The Future of Financial Services Through An Entrepreneurial Lens

Last week I gave a talk at one of Australia’s leading banks on the future of financial services. I wanted to share the core of this talk:

I  dived into a number of comparative startup activities in the broader banking arena, but first set the context -

 

Bestselling author Brett King’s thesis is that banking today has shifted from being a noun, a place you go, to a verb, something you do.

The gap between customer and financial services players is rapidly growing, leaving massive opportunities for new, non-bank competitors to totally disrupt the industry.

 

So let’s look at what is happening in this area:-

 
Blueleaf:

Blueleaf is a start up based in the Bay Area.

They are focused on wealth management as a service platform and they are building a product that is designed to improve transparency and reduce costs for the current low return environment.

Their view is that wealth management infrastructure is broken. Client account data is as scattered as people’s money. Clients expect service across all their assets while the enterprise needs a uniform platform.

Blueleaf consolidates all client account and asset data delivering consolidated info to clients, simplified workflow and monitoring for advisors and comprehensive data access and analytics for the enterprise.
They’ve raised $2m in funding from Fred Destin, a partner at Altas Venture, Stewart Alsop, a partner at Alsop Louie Partners, Dave McClure at 500 Startups and others.

 

 

Wallaby Financial:

Wallaby Financial is another Bay Area start up.

Their slogan is “One card to rule them all”. The Wallaby Card brings together a cloud-based virtual wallet with an intelligent, connected physical credit card that can be used at any location where major credit cards are accepted.

They maximise credit card rewards earnings based on your cards, your preferences and where you are shopping with a real-time algorithm. They also connect you to marketing offers from merchants and banks with social mechanics.

They’ve raised $1.1m from Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund.

 

Lendfriend:

Not all the companies I’ll mention are based in Silicon Valley, but this one is.

Lendfriend is “Helping you lend to your social network”.

They are building an online platform for friends and family loans. They assist with the legal and tax docs, influence credit and repayment of the loan.

In their view friends and family have become the lender of last resort for many individuals. This is accelerated by the overall decline in lending by traditional financial institutions.

Their vision is to make friends and family the lender of first resort.

 

Crowdtilt:

Crowdtilt’s focus is on “Simple, Social, Pooling of funds…for anything”.

This San Francisco based startup lets people organise things like group vacations with their friends and ensures the organiser is not stiffed when it comes time to pay.

They take a 2.5% processing fee if the crowd tilts a project.

They have raised $2.1m in funding and they are a Y Combinator graduate.

 

TransferWise:

Jumping continents, TransferWise is based in London.

Their tagline is “Crowd sourced online money transfer”.

They aim to help people save money and time on foreign payments online.

Traditionally you lose 5% when making an overseas payment – they do it for a fraction of that price.

They’ve raised $1.3m from Index Ventures and they are a Seedcamp graduate.

 

 

TrustEgg:

Madison-based TrustEgg is bringing “simplicity to saving for a child’s future”.

They provide a way to save for a child’s future that’s ultra-simple, gets a market rate of return and is accessible to families of all income levels.

A parent can set up an account for each child in minutes and start contributing immediately.  They can share the account with grandparents, aunts and uncles, anyone.

Suddenly you’ve tapped into a vast savings network that was just waiting for a simple and meaningful way to contribute.

They have currently raised $167k and are now raising $2m.

 

Simple:

The cherry on top of this whistle stop financial services startup tour is Simple.

Their aim is to provide “A worry free alternative to traditional banking”.

They started out life in New York, but then moved to Portland, Oregon.

They have raised multiple funding rounds. Seed of $190k in November 2009, a Series A of $2.9m in September 2010, and a Series B of $10m in August 2011 from Shasta Ventures, IA Ventures and NEU VC.

They are a classic example of knowing your market before building your product. After all, it’s better to find out the problem first and then create the solution.

When Josh and Shamir started Simple they put up a single web page and asked – are you dissatisfied with your current bank. If so, let us know?

Things exploded. The founders had 10,000 email conversations with people who responded and asked them what they really wanted from a banking relationship.

This taught them about all the problems people are facing today. And this informed their product design. For example they learnt that Americans really really want photo cheque deposit.

Before 2008, big banks mean safety to people. People thought they’d be around for 10 years, but the safety in the US right now is in the FDIC insurance. Trust is another big area of shift – will your bank fee you to death, or pull a bait and switch.

Simple points to the fact that today what’s important to banking consumers is who gives them the best experiences and services.

The new demographic is looking at other options in banking.

Big banks seem to still be building systems for people who balance checkbooks.

Simple aims to replace your bank.  The founders were frustrated with how complicated their finances has become and decided to start their own retail bank.

The problem they saw was that it was really hard to get the data that the banks had and get it into a format that would be usable.  Mint and such sites had to rely on screenscraping and you just don’t get good usable data that way.

Simple has gone out of its way to redesign banking. They do this by focusing on the customer experience.

They are not a bank per se, but have partnered with an FDIC insured institution. The partner holds the money, while Simple deals with the customers.

It took them 2.5 years to build and launch. They have only been launched for a few months and have 15,000 customers with about 160k waiting for an invite.

Think about it. There are 25 data points per financial transaction. Gmail gives you 10,000 emails searchable and all for free.

The message is that Storage is cheap, data is valuable. We should have more visibility on our transactions, be able to search across them easily using natural language search and also be able to see how much it would be safe for us to spend on a daily basis, set goals and tag our transactions above standard geotagging. This is where Simple is headed.

Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn all help people engage with specific social groups. People CARE about their friends, their business contacts etc.

People are OBSESSED with their money. Yet right now banks don’t give people any easy way of engaging with their finances.

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The End of Wall Street? Nah, It’s Just Flushing Away Its Detritus

I love Andy Kessler’s writing and highly recommend his book, The End of Medicine: How Silicon Valley (And Naked Mice) Will Reboot Your Doctor.

His no bullshit style shines through in his take on the current Wall Street situation:

So now Wall Street consolidates. Should you care? Not even for an instant. I spent 20+ years on Wall Street, competing against scores and scores of firms, always wondering what they all really did. E.F. Hutton. Shearson, Drexel. Heck, I even worked for PaineWebber in my early days (daze?) on the Street. All gone. And nobody misses them.

The true money-makers all find jobs elsewhere. The worker bees in the middle tier see disruption, but are eventually absorbed into the reconstructed Wall Street. The bottom tier goes to work at Foot Locker.

So no crocodile tears for Lehman or Bear Stearns or anyone else. It’s just a name on the door. Wall Street will soon (hurry up, dammit!) rid themselves of the mad-cow-infested subprime loans and won’t dabble in mortgages ever again or in five years, whichever comes first.

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Silicon Valley And The CreditCrunch: Hambrecht Says No Worries

Om Malik has a great session with Bill Hambrecht, tech investment banker extraordinaire, in which they discuss what the current financial fall out means for Silicon Valley and the tech industry.

I was expecting to find him deeply worried; instead he was amazingly optimistic and, most importantly, wholly confident in the Silicon Valley way of life. Disruption will always prevail, he said, despite the current crisis, the rise of China and any of our backward government policies.

“I don’t think it will  have much of an impact on Silicon Valley as an operating entity,” he remarked when I asked him how the current crisis would affect Silicon Valley. “What is going to be interesting is what happens to the underwriting/IPO market.” In other words, fewer underwriters will be focus on tech companies — unless they’re really big, he said. In other words, it’s just like old times, like back when he started H&Q.

You can watch the full interview below:

What’s the KeyPoint of a Facebook Application?

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The KeyPoint Credit Union is reported by Jim Bruene to be the first financial institution to launch full-fledged account access through Facebook.

The application, which was developed by MShift, Inc, provides one-click access to account balance information for KeyPoint CU users. The app stands at 6 daily active users, which is 40% of the Facebook members who have installed it – so it has a whopping 15 person install base.

Checking out your balance on the site you most frequent is useful, but it’s not a gobsmackingly good experience you want to evangelize to all your Facebook friends, nor is it an engaging utility you cannot do with out. Widgets are great – for example, Wesabe has launched an account balance Mac widget which streams real time balance updates.

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However, banking and other enterprise applications on Facebook and other social networks need to go beyond replicating the experience of web solutions. They need to focus on their audience as users, not as banking customers — what engages them, why would they be excited by your app — think brand recognition, think deep engagement and then think again — are you putting up an app because you can or do you have a purpose in mind. In many respects the enterprise Facebook apptivity is analogous to the early corporate approach to virtual worlds – “Woohoo, board members, we have a presence in Second Life…errrm”.

I am sure that Facebook and similar platforms will be an awesome playground for business, but on their users terms.

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