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  • Writer's pictureW.B. King

FinovateFall 2023 Recap: Perspectives From Attendees, Award Winners Signal Good Days Ahead for CUs

By W.B. King

Among the more than 1,700 attendees at the 2023 FinovateFall conference was first-timer Preethi Janardhanan, who was impressed by the array of technologies displayed and the ability to effortlessly network with industry colleagues.

Preethi Janardhanan

“I really had a positive experience. In particular, I liked the demo structure and that it was hosted in its own dedicated room. The exhibiting vendors’ booths were all simply designed and approachable too, so it made it more conducive to talking to them and learning more about their solutions,” Janardhanan, vice president of client solutions at Rapid Finance, told Finopotamus.

A sister company to Rocket Mortgage, the Bethesda, Md.-based Rapid Finance provides “fast and affordable” financing for over 30,000 small businesses.

Forefront of Emerging Technology

The event, held at the Marriott Marquis Times Square in New York City from Sept. 11 to 13, featured more than 100 industry speakers, along with cutting-edge tech demos from 60-plus presenters. Among the latter group was Mahalo Banking, which was one of six fintechs that won Finovate’s coveted “Best in Show” award.

Mahalo Banking Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer Denny Howell explained that the company presented its “Thoughtful Banking” solution that delivers “humanized digital banking capabilities” to the neurodiverse (intrinsic diversity in human brain function and cognition) population.

“Attending Finovate this year was a different experience as our team participated in the seven-minute live demos for the first time,” Howell told Finopotamus. “Being part of the conference enabled us to engage with more credit unions, banks and fintechs than we have before when attending Finovate.”

Denny Howell

Noting that Mahalo Banking was “deeply honored” to win the award, Howell explained that the Troy, Mich.-based credit union service organization (CUSO) believes the Finovate event is special because it allows “credit unions to be at the forefront of emerging technology to ensure they can continue meeting their members’ needs.”

Among technologies that stood out to Heather Sugg, executive vice president at the William Mills Agency, was artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) solutions, which she said had similar event energy as when blockchain came on the scene years earlier.

“AI and ML are beginning to grow past the hype and into real applications, especially where fintechs find ways to help credit unions take advantage of the massive amounts of data they have available,” Sugg said.

For more than four decades, the Atlanta-based agency has been serving companies that provide a wide range of products and services in the banking, payments, mortgage, credit union and related markets.

Janardhanan was equally interested in AI offerings as well as banking dashboard/consolidation software. “One in particular that I thought was great was QuickFi,” she said. The FinovateSpring 2023 Best in Show winner, based in Freehold, N.Y., offers an innovative e-commerce financing platform that allows clients quick access to equipment financing.

“I also liked the Trust & Will demo and actually found it informative and particularly useful for my own personal finance management,” she said of one of the other 2023 FinnovateFall Best in Show winners. The San Diego, Calif.-based fintech offers a solution aimed at simplifying estate planning and settlements with attorney-approved, legally binding documents.

Sugg also singled out the Milwaukee-based Wysh that provides customizable term life insurance policies and payable-on-death high yield savings accounts. “Wysh enables credit union members to earn more financial services, such as life insurance,” she noted. “It has the potential to bring members access to services they may not have engaged with otherwise.”

Gaining Fantastic Insights

For Howell, an impactful event takeaway was speaking with credit union executives who shared thoughts on Mahalo Banking’s solution, including what it may be missing or how the CUSO could make improvements.

“We highly value the feedback we receive from our credit union partners, as they know best what features will truly benefit their members the most,” he told Finopotamus. “These engagements at Finovate allowed our team to gain fantastic insights into the elements we can consider incorporating into our solution to ensure it effectively serves a greater number of credit unions in the market.”

William Mills Agency's Heather Sugg and William Mills at FinovateFall 2023.

In Janardhanan’s view, many credit unions are at the “brink of digital transformation” and as such, are in the process of re-inventing themselves to provide more “relevant offerings” to their member bases.

“In this aspect, an event like Finovate is great because it allows them (credit unions) to see demos from a number of innovative companies and then easily have deeper, follow-up conversations with the ones that resonate most – all within a compressed timeframe of just three days,” she shared.

Credit unions, Sugg added, are innovative and are often quick to provide tech services that offer value to members, which create “personal and meaningful differentiators.” She continued. “That makes Finovate important; it’s an opportunity to learn about fresh services that may be a strategic fit. It’s a chance to meet with founders, talk about needs, and capitalize on new opportunities.”

Where credit unions truly thrive, Howell noted, is in making human connections — ensuring that a member feels that they are more than just an account number. But in order to maintain this hard-earned reputation, he said these organizations have to stay ahead of the digital curve.

“It’s essential that credit unions continuously improve their digital capabilities to ensure they provide members with not only exceptional in-person experiences but also strong online and mobile experiences as well,” Howell said.

While an exact date has not been set, FinovateFall 2024 will return to New York City next year, likely in September.


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