By John San Filippo
Finopotamus caught up with Josh DeTar, digital banking provider Tyfone’s vice president of sales and marketing, for a chat about the digital banking landscape and beyond at the recent SymWest conference. Tyfone’s digital banking platform is called nFinia.
DeTar started the conversation by addressing the apparent commoditization of digital banking.
“Somebody made the joke during the vendor introductions that they’re yet another digital banking provider,” noted DeTar. “It seems like there are 30 of us here today.” (There weren’t.) He added that one thing that sets Tyfone apart is the company’s focus on “building features for bringing benefit and value to financial institutions and their end users, as opposed to just check-marking a box on an arbitrary list of features.”
“It comes down to two major elements that need to be done a little bit differently,” he said. “The first is the company’s philosophy. We call it the heart of Tyfone.” He added that the cornerstone of that philosophy is collaboration.
“Instead of just saying we’re collaborative, we live up to it by truly becoming an extension of each customer’s team,” said DeTar. “We want them to feel like we work at their institution, not just for them.”
The second differentiator, according to DeTar, is Tyfone’s approach to technology. “We run on a very modern, horizontal, layered architecture that allows us to be super flexible in how we design workflows and user interface elements,” he said, “as well as being completely agnostic to third-party integrations for any number of different products.”
Finopotamus then asked how that company manages that deep level of collaboration with multiple institutions, which may or may not want the same things from the nFinia platform.
“There's a very big difference between customization and configuration,” said DeTar. “We're not a customization shop. We are a product company, not a services company, so we have no desire to go and do a bunch of one-offs for customers. Anything and everything we do is done as a configuration to our platform at our configuration layer.” This benefits both Tyfone and its customers, according to DeTar, because the company doesn’t get bogged down in work that benefits only one customer and customers will never find themselves “on an island” in terms of having custom code to support. He added that any time the company does “custom” work, that work is productized for the benefit of the entire customer base.
Communication Is Key
“We have a couple of different methods of communicating back and forth between our stakeholders internally and externally to understand how our roadmap needs to evolve, to live up to what I said earlier, which is not just building features to check-mark a box, but actually provide value,” said DeTar.
“First, we talk to every single customer at a bare minimum once a week,” DeTar continued. “The idea is to replicate that water cooler time. Especially for something like digital banking, if the only time you're talking to your digital banking provider is when something's on fire, all you're doing is trying to put out yesterday's fires.”
Tyfone also has a quarterly Zoom call to which all customers are invited. “Nobody is put on mute, they can ask any questions they want, and they make any statements they want,” said DeTar. “We provide a corporate overview of what's happened from the company standpoint since the last quarter, as well as what we did and didn’t accomplish. We're very transparent.”
For example, if a project was delayed from the previous quarter, they’re open about it. “We said we were going do this last quarter. We didn't do it. Here's why.”
DeTar added that while this all may seem like over-communication to the casual observer, any institution that is resistant to that much communication probably won’t choose Tyfone in the first place. For example, a credit union that makes its decision based primarily on feature functionality may not be a good fit.
“We don't believe that a feature is a differentiator because features are replicatable,” said DeTar. He added that it’s more important to have in-depth conversations with the customer to determine priorities. If a feature needs to be built, Tyfone will build it and productize it.
Open Banking and Industry Standards
According to DeTar, the nFinia platform is intentionally built on an open, API-driven architecture. However, that doesn’t mean third-party connectivity is without issues. “We have our integration layer where we plug these guys in, but they all speak different languages’” said DeTar. “They all behave a little bit differently. They all serve up different elements potentially in their APIs or however they're integrated. So, we have a control layer that standardizes everything off of a standard messaging set.”
DeTar predicted that a lack of industry-wide standards may become even more problematic in the future. “When we start talking about concepts like open banking, it's all well and good, except you have 50 vendors and they each have their own standard,” noted DeTar. “It’s not really a standard if everyone has their own.”
He continued, “That’s one of the reasons why we have so much trouble connecting things. The ability to share and pass back data and elements is a challenge because there's really no standard.”
DeTar pointed to recent advanced in the payments sector as an exception. “I will give huge credit to (emerging payment mechanisms) FedNow and RTP because they're both using a standard and they're using a real standard and they both even picked the same standard: ISO 20022,” he said. “This is a legitimate standard that in theory we can all adopt and then you have an actual standard.”
From the Crystal Ball
“This is going to sound like (singing) ‘Kumbaya’ around the fire pit with s'mores, but I have real optimism for our industry,” said DeTar. “As consumers, we love to have our cake and you eat it, too. We want all these wonderful things, and we don't necessarily care about the implications that come with them. We have all these neobanks and fintechs, but I wonder how much good is actually being done for the average American consumer.”
Just like Tyfone’s corporate philosophy, DeTar said the focus needs to be on people. “I want my neighbors to sleep soundly at night because they're not stressed about their finances. This is why community financial institutions play such an important role,” he concluded.