Top Five Reasons I Liked Finovate Fall 2010

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Last week it was the Filene colloquium, this week the Finovate conference. I told you I didn’t have a real job.

Congrats to Eric Mattson and Jim Bruene for pulling off another excellent Finovate Fall conference. Held in New York, the second best city for a conference (the first being Boston, because I can sleep in my own bed, NYC being 2nd best because I don’t have to get on a plane to get there), the show attracted more than 600 attendees and 56 presenting companies.

Below are the top five things I liked about the show. Please note that some of the comments might be tongue-in-cheek. I’m not going to tell you which ones are or aren’t. If you can’t figure it out, I will simply ignore your whiny complaints.

5. The crowd. Finovate attracted a very interesting array of folks from the financial services industry. Lots of people from FIs themselves, saw lots of people who came over from Europe. There were two people who really helped me enjoy this conference, however, both of them named Chris. The first Chris was Skinner from the UK. I’ve been reading his blog for a long time, and have thought of him as a pretty influential person in the European FS scene. The second Chris was Sandoval from USAA. I hadn’t met this Chris before, and have only recently been following him on Twitter, having learned about him from a colleague of his, who I only met a couple of months ago.

The tweets from these two Chrises had me practically falling out of my chair laughing throughout the conference. Between the two of them, and the intellectual horsepower of other people tweeting (Ron Lieber on day one was another person whose tweets were great to see), the crowd played a huge role in the success of the show.

4. ORIGINAL TEXT REMOVED.

3. PFM graduated to the next level. I feel confident saying that by about 2pm on the first day of the conference, pretty much everyone in attendance was PFMed-out. But the constant stream of PFM-related presentations — and ubiquity of Yodlee — might have obscured a bigger message here: PFM has graduated to a new level of importance.

Bundle, which took home one of the best-of-show awards, showed it’s peer comparison data. I’ve been a strong proponent of this kind of capability within PFM platforms, even in the face of low demand and interest among existing PFM users. But it’s something I’ve believed could help bring the non-users into the fold. And the Bundle presentation helped show how PFM is moving beyond just budgeting and forecasting.

The Geezeo/Sapient presentation didn’t win any awards at the show, but in my opinion — and no offense to Bundle — their message was more important to the audience. The two firms showed how Geezeo’s PFM platform could help power a customized marketing campaign, generate the campaign messages and graphics, and deploy the campaign — all in less than an hour. To G/S’s target market — credit unions and non-Top 100 banks — easily and effectively executing online marketing campaigns is not a universal capability. Using PFM a marketing platform is a capability I believe all banks will need over the next few years.

H&R Block didn’t win any awards from the attendees, so I’ve made one up to give to them: Best Citation of Analyst Research (the presenter cited my PFM report from February). But the demonstration of how H&R Block’s Tax Center integrates with Yodlee’s Money Center was another important display of the evolution of PFM.

Which brings us to Yodlee. One attendee tweeted that if he had a dollar for every time an iPad or iPhone was used in a demonstration, he’d be a millionaire. I responded that if I had a dollar for every time Yodlee was mentioned in a presentation, I could buy an iPad.

The more serious point here is that, in some respects, Yodlee has become PFM infrastructure. Aggregation isn’t the end-all/be-all to PFM anymore. Simply a part of the infrastructure. Even Marc Hedlund, former CEO of the now-defunct PFM platform provider Wesabe, blamed (in part) the demise of his firm to its decision to not use Yodlee.

On top of all this, mobile PFM vendor Pageonce indicated it’s user base has grown from 2 million to 3 million registered users since Finovate Spring. Those numbers rival Mint.com’s numbers (well, as of a few months ago. They’re probably up to 1 billion users by now).

This isn’t your father’s PFM market anymore.

2. Payment innovations. When the guy from Dynamics pulled out this credit card-sized card out of his shirt pocket and showed the buttons on the card, and the blinking lights, and how it could be used as multiple types of cards on one physical card, I think I saw a bunch of people in the audience start to drool. (Note: When I saw the seemingly never-ending stream of Twitter spam coming from Dynamic’s PR person, I nearly barfed). The announcement that Citi was launching a pilot of the card took the presentation up a notch, as it was clear that this wasn’t simply some pie-in-the-sky vision of a future technology, but something closer to prime-time.

I was somewhat surprised that the guy from PayNearMe described his firm’s service as something that attendee’s kids would use, because the applicability to the un- or under-banked market for doing what PayNearMe enables is enormous. Basically, PayNearMe is a cash payment network and technology platform. Consumers without a credit or debit card—or those who prefer to pay with cash—can use PayNearMe to pay for purchases online, telephone orders, loan repayments, money transfers, etc. and then make the payment at a retail location. The first (I believe) partnership is with 7-Eleven.

If — or when — PayNearMe partners with Wal-Mart, this thing is going to be huge. And considering that PayNearMe won a best-of-show award, I’m guessing some other attendees agree with me.

Other attendees might not agree with me on my assessment of Ixaris, however. At the risk of offending the folks from Ixaris, I have to say that their demonstration didn’t do them justice. I’ve had the benefit of meeting with them last week as well as at lunch after their presentation to get a better sense of what they do. Their payment applications, or paylets, enable firms (or developers) to create customized payment processes. The range of possibilities here is scary huge. To date, most of Ixaris’ business has been outside the US, which might make them a bit of an unknown to the US financial services community. I’m betting that’s going to change.

The Blaze Mobile Wallet demo? Cool stuff.

Interestingly, two presentations concerning P2P payments (from CashEdge and FIS) were met with…well, some indifference, it seemed to me. Undeservedly, in my opinion.

At the end of the first day, I heard some grumbling that wasn’t a lot of “innovative stuff”. Wasn’t hearing that by the end of day two. All in all, it’s clear there’s a lot of innovation going on in the payments world. As the Grateful Dead once said: “You know this space is getting hot.”

But the number one think I liked best about Finovate Fall 2010…..

1. Seven minutes. I don’t know about you, but I find most conference presentations deathly boring and (mostly) a complete waste of time. (It never ceases to amaze me that other people attending conferences find every other sentence uttered by some speaker to be tweet-worthy).

At Finovate, you don’t have enough time to be boring (OK, that’s not entirely true, but it sounded good). You get SEVEN minutes to give your demo. No Powerpoint. Good luck with the technology.  If your demo is good enough, you will generate interest among attendees to come talk to you afterwards.

I love this format. I only have six minutes of attention span, so even though I tune out on the last minute of most demos, I’m still getting a lot of it.

There’s an underlying shift going on here that makes this format work.

For a while now, technology vendors have attempted to differentiate themselves based on “thought leadership” or “intellectual capital”. They’ve hired analysts to write white papers, or commissioned market research to generate statistics (which these vendors delude themselves into believing constitute some form of thought leadership or intellectual capital).

Finovate says “Screw your thought leadership. If you’re smart, you’ll tell these people: 1. What you do; 2. How you do it; and 3. Why you’re better.” In my opinion, if you’re really smart, you’ll also tell them how you make money (unfortunately, there weren’t a lot of really smart presenters).

I’m not saying that the thought leadership or intellectual capital isn’t important — it is. But it’s more important to the deployment of the technology than it is to the marketing of the technology.

Well, there’s my top five list. Looking forward to attending more Finovates. Hoping Mattson and Bruene will let me back.

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