We sat down with veteran banker and FinTech innovation evangelist JP Nicols to find out more about his latest initiative: The Bank Innovators Council, a membership organization by bank innovators for bank innovators. The Council will be holding its Bank Innovators Lab Day immediately after FinovateEurope, with headliners including Brett King and Mariela Atanassova.
There are plenty of ideas that aren’t really uniquely competitive that banks could collaborate around and make it better for the whole industry and for the innovators. We really think we can help facilitate that collaboration and lift the tide that will raise all the boats.
What was the inspiration behind Bank Innovators Council?
When we surveyed the innovation landscape in financial services, we saw that FinTech companies had a lot of support for their innovation; accelerators, incubators, venture capitalists, and so on, but banks were on their own. That may be fine for the largest banks that can afford their own dedicated resources for innovation. The reality is that most banks can’t afford that, but they can’t afford not to innovate either. Anyway, about 4 or 5 years ago there were a lot of B2C types of applications coming from FinTech innovators; everyone wanted to be the next Mint.com but they found that it was quite difficult to build a huge user base from scratch. Then there was a shift towards B2B and enterprise solutions being pitched by FinTechs who really wanted to sell to banks because the banks already have these huge user bases, but it became clear that most banks aren’t very good at innovating. That’s when I began to believe that the future was going to be much more collaborative, both with banks and with FinTech companies, and even with banks with one and other. There are plenty of ideas that aren’t really uniquely competitive that banks could collaborate around and make it better for the whole industry and for the innovators. We really think we can help facilitate that collaboration and lift the tide that will raise all the boats. There are plenty of banks that don’t compete geographically, in the U.S. alone we have nearly 7000 banks, and many of them don’t overlap at all. We envision banks from different parts of the world, or even different parts of the same country, banding together and realizing projects that they wouldn’t be able to realize on their own. We think that banks could pool their resources, they could pool their time and their funds and collaboratively work on some great projects, and we just hope to be the glue that holds that all together.
What sets Bank Innovators Council apart from other industry organizations?
Three things make us unique. First, we are focused on innovation. Our mission is to help promote, support, and facilitate innovation within and amongst our member banks. We don’t focus on regulation, or lobbying, or job training. Second, we are hands-on. Our workshops and Lab Days are not lectures, or conferences, or demonstrations. We roll up our sleeves and work through ideation, design thinking, and creative problem solving techniques, together, in a safe, confidential and curated environment. Third, we are a 24/7 resource for bank innovators. In addition to our hands-on live events and partnerships with major FinTech conferences, we also have virtual and social communities and a web-based idea management system. Plus, we work very hard to ensure that there is a good blend of bankers and innovators in the room; we really believe that diversity is part of the value.
Bank Innovators Council Lab Day takes place after Finovate, what do you think of the unique Finovate format where ideas must be presented in less than 7 minutes, and what do you look for in pitch?
We are huge fans of Finovate, and we are proud to partner with them. The 7 minute format really forces companies to focus on getting the right information out there, saying straight up “Here’s the problem we’re solving and here’s how we’re solving it,” and that’s the beauty. The only downside is that it can be really hard to have a deeper conversation. When I attended Finovate as a banker, I walked out energized but my head was spinning. That’s why I know this Lab will be so beneficial; after seeing several dozen companies demonstrate the latest in financial technology in back-to-back seven minute demos over two packed days, we give bank innovators a chance to gather with their peers, along with some of the best minds in the industry, to process what they saw, and put some context around how those new ideas might fit into their own strategic priorities. Before they go back to their colleagues in what we like to call “the business prevention department.” I want to say though, that although we will be using Finovate as a springboard for discussion, if you didn’t attend Finovate it won’t stop you from being able to participate in and get something out of the Lab.
In terms of what we personally keep an eye out for at Finovate, I would say that what excites us the most are companies that provide platforms that can provide flexible solutions and multiple configurations, rather than single solution products. Whether they are platforms that enable mobility or other ways to meet changing customer needs, or those with robust APIs and SDKs, we pay special attention to those presenters who allow for collaboration and customization.
What do you mean by ‘business prevention department’?
That’s just what a name we came up with for the kind of mentality that kills innovation. It could be because of compliance or risk management or IT or whatever, but in banking there are plenty of people that only think of ways things could go wrong. And that’s fine, it’s appropriate but at the same time it’s exactly the opposite of innovation, which is about trying do new things and taking risks. Yes, risk should be managed and nothing should put shareholders and depositors in harm’s way, but you have to take risks to learn, and to figure out how to adjust until you get to the right answer. So one of the things we think we provide people with is that safe environment where they can test and discuss and iterate, within our unit – outside of the four walls of the bank, and we surround them with people who aren’t going to say “No! Don’t do that, that won’t work.” They’re going to have plenty of people from the ‘business prevention department’ who are going to say those sorts of things when they get back to their bank.
What do you want your attendees to come away from this Lab with?
We believe that bank innovators will leave our Lab understanding better how new technology solutions can address the challenges their banks are facing, and that FinTech entrepreneurs will be able to gather new ideas to make their solutions more relevant to banks.