Reflections On Five Hundred Minutes of Fintech

A Call To Add More Fun (And More Focus) To Fintech Application Development 

Bradley Leimer
Sep 14, 2013 · 4 min read

There was another Finovate this week in New York. In my view, Finovate is the premier technology conference in financial services. Period, end of story. I even refer to it as the Disneyland of Fintech.

Financial technology (fintech) development, and its associated disruptive efforts, is now occurring in every corner of the globe – so Finovate has grown to match that geography. It’s now held four times a year in New York, San Francisco, London and Singapore.

The conference format is why people come. 7 minute demos, live product only. No video, no mock ups, no PowerPoint – just a couple people and their application on a stage in front of twelve hundred snarky industry insiders. It’s one chance to (hopefully) demonstrate the value proposition to potential investors and partners. The event this past week in New York showcased 69 companies over two days – which is nearly five hundred minutes of fintech. What does that feel like? Like a firehose. But in a good way.

But after this week’s conference I started thinking more about the long term impact of these services, and the overall themes we have seen at Finovate in the past and how the industry has failed to change. How many of these seven minute demos will inspire us to actually use the product or service ourselves, as opposed to just offering it (or copying it) for our bank, credit union, or (hopefully well-funded) fintech startup? How are we making financial services more adaptive, more flexible to the needs of society? How are we making our applications more focused, and even a bit more fun?

Outside of a couple of standouts from mBank (assisted by Accenture and Meniga), Numbrs and four-peat Best of Show winner MoneyDesktop, I didn’t get the sense that we’re building financial applications focused on financial singularity — a defined purpose greater than viewing glimpses of the financial past — a simple premise and a simplified (yet elegant) user experience that truly engages its intended audience. What was your score card after five hundred minutes of fintech? We can compare notes.

I’m thinking holistically about the range of experiences I’ve seen demoed over my six years of attending this conference and how many of these applications I’ve actually been excited to use – compared to every other application I carry in my pocket every day. I can only think of a handful of fintech apps seen at Finovate that are still on my mobile device today. And that number continues to shrink.

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

While we see the occasional interesting user experience in fintech applications, and maybe even some targeted applications to certain segments that add elements of gamification, hyper-personalization or small data storytelling (a la Narrative Science), I’m wondering why we do not see more of these critical elements of engagement within a single application.

Something as complicated as understanding the larger impact of trends in financial transactions can be simplified if we approach it through understanding changes in user behavior – keeping the customer (and their data) at the center of a personalized experience, before, during, and after a transaction occurs. My health applications can do this — why not equally important ones that track my financial health?

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

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

The Financial Brand had a great recent piece on making financial applications more fun to use – by focusing on driving engagement metrics by meeting consumers’ needs, requiring little effort, and simply by being enjoyable.

I envision the future of financial services evolving beyond big banks and their self-serving copycat applications on one side (107 financial institutions control 81% of all assets in the U.S. market) and small, fragmented startups offering financial alternatives that never gain traction beyond the user base of a small local bank or credit union on the other. There is an alternative universe where sub-$10-20 billion asset financial institutions survive the coming industry contraction.

Developers serving this market must focus on building engaging applications that focus on simplifying singular financial moments of truth. With that in mind, let’s add a new Best of Show category to Finovate – choosing applications that have a proven ability to drive deeper active use and demonstrate the ability to improve the financial lives of our application’s end users – by doing so in a fun, focused, and simplified manner guaranteed to be leveraged over an extended time. Now if only the rest of the fintech would follow suit, we might even have a chance to improve the banking industry itself.

    Bradley Leimer

    Written by

    Technologist, Curator, Connector, Advisor, Writer, Speaker; Digital Strategy; Bank 3.0, Fintech, Payments, Social Media, Design

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