Five Takeaways from Money 20/20 USA for Credit Unions

Alex Jimenez

November 4, 2021

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We at Finalytics.ai just got back from participating in our very first Money 20/20 as a sponsor and thought it would make sense to jot down some of our takeaways. We believe credit unions need to keep these in mind as they visit their strategic plans for 2022 and beyond.

The hot topics we heard were:

 

Partnerships

While 2020 and 2021 were dominated by the impact of the pandemic, 2022 will see a slightly more reasoned approach to digital transformation throughout financial services. We are seeing a larger focus on building fintech and legacy financial institution (FI) partnerships throughout the industry.

While attending sessions with bankers, fintechs and banktech companies, we noted that there was a heightened awareness that fintech firms need bank and credit customers to scale while FIs need the innovations from fintech firms. Even when talking to bank compliance or risk executives, there’s desire for partnerships that go beyond the usual vendor relationship FIs have.

Further, fintech firms dedicated to infrastructure are receiving more investments and dominating the space. That came through in discussions with VCs and by simply looking at the Money 2020 exhibit floor and seeing the large number of startups focused on supporting legacy FIs.

 

Unbundling, Bundling, and Marketplaces

This takeaway is related to the item above. Years ago we talked about how fintech was unbundling the consumer banking relationship and focusing more on a single customer experience. Now we are seeing many fintech firms starting to bundle services and wanting to become a bank on their own (e.g., SoFi).

Many fintech firms are now banding together to provide a marketplace available to credit unions and banks. We met with several organizations, including banktech and digital banking platforms, that are building marketplaces available to their clients through APIs. As an example, check out ASA Financial. We also talked to credit unions that are keen on examining marketplaces and adding them to their digital roadmap.

 

“Riches in Niches”

Susan Friedmann wrote a book in 2007 titled “Riches in Niches: How to Make It BIG in a Small Market.” Ever since, we have heard the refrain “Riches in Niches,” but it seemed to take flight at Money 20/20. We hadn’t heard it used as often in fintech until now.

Fintech firms like Daylight (targeting the LGBTQI+ community), Greenwood (targeting Black and Latino communities), and Nerve (targeting music creators) show that there is a market for niche banking plays. At the same time, we see many credit unions—and some community banks—walking away from their niches to be “everything to everyone.”

Perhaps, organizations need to think about what community means in a digital world and define if a niche play makes sense instead of being another banking organization competing with “best service.”

 

AI is Eating the World

It’s possible that we’re biased, but we are seeing more applications of artificial intelligence (AI) in banking than ever before. We saw many demos that show that some AI solutions are “ready for prime time.” For example, the conversational AI of just three years ago pales in comparison from what Clinc’s can do today.

We used to see algorithms mainly focused on underwriting or fraud prevention, but now we are seeing them applied to many other decisions: from product management to customer experience (like our own Finalytics.ai platform) to identification.

Also, we heard about an increased awareness of the issues inherent in AI due to the use of training data sets that don’t represent consumers at large. This is a challenge all of us in AI need to take seriously—one that banks and credit unions should pay attention as regulators are also becoming aware.

 

Crypto and DeFi

The number of crypto companies and conversations happening on the exhibit floor was more than apparent, not to mention sessions focused on crypto. While this has been true in the past, there was a significant increase this year.

Just a year ago, if we brought up the topic of crypto with a credit union executive there was always a sigh or rolling of the eyes. At Money 20/20, not only did we get into the topic of crypto with credit unions but we also discussed the validity of decentralized finance (DeFi) as a competitive force against banks and credit unions.

In case you haven’t heard about DeFi, Investopedia defines DeFi as:

a system by which financial products become available on a public decentralized blockchain network. That makes them open to anyone to use, rather than going through middlemen like banks or brokerages. Unlike a bank or brokerage account, a government-issued ID, Social Security number, or proof of address are not necessary to use DeFi. More specifically, DeFi refers to a system by which software written on blockchains makes it possible for buyers, sellers, lenders, and borrowers to interact peer to peer or with a strictly software-based middleman rather than a company or institution facilitating a transaction.

A few days before the conference, NYDIG and Q2 announced a partnership with a bank and credit union to allow FI customers and members to buy, hold (hodl), and sell Bitcoin. We believe this partnership could be a watershed moment for the industry when in comes to crypto.

We also see DeFi starting to make real impact on the industry. Some bank and credit union executives are starting to lose sleep over the idea of DeFi. Talking at Money 20/20 to Alchemy, or our friend Cokie Hasiotis, it’s clear that new ways of thinking continue to emerge in the industry. At a minimum, they should be tracked by credit union executives.

 

Conclusion

As credit unions get ready to have their annual strategy planning sessions, we believe that these topics should be considered. While these highlights were gleaned from our participation in Money 20/20, we have been tracking them throughout our discussions with other credit union executives, vendors, and fintech firms over the last year.

If you are interested in learning more about these topics, feel free to reach out to us. We’re happy to delve into them further with you or your teams.

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