Your background, how did you end up doing what do you now?
I got my start in financial services in 1986, when I became a regional marketing manager for a New Jersey bank that was in the midst of being acquired by a $23B US bank holding company. My immediate goal was to leverage geographic affinities and drive growth and retention in my markets, while absorbing the additional products offered by the acquirer. After about a year, I was promoted to run the NJ subsidiaries marketing and communications program for the bank’s NJ subsidiary, which included advertising and promotion for 88 locations. I left in the early 90s and moved into product and retail management at Summit Bancorp, a smaller bank that was highly regarded and closely held. After a few years, we merged and I somehow ended up in the credit union world, where I ran marketing and ecommerce for New Jersey’s largest credit union. After a 7 year run, I moved to Virginia and joined a brand consulting firm and focused on the financial services industry. In 2008 I started a conversation with one of the co-founders of Geezeo and after almost a year of dialog, I dove into the startup world in 2009 as Geezeo made the pivot to a white-label service provider.
— Geezeo (@Geezeo) March 3, 2016
What Fintech trends are you excited by?
Right now I’m most excited about the potential of blockchain technology because it has the ability to change how a financial institution is operationalized and how service is delivered. It has the potential of being the tipping point in banking as we know it today.
Momentum with Robo Advice is also exciting to witness. While it’s already taking hold on the investment side with organizations like Wealthfront and Betterment, I think we’ll see more development in consumer and small business lending and traditional banking products, from savings to retirement. The recent Goldman purchase of Honest Dollar shows how appealing the space is becoming. Robo Advice is a genuine threat to the banking community because traditional financial institutions have generally done a poor job of engaging audiences and offering custom tailored advice.
How well are conventional banks responding to the changing Fintech developments? What should they be doing better?
I’d compare it to changing the direction of the Titanic. In no way is a sudden change in direction feasible, but a slow and deliberate change is occurring. The difference is that most banks see the fintech iceberg that lies ahead, and they don’t want to be sunk. Bankers must remember no bank is immune from disruption and every bank must have a strategy to harness the powerful advantages of the new financial technology.
What is the response to the ideas you are promoting with Geezeo? How is the conversation around engagement banking progressing?
Generally speaking, the vast majority of bankers completely agree with the engagement banking philosophy. The answer to the industry’s challenges are not solely technical, but often philosophical. Banking lacks meaningful differentiation in the consumer mindset and it’s seen as a chore, yet the banking industry has done little to differentiate and not enough to minimize friction. The dialog and conversation between financial institutions and their constituents, needs to evolve. The key to customer engagement is data and context, and breaking down the operational silos that inhibit the most meaningful engagements between bank brands and consumers. The divide between marketing, technology and delivery is still rather wide, but in the rare cases where CEOs have reduced the gap, we see a more holistic consumer centric experience, and that is encouraging.
Do you think bitcoin (or something similar) will achieve wide adoption, if so how soon, or why not?
Cryptocurrency technology offers real potential but the American banking industry has shown a lukewarm response. I think the potential of blockchain being a sort of core processing engine is more exciting and may get wider short term acceptance. It can reduce costs and enhance service delivery.
We have a lot of fintech innovation happening in Ireland and in Europe in general – how does the US banking sector compare?
In Ireland alone, you have 30,000 people working in financial services and some 100,000 or so in technology. I believe the cultural diversity in Europe has it’s advantages and helps stimulate fintech investment. I also believe you have a regulatory environment that is more responsive than here in the states.
If you could make everyone in Banking do what you said, what would you tell them to do?
Embrace change. Simply put, there has never been a more exciting time to be in banking. Consumers are ready for change, conflict will be between traditional bank brands that fail to evolve and new—startups that are re-imagining financial services processes from top to bottom. It’s possible for banking giants to leverage economies of scale to disrupt markets, but it’s digitally focused startups that are increasingly applying digital technologies in innovative ways while using their small size and nimbleness to their advantage. In other words, just because you’re big, you’re not too big to fail.
I would also advise banks to keep a close eye on IoT.
— Geezeo (@Geezeo) March 13, 2016
Are you FinTech Mafia guys happy with how banking is evolving and responding to FinTech innovations?
One definition of “mafia” is that it is “a closed group of people in a particular field, having a controlling influence.” I find that the people that are in the FinTech mafia are ironically, remarkably open. Most have vast financial services experience and know how ripe the market is for change, but I don’t think we will ever be completely satisfied. I can’t speak for the others, but I think we’d like to see more change, quicker.
Which thought leaders do you follow / like to read?
I typically look outside the industry for true inspiration. I follow Eric Ries rather closely, after reading his book “The Lean Startup.” A key take-away from his book is that startups need to start with a modest offering and build on all aspects of it that prove value.
Within the industry I’ll admit to being a Ron Shevlin fan. Aside from a particular brand of wit, I think he does a good job of keeping many of us grounded in reality.
How do you manage life / work, and online / offline balance?
Work manages my life, according to my family. But that is ok according to them and I do a good job of keeping them involved and in the loop. They see the excitement and opportunity, so they are rather forgiving of my workload and schedule. Of course some well planned Caribbean vacations never hurt either.
— Bryan Clagett (@Clagett) March 18, 2016
Anything else to add / we should have asked you?
Evolution has been slow in banking, but I’m happy to see it pick up speed. At the end of the day however, it’s not bankers that are in charge, but rather consumers. It’s important that we keep reminding ourselves of this. I don’t think we are the drivers of change, but rather the enablers of change.
— Geezeo (@Geezeo) March 15, 2016