, discover, share, shop, and connect, then this trend toward mobility simply escalates this trend. From the growth of mobile applications devoted to social connectivity and discoverability, to the sharing of photos and other content, mobile financial development is simply hanging on to the coattails of broader development and design trends that best leverage location, big sets of data, and levels of engagement.


I raise some eyebrows when I say that you could probably start a bank with IFTTT (If Then Then That), Stripe, and Twilio. For a very basic application, you can create the application wrapper, add actionable alerts, the ability to move funds around, and an option to talk to somebody when something goes wrong. This really talks to the rising importance of the API ecosystem and our options in building financial applications as we open up our platforms – we have so many more options today. So what is the new face of mobile then? From a quick balance to payments, from virtual assistants to contextual offers, what should we be focused on as we build mobile financial applications today?



Simple is a good place to start. From Safe to Spend to the card lock/unlock to the image/receipt attachment to the social engagement with its customers. It’s simple, instant, and personal. It’s about ‘perceived simplicity’ for customers – not about simple products. To know what that means, you need to know your customer. There many lessons here from Josh and Shamir’s team.


One of them that I take seriously in our development is the trend toward personalized visualization – from Pinterest to Summly to Flipboard – people want their content personalized and presented in a beautiful format via mobile and tablet and web – this should mean financial transactions as well. How are you helping customer’s data tell a story when you don’t let them personalize it? They also have customers that work hard to promote their services – this one picking a fight with Wells Fargo on Twitter – one of my blog’s most read posts of 2012. But that’s a whole other story. Simple just gets it. I’ll leave it at that.


Moven unveiled its solution at Finovate Europe in February. What Brett King and Alex Sion are doing at Moven is providing a way for consumers to think about banking differently – built from the ground up as a mobile only banking service, Moven relies on NFC payments and continuous transaction engagement to help people really improve their financial lives.


Having met with Brett King and Alex Sion last week and seeing Moven’s instant receipt categorization in person, I can tell you there are a lot of things Moven is doing that need to be looked at – from the transaction level engagement to the interface design. This is just fantastic stuff.


Whether on mobile, tablet or browser, Money Desktop continues to demonstrate how we can build applications to change the linear way we look at banking transactions today. This is a simply a more engaging way to look at your budget. My hats off to the team as they continue their success in 2013. Beyond budgets, you’ll probably need some additional financial advice.


LearnVest adds an interesting feature by not only aggregating your financial data around the concept of long term goals and investment options, but by having you treat transactions like email – something that needs to be dealt with to reach transaction zero – through foldering the data. While possibly more time consuming than categorizing transactions as they occur, I like the idea because it mirrors applications that are trying to simplify both email and calendar data (think Sunrise, Sparrow, Mailbox).


Personal Capital does some similar things to LearnVest and adds A2A transfers, and direct connectivity to a personal advisor through Facetime. We’ll likely see a lot more of this direct to advisor application as we close more physical locations.


San Francisco based Planwise takes an outside in approach to money management with engaging interactive tools that walk you through a path toward your financial goals and how your decisions impact them. They have a great team focused on this interesting advancement in financial advice and planning. There are some other ways to further personalize financial data.


The concept of big data is meaningless unless we wrestle meaning from it – a company called Narrative Science is working within several verticals, and in financial services with Personal Capital, to leverage data to automate a narrative, to personalize what data means at the individual level – its content for an audience of one but at scale. Their service, called Quill, takes large sets of data and delivers a narrative about anything from a day’s worth of financial activity to what a person’s portfolio did in the market that day. The engine will generate personalized stories for mass affluent users, who link an average of 16 accounts to the service. I think we’ll see more banking applications for this technology in the years to come.


Knowing what your customers want before they even ask and being able to solve their issues quickly. That’s power. So what if every banking transaction contained a quick link to intelligent contextual assistance? That’s what Personetics delivers within online and mobile applications, leveraging tap, type, text or voice interaction with customer data. What is this transaction about? Where did it occur? Why was my payment this much? How much did I pay last month? Personetics has an interesting solution worth checking out.


Often referenced as one of the most innovative banks, USAA’s mobile application is like a Swiss Army Knife – it has just about every tool you need. On my own mobile must-have check list, it has a quick login option, extensive product cross sell, a claims application that assists you in recording details of an auto accident, as well as industry leading RDC, product calculators, and a few great items like A2A transfers and social integration. But there’s even a few more hidden gems.


Looking for a house or car? USAA has the most extensive in-application data I’ve seen to assist their members in researching these larger purchases. Think of it as a and zillow right right within mobile banking. And these services are even better on the tablet.
There’s one more thing.


USAA just launched voice banking. Have you ever used Siri or similar services to make a reservation or place a call? Enter Nina from Nuance. Like Siri, Nina can send texts and emails, do a web search, and get directions. But Nina can have “continued conversations with contextual dialogue with a user”. That means it can hold a conversation.

I think USAA is going to remain a technology leader for some time.


While we’ve looked at some interesting developments, are our applications engaging enough? Why should we want to play Angry Birds more than engage in our own finances – the very thing that enables our ability to pursue those things that most matter to us? Personal assistant applications, like Donna above might waken us up to tell us the events impacting our financial picture that day, as well as a summary of our progress toward our goals. That’s what we’re working toward – meaningful, contextual, intelligent applications designed to improve our financial lives.

There’s are key differences between Wall Street banks and Main Street banks, between national banks and regional banks, from American banks to international banks. We all have different structures, different scale, different scope and different values. I’m not sure I’m ready to give up the mantle of respected financial partner to startups or payment providers, but I’m more than willing to partner with them. Taking no risk is the greatest risk of all. If innovation still means delivering continued value through new customer experiences, then count me in. I hope I can count on you as well. I thank you for your attention today, and I look forward to additional conversations as we connect through the fintech community.


This post comes from my April 2013 Backbase Webinar. You can view the webinar and download the slides at that link. Let me know what you think.

About The Author

Bradley Leimer, Vice President, Online and Mobile Strategy at Mechanics Bank and financial technologist and engagement banking proponent discusses customer behavior and related design trends impacting financial application development. He explores topics that are relevant to community banking, financial services, and the changing customer expectations developers now face.

Customer behavior is changing. Expectations are shifting. Technology is accelerating this shift as it acts to alter traditional relationships with our customers as well as the traditional sources of revenue, growth, retention, and customer loyalty. We are moving away from a personal banking relationship to one where the primary relationship is that of utility. Banking becomes something you do through an application, not something you do in a defined location. And those applications better be well designed, because the banking model itself is in jeopardy.

What inspires your teams to innovate and iterate? Why are we not seeing more radical changes in financial application design? While we are still only in the middle stages of this digital transformation, the majority of banks seem destined to be left behind. With the variety of experiences available today, what can we learn from changes in design and customer behavior? What is the role of financial data and identity in this change, and how do we make the concept of big data become a personalized, more meaningful small data experience? If our experience design process were more like Apple, Amazon, Google, or Facebook, what would that look like? Where else should we look for inspiration?

Inspiration For Innovation: Considerations For Financial Application Design

Thank you for tuning in to my webinar with Backbase yesterday.  I’m posting the slides and recording after the description below.  Let me know what you think – I appreciate your feedback and your tuning in. Keep innovating!

Backbase Bank 2.0 Webinar Series April 23, 2013

Inspiration For Innovation: Considerations For Financial Application Design

In this Backbase webinar, Bradley Leimer, Vice President, Online and Mobile Strategy at Mechanics Bank and renowned financial technologist and engagement banking proponent discusses customer behavior and related design trends impacting financial application development. He explores topics that are relevant to community banking, financial services, and the changing customer expectations developers now face.

Customer behavior is changing. Expectations are shifting. Technology is accelerating this shift as it acts to alter traditional relationships with our customers as well as the traditional sources of revenue, growth, retention, and customer loyalty. We are moving away from a personal banking relationship to one where the primary relationship is that of utility. Banking becomes something you do through an application, not something you do in a defined location. And those applications better be well designed, because the banking model itself is in jeopardy.

What inspires your teams to innovate and iterate? Why are we not seeing more radical changes in financial application design? While we are still only in the middle stages of this digital transformation, the majority of banks seem destined to be left behind. With the variety of experiences available today, what can we learn from changes in design and customer behavior? What is the role of financial data and identity in this change, and how do we make the concept of big data become a personalized, more meaningful small data experience? If our experience design process were more like Apple, Amazon, Google, or Facebook, what would that look like? Where else should we look for inspiration?

GoDaddy Site Outage: Impact To Banking? Yet Another Lesson From (Bank) Simple.

GoDaddy Tweet

GoDaddy Tweet

A chunk of the internet suffered outages today as part of an Anonymous attack on web services giant GoDaddy. While not as big as the recent storm-related outage at Amazon Web Services (AWS), it still offers an important lesson for banks.

If any portion of your online or mobile application is inaccessible, even for a brief time, it’s a critical customer experience issue.

If you have ongoing access issues, you’re losing customers. 

Just ask NAB.

Here’s more about the GoDaddy outage from TechCrunch.

“According to many customers, sites hosted by major web host and domain registrar GoDaddy are down. According to the official GoDaddy Twitter account the company is aware of the issue and is working to resolve it. Update: customers are complaining that GoDaddy hosted e-mail accounts are down as well, along with GoDaddy phone service and all sites using GoDaddy’s DNS service.

Update 2: Anonymous is claiming responsibility. A member of Anonymous known as AnonymousOwn3r is claiming responsibility, and makes it clear this is not an Anonymous collective action.

AnonymousOwn3r’s bio reads “Security leader of #Anonymous (~Official member~).” The individual claims to be from Brazil, and hasn’t issued a statement as to why GoDaddy was targeted.

Last year GoDaddy was pressured into opposing SOPA as customers transferred domains off the service.”

Read More At Techcrunch Here.

Why should folks in banking and fintech care about this?

First, think about the scale of this sort of attack.

What type of sites were impacted? If truly millions of sites were down, even for a brief period…were any financial services websites down?

Most likely there were not any (or hopefully many) full bank or credit union websites impacted (meaning then that online banking and other services would likely be inaccessible)…but thousands of banking websites leverage third-party content or service providers that could be affected. I’m talking about third-party marketing content, location services, video sites, mortgage and loan lead generation sites…maybe even some third-party processing sites – the list is actually pretty long if you think about most financial websites and their reliance on third-party hooks (hopefully all external to authenticated applications).

In looking at my twitter feed, it turns out that there are some financial related sites impacted – whether by content being hosted by a GoDaddy registered site, or as part of an overall ISP slowdown that affected various networks. For example – I found a number of bank and CU sites that had their site search or blogs powered by third parties – imagine 404 messages from all the links that were now dead (and why not use Google’s site search?). That’s not a great message to be presenting to your customers – that your site, or even a portion of your site, is hosted externally – or that it is powered (even indirectly) by GoDaddy.

It’s time to consider using Gomez or other (more economical) services to monitor third-party links 24/7. While you’re not hosting critical infrastructure on outside ISP’s – and you aren’t, right? – then you should have a strategy for monitoring and completing due diligence on all of your web content providers – including where they are hosted.

And if your primary banking website was impacted, how are you going to talk about it with your customers/members? What’s the plan? What alternative method of communication do you have in place? And how transparent are you in your discussion?

Maybe it doesn’t matter that some of this third-party content is down. But in my mind, it’s all part of the larger picture around the impression it leaves. Customer experience matters, and as more and more banking activity is done digitally, having every services working is critical to the trust put into these services.

Here’s why I bring this up. How is your bank or credit union prepared to talk about any type of system outage? How prepared are your service teams for that conversation?

The most transparent exchange about the GoDaddy outage came from (Bank) Simple.

Here they are at it again being very clear about how the GoDaddy outage affected their services. Apparently some transaction processors they (and I’m assuming other banking sites) use were impacted by the attack. As usual, they were up front about it (and aware of it, in contrast to most customer service teams I imagine).

Bank Simple Twitter Feed Around Go Daddy Site Outage

Bank Simple Twitter Feed Around Go Daddy Site Outage

There are many lessons learned through the (Bank) Simple Twitter Stream – you can see more about my thoughts on their use of social media and Twitter here.

How did the GoDaddy Great Site Outage of 2012 impact your bank or credit union?

Or is this whole thing much about *meh*?

Chime in.

Update: And just in case you thought the outages were short lived…


Update: GoDaddy Says Outage Caused By Network Issues, No Hack (hmmmm…really?). Read more.




(Bank) Simple’s Twitter Feed And What It Tells Us About The @Simplify Model

Most of my friends in banking and fintech have followed the announcement and launch of (Bank) Simple pretty closely, certainly tuning in well before founder and CEO Josh Reich came onstage at Finovate Fall in New York last year (see the video) and showed off their new iPhone application.

There were many ooohs and aahs from the Finovate crowd regarding the app’s user experience (my personal reaction was mixed, though I truly applaud their impact on fintech application design). With its ‘safe to spend’ and ‘locational/proximity transaction’ search and awareness, it looks like the team at Simple is just getting started.

One of the things Josh and Shamir Karkal, their CFO and co-founder, have said they were trying to do is build a bank that ‘doesn’t suck.’ I got a chance to talk to Josh and Shamir at the Future of Money Conference in San Francisco this spring, and I can attest that they are really approaching not only the banking technology stack differently, but their focus and level of transparency in their service delivery is unique.

In the conference’s panel, there was some great back and forth between Josh and the head of Wells Fargo’s mobile banking, as Josh talked about how they answer customer inquiries in late night all-hands sessions – I believe beer was involved – and how they all respond with personalized emails, hand written letters, and a focus on rapid customer response through social networks (especially Twitter – you can see their feed here).

Many in the audience probably questioned whether this type of service focus through technology could really scale as Simple ramps up its user base. Can they maintain this focus on delivering a simple alternative to traditional consumer banking service as they move toward 25,000 customers, 50,000 customers, 100,000 customers – or far more?

So far they are being very smart about their growth as they ramp up, and taking a stroll through their twitter stream illustrates their approach to service (and provides some insights into the services they plan to offer). You can read more about the launch of Simple here and their point of view.

What does Simple’s Twitter feed tell us about Simple’s approach to service and to the future of its technology?

People Are Paying Attention

Simple has nearly 20,000 Twitter followers. While many of these followers may indeed be inside-the-beltway fintech and banking insiders, I would still imagine the majority are probably actual beta customers. This number is much larger than financial institutions with much larger customer bases – and about ten times the 2,036 following @Movenbank, Brett King’s Bank 2.0 startup (though to be fair, Movenbank’s still in alpha).

Simple Believes In Its Vision But Knows It Has A Ways To Go

All Hands On Deck – CEO Josh Reich Answers The Phone Too

People Are Ready To Be Customers

And don’t mind telling the big banks they are leaving…

And new Simple customers are happy once they sign up …

Finding A Service Contact Will Always Matter – Simple Addresses Scale

Handwritten Notes Make A Difference

Prospects Respond To Transparency

UX Matters – As Does A Sense Of Humor

Small features like transaction memo posts matter to our users. This exchange was pretty typical of what I saw from Simple – amusing but quick and responsive – but above all very human (and very Twitter).

Humor regarding service delivery…

I’m still not sure what this means…

TMI? Banking customer service can have a little spice – at least at Simple.

Drag Queens? Invitations to Strip Clubs? That’s Different.

Product Suggestions and Transparent Answers

It’s the little things.

Updates for Mac users get noticed…

Demand for Mobile RDC remains high…

Even though many people see the end of physical checks…

ATM rewards are discussed, as was how banks pay for them…

Updates for Mac users get noticed…

Demand for Android…

Credit card or other Loan products on the way?

Simple won’t be issuing physical checks outside of bill pay anytime soon?

How does the money transfer work? Lots of posts around moving money.

There were also many discussions around fees and pricing.

And how to avoid fees…

There are thousands of messages to explore across a variety of topics within Simple’s Twitter feed, but you get the idea. You can learn a lot about their model of service and their technology roadmap by tuning into their web and social content. Let me know if you find anything interesting. Happy hunting and have a great weekend.

Here are a couple more things to check out about Simple – from their own customers.

Customer Review (Banking Made Awesome)

Customer Review (Simple vs ING)

Simple’s Twitter Feed

Full disclosure: I am not a Simple customer. I’m on the waiting list like everyone else.

Finovate, Simple, and Re-Imagining Banking Applications

Finovate, Simple, and Re-Imagining Banking Applications

What problem are most banking applications really trying to solve?

That’s what I have been thinking about for some time.

I thought maybe last week’s Finovate would help me understand what we’re all trying to achieve. But I think I was wrong. It seems most innovations are coming from a place where founders are looking for exits, or established players are protecting their turf.

In other words, it’s still all about the sliver of money on the edges of every transaction.

Hasn’t Apple already proven that a simple, user-driven experience can drive not only profit but user delight? But I digress.

Maybe it’s too much to tackle here, but maybe, just maybe, it’s time to re-imagine our applications.

What real problem do most banking applications try to solve? Seeing where we spend money? How we are doing against budget? Well, most Americans at least seem to be doing a good job of avoiding that just fine. Most online banking applications are focused on data from past events, rather than solve the need to understand the implications of certain spending behavior that is truly meaningful to future actions. Beyond the transaction, most applications outright ignore the important larger implications of how we spend, the matching of that data with lifestyle changes, or further refined life-changing needs.

This is why we need to move forward with the notion of solving issues related to ‘banking activity,’ like payments. But it goes beyond payments as well. It’s also inclusive of what banking is moving toward – technology driven butler-like services with human intervention when needed for further understanding of one’s financial condition. Let’s solve the real-world problem of maximizing budgets by minimizing expenses, by driving very specific rewards and offers that actually mirror user data, both on the consumer and business side. We have blatantly ignored the value in ‘big data’ in our industry for some time. It’s time ‘simple’ applications solve some big problems for our clients, before startups figure out a better way and truly reduce traditional banks to a serious of dumb pipes. Oh wait, maybe too late.

Finovate Best of Show winners included BehavioSec (security applications that leverage user pattern recognition), BillGuard (which now includes crowdsourcing of credit card transactions to help resolve disputes), Dwolla (Adding FISync which lets banks and credit unions originate cheaper real-time ACH based payments), iQuantifi (interesting financial planning tools), MoneyDesktop (great new tablet (iPad) UX for PFM functionality, additional proximity-based deals platform which has a lot of promise), Personal Capital (portfolio PFM iPhone app that (finally) includes PFM interbank funds transfer), and SoMoLend (SBA/Business based P2P lending and interesting use of alt-credit data).

One of the things that stood out was that, outside of a couple of interesting interfaces, there was a real dearth of focus on design and overall user experience from the field of 63 companies.

Maybe it wasn’t all that bad (or maybe it’s because I am posting this on the Monday after), but only a few UX things stood out for me in the field of demos related to payments, deals, security, and B2B applications.

The best summary of Finovate (outside of the official Jim Breune feed at probably was that from Eric McCune of Glenbrook for their PaymentsViews.

The #Finovate twitter feed did pump praise out for at least two of the eventual Finovate winners, MoneyDesktop and Personal Capital, mostly for making PFM interesting again, but much of what the crowd of nearly 1,500 bank, fintech, and valley money folks saw was kind of the same old stuff when it came to design.

Here are additional links and summary of Finovate Best of Show Winners.

It’s time to re-think how we design banking applications.

Maybe we should re-imagine ‘banking’.

I say this because even Simple’s UX seems old to me now. And it’s not even in general release. And no one I know is actually using it yet.

Many of my contacts at Finovate seemed to feel the same way.

While many of us in banking are rooting for Simple (and Movenbank, etc.), after 18 months of alpha and beta testing, are they going to deliver a truly simplified banking experience? Maybe we expected too much.

When do the rest of the 100,000 people on the Simple waiting list get to take a test drive to see what $13M in funding has built? When will Simple break through and show us that good design alone can disrupt banking? Here’s what we know about what you can do with Simple’s new iPhone application so you can decide for yourself:

View your transactions. Real time refresh of transactions (this should be in all mobile banking applications by now, right?). Are any of our systems still relying on batch pushes of data to our mobile apps? No (OK, I hope not). I get real-time updates from several banking applications, so nothing seems new here, but the video below makes it feel somehow superior – so an A for the marketing effort on this feature. Overall though, I’d give this a C because every application should update once a transaction has occurred.

Send payments. Add payees and schedule one-time or recurring bill payments. OK, some news here, as real-time ACH is sort of embedded. But shouldn’t all applications that include bill pay and P2P simply mirror this type of payment application natively? That’s the problem, the most obvious use of payments (P2P through existing contacts via the mobile device) isn’t application ubiquitous. But it’s thankfully on every provider’s radar, as mobile payments are seen as the next holy grail to banking, so were seeing mobile P2P applications in every form (Amex’s Serve & Pre-Paid, etc.) so there is hope that mobile both P2P and Bill Pay will be tied together in a single simplified payment mechanism. I’ll give them an A- for this with hope that more people will copy what’s here. At least let people initiate a simple P2P/merchant payment to a established payee. Then move to sending money to anyone, anywhere with a mobile number or email address.

There is so much low-hanging fruit in payment applications. But I digress.

See each transaction in detail. Simple will categorize and map it for you.The one thing Simple gets online (and presumably in mobile) is the ability to review transactions via location, or proximity. Why aren’t more applications leveraging their proximity tagging, whether inferred from the transaction data stream, ACH, or proximity tag at payment? Simple gets an A for that, but shame on more developers for not leveraging this data out of the box. If you have the location of a transaction, you should be able to map it and then leverage that data lookup in the presentation layer. But what do you do for an online payment to Amazon? I’d have a lot of payments in Seattle, and I haven’t been there in a few years.

Organize your transactions. Edit description, category or location. Another thing that should be embedded in every application – this is finally starting to become commonplace. So a B here for additional tagging capabilities. We need to see this grow, since PFM categorization, even those that are automated, fail too often when aggregation connectivity and transaction data break.

Write a memo for any transaction. Keep track of what you buy. Simple gets an A here, and while I imagine the UX is pretty streamlined, I want to see how consistent this is across platform. The biggest problem with memo posts are the transition of this data between devices and applications. I’m assuming this is centralized at Simple, and bravo for extending a historical business need to consumer (this should have occurred over five years ago, especially around payments). What we aren’t seeing as often is the ability to add several tags to the same transaction. If we could do that to photos for years, why not financial data. Oh wait, that would make Simple a billion dollar startup.

Search transactions. Find all your transactions from a particular restaurant. Nothing really new here, but again, the overall UX and simplicity is key to this being done right. B for he inclusion, and probably higher for the overall user experience.

See your Safe-to-Spend Balance. Know your spending cushion immediately. An obvious A for the marketing around this, but several PFM providers have been providing this data presentment in different forms for years – the problem is that Mint, FinanceWorks, Geezeo, MoneyDesktop, and others have their PFM functionality relegated to another tab or link within Online Banking. To me, this is the fintech space’s big fail. PFM isn’t really just PFM, it should be front and center and simply replace online banking. So an F for everyone in fintech in the end. Real time money management with every swipe, every NFC transaction, every alert (simplified actionable alerts like Clairmail has had for years)…where is fintech’s true money management for mobile? That’s the type of user experience we’ve been waiting for. Look for the innovation in this space to come from the merchant reward side of mobile payments. That’s kind of unfortunate, as I would rather see the innovation in helping someone manage their personal and business expenses, but fintech developers are chasing the money and I don’t blame them.

Find nearby ATMs nearest your current location. Every application should have this. PNC gets an A for their efforts with PNC Finder, but overall we should do more. Show me all ATMs, and let me sort the data and decide if I want to pay a fee to get cash. Simple gets a B here, as I am assuming it works well, and allows for some interesting ways to display the data.

Contact customer service. Customer service is just one button away If this also includes their social contacts from Twitter and other social media, they get a B+. Most mobile banking applications fail at providing anything but a phone number. We need links, FAQs, mobile optimized demos, social connectivity, click to call, appointment set up, and so much more. Same goes for the more robust online and tablet applications. I think this is an area we need to completely re-think. Spend some time in a call center and you’ll know what I mean. Or better yet, personally answer emails from your customers, as Josh and the team at Simple have. They get upgraded to an A for that alone.

Unless I missed it, I’m glad we don’t see mobile capture in their app. Even if it’s planned, why are we spending so much energy on mobile capture when paper checks are dying? The same goes for capturing paper receipts. We need to move every step of the payment process beyond the legacy of paper.

What might be next? Where are the tools to help a small business owner who leverages their consumer accounts to manage their business? Where are simplified goals to tie to that Safe to Spend Balance? Where are the Notifications to alert a user of a transaction or to ask a simple yes/no to an automated bill payment? Where are proximity based merchant rewards? Where is merchant based bill payment? Where is a tie in to NFC or alt-payment providers like Square if someone wanted to send money to the user? There are a lot of applications that can be added, that can still be part of a simple banking application.

Just today we’re seeing a new focus on the ‘Spend Graph‘ data from American Express. We need to see more of this embedded in our applications, as well as a renewed focus in leveraging aggregated data to the benefit of our consumers and business customers. There’s promise here to solve one issue – present offers based on real time spending habits, and deliver value for consumers and business partners. But it can still be so much more than this. I think PFM providers have the keys to the kingdom, but I’ll save that for another post. It has to do with some Groupon like functions around preferences, and some writing I’ve done around and the ‘Taste Graph.’

If Simple can (and I imagine will) do even more when it comes to overall application design (meaning function) and overall user experience, how does the rest of what we saw at Finovate stack up? How will Movenbank’s mobile-only approach stack up? I really am a fan of what Josh and his team are doing, as well as Brett and Scott and the gang at Movenbank, but we’ll have to see. I’m hopeful. For now, I say it’s time to take a long walk and think about how we can re-design from the ground up. Keep it simple, but design your banking applications without “banking” in mind. Let’s focus on solving some real problems.

Here are some more links on what people thought of the Simple app. Like the rest of us, these articles are just reporting the promise of the application, not an actual review of what it’s really like using it.

Hopefully I’ll get some more out on Finovate in the next few weeks.

From FastCompany: BankSimple has gotten a lot of buzz since (Fast Company) first wrote about its user-friendly design philosophy back in March. With good reason: The user experience of online banking is wretched. As BankSimple CEO Josh Reich tells Co.Design, “Banks make the most money when you make mistakes.” His bank is designed for the opposite purpose: to help you better understand your personal finances so that you can actually accomplish your goals. He gave Co.Design a tour of BankSimple’s soon-to-launch iPhone app, which was so important to BankSimple’s strategy that they designed it before the desktop browser version.

Read More At Fast Company Co.Design

From FastCompany (April) with clip from

Bank Tracker


From Mashable




The Next Web


BankSimple Interface Revealed at Finovate

BankSimple showed off their interface today at Day 2 of Finovate 2011 NYC. The buzz about the product has been very strong for the past 18 months since BankSimple first came into the fintech ether, and it looks like Joshua Reich and team have delivered on all the hype. While there are a few immediate things I can see being added to the user interface, the easy transaction search and categorization and simple UX makes me want to open an account now.

Continued success to the BankSimple team, and to the ongoing disruption in the space. For the video below, I highly recommend making it full screen to really experience the UI of the product.

BankSimple Demo from BankSimple on Vimeo.