By @SimonCocking. Enjoyable (and entertaining) interview with Ron Shevlin Director of Research, Cornerstone Advisors. Author of Smarter Bank, and Snarketing column on The Financial Brand , and *reluctant* FinTech Mafia member.

Your background briefly?

I’ve had a couple of real jobs, but mostly I’ve been a consultant in one form or another. Got into consulting not long after getting out of business school, and spent 12 years going nowhere as a consultant. Got a call from a headhunter who was looking for fill a position at Forrester Research and spent nine years there. Have to give credit to Forrester for teaching me how to write and present. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for that company (I might be rich and retired by now). I left to go work for a database marketing firm, but remembered that having a real job sucks, so I went back into the analyst business. After seven more years of that, I decided the real opportunity in the market was marrying research and consulting—and doing that for mid-sized banks and credit unions—and joined Cornerstone Advisors in May 2015.

Tell us a bit more about snarketing!? What’s the idea behind it?

99.9% of business-related writing is dry and boring. One premise behind Snarketing is that it doesn’t have to be that way. Snarketing is the combination of the words snarky and marketing. Snarky isn’t for everyone, but that’s OK by me—I only want intelligent people reading my books and articles, and highly intelligent people like snark.

Another premise behind snarketing is “truth and reality.” Another shortcoming of a lot of business-related writing is that it contains a lot of nonsense about buzzwords and trends. I try to set the record straight, and use data and logic to support my arguments. If you disagree with something I say because you “feel” that way, take a hike. I don’t care what you “feel.”

What does a typical day look like for you?

Coffee. Tweet. Read. Write. Repeat. Once every two weeks—whether I like it or not—I talk to someone.

Which areas of FinTech are you most excited by?

“Excited” by? Fintech doesn’t “excite” me. Oh, wait, you said “most excited by.” If we were to measure excitement on a scale of 1 to 10, most so-called fintech developments register a 1. There are three areas that make it to a 2 or 3:

1) Advice. Most people need better advice or guidance to make smarter financial decisions, and I’m not just talking about investments. In fact, a lot of these so-called robo-advisor tools are just warmed over 1995 approaches with a fancy new mobile front-end. What a lot of people need more than generic investment advice is guidance, support, and information to help them make the day-to-day spending decisions that really make or break their financial situation. To date, PFM (personal financial management) tools have fallen short of delivering on the promise—but they’re getting there.

2) P2P payments. Too much of the focus around new payments-related technologies is in retail. Retail payments aren’t broken (or at least they weren’t broken before EMV came along). But person-to-person payments are still dominated by cash and checks. Apps like Venmo are cute (I’m clearly on the wrong side of the Venmo line), but the real opportunity is where the money is: financial support, child support, and loan repayment. Specialized apps that create solutions to support these use cases will be huge business opportunities because of the amount of money being transacted person-to-person in these areas.

3) Life stage apps. If you think social media and mobile technologies have transformed marketing, you don’t understand marketing. Despite all the technological advancements, marketing is still dominated by outbound messaging. The real revolution in marketing will be activity-based marketing—marketing within the context of an activity being performed by a customer or prospect. For financial institutions, this means life stage apps like car buying apps, home shopping apps, wedding planning apps, baby planning apps. Apps that support specific processes or decisions that consumers have to make at a particular point in time. For financial institutions, these are all opportunities to add value and help customers make smarter decisions (see point #1), but they’re also opportunities to persuade and influence consumers’ choices of payment mechanisms and loan providers.

Can traditional banks successfully innovate to deal with the rise of FinTech banking disrupters?

As the question is asked, the answer is NO. It’s simply IMPOSSIBLE, and here’s why: When you’re an established entity, you have products and customers that you have to support. That means that a certain (and likely, large) percentage of your capital HAS TO be allocated to supporting these products and customers.

When you’re a piddly start up with no existing product base, no customer base, and no existing infrastructure to support, you can put all your capital into innovation.

That said, traditional banks are not being “disrupted” (i.e., replaced) by fintech startups, nor will they ever be. Yes, there is probably going to be ONE fintech startup that becomes a Google, Amazon, or Uber. And yes, some large bank is probably going to go out of business.

The future of fintech will be characterized by collaboration between traditional banks and fintech startups, not displacement.

If you could make everyone in Banking do what you told them, what would you command them to do?

Buy my book Smarter Bank, which is available on Amazon.com.

Will bitcoin achieve wider adoption or not? What are your thoughts on the viability of wider adoption of cryptocurencies? 

Don’t really know. Crytptocurrencies isn’t my bag. That said, I think the real story is blockchain technology, not bitcoin or crypto-whatever.

You seem to be held in high esteem by your fellow FinTechMafia members, what do you enjoy about being a member?

Being held in high esteem by an incredibly intelligent and successful group of people. I hate to admit this, but I’m not really part of the FinTechMafia. It originated as a group DM on Twitter, and after seeing the barrage of tweets, I removed myself from the list, not realizing that I could have just muted it. So to this day, I’m not in on the conversations. But somehow, I’m associated with the group. Why they allow that is beyond me.

Which thought leaders do you like to read / follow?

I don’t read or follow “thought leaders.” That term is almost as over- and mis-used as “disruption.” But I certainly read everything that the real members of the FinTechMafia write—too many to mention by name. But a couple of folks (not FTM members) bear mentioning. In the payments space, that’s Tom Noyes and Cherian Abraham (please don’t tell either of these guys I said this). In the general banking space, it’s Tom Brown who runs the bankstocks.com website.

How do you manage online / offline, work/life challenges?

There is no online/offline dichotomy anymore. I’m out to Easter brunch with my wife and two of my daughters, and they’re taking pictures of their food and posting them on Facebook and Instagram. Was that an offline moment, or an online moment?

And I work from home (more specifically, the basement, as many people know). There is no work/life dichotomy. I drop the youngest daughter off at school at 7:20, I’m back at my desk at 7:30. Sometime between 8:30 and 9:00 I go upstairs to eat breakfast, and find that the rest of the family has left all the dirty dishes from breakfast for me to do. If I’ve got nothing on my calendar for an hour during the day, I’ve got no qualms about going for a hike with my wife at the state park up the road from the house. And there are plenty of Saturdays and Sundays where I’m more productive than a Monday or Tuesday (do NOT tell my boss that).

“9 to 5, Monday to Friday” is a concept I haven’t known in years.

Anything else you’d like to add / we should have asked you?

You didn’t ask how many Grateful Dead concerts I’ve been to.

How many Grateful Dead concerts have you been to?

I’ve probably been to about 100 Grateful Dead and related bands
(The Dead, Furthur, Phil Lesh, etc.) concerts.


If you would like to have your company featured in the Irish Tech News Business Showcase, get in contact with us at [email protected] or on Twitter: @SimonCocking

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