In a fit of unwise open-mindedness (and maybe a little self-preservation), GonzoBanker’s usual roving reporters at BAI Retail Delivery – Terence Roche and Steve Williams – decided to unleash Quintin Sykes, Eric Weikart and me on the show this year. Thankfully for our fellow attendees and our Fair Readers, the Gonzo crew was accompanied, tolerated and supervised for much of the show by Gonzo Client, April Simile, head of Retail at Allegheny Valley Bank of Pittsburgh.
From the left: Simile, Sykes and Hodgins at the
Vendor Expo reception
Billed as “Where innovation meets action,” the Retail Delivery 2008 experience once again fell seriously short on the Innovation and Action fronts. Our Cliff’s Notes summary goes something like this:
The Stampede of the Innovators on Day 1
To a significant extent, it’s not BAI’s fault. We have a faltering economy and some pretty heavy problems to deal with at our banks, so it wasn’t particularly surprising to see iffy banker attendance this year. But, damn, we hope the 2008 turnout is a blip and not a trend. And let’s be clear: BAI nailed it with its theme of leadership, innovation and action. However, a pretty thorough journey through the vendor expo maze told us that the vendor community is not pulling its own weight in the Innovation struggle.
Let it Roll, Baby, Roll
If you’ve never been to Retail Delivery, the first thing that strikes you is the ultra-professional production value in the general sessions. I’ve been to Pink Floyd shows with less intricate staging, lighting and sound – truly impressive if not a false prophet of what was to come.
General Colin Powell started off Day 1, and let’s just say the general kicked some serious ass. General Powell was surprisingly glib, humble and funny. While Powell addressed the rah-rah subject of Leadership, he peppered his talk with interesting, personal stories as opposed to the Master of the Obvious generalities often witnessed during Leadership speeches.
C-Dog kickin’ it old school at BAI
Some highlights from Gen. Powell’s Leadership discussion include:
It was a great speech. So strong that not once did I think about the fact that this smart, thoughtful grandpa on stage was the same guy who delivered the infamous address in 2003 to the United Nations about the presence of WMDs in Iraq. Not once.
The next general session featured ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, BBC’s Katty Kay (Meow!), and MSNBC’s Tucker Carlson in what was advertised as a discussion of “what will the change of guard in the White House mean for the U.S. and the global economy, foreign policy and its impact on financial services.”
George Stephanopoulos addresses the anxious crowd
As Weikart and Sykes pointed out, the session was fairly silent when it came to commentary on the economic crisis and financial services in general. In fact, when the economy became a topic of discussion, the panel typically deferred to the audience as being the experts and then moved on. Not exactly the expert spin we had hoped for. That said, the dialog was intelligent, and it was cool to watch these pundits riff for a commercial-less hour on the election and politics in general.
Unsurprisingly, the best line of the session came from a bowtie-less Tucker Carlson on Sen. John McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin for VP: “That decision can be summarized in four words – Oh, what the hell!”
BAI invited Xerox CEO/Chairman Anne Mulcahy, to address what she and her company did to execute its turnaround from the brink of bankruptcy. It was obviously a sound choice of topics by BAI. While Mulcahy began the discussion with some real world examples of focusing on core competencies, jettisoning the peripherals, really addressing customer service, making hard decisions – including the unpopular but brilliant decision to keep investing in R&D during troubled financial times – the session rather quickly deteriorated into an unabashed Xerox commercial.
The Vendor Zzzzzzzzone
“I’m troubled, I’m troubled
I’m troubled in mind
If trouble don’t kill me
Lord I’ll live a long time”
—Jerry Garcia, I’m Troubled
“Troubling” is the best way to describe our journey into the vendor Expo this year. As we eagerly strode into the Expo seeking inspiration and innovation, we discovered hardware. If for some reason you came to BAI Retail Delivery in search of ATM manufacturers, ATM resellers, custom ATM fabricators, check scanners, cash counters, coin counters and printers, you hit the mother lode. There was more hardware at the Orange County Convention Center than at the Home Depot next door. Capt. Weikart pointed out with glee how one vendor boasted of his product’s 600 coins per minute counting capabilities!
There were quadruple-decker cash counters in case you want to quadruple your cash counting efficiency. There were bidirectional (not that there’s anything wrong with that) cash dispensers in an assortment of customizable colors, and printers and check scanners out the ying-yang….
But there was very little that bowled us over. A few things that, based on current circumstances, we expected to see but were not there in any significant quantity included workflow tools and cool retail risk management software to help with OFAC, BSA and AML.
The view of the Expo from GonzoBanker’s luxury suite:
Insert your own tumbleweed joke here.
The Expo was not completely devoid of interesting ideas. Eric, Quintin and I agreed on several booths that merit mention, and Q summed them up perfectly as follows:
Personal Financial Management (PFM) Functionality
Jwaala has some nifty PFM functionality that can be integrated via single-sign on with online banking Web sites. Spending can be tracked, categorized, searched, graphed and even be made available in an RSS feed. The company is also working to extend its functionality into a full-blown, standalone, consumer Internet banking solution.
Cross-Browser Web Site Testing
Gomez has introduced an offering that will take your Web site and show you what it looks like in every browser and version imaginable by returning you a screen shot of how each tested page renders. You can even test in real time using remote connectivity to Gomez’s servers. Works with some mobile browsers, too. In addition, Gomez was showing off some tools to help look for broken links on Web sites automatically.
ATM and Web Application Monitoring
Prognosis showed off some spiffy ATM/POS monitoring software, delivering a real-time dashboard of ATM and point-of-sale activity. For those driving devices in-house, this could be used in a command center for monitoring. The software will automatically fire alerts off to support personnel when problems arise. Prognosis also has software performing similar functions for Web application and IT infrastructure monitoring.
Prognosis also figured out that handing out free smokes never hurts booth traffic. Weikart agrees.
Q and I saw a great presentation by Sunny Banerjea of IBM and Manish Khera of FINO, a technology provider with operations mainly in Asia. IBM and FINO have teamed up to help banks deliver services to the unbanked and underbanked, primarily in developing countries. We’re not talking just microlending, we’re talking about utilizing roaming bank agents, smart cards and cell phones among other technologies to service the unbanked on both sides of the balance sheet. The speakers’ question was whether a similar model can be deployed in the U.S. to affordably serve our own unbanked and/or less profitable segments. When you consider the humanitarian potential and the fact that the average global bank in emerging markets operates at a 26% efficiency ratio, I sure hope the answer is Yes!
Session Title That Most Made You Want to Stomp a Bunny
“Cross Industry Best Practices in Multichannel, Consumer Focused Self-Service” – Bingo!
The fine folks from South Financial Group enjoy a homecoming with Mr. Sykes.
From the pictures below, can you guess which session was about Red Flags and which session was the Wii give-away?
Most Unfounded Rumor
It was never confirmed that a “captive audience” was bused in to boost attendance stats.
Important Question Every Vendor Should be Able to Answer but Apparently Can’t
Sr. Sykes’ view on the many mystical “market research and data analysis” vendors was dead-on… … “What does your product do?” If you can’t answer it in 30 seconds, you don’t belong in the booth. Seriously.
Old friends John Conant and Jim Evans from American Eagle FCU
Who Knew Friends and Family Lending Was So Big?
Quintin also came up with an interesting review of the social networking session he attended… … In her session on Social Networks, Sarah Dekin of Virgin Money reported an estimate of $89 billion outstanding in friends and family loans. When you think about some other numbers she threw out like 72% of first-time home buyers had access to money from relatives and 90% of small business startups get money from informal sources, that $89B number starts to make sense.
Most Shameless and Inspired Use of Booth Babes and Fast Cars
Weikart and Cindy discuss the dehumanizing effects of isolation as captured in Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis”
Hodgins and Weikart letting our Freak Flag fly in a Lambor….
Innovations in IT Security
An anonymous banker shows off the security device for her laptop provided by her head of IT. You must think we’re kidding, but no such luck….
Best Take from a Banker on BAI 2008
Our pal, Ms. Simile, put it best with her pragmatic take: “If you looked hard enough, you could find some pretty cool stuff, but my question is… will it integrate with our core system?” Amen, April, Amen.
BAI teed up a show with the appropriate themes, some competent speakers and a great venue. But once again, the vendor pull-through on Action and Innovation was not there. We can blame the vendors, but it’s also bankers and consultants not pushing hard enough.
And let’s face it, the time may be right for BAI to walk the walk when it comes to Leadership. Let’s just suppose that the light banker turnout was at least in part due to the continued lack of eye-catching innovations from the vendors at the show. Bankers enjoy the speakers, but they really attend Retail Delivery to find a great morsel or two at the vendor booths. As Brother Sykes put it, “What banker heads to the BAI show looking for the latest in printer technology?”
David Westerburg and Steven Fisher from Northwest Savings Bank show their Gonzo colors
Maybe it’s time for BAI to shrink the show, get more selective on the vendors who participate and what they present, and enforce a little innovation. BAI has to pay the bills, I get it, and vendors pay a big chunk. However, it may just be some of the vendor flatliners that put a chokehold on Retail Delivery attendance in years to come.
Michael Phlaum from Rabobank pretends to remember Eric Weikart
With boyish charm and giddy excitement, Quintin, Eric and I hit the show in Orlando with one single goal: No Mickey Mouse or Goofy metaphors in the Gonzo BAI recap. As a great leader once said: Mission A-freakin’-ccomplished.
Eric, Q and I had a great time and collaborated to assemble the themes, praise and criticism for this 2008 Retail Delivery article. If you missed it, we hope this gives you a feel for what you missed. If you were there, we’d love to know if you agree with us. Either way, we look forward to hearing from you. Unless you’re an ATM vendor.