Report for FDF Conference 2017

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Editor's Note: Last week we attended the Future Digital Finance Conference hosted in Amelia Island Florida. In this blog we review the show in detail and look at the various approaches to a digital banking platform. 

The Future Digital Finance (FDF) Conference (nee NetFinance) wrapped up last week at the Amelia Island Plantation in Florida. The attendee and exhibitor numbers were greatly reduced compared to last year. There was evidence that a number of speakers may have pulled out at the last minute leaving gaps in the agenda for the organizer to fill, which they did successfully though the content tended to be not as focused on the subject at hand - i.e. digital banking g- as it has been previously. 

Yet, as a sponsor and an exhibitor, we found the FDF to be very productive, especially as itconcerns to the quality and quantity of our booth traffic. We had the opportunity to have conversations with a number of banks and credit unions in our target market. Many of whom we spoke with were starting the process involved in replacing their existing, aging online and mobile banking systems. We also had the opportunity to exchange information with individuals and other companies that helped us keep our intel on the industry current.

One person, I got to spend time with who I had not met before in person was Alex Jimenez. He participated in panels on days one and two of the conference. If you ever get the chance to spend any time with Alex talking about the retail banking space, I recommend taking advantage of it. Alex is a blend of Ron Shevlin's ability to see through the smoke and dissect what is really going on, and Jim Marous' thoroughness when it comes to the data that supports a thesis. 

With Alex and others, one of the leading topic of interest was the digital banking platform strategy. This is becoming a mantra among financial institutions looking for a long term strategy that allows them to compete effectively. There seem to be two versions of this strategy. In the first, the platform is composed of numerous pieces of technology from a variety of vendors. This concept of a platform best serves those financial institutions that have the desire and wherewithal to continue to integrate and maintain the platform indefinitely. With this strategy, new innovations can be attached like a never ending building block project that takes over your living room. This concept is something that some banks and credit unions will prefer, though those will most likely be large organizations with big IT budgets and armies of resources.

In the second version of digital banking as a platform, the platform itself serves as a type of digital banking core, performing key functions including all the transactional services required by digital customers and members, data analytics of all those transactions, and automatic categorization and presentation of that data for the end user and the bank or credit union. The user experience is flexible, configurable, consistent and controlled entirely by the institution, rather than third parties, along with all the data associated with the activities of the digital users.

Any digital access point can be served by this platform approach, and, because the architecture is API-driven, it is extensible allowing for rapid introduction of new innovations and features without sacrificing the control or configurability the institution has. Ideally, this strategy could be deployed either in the form of on-premise software or via a hosted model. On this type of digital banking platform, banks and credit unions that do not have hundreds (or thousands) of IT resources and the attendant budget required to support the building block approach described above, can compete with those that do. 

The discussion around these two distinct ways of deploying a digital banking platform were not "religous ones", i.e. not one way was seen as right with the other way being wrong. Rather, the important point made was around discerning what approach was best for the financial institution. A side conversation, not unrelated to this topic, centered around the issue of not being distracted by shiny objects, specifically user interfaces. There is a tendency in all of us to be appropirately "wowed" by elegant, beautiful UIs - or at least to those that are considered to be currently. However, the fact is that the UI will always be a moving target so configurability is key. Also, while the UI is the most obvious customer-facing component, the plumbing behind the UI is the key to insuring the user's experience is satisfying. The most beautiful portal in the world can become dated over time and will not, in and of itself have the ability to deliver the services, advice, and information the user wants. Only the plumbing can do that.

After every conference, our sales and marketing team rates the event and FDF received a solid grade overall. The layout for the exhibitors (that allowed attendees easy access to escape routes) and the content quality (described above) prevented it from being excellent. For the general audience (and other vendors), Future Digital Finance may not have been so positive. The organizers will have their work cut out for them if they intend to keep this show going in 2018. It would serve them well to spend some time and effort promoting the new name and direction, which strangely, was missing in the total run up to this year's conference.