By W.B. King
Approximately 1,600 attendees descended on Times Square from September 12-14 to attend the highly anticipated FinovateFall 2022 at the New York Marriot Marquis, with many calling it a welcomed return to normalcy. Finopotamus was also on hand and caught up with folks who happily reflected on respective conference experiences.
“With every Finovate, we are striving to expand our ecosystem of partners that enables us to deliver a better member experience,” said Thomas Novak vice president and digital officer for the $5.6 billion Endicott, N.Y.-based Visions Federal Credit Union, which serves more than 257,000 members.
“We have found that fintech partners are the best way to achieve our vision of becoming a digital-first organization empowering people towards financial independence,” added Novak, who noted this was his fifth Finovate conference.
For Joe LoBello, CEO of the New York City-based LoBello Communications, Finovate is his favorite industry event of the year.
“As a boutique public relations (PR) firm focused on financial services, being able to see hundreds of amazing startups and new ideas in our own New York City backyard is a highlight for us,” LoBello told Finopotamus. “Several of the startups we met are ready to showcase their growth and momentum. We are engaging with several of them to see how we can help spread the word about their success. It’s incredible to see the positive impact fintech is making.”
Among fintechs LoBello highlighted was Bits of Stock, a New York City and Amsterdam-based company offering an all-in-one growth rewards app. The company’s Founder and CEO Arash Asady noted that the technology and brokerage solution allow businesses and organizations to offer customers rewards in fractional stock and crypto shares, among other transactions.
“Finovate is one of the most valuable fintech events of the year, and we attend annually. It allows us to engage with hundreds of participants about the value stock rewards can deliver to credit unions, financial institutions (FIs) and end consumers,” said Asady, who noted the company’s motto: Building an Ownership Economy.
“We recently announced our new Growth Rewards Platform that allows credit unions and other FIs to offer fractional shares as loyalty points,” he said. “Being able to discuss our new application programming interface (API) B2B offering with startups and established players in one place is a win-win for us.”
Whereas LoBello said neobanks and crypto startups were the “darlings” at industry conferences in recent years, this year conversations were centered on the “plug-and-play nature of today’s API-driven financial services” sector.
“Credit unions are facing competition from new entrants and established players. To fight back, several of the credit unions we spoke with want to change the perception of their brand to engage with younger members,” LoBello continued. “Finovate was the perfect place to collaborate on PR and marketing strategies to jumpstart those efforts.”
Fellow PR colleague Heather Sugg, executive vice president at the Atlanta-based William Mills Agency, has been attending the conference since 2010, and for good reasons.
“The event is a reunion of fintech leaders and friends, as well as a catalyst for the future of finance. It’s the latter that keeps me coming back,” Sugg told Finopotamus. “Finovate provides the opportunity to identify and support the people that will be the next big thing in our industry. I’ve seen some of the industry’s best grow out of this event and enjoy supporting the visions and dreams of our future.”
In her view, attendees travel far and wide to discuss pressing industry issues, check out the latest innovations and hopefully solve pain points.
“For instance, Glean AI supplements small business members with a bill monitoring service. And enabling members to control their data was big in this show with companies like MeasureOne,” she continued. “Credit unions have the dexterity and the member-focus to continue to differentiate with service and experience. It’s exciting to see their representation at Finovate and continued innovation for our industry.”
Tech Demos, a Conference Highlight
Josh Kincaid, chief marketing officer at ToroAlerts, was among 60 fintechs showcasing their latest and greatest tech advancements during the high-pressure, seven-minute demo sessions.
“Our first Finovate was in the spring  in San Francisco. We chose to return to FinovateFall with the intention of finding strategic partners such as banks, credit unions and registered investment advisers who could utilize our robotrading and roboadvising platform,” Kincaid told Finopotamus. “Our expectations from the event were to get either product feedback or validation on the progress we’ve made this year. The highlight was the demo, which we received some great feedback on and plenty of leads to follow up with.”
The Portland, Ore.-based ToroAlerts offers artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) with predictive analytics to identify the optimum buying and selling points by sending alerts to each user notifying them of the best price to buy and ideal price to sell stock, options or crypto, Kincaid noted.
What surprised Kincaid were credit union executives he spoke with who, in his estimation, are a “bit slow to react or respond to [certain] advances” within the fintech space.
“Making it an interesting conundrum during a pivotal time when decentralized finance (DeFi) could sweep across the U.S. financial system and wipe out a lot of irrelevant financial institutions,” he offered. “You would think credit union would be more inclined to adopt [this] technology, but they seem just as slow and bloated as big commercial banks.”
While adopting different technologies may be better suited to certain FIs opposed to others for a host of reasons, Visions Federal Credit Union’s Novak feels that by and large the credit union industry’s approach to embracing new technologies is sound.
“Credit unions are alive and well in the innovation and fintech space, and in many ways, fintechs are seeking out credit unions exclusively. We have a strategic advantage in that we can partner faster and more effectively than many other FIs to help a fintech bring their solution to scale,” he continued. “While it is important to embrace the credit union ethos [of people helping people], we must provide more distinct value to multiple generations, such as Gen X and Gen Z, through best-in-class digital experiences that help members with their jobs to be done.”
Novak, like Kincaid, spoke on the importance of the demo sessions. To this end, he co-presented a demo with the credit union’s fintech partner, Finalytics.ai. The team demonstrated “dynamic personalization at scale” in the digital channels–website and digital banking.
“We were sharing our success with the platform and how it could help other FIs. It allows us to hyper-personalize the right message for the right segment at the right time so we can support our members in their moments of need,” he said, adding that a big part of his mission while at FinovateFall 2022 was reviewing fintech offerings that might align with various business initiatives.
“Several providers we were interested in were Q2 Helix, Personetics, Quilo and Themis,” Novak noted.
A First-Timer’s Perspective
Encapture’s Chief Revenue Officer Tyler Barron and colleagues traveled from Dallas to the Big Apple as first-time attendees — a worthwhile trip, he said.
“We were drawn to Finovate as a software solution that works with fintechs. We love to hear what challenges and trends fintechs are facing. I was hoping to make in person meaningful connections with executives and fintechs and that was one of my biggest highlights,” he told Finopotamus. “I loved the topic of customer experience being the most important to fintech lenders and if banks [and credit unions] are to compete effectively with fintechs they will need a laser focus on customer experience.”
Billed as intelligent document automation platform designed to help FIs be more efficient and customer-centric, Barron explained that Encapture uses ML to save employees from “wasting time on mundane and repetitive tasks,” so they can focus on “better serving” their customers and members.
Encapture’s goal, he added, is for its ML solution to replace manual work “so lenders can spend more time with customers and curate that experience instead of doing busywork,” which can be automated.
“Credit unions are currently faced with both increased regulatory pressure and intense economic uncertainty. Many credit unions have chosen to take a ‘hunker down’ approach and just ride out the storm, but the most innovative credit unions we work with have used this as an opportunity to evaluate operational inefficiencies and use technologies like ML and leverage fintech partnerships to find a better way to solve problems,” Barron continued. “The likely result is that these credit unions will emerge from this period with having gained significant market share and will have built more resilient operational models.”
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