Finovate Europe points way to the future

13 February 2012

A little bit of San Francisco’s Silicon Valley came to London last week for the Finovate Europe show. Addressing an audience of several hundred bankers, venture capitalists and other movers and shakers, including Lloyds Banking Group’s retail mobile banking supremo Ashley Machin, Zvi Naggan, CIO at Bank Hapolim and Sergi Bisquert, director of innovation at La Caixa, were 35 technology vendors from start-ups such as Nutmeg, which is an online personal investment management offering, to well established firms like Fiserv. Each seven minute ‘pitch’ was designed to explain what the company did, what new app was being launched or to garner the interest of potential investors or clients in the style of BBC TV’s Dragon’s Den or the famous VC pitches in Silicon Valley where the Finovate show began.

The second Finovate Europe show, held at Old Billingsgate market in the City of London on 7 February, was bigger than the inaugural event held last year at the Design Centre in Islington, North London. But many of the Islington tribe had followed the change of venue with lots of informal open necked shirts and casual wear on display as befits a technology event – yes, I’m thinking of you Krisoffer Lawson, bearded co-founder of Finland’s Holvi and an evangelist for online group current accounts where NGOs and charities can do all their bookkeeping easily. Whether Holvi “challenges existing dinosaurs” is debatable but it is certainly a noble aim and in keeping with the show’s intent to showcase innovative new offerings that have the potential to disrupt the established ways of doing things. Was there a new Facebook at the show that will go on to have their own multibillion pound IPO in future years? Probably not, but there were plenty of smart ideas and a good networking environment for the several hundred attendees.

The four ‘best in show’ winners – the organisers word for the presentations that garnered the most votes from audience members, not mine – were the aforementioned Nutmeg, Dynamics, eToro and Cardlytics, who presented with Aimia, who are the operators of the Nectar card scheme in the UK. Aimia recently acquired a minority stake in Cardlytics, which is active in the field of transaction-driven marketing. They have a merchant-facing portal that can be used to track offers served, activated and revenue earned from loyalty schemes. “All without promo codes” or unwieldy complications, said Cardlytics president and COO Lynne Laube.

Dynamics is an American firm, headquartered in Pittsburg, who presented a range of their cards with in-built electronics allowing mag stripe cards to have security codes or innovative loyalty cards which can be used with e- or m-commerce offerings. “We provided the technology for Citi’s 2G launch last year,” said the chief executive, Jeff Mullen, before demonstrating the vendor’s new ‘chip and choice’ card, which can hold multiple schemes and offerings.

eToro is a social trading firm that has a Facebook like app that allows retail investors in the financial markets to trade foreign exchange, commodities or whatever they like with all the appropriate connections and to follow ‘star traders’ should participants so choose.

The prominent themes of the show were the on-going explosion of apps, widgets, products and start-ups in the mobile financial services space, the use of social media (and how it is encouraging the use of so-called ‘big data’ analytical techniques), and PFM tools, with and abundance of tech firms still surprisingly targeting the inundated Personal Financial Management market.

Martin Wilson, formerly of VocaLink and now chief executive at Luup, was there to present his firm’s new mobile travel management app, which allows users to book flights, hotels or other work trips quickly by allowing them to forward on the cost, reason for the trip and full details of it to senior managers over the mobile channel, so they can get a quick yes or no decision. The mobile app does away with complicated and slow internal procedures that mean the price of a trip could go up while a staff member is awaiting a decision. “It’s available now,” explained Wilson to bobsguide at the coffee break, “and the app offers considerable savings of up to 20% by enabling quicker turnaround times for work trips, to Sibos or whatever trade show a staff member needs to get to.” The mobile app can manage the entire process through authorisation, invoices, payment, reporting and archiving and budget management.

According to Jouk Pleiter, chief executive and co-founder of Backbase, “It is good to see real banks here.” Speaking at another coffee break, he explained to bobsguide that, “achieving effective segmentation across generation x, y, and the so-called Facebook generations is a key aim for banks. The concept goes right back to CRM days but the technology is now there to be able to deliver targeted messages and services to the different groupings more easily. That is why you are seeing global traction right now for what I like to call bank 2.0 [also the name of Backbase’s solution and presentation at Finovate] and why we are seeing lots of business in Russia and other emerging markets which are investing in this advance.”

Tim Murfet, CIO at Ixaris wasn’t necessarily as pleased with the make up of the audience, observing to bobsguide that there are, “not many corporates here”. He went on to add, however, that it is good to be able to present our card programme here [at Finovate Europe], to network and to meet fellow technologists, so we can share information and discuss trends.”

That is certainly the point of the show and although no revolutionary start-up was immediately apparent to me, it was a good networking show and chance to gauge the technology trends of the moment. It is always the case as well that it is not necessarily the most polished and well presented firm that goes on to break through and become a large vendor; some of the small firms or products that didn’t capture the audience’s imagination or votes could still go on to become successful.

By Neil Ainger - Editor-in-Chief, bobsguide

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