Brett King

Archive for September, 2011|Monthly archive page

Movenbank’s Reboot of Banking – now the work really starts…

In Bank Innovation, Future of Banking, Mobile Payments on September 20, 2011 at 18:47

As some of you may have heard, our team formally launched the Movenbank project at SIBOS yesterday. It’s an auspicious start, for a very ambitious project.

The buzz at SIBOS was stellar, with some major support coming from the Twiteratti, from the “InnoTRIBE” and the bloggers in our unique community. Having said that, I’m under no illusion that this was only the start and we’ve got some heavy lifting over the next few months before we launch our consumer service. I thought in the spirit of Innotribe’s theme this year I would talk briefly about what the launch means, and what we’re going to do. But more than that, I wanted to share with you the specific challenges we’ve had to fight to overcome and why I believe we very aptly classify this as a reboot of banking. I don’t want this to be an advertorial for Movenbank – I’d like to expand on what was discussed at SIBOS, and I think sharing our thinking and challenges is instructional if you really want to change the way your institution engages customers.

CRED™ and the Movenbank Ecosystem

We believe that generally the way banks work with customers is totally broken/screwed. How many customers want a more transparent relationship with their bank (and I don’t mean just fees and interest rates?) How many have had a request for credit turned down and scratched their head to understand why? How many wonder what those mystery fees are on their statement, or why they were even charged in the first place? How many have wanted to increase their credit limit on their card or get a loan, but simply didn’t know how? These are questions the average bank consumer asks all the time – let alone questions about complex products, or the dizzying array  of choices around asset class, rate, features, etc. The industry talks about ‘educating customers’ so that customers understand products. But we believe if you have to educate customers before they understand your product, you’ve already lost the opportunity.

In trying to find a way to better articulate the day-to-day relationship with customers we realized that lack of trust, the systemic resistance to transparency that has become apparent as a result of social media, etc, the tendency to leverage information scarcity as a revenue/margin tool, and the lack of flexibility in current risk assessment models – all needed to change if we were really going to do something new. Fortunately, the solution manifested itself in the form of CRED™.

In creating a behavioral, social, viral, gamified engagement system, what we were really trying to do was change the way our bank communicates with customers about their relationship, and the way we assess their value to us as an institution. It had to be something visible and easy to understand for consumers, but it had to have enough depth that it could not only accurately assess risk, but also enable us to satisfy the requirements of regulators. Sounds complex right?

Well it turns out that if we ask questions of customers gradually, allow them to transact, and tell us how they spend and save on a daily basis, we can build up not only a complete KYC/CIP profile, but we can also start to help customers manage behavior that is risky. The problem with current credit scoring models is that they only record a failure after it’s happened, but we realized we should be able to anticipate that failure by watching the way customers behave. Rather than being invasive, most of this was available based on the current aggregated data for a ‘banked’ customer. If the customer was unbanked, we were going to have to build it over time.

The final element is really the gamification. What I don’t want to do is give the impression that we’re making banking a ‘game’. We’re using the principles of gamification for engagement. We will have some of the standard bells and whistles like badges, rewards and incentives, but the real secret to understanding CRED gamification is understanding how we will deliver banking products and services. One simple trick – if you want someone to keep a positive balance in their savings account – then allowing them to see that balance or reminding them that a specific transaction or event will take them into negative territory, makes the spend a conscious decision. Is it gamification? It is when you ‘game’ the messaging, and make it frictionless or even fun. We’re playing with that messaging and engagement layer to influence your financial health positively. So maybe we should more accurately call CRED Engagementfication or Contextualization, rather than pure gamification. We’re all about positive persuasion, based on very clear and ethical permission sets.

Getting over the ‘hurdles’ for the new thing…

One of the real questions was should we or shouldn’t we start with our own license and charter, or do we go the BankSimple route and work with partner banks. In the end this decision was really taken out of our hands because there were no guarantees on either the outcome of the license/charter application process or the timing of such. Purely on a commercial basis, if we wanted to go to market, we couldn’t wait on the regulators to make the call. That’s not to say we might not acquire a bank in the future or build our own for purposes of scale.

So what about KYC (Know Your Customers)? It turns out that KYC requirements in most jurisdictions are not that exhaustive – it basically boils down to name, date of birth, physical address, unique identification (Passport, Social Security Number, TIN, etc) and verification of that identity. The rest of the ongoing KYC stuff is typically around transactional behavior (e.g. AML suspicious transaction reporting). The fact is, the workload of this stuff is not erroneous, nor does it require an absolute physical presence (at least the way we read the regs). In fact, we will have much more data on the behavioral side and on the customer’s profile than an average bank. For example, which bank do you know that requires you to have a Twitter or Facebook account and a mobile phone number before you can sign up? That’s much more useful than insisting on utility bills before you open an account in our opinion.

Lastly, on the product side, CRED™ will simplify much of this space as well. In most cases, customers will be engaging with Movenbank for a facility, whether it be a day to day transactional account, a savings ‘bucket’ for a specific goal, or a line of credit for those times you need a bit of extra cash. The utility of banking means that we believe as long as the rates are competitive, you don’t need to describe or understand the features of that product – you just want to use the ‘utility’ of the product. So CRED will be the interface to this, and we’ll turn on and off the utility of those products or services as required. Given we’ll already have all of the KYC up front with CRED as the engine of the relationship, you won’t need any application form, it will just be turning the facility on or off.

What’s next?

CRED will launch initially with a financial personality profiling tool

The Alpha Release of Movenbank’s site is scheduled for October the 1st, where customers will get their first glimpse of the CRED ecosystem through a financial personality profile. Then we’ll be ramping up for a staged commercial release next year – with broad availability schedule for the summer of 2012 (summer in the Northern Hemisphere that is).

It’s an exciting time. We’d love your feedback and love to have you along for the ride.

Rebooting banking will require your participation as well. Thanks for your support and encouragement.

When your Telco becomes a Bank

In Customer Experience, Economics, Future of Banking, Mobile Banking, Mobile Payments on September 8, 2011 at 16:46

The announcement that the Canadian carrier Rogers Telecom has applied for a banking license should hardly come as a shock to the retail banking fraternity. There is already a plethera of mobile carriers fully engaged in mobile payments right now, from Safaricom in Kenya, Orange (with Barclays) in the UK, the ISIS collaboration in the US, LG Telecom in South Korea, and the list goes on. Everywhere you look right now, there are carriers trying to muscle in on the mobile wallet and payments space.

Should Banks be Worried?

They should be terrified.

The fact is that it makes perfect sense for mobile operators to start thinking about offering banking products and services as we dispense with plastic and start using our mobile phones as payment devices. Increasingly, banks are being detached from the end consumer by a technology layer. Let me prove it.

PayPal reinvented the customer experience layer around payments, and in doing so set the benchmark by which Peer-to-Peer payments are made. Sure there are banks at the back-end of PayPal, but today I can take out my phone or get online and send you money and all I need to know is your email address or your mobile phone number. This is compared with the average wire transfer which requires account number, account name, bank name, bank address, SWIFT Code/ABA Routing Number or IBAN, etc, etc. Now we’re all wondering why it’s simpler, and in many cases cheaper, to use PayPal than a wire transfer through our traditional bank. Why go back to complexity and friction?

Today, if a bank wants to allow their customers access to Mobile Banking they have to go through a layer of technology called an App Store (or Marketplace). Sure, there is HTML5 and mini-browser mobile sites, but the fact is that if you want best-in-class interaction and engagement, you need to go App. So today, a bank must ask Google, Apple or RIM for permission to have clients access their bank via a smartphone.

Mobile Carriers are a significant threat to day-to-day banking

Are Telcos a Threat to the High Street Bank?

Well, yes and no.

If you look at broader offerings of financial service products, then mobile operators really don’t want to play in that arena. What most of the mobile operators are looking to do is play in the payments space, taking control of the wallet on your phone or offering pre-paid debit card type services.

In 2008 about 17% of the US mobile subscriber base were on prepaid deals, but since the GFC (Global Financial Crisis) approximately 65% of net new subscribers are prepaid users. In emerging markets like India and China 90%+ of the subscriber base is prepaid, and the same counts for sub-Saharan Africa, and broadly across Eastern Europe and Asia. So what does this have to do with banking?

Prepaid subscribers for mobile phones generally speaking are more likely to be at the lower end of the scale for retail banking (less profitable, underbanked) or even in the unbanked segments. These are customers who don’t have extensive multi-bank relationships, and who increasingly are moving to products like prepaid debit cards to facilitate their day-to-day banking needs.

So guess what happens when you combine a prepaid debit card with a prepaid mobile phone? It’s a marriage made in heaven! What’s the difference between making a telephone call, an ATM withdrawal or a debit card transaction at a merchant – they are all just transactions from a value store.

It’s likely that as Telcos figure this ‘secret’ out that they will be aggressively going after that marginal layer of customers that are underbanked, and promising utility that a bank can’t provide in the payments space. The combination of prepaid phone deal with a prepaid debit card will likely result in the loss of around 10% of the retail banking consumer market in developed economies in the next 5 years in my opinion, as they migrate to this type of modality.

So What? We can Afford to Lose a Few Marginal Customers!

This will be the justification for lack of action from many retail banks; that the loss of these less profitable customers is not a bad thing. There’s two problems with that logic.

Firstly, this shift will create momentum behind changing payments behavior that will fragment day-to-day banking for many customers. Increasingly even your best, most profitable customers will be abandoning the old ways of payments to go for the utility of a combined mobile phone and payment device. Once I am managing your day-to-day spending activity, I can start to influence your decisions, spending and choices for more complex financial products too.

Secondly, the fact is that even these ‘marginal customers will likely be extremely profitable for Telcos, because to them it is just new revenue, and they don’t have all the expensive infrastructure that banks have around the very traditional (some would say antiquated) retail banking system.

The implications for banks is that they lose touch day-to-day with customers, and the day-to-day retail front-end of banking becomes owned by telcos, App stores, social networks and marketing organizations. The bank becomes the back-end manager of risk and the product manufacturer, with the lowest margin of the whole value chain.

Will the US be last in the drive towards a cashless society?

In Economics, Future of Banking, Mobile Payments on September 1, 2011 at 23:50

Although it is a long-time off yet, we can now envisage a time when most of the developed world, and indeed most of the developing world will no longer deal in hard currency. There are a number of drivers for this:

1. Impact of mobile payments
2. Tighter money laundering requirements, and
3. Cost of physical handling versus electronic transactions

Since the mid-20th century many have heralded the impending cashless society, but it may be that the emergence of mobile payments is the final tipping point in that outcome. Indeed, empirical evidence is already available that cash is in serious, if not terminal decline.

Strong incentives

For years regulators and governments have worked to track the movement of physical currency across border, and in the case of terrorist financing and criminal activities. The Financial Action Task Force developed 40 core recommendations in 1990 (revised in 1996) designed to reduce the risk of money laundering, but the greater part of the effort was focused on the movement of hard currency and it’s role in criminal undertakings. The reason for this is that it is harder to track currency, and if it can move freely around the system, the criminals, terrorists and “evil doers” can support their activities without restraint.

The strongest case for the removal of cash is around criminal activities. David Warwick posted an excellent review of the issues around cash and it’s active involvement in crime in a recent post entitled “The Case Against Cash”. In it he cites the following facts:

“Now consider that low-level drug offenses comprise 80% of the rise in the federal prison population since 1985 (though those numbers have begun to go down in more recent years)…The vast majority of those illegal transactions are cash-based. Greenbacks are also the currency of choice for Mexican drug cartels, which funnel between $19 billion and $29 billion in profits out of the United States annually, according to the U.S. government.”
David Warwick, CBS Interactive Business Network, Aug 2011

The biggest costs and risks are in cash

In recent times in places like the Netherlands, the cashless society has already started to become a reality. In 2010, the Amsterdam City Government moved to create ‘cashless’ zones in the De Pijp and Nieuw-West (New West) districts as a result of rising crime rates. You can now only use Chip and Pin to pay in those locations. This has been successful enough that it is now being rolled out across other districts in Amsterdam.

In Ireland, Belgium, Netherlands and other locations, banks are increasingly going cashless to reduce costs and crime. In recent years banks like SNS Bank in Utrecht and National Irish Bank, were two such European banks to commence the move to Cashless. Both cited the rising costs and risks of dealing with physical cash, and low volume of real ‘cash transactions’ in-branch, as a metric for justifying the move.

Emerging economies may be first

In the Philippines, Kenya, Somaliland, Nigeria, Senegal, India and other such locations, the success of mobile payments and remittances is starting to see a dramatic shift in the day-to-day operation of the economy. In Somaliland where there are no ATMS, and almost no banking infrastructure, mobile payments enabled by mobile operators, the hawalad and money changers, might mean this province could become one of the first cashless societies.

The key to moving away from cash, is reducing the reliance on cash day-to-day. RBA Governor Malcom Edy noted that cash use in Australia had declined from 40% down to 30% of traditional ‘retail’ payments. In the UK, cash usage is also in decline, with the UK Payments Council estimating that it will represent just 0.8% of retail payments by 2018 (this is down from 90% in 1999). In both cases, the use of Debit Cards has been cited as the contributing factor.

In Rural India, Sub-Saharan Africa and the Philippines mobile payments are booming

It’s all about behavioral shift in payments

The shift towards cashless requires reducing momentum in the ‘cash system’ by shifting to alternative modes of payment. The Debit Card has been an obvious ‘cash-killer’ in places like the UK and Australia, whereas mobile payments have had a much more rapid and profound effect on emerging economies. So with Peer-to-Peer (P2P) mobile and internet-based payments rapidly accelerating, and the move to NFC payments – the likelihood of ‘saving’ cash from terminal decline looks less and less likely. Check out PayPal’s P2P solution using NFC enabled Android phones for example.

In this regard, the EU with it’s strong support for debit cards, chip and PIN and increasing mobile enablement, and the emerging economies of Africa and Asia with both low friction against cash and the pressing need for financial inclusion, probably mean that the US, who is so strongly and emotively married to the ‘greenback’ and stuck with outmoded mag-stripe will likely be among the last to go largely cashless sometime in the next decade.

The momentum for these changes are building and it is a longer-term trend that will change the way we view banks and money in the very near future. The more friction you have, the more consumers will find workarounds. At the end of the day, a mobile or P2P payment will have far less friction than a cash payment.