Last week, Will Hernandez and I had the opportunity to go to Las Vegas for the Fintech Meetup conference, a three-day event that featured more than 3,000 attendees from all walks of the fintech industry – from fintech startups, venture capital firms, banks and credit unions, and analysts and industry consultants.
While the aftermath of the SVB and Signature Bank failures were fresh in everyone’s minds and the topic that couldn’t be avoided on panels and keynote discussions, I was pleasantly surprised that the tone of the sessions and keynotes were optimistic overall. Despite the rocky environment the industry finds itself in, listening to these conversations put things into perspective and reminded me to not lose sight of the forest for the trees.
Innovation is still happening. Startups and challengers continue to push the incumbents of the industry to get better. And for communications people like us, it means there remains plenty of opportunity to help these companies define and articulate their brand differentiators to the market.
Over the course of the conference, Will and I had found some time to get together and digest the sessions’ content, as well as the conversations we had with attendees, and to jot down a few of our high-level takeaways.
1) The same ol’, same ol’: Despite several recent developments in the financial services industry, some of the panels were filled with discussions we’ve heard ad nauseum for the past decade or so. The biggest culprit might be the continued discussion of bank/fintech partnerships. Perhaps this is a logical conversation to have in 2023 because US regulators have made it clear they are going to scrutinize these sorts of partnerships from a risk compliance perspective. Banks will need to ensure they have properly vetted their fintech partners from a compliance perspective. Could this open the door to more consolidation in the industry in the coming years?
2) Marketing departments reassessing needs: While bank failure chatter could be heard throughout the conference, it didn’t overly dominate the conversation. But there is and will be continued fallout from what’s transpired over the past couple of weeks. We’re seeing that companies are waiting to see how things play out in the next few months. Some fintechs we spoke to at the conference said they realize now more than ever that they need a public relations strategy to remain competitive, and are actively working on how that might fit into their overall marketing infrastructure. Marketing budgets could be constrained or outright cut if market conditions worsen, these companies said. But most are optimistic that the SVB situation is a blip on the radar and that the situation will normalize soon.
3) BNPL overrated for banks: BNPL chatter has been an ongoing topic for a few years now, but it has intensified since the crux of the pandemic as the payment method exploded in use between 2020 and 2022. Today, it is under a regulatory microscope both in the U.S. and U.K. Banks for the most part have been left on the sidelines with BNPL, and that actually might be a good thing. At least that was the opinion of one panelist we heard from at the show. BNPL has proved to be a risky proposition for the fintech providers touting that service. Banks are more averse to risk than ever before, and maybe even more so in the aftermath of SVB. While the banks might seek to do some kind of partnership with a BNPL provider, he doesn’t believe many will offer their own BNPL service.
1) VCs raise their expectations: One of the first sessions I sat in was a panel of VCs discussing how they’re changing their investment assessments given recent events and changes in the overall economic environment. There were varying opinions on how much scrutiny fintech startups can expect to see in the coming months, but the two things that stood out to me were the need for fintechs to define the product-market fit and being able to show momentum, and surprisingly, having a good story to tell. The latter point is what struck me – investors want to invest in a founder who is confident in who they are and what they’re trying to accomplish. What I took away was that storytelling and message development are doing to be key, not only for showcasing company or product differentiators for the purpose of sales, but for attracting investors as well. In short, a brand, especially a disruptor, needs to make sure they have a cohesive brand story that they can deliver to resonate with different audiences.
2) Banking as a Service (BaaS) 2.0 is here: It’s safe to say based on the many conversations we heard, both on and off stage, that BaaS will continue to be an opportunity for fintechs and incumbent banks alike to attract new customers and serve markets with innovative products that fit specific customer needs. However, it’s clear that the path towards a prosperous fintech-sponsor bank partnership can be varied depending on the parties involved and how they define success. Whether a bank would like to tie themselves to one fintech partner, or tap into a broader network of fintechs via an emerging slate of infrastructure providers (such as Helix, Treasury Prime, or Synapse), my takeaway is that no matter the approach, the bank and fintech have to be completely aligned in all areas and have to be properly invested in the success of each other. As a marketer, what struck me was looking at this from the perspective of those emerging infrastructure providers. They are the critical connective tissue in many of these relationships. For those firms to stand out, they need to prioritize educating the market about the different approaches to a sponsor bank-fintech partnership and really articulate the differences to build a level of trust that these relationships demand. For these players in particular, there is tremendous value in a cultivating a sound thought leadership strategy to educate the market, showcase expertise and differentiate in what is shaping up to be a growing and more competitive market.
3) Customer “stickiness” no longer a given: As noted in my opening, I’d be remiss if I didn’t have a takeaway directly related to SVB and Signature Bank. But one of the panels I attended made a point that stuck with me. Even as the US moves towards the implementation of real time payments, customer stickiness is something financial institutions can no longer take for granted. These recent bank runs showed how easy it is to switch banking institutions today, and awakened many customers to this reality. For the banks and consumer-facing fintechs, it means the bar has been raised yet again in proving value to your customers. But looking at this from a B2B fintech perspective, it’s an opportunity for these technology partners to forge deeper relationships with their financial institution clients, and work to innovate alongside them to help them delight and retain their customers. When thinking through messaging and PR strategy, it will be even more important moving forward to highlight customer success stories, as well as bring more stories to the forefront that connect the dots between the functionality a technology provides, and its impact on customer retention.