What happens in Vegas does not stay in Vegas…as far as Money 20/20 is concerned. The world’s largest annual fintech show gathers more than 10,000 industry titans, innovators and investors to chart the future of money – an inarguably loaded subject that impacts every living person now, banked or unbanked, and generations ahead.
In four days, 500 speakers and panelists explored, hypothesized and cast predictions on everything from artificial intelligence and deep learning to the potential social impacts of fintech around the world. We’ve distilled some of the key learnings for all financial services companies – “incumbents” or “insurgents” – based on three compelling things we heard on the ground:
On industry disruption: “How did you go broke? Two ways… gradually and then suddenly.”
Anand Sanwal, CEO and co-founder of CB Insights, invoked this famous line from Ernest Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises” in his keynote presentation on the unbundling of the bank. It captures the essence of his message over 119 data-rich slides: incumbent financial services firms must recognize the risk of failing to respond to technological acceleration or go the way of the once-giant U.S. video rental service Blockbuster. (Side note: Blockbuster CEO Jim Keyes said in a 2008 interview with Motley Fool that Netflix isn’t even “on the radar screen in terms of competition.” Two years later, the company filed for bankruptcy. And I know I wasn’t the only one who binge-watched House of Cards last weekend.) The data is clear. As cheaper, faster technologies have proliferated and start-up costs have plummeted, more than half of the S&P 500 companies have disappeared in the past 15 years. What is certain today is that the pace of disruption within the financial services sector will continue accelerating as digital insurgents rush to market, unencumbered by older, more expensive distribution models.
What is less certain is how exactly incumbents will stay in the game. CB Insights State of Innovation Report found that companies are nearly three times more likely to build innovation from within rather than buy it. The problem? Most companies just aren’t fast enough to market: 60 percent said it takes a year or longer to create new products. And shareholders will get more and more impatient with companies that can’t execute more quickly. Brands can and should endeavor to put innovation at the center of their narrative, but without aggressively monitoring the competitive landscape (and importantly, looking at sectors and markets they haven’t traditionally anticipated competition from in the past) and responding in their operations and offerings, that narrative will be short-lived.
On diversity: “You hire one person who’s exactly like you, you’ve done nothing.”
Sallie Krawcheck, CEO and co-founder of Ellevest, has long advocated for a truly client-centered business model in financial services. But in her words, brands cannot simply say, “You go girl! Here’s some content for you,” and expect to effect the kind of mutually beneficial change that engages consumers and supports the bottom line of the business. McKinsey & Company research for Women in the Workplace, a collaborative initiative between LeanIn.Org and the consulting firm, found that more than 90 percent of financial services companies surveyed assert a commitment to gender diversity. McKinsey’s research has shown that companies with greater gender diversity perform better: those in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 21 percent more likely to outperform on profitability and 27 percent more likely to demonstrate superior value creation. Looking at diversity in broader terms and beyond financial services, another McKinsey report released earlier this year found that companies with the most ethnically diverse executive teams are 33 percent more likely to outperform their peers on profitability.
The risk of doing nothing on diversity is real. Companies in the fourth quartile on both gender and ethnic diversity are more likely to underperform on profitability, to the tune of 29 percent. At a time when fintech is helping open new markets around the world faster than ever, it’s critical that both industry incumbents and newcomers prioritize diversity in their leadership teams and throughout their operations to ensure their growth strategy reflects and respects the diversity of populations they seek to do business in.
On short-termism: “Consumer financial health is the long-term outcome we should hold ourselves accountable to.”
Jennifer Tescher, President & CEO of the Center for Financial Services Innovation, laid out a case for the financial services industry to put its might first behind customers, not shareholders. It’s worth noting that, despite the rapid pace of technological innovation during the past three decades, consumer financial health has trended sharply down. In 1975, the year the first personal computer was introduced, the personal savings rate peaked at 17.3 percent of income. As of September of this year, that rate stood at just 6.2 percent. And CFSI’s recently launched U.S. Financial Health Pulse found that only 28 percent of Americans qualify as “financial healthy.”
There’s another clear business case for bucking this trend: companies that focus on maximizing customer value generated shareholder returns of 150 percent over a time period when the S&P 500 generated returns of just 14 percent. For long-term business viability, financial brands must ensure their model is aligned first and foremost with customer success.
If you’ve read this far and thought I wasn’t going to also mention the importance of trust, you were wrong (and I’d be remiss to not share the highlight reel of my boss, Deidre Campbell, on the mainstage opening night leading a keynote conversation on this topic). Trust is the common thread through each of these insights and underpins every transaction. As we know, the financial services industry has long struggled to build and maintain trust with consumers, but the potential of fintech here is real. Fintech innovations are helping companies across banking, insurance, payments, wealth management and others make their operations more transparent and secure, create products and solutions that help their customers reach quantifiably better outcomes while besting their own profitability, and build deeper, more trusting relationships with consumers.
John Welch is a vice president in Chicago and leads global development for Edelman’s financial services sector.