Sitting alone at the back of a hotel meeting room, Theodore Iacobuzio had a stern message for bankers: "The train is leaving the station," said Iacobuzio, a MasterCard executive, referring to the emerging mobile payment economy. "You have to get on."
Earlier that Wednesday, Iacobuzio had spoken on a panel at the Mobile Banking and Commerce Summit in Miami about using data to drive relevant offers to cardholders. Mobile banking and payments are at the forefront of his mind.
After being more than a theory for the past several years, financial services companies have been iterating and tweaking their mobile banking models — offering mobile deposit capture (depositing a check with the snap of a smartphone camera) — for at least the past three.
So many conferences rehash the same topic: Innovation is forcing banks to think differently about their business.
Countering that premise is stark reality: community bankers who can't spend $10 to $15 million revamping their company's core. And $10-billion-plus banks that are too weighed down by bureaucracy to innovate.
"Everybody really wants to do it, but this is one of the largest industries on the planet, and it's heavily regulated," said Simple [formerly BankSimple] CFO Shamir Karkal, 34, who spoke to BTN in the hallway after his presentation. "So the deep fundamental change that is really needed, doesn't happen overnight."
Part of the reason for the slow adoption is the cost involved.
"I think the big thing everyone is looking for is revenue," said Iacobuzio, vice president in charge of Global Insights at MasterCard. "Banks have to get used to looking at this as a fixed cost."
Yet, at some of the big banks, mobile is already paying for itself, speakers say.
"You don't have to look for ways to charge for services," said Andres Wolberg-Stok, Citigroup's global mobile and tablet banking director.
He added mobile customers are simply more tightly tethered to their bank — having a tendency to not call call centers and not request paper statements. That means that they just cost banks less cash.
With that said, there were some glimpses into the minds running fintech at the major banks.
BTN's Mobile Banker of the Year, Charaka Kithulegoda, gave some updates on his latest projects at ING Direct Canada. The direct bank's chief information officer said it is working on an onboarding process that will use imaging technology to reduce the amount of data new customers have to enter by 80%.
ING Direct Canada recently announced a social login feature that allows the bank's 1.8 million digital customers to access their account information through Facebook — a move American bankers have been reluctant to make because of proposed regulation. And it is also working on a biometric pilot — using facial and voice recognition technology.
"Technology plays a huge role in our organization," he said during the conference.
And Mitek launched a new version of its Mobile Photo Bill Pay that lets users just hover their smartphones over a piece of paper, capturing information when everything is in view. Simultaneously, the bank tech vendor also announced that BBVA Compass has become the second large bank to launch the service to its customers.
There was also chatter around security.
"Facebook, Gmail, Twitter, and World of Warcraft all have multi-factor authentication," said Robert E. Lee, a business analyst at Intuit, while he spoke on a panel. "If you're a bank and still using challenge questions, I have to ask you, why is your security worse than an online video?"
Mobile hasn't yet become a prime target for hackers, but there is still potential for mobile security breaches.
"Part of this is at the platform level, we don't get the security we're looking for. Especially on Android we're seeing a lot of malware; and phones can easily be jailbroken," said Shahid Shoaib, a principal consultant who focuses on mobility and M2M practice at Verizon Consulting Services.
Although it's existed in some form since 2007, mobile banking is still in its infancy. No executives at the conference said they had all the answers.
"It's not like we've invented mobile," said Neff Hudson, assistant vice president for emerging channels at USAA. Customers have taken control of the mobile platform and are telling their banks what they want. "We're flying down the highway and hanging on to the edge of the car doors."