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Best of Finovate Spring Day 1

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Finovate, the "speed dating" arena of sorts where startup and established financial technology vendors show their latest wares under a strict time limit of seven minutes each, had a good day today, with an attendance of 1,200 (up from 800 last year). The format — back-to-back demos demos broken up by a couple of intermissions and lunch — is livelier than it may sound. There's always the chance that a presenter will be gonged for slipping past the time limit (only one did today). The quick changes of personality types and topics keeps the audience's attention.

Like last year, many of the products demonstrated today fall under the themes of mobile and card-related coupons and rewards, mobile payments, personal financial management and security. Also like last year, some of the technologies are meant to be used by consumers directly and others to be white-labeled or offered by bank partners. There seemed to be more bank-oriented products this year, although I haven't done a formal count. There also seemed to be a shift away from pure technology demonstrations toward role playing, with presenters donning props such as construction hats and wigs and acting the parts of customers who would use the product. Such enactments help explain what the product actually does, which is not always clear from a short demo, but also strays from the technology orientation of the show.

Here's my take on the highlights of the show. These are personal opinions. There were many good, solid technologies displayed today. I try to look at these demos from a practical standpoint — which products have a strong business case, meet a true demand in the financial services industry, and seem like they would work well? Also, who is offering value or an angle that a bank would have trouble reaching on its own and technology that's not readily available today?

1. Most Useful Product: SilverTail's Parameter Injection threat score. This software is designed to detect malware in the manner at the place it typically strikes: at the online banking user's computer, rather than on the bank's web server. SilverTail's software can detect the extra parameters the user provides when he's been duped by an HTML injection that adds fake fields to his online banking login page. Because there's nothing wrong with the bank's website, internal monitoring won't detect such attacks. SilverTail is addressing a widespread problem in a common sense way.

2. Freshest Idea: WattzOn Personal Energy Management Platform. This software gives consumers a dashboard of their energy expenditures (drawn from their heating bill, type of car and number of miles driven per day, etc.) with suggestions for how they could use less energy and save money. Banks can offer this on their websites as part of initiatives to help consumers manage their finances. It's different and it could catch on.

3. Best Mobile Payment Product: Dwolla FiSync Core integration. This iteration of Dwolla's payment platform with banks' payment processing systems lets banks offer Dwolla payments. I'm a bit biased toward Dwolla, having given them a Best of Show last year and witnessed their growth in the intervening 12 months. Dwolla offers a real-time payment alternative to the automated clearinghouse with low transaction fees. There are a gazillion mobile payment companies out there. Dwolla has proven that their technology works and that they are marketing geniuses (one example: bringing actor Ashton Kutcher on as an investor last month).

4. Best Tweet: "I can taste the nerdy banker BO in this building" by @bvinteractive

5. Most Appealing App Encouraging Consumers to Save: Social Money's GoalSaver. This software helps draw out of consumers the goals they want to save for (e.g. "new baby," "wife's birthday present") and helps nudge them toward those goals. In another demo, SaveUp looks like it offers more features — it links savings goals with merchant rewards and prizes. However, I feel there are too many fledgling merchant reward programs out there, and the world is going to settle on a few from major providers.

6. Best Expense Management Products: Expensify and smartexpense. This is a copout because there were only two expense management products demonstrated today. But since they are almost exactly alike, I couldn't choose one. Both are meant to make creating expense reports pain-free. Both automatically draw information from trip itinerary software (in Concur-owned smartexpense's case, it's Tripit, a company Concur recently bought). Both let you scan receipts or take a picture of them with a smartphone and upload the images for the expense report and for future reference. Both have a mobile component that lets users easily add expense report items on the road.

7. Most Intriguing Small Business Products: Taulia's Early Payment Network, Kabbage, and Experian's businessiq. Taulia's software provides Dynamic Discounting, in which buyers pay bills early to receive discounts. Seems like a practical solution for small businesses on the edge of solvency. Experian's service lets small business receive a profile and updates on partners and suppliers, which can help them with business decisions when dealing with companies for which there's typically little information available. Kabbage, an alternative lender to online merchants and one of BTN's Innovators of the Year, demonstrated K-Leaf, a module that lets small businesses append data to their Kabbage account from any website. This is truly innovative and helping Kabbage gather a wealth of information about its customers.

8. Best App for Detecting Card Fraud: BillGuard's Advanced Card Protection Service for Banks. BillGuard analyzes customers' accounts for signs of fraud, then lets the customer drill down into transaction details and, with today's launch, start a dispute resolution process. The BillGuard portal lets the consumer communicate directly with the merchant by email to determine whether the transaction is legitimate or a scam.

I'll be live-tweeting from Finovate again tomorrow from @banktechnews.

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