Author’s note: Forgive the distance between the conference and this article, GonzoBankers. After his speech, Clinton and I set out on a double speed puma hunt across the Dominican. I don’t always recommend mixing cats of prey, pharmaceutical grade blotter acid, deep jungle hunting, homemade ginger rum and a foul-mouthed, heavily armed ex-president, but in this case it worked out. Except for my deadline. Coulda been a whole different experience if Cheney hadn’t bailed on us.
Subdued. While the theme of this year’s BAI Retail Delivery show in Chicago was “Retailocity,” the mood was nothing other than subdued. All the usual suspects were there – hundreds of slimy vendors and snot-nosed consultants, a few handfuls of sweater vest-wearing bankers ripe for the picking, and a remarkable Mike Ditka look-alike (center).
The show has shrunk in terms of size and attendance, but we can forgive that. Times are tough all over, and budgets aren’t what they once were. That said, it was a little eerie to feel the utter lack of excitement from the attendees. This was no fault of BAI’s. As usual, the show was first class and beautifully presented. Despite that, there was a palpable feeling that everyone there was just going through the motions. I’d get knowing “Geez, why am I here?” nods from my vendor friends, consultants scouring the Expo booths for something or someone to look down upon, and bankers complaining about the lack of innovation from the vendors.
Unlike last year, however, I really did see some serious innovation going on with the vendors. It’s been tough the last few years with the seeming dearth of hard core new, cool stuff to report back to our loyal Readership, but this year the innovation was flowing like peach-flavored Thunderbird before high school cheerleading tryouts. A few cases in point:
Triton – Triton keeps stunning the retail world with new ATM after new ATM. We all know and love the decidedly old school RL1600, with its back-to-basics, made-in-America swagger. It’s been making heads spin for years. But Triton didn’t stop there. Now they’re busting out the RL5000, easily 3.125 times better than the RL1600. It truly does “change the way you think about ATMs.” (I’m not even going to tell you about some of the sick ways I think about ATMs with the advent of the RL5000.) Packing 10.4 inches of solid LCD screen, the RL5000 will blow your ATM-lovin’ mind. Don’t look now, ATM Shoppers, but the RL5000 also offers an optional sweet-ass Kaba Mas Cencon 2000 lock. Oh, mama!
Magner – No more is Magner just another cash and coin counting joint. No way. Magner now has three cash counting juggernauts available to us: two Medium Range models (35-S and 35-3) and one Heavy Duty model (75 Series.) Magner doesn’t even screw around with Low End. Two mediums and a high is all you can get.
While the traditional Model 35-3 sports the compact basics of cash counting, the new 75 Series (2.143 times better than the Model 35-3) is gonna shatter your freakin’ brainstem. The 75 is not only accurate and rugged, but its optional dual head, dual threshold magnetic suspect counterfeit detection and speeds of up to 1500 NPM (notes per minute) put it off the charts on any cash counter geek’s Wow Scale. Buyer’s Note: The 75 also boasts a 500 and 150 hopper and stacker capacity, respectively.
OK, I kid. Seriously, where we were seeing crazy, energetic innovation with the Internet and mobile banking players a year ago, we’re now seeing those better mousetraps looking for an unsuspecting mouse. These players, with their photo-based, remote deposit capture, A2A, P2P, personal financial management, mobile bill pay, etc., are in a quandary. They are loaded with cool technology that end users really haven’t cared too much about yet. The companies who stand a great chance here are those who are actively trying to help their clients find a way to actually get some penetration on the innovative technology.
We lost one innovator, saw a change in another, and heard some success stories from our highlighted vendors from last year. I was sorry to see our darling from BAI 2010, oFlows, get gobbled up by the Paleolithic Andera – to form “the first truly integrated acquisition and origination platform for all products across all channels.” (I wonder what the boys at MeridianLink think about that claim.) Andera should benefit by the oFlows technology and attitude if they don’t summarily choke the entrepreneurial spirit out of former oFlows’ CEO, Scott Pitts, and CTO, Rajesh Jayaraman. Andera, a word of advice: Do what you have to do to keep these two pioneers around after their non-compete expires.I talked again with the folks from the former BillShrink, another company we loved last year. They claim that the only news to report is that the company changed its name to Truaxis. I have to say, it sure felt like more than that changed. What was a crazy bunch of energetic, t-shirt-wearing optimists in 2010 was looking and feeling downright corporate this year – suits, ties, name tags and all. Maybe they got a new money man or something, but wow, was there a different look. They still have some pretty cool stuff on the market, and their recent deal with Jack Henry should give them more financial success. Mitek has a new product for banks to offer mobile credit card balance transfers using OCR technology similar to that of its rising mobile bill pay and mobile deposit products. Take a picture of your credit card bill with your phone, send it to the bank, and the bank makes you a competitive offer and handles the balance transfer. I like the pragmatism of this company – one to keep our eye on.
A few others with some interesting ideas:
L-1 is an established player in the state government market but new to banking. In fact, it’s so new it doesn’t yet have a dedicated sales rep for financial services. L-1 does biometric security, and its plan is to offer the technology to banks for ATMs and branches. That’s been tried and generally hasn’t worked so far. But L-1 can also deliver facial biometric security through an HD quality phone. It’s a little Star Trek-y, but this technology for authentication for security-paranoid online commercial cash management/treasury users might have some growing appeal. I don’t think either the product or the market is there yet, but here’s another company with some ideas to follow.
Netop has a product called Live Guide 5 that does context sensitive chat for Web sites/call centers – two-way text, audio and video chat. That isn’t too groundbreaking as known by all of you LivePerson fans and customers (not that they’re mutually exclusive.) The cool idea Netop has is to be able to deliver this technology via the mobile phone – sorta like FaceTime for customer support. It’s not even out yet, but in our geegaw-loving society this could have some legs if done right.Well, it was only a matter of time before PayPal got the cajones to make a real presence at BAI. Like Walmart, PayPal is in the financial services business, it’s a potential category killer, and it’s going to be real hard to deal with. While it says its only trying to compete with Visa and MasterCard, PayPal has a lot of ’splaining to do with banks that have not an iota of trust for PayPal. That said, some big name players like USAA and Discover are already working with PayPal. Meridian Link announced during this year’s conference its agreement to use PayPal as another payment option for funding new accounts online. And with CashEdge getting swallowed by Fiserv, I could see the Jack Henry, FIS and OSIs of the world getting cozy with PayPal for a non-Fiserv P2P partner. Be afraid.
One last thing. President Clinton was this year’s keynote speaker, and he fired up a packed house with a heartfelt message of the need for even more cooperation internationally as global economies become inextricably interwoven. The Secret Service was in Full Scowl Mode as Clinton took the stage, and I really didn’t know what to expect from a fairly conservative group of bankers. But the President more than kept the giggle-free attention of the bankers in the audience. Clinton’s message was that the world economies are intermingled permanently, like it or not. But the world is too unequal, too unstable and our practices too unsustainable to get us to a global economic recovery. “We love conflict in our politics. We need to have a winner and a loser. A white hat and a black hat. But that’s exactly what does not work in trying to recover a global economy. It’s ultimate collaboration and cooperation that’s needed to change things enough to recover.” It rang true to me.
I’m not saying I didn’t see anything innovative at BAI Retail Delivery this year, but it does feel like we’re in a serious digestion mode right now. Cool stuff – now how do I sell it, is there any demand for it, is it New Coke cool or iPod cool?
PS: Free GonzoBanker t-shirts handed out on the BAI Expo floor: 57. Number of GonzoBanker expulsions as a result: 0. We’re learning…
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