Will FinTech Innovators Disrupt By Making Users Happy?

This post will require some indulgence on your part. Commenting on tweets coming from a conference that I didn't attend may seem as bogus as someone recommending a book based on a book review and not having read the book.

Finovate Fall 2010 Image

It’s just that every day brings news and commentary that underscore the importance of financial marketers stepping up their game and sharpening their awareness of developments in this space.

Some input for your consideration today comes from Finovate Fall 2010, a conference that offers an opportunity for 50-plus fintech companies to present short video demos of their innovations. The goal of this visibility is to gain customers, venture capital funding, partnerships and media coverage.

I’ve spent time covering banking as well as investment management issues so for me the lines between the two industries are not crisply drawn. Innovation in banking applications is relevant to asset management if only because it creates customer expectations in financial services across the board.

But some of the Finovate demos (based on the #finovate tweets we’ve been monitoring) have direct bearing on how investment products are selected and evaluated. And, almost every one of the Finovate participants incorporates social sharing in a natural as-if-it's-always-been-there way.

(Many continue to have their doubts about the "appropriateness" of sharing in financial communicating. We believe that will come to be a minority opinion.)

Making Users Happy

I started looking at the #finovate tweets Monday morning immediately after reading an account from Marc Hedlund, the creator of Wesabe. Wesabe was an early Web 2.0 personal finance site that was eventually trounced by Mint.com and has shut down. (We commented on both sites in November 2008.)

Hedlund has done some soul-searching on the reason for his site's failure. His conclusion: "Focus on what really matters: making users happy with your product as quickly as you can, and helping them as much as you can after that. If you do those better than anyone else out there, you'll win."

"Making users happy?" Is that how financial technology innovators will successfully disrupt? That's what was on my mind as I started reading about these high-energy innovators and viewing their value propositions.

Not every company that presents at Finovate will hit critical mass or even survive. But to the extent that they presented a new idea, the ideas are out there for others to build on and enhance.

Below are a few videos that I’ve tracked down on the sites of Finovate presenters. Because I didn't go to the ball, Cinderella doesn't know whether attendees saw all-new videos or whether the demo videos incorporated parts of what’s on the Web sites.

There are a few moments in these that will give you pause. In the Betterment video, for example, I winced at the facile handling of superfluous information like ticker symbols and number of shares owned. Ditto when the Plantly voiceover extolled ETFs while claiming to be "100% unbiased."

Watch these and download Kapitall's phenomenal new iPad app, also discussed at Finovate. See what you think about the ideas---and about the opportunities, challenges and even inspiration they offer for the way your firm seeks to make your clients happy.

Betterment (a Finovate Fall 2010 Best of Show winner)

"As soon as you transfer money to us, it's immediately invested. There's no holding period and no extra steps."


"This is how financial advice should have always been---simple and rationale rather than confusing and magical."

SeekingAlpha Instant Apps

"These are tools which help you discover, manage, track and analyze your investments."