Banks and Fintechs Evolving from Foe to Friend


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FinTech startups were originally perceived as a significant threat to banks of all sizes. Today, we’re talking about “coopetition” between banks and fintechs. Why is that? Let’s start by winding back the clock just two years.

A 2015 Goldman Sachs research report estimated that $4.7 trillion out of $13.7 trillion in traditional financial services revenue was at risk due to new fintech entrants in the lending, wealth management and payments space. Similarly, a McKinsey report, The Fight for the Customer: Global Banking Annual Review 2015, suggested that as much as 40 percent of revenues and up to 60 percent of the profits in retail banking businesses (consumer finance, mortgages, small-business lending, retail payments and wealth management) were at risk due to dwindling margins and competition from fintech startups targeting origination and sales, the customer-facing side of the bank.

The advantage of fintech startups was their ability to offer higher quality solutions at a lower cost with dramatically enhanced consumer experience, innovative ways of assessing risk and a strategy for profiting on the growing popularity of mobile payments with millennials. As a result, the early wave of fintech startups, such as PayPal, Adyen, Stripe and Square, had tremendous success in gaining market traction and inflating valuations.

Early fintech success led to thousands of promising ventures gradually crowding the space and attracting the attention of industry stakeholders. In the last two years, financial services professionals, with decades of experience, have flipped fintech startups’ perceived threat into an opportunity, which kick-started the phase of collaborative initiatives.

Despite tremendous financial success of the fintech industry globally, startups find it difficult to succeed on their own. Matthaeus Sielecki, head of working capital advisory, financial technology at Deutsche Bank, noted in his article for LTP that despite having developed customer-focused, innovative solutions, startups lacked crucial ingredients to scale their product into a viable product or service. Startups lacked access to processing infrastructure, global industry reach and regulatory expertise, and many came without understanding customer behavior in the financial service sector.

Traditionally, community banks have not had many choices for technology innovation outside of their core banking provider. A March 2016 article on theCNBC.com website suggestedthat economic growth and predictions regarding interest rates are felt acutely by smaller institutions. Since smaller banks focus more on interest-sensitive products such as mortgages, prolonged low rates by the Federal Reserve hurt them disproportionately. Working cooperatively with fintech startups present community banks with an opportunity to achieve rapid gains in cost-efficiency, operational efficiency and new product offerings.

All of these factors combined led to the understanding between banks and fintech companies about the value of mutually beneficial work that would bring together the strengths of each party. As a result, banks have contributed significantly to the establishment of accelerators, incubators, innovation labs and other collaborative initiatives with fintech startups. In addition, forward-thinking governments have invested resources and efforts to launch Regulatory Sandboxes to facilitate a relationship between the traditional sector and fintech startups.

In a 2016 survey, more than half of regional and community bank respondents (54 percent) and fintech respondents (58 percent) indicated that they see each other as potential partners. Moreover, the same survey suggests that 86 percent of community and regional banks believe it to be absolutely essential to partner with a fintech company.

CNBC noted that the ability to outsource functions, such as customer acquisition, to startups means smaller banks have more clients to pursue. This enables smaller banks to tap into revenue that previously would have been inaccessible due to distribution, geographic or technical limitations. Advances like cloud technology, APIs, blockchain, InsurTech, RegTech and partnerships with online lending companies are in focus right now as they offer the most return on investment for all banks, large and small. For example, community banks can lower their costs by integrating a RegTech solution for compliance rather than hiring consulting firms or employing whole departments.

Examples of partnerships include Cross River Bank in Teaneck, New Jersey, which works closely with marketplace lenders to originate loans for borrowers who apply via online platforms. CBW Bank in Weir, Kansas, is another notable example. According to an August 2016 article on the Fortune.com website, over the last few years, the 124-year-old bank has become a secret weapon for fintech companies, which rely on both its technology and status as a state-chartered bank to build their own businesses.

For regional and community banks, enhanced mobile capabilities and lower capital and operating costs are seen as the benefits of collaborating with fintechs. For fintechs, market credibility and access to customers are seen as the main benefits to partnering with banks. The unlikely journey of fintech startups going from foe to friend will make the financial services sector one of the most interesting businesses to be a part of in the next decade.

Real Time Payments and the Untapped Opportunity of Corporate Credit Cards


credit-cards-11-7-16.pngCorporate credit cards are already a great source of revenue for banks. And there’s a lot of room for growth, both in terms of interchange revenue and value that banks can provide to their business customers. If banks look at how their customers currently use corporate credit cards, they’ll find an untapped opportunity to expand their usage.

Using corporate credit cards for accounts payable (AP) has obvious benefits: Businesses can time their payments to vendors more precisely, take advantage of the working capital extension available through their credit line, and benefit from rewards and cash back programs. In addition, compared to checks—the most common way in which businesses make AP payments—credit cards have very low occurrences of fraud.

The use of corporate credit cards in AP should be an integral part of a business’s cash management strategy, but it is not. MineralTree recently conducted a survey to assess the current state of corporate credit card use in the accounts payable function and uncover reasons why more AP spend is not being moved to corporate cards. You can read the full survey report here.

Key Survey Findings
Over a two-week period in late summer 2016, almost 200 finance and AP professionals completed an online survey exploring the state of credit cards in their business. Some of the most significant findings of the report include:

  • More than one-third of respondents are not using corporate cards for vendor payments.
  • The reasons businesses give for not moving more AP spend to commercial credit cards is varied and plagued with misconceptions.
  • Impacting the bottom line is the number one benefit cited by respondents for moving more spend onto commercial credit cards.

The Shift in Accounts Payable
To truly understand the state of credit card use in AP, respondents were asked which types of payments were made on their corporate credit cards: travel and expense payments, vendor payments (AP), or both. Only 50 percent of respondents use cards for both. More than one-third of respondents only use their cards for travel and expenses.

The chart below shows the number of vendor payments made by businesses who exclusively use their card for travel and expenses. About 80 percent of respondents make 50 or more vendor payments every month. Businesses who make more than 50 payments per month can strongly benefit from AP and payment automation and the ability to easily pay their vendors with credit cards.

For those businesses already using cards, adding AP spend onto cards is relatively simple. Finance policies are in place and department heads know the process for submitting and recording expenses.

These businesses can easily expand their policy to include vendor payments and improve their AP process at the same time. Ultimately, this will increase the “card-able spend” and the finance team will add additional value to the business by bringing in significant rebates. At a modest 1 percent cash back, companies earn $10,000 for every $1 million in card spend. Banks should recognize this as a significant opportunity and start marketing cards for AP purposes. Offering complete, packaged cash management solutions that solve problems as business clients see them will encourage them to move AP spend onto cards. The banks who do this early will find an untapped opportunity for new revenue through merchant fees and use of the card’s credit line.

Identify Your Customers Based On Need, Not Revenue


segmentation-3-28-16.pngFor banks that don’t specialize in a particular market, it can be difficult to truly know every customer’s changing wants and needs. And while there’s significant customer research available on retail consumers and large corporate clients, there’s less help available when it comes to understanding mid-market corporate customers.

Despite the lack of information readily available, mid-market companies are a fast-growing segment of customers that banks can’t afford to ignore. In fact, a recent Citizens Commercial Banking survey found that a quarter of mid-market companies, defined as having $500 million to $2 billion in annual revenues, are actively engaged in raising capital, while another 40 percent are looking for opportunities to do so. Additionally, more than half of the mid-market companies in the US alone indicated they are actively seeking M&A deals in 2016.

In an effort to capture and better understand commercial customers, banks have historically tried to segment companies based on the value of their annual sales or revenue range (e.g. less than $5 million, $5 million to $20 million, etc.). However, these revenue estimates are extremely unreliable, because typically, mid-market companies aren’t public companies. They have no obligation to report revenue and are not subject to strict audit guidelines. This means that the main metric banks are using to understand their mid-market customers is self-reported, without any independent validation.

But more important than yielding unreliable data, revenue segmentation really doesn’t give banks much insight into a customer’s needs, aside from their credit need or credit worthiness. This is a severely flawed approach to understanding customers because there are so many non-credit products that banks can profit from.

Take payments, for instance. With payments, the needs of a $5 million construction company have little in common with the needs of a $5 million healthcare services company. While technically in the same revenue segment, the two companies have vastly different payment transaction numbers, payment processes and workflow, payables vs. receivables, and enterprise resource planning and accounting systems.

Simply put, revenue is a misguided way for banks to segment their corporate customers, particularly when it comes to the mid-market. Except in rare cases when revenue estimates are actually reliable and indicative of customers’ needs, the knowledge gleaned from a single revenue figure is minimal, and it doesn’t help banks better understand and serve their customers.

The good news is, there are other ways for banks to effectively target customers and strengthen customer relationships. One approach is to use transactional data as a means to develop detailed portraits of customers and their needs. By identifying and segmenting customers by need (rather than revenue), banks can establish stronger relationships and drive new fee income by offering solutions to address those needs. For example, banks could learn a lot about a customer by looking at their outgoing payments. How many payments are they making each month? What methods are they using to make these payments—paper checks, ACH, credit cards, debit cards?

Understanding the volume and value of payments for specific businesses can be extremely valuable for determining how to market and sell existing products more effectively. It can also expose areas where a bank might be failing its customers and losing good grace with otherwise loyal organizations. For example, seeing that a large group of customers is making payments through third-party solutions is an obvious sign that it’s time for a bank to develop a new or better payments solution of its own.

Banks are sitting on literally millions of customer records that can offer invaluable insights into customers’ wants and needs, however this data is often unused or under-leveraged. It’s an unfortunate reality, but one that can be easily addressed.

In today’s golden age of big data and analytics, banks need to leverage far more than just revenue figures to better understand their customers. By failing to fully understand customers, banks won’t be able to serve customers well, and they’ll run the risk of losing customers to hungrier and more innovative competitors as a result. Luckily, the treasure trove of existing transactional data can provide banks with infinite ways to better segment customers, and the breadth of that data will allow them to serve their customers more precisely and comprehensively.

Identify Your Customers Based On Need, Not Revenue


segmentation-3-28-16.png

For banks that don’t specialize in a particular market, it can be difficult to truly know every customer’s changing wants and needs. And while there’s significant customer research available on retail consumers and large corporate clients, there’s less help available when it comes to understanding mid-market corporate customers.

Despite the lack of information readily available, mid-market companies are a fast-growing segment of customers that banks can’t afford to ignore. In fact, a recent Citizens Commercial Banking survey found that a quarter of mid-market companies, defined as having $500 million to $2 billion in annual revenues, are actively engaged in raising capital, while another 40 percent are looking for opportunities to do so. Additionally, more than half of the mid-market companies in the US alone indicated they are actively seeking M&A deals in 2016.

In an effort to capture and better understand commercial customers, banks have historically tried to segment companies based on the value of their annual sales or revenue range (e.g. less than $5 million, $5 million to $20 million, etc.). However, these revenue estimates are extremely unreliable, because typically, mid-market companies aren’t public companies. They have no obligation to report revenue and are not subject to strict audit guidelines. This means that the main metric banks are using to understand their mid-market customers is self-reported, without any independent validation.

But more important than yielding unreliable data, revenue segmentation really doesn’t give banks much insight into a customer’s needs, aside from their credit need or credit worthiness. This is a severely flawed approach to understanding customers because there are so many non-credit products that banks can profit from.

Take payments, for instance. With payments, the needs of a $5 million construction company have little in common with the needs of a $5 million healthcare services company. While technically in the same revenue segment, the two companies have vastly different payment transaction numbers, payment processes and workflow, payables vs. receivables, and enterprise resource planning and accounting systems.

Simply put, revenue is a misguided way for banks to segment their corporate customers, particularly when it comes to the mid-market. Except in rare cases when revenue estimates are actually reliable and indicative of customers’ needs, the knowledge gleaned from a single revenue figure is minimal, and it doesn’t help banks better understand and serve their customers.

The good news is, there are other ways for banks to effectively target customers and strengthen customer relationships. One approach is to use transactional data as a means to develop detailed portraits of customers and their needs. By identifying and segmenting customers by need (rather than revenue), banks can establish stronger relationships and drive new fee income by offering solutions to address those needs. For example, banks could learn a lot about a customer by looking at their outgoing payments. How many payments are they making each month? What methods are they using to make these payments—paper checks, ACH, credit cards, debit cards?

Understanding the volume and value of payments for specific businesses can be extremely valuable for determining how to market and sell existing products more effectively. It can also expose areas where a bank might be failing its customers and losing good grace with otherwise loyal organizations. For example, seeing that a large group of customers is making payments through third-party solutions is an obvious sign that it’s time for a bank to develop a new or better payments solution of its own.

Banks are sitting on literally millions of customer records that can offer invaluable insights into customers’ wants and needs, however this data is often unused or under-leveraged. It’s an unfortunate reality, but one that can be easily addressed.

In today’s golden age of big data and analytics, banks need to leverage far more than just revenue figures to better understand their customers. By failing to fully understand customers, banks won’t be able to serve customers well, and they’ll run the risk of losing customers to hungrier and more innovative competitors as a result. Luckily, the treasure trove of existing transactional data can provide banks with infinite ways to better segment customers, and the breadth of that data will allow them to serve their customers more precisely and comprehensively.