It may sound like a cliche, but it's true: Bankers are sitting around a proverbial payments roulette table placing bets.
Bets on mobile. Bets on new networks. Bets on each other.
Because as payments evolve — through technology, encryption and overall digital commerce — executives are turning to one another to establish standards and make strides into futuristic money movement.
That was especially true here at the ATM, Debit and Prepaid Forum in Las Vegas, at the Bellagio Hotel in late October, where bankers say they are no longer benchmarking themselves against their peers. They're trying to learn from innovators on the bleeding edge and other industries.
"No bank is an island," says Zilvinas Bareisis, a senior analyst in Celent's banking group. "You can't survive this, you can't do this alone."
He references authentication groups and other associations that require the entire industry to work together.
"If you are talking about an industry standard, you just can't do anything alone."
For instance, the FIDO Alliance (short for Fast IDentity Online) is bringing together more than two dozen industry players — including PayPal, Mastercard and Lenovo — to create a standard that lets applications, browsers and servers speak the same language for authentication.
But as standards evolve, devices must as well.
ATMs are, of course, a big part of the future of financial services — the machines are a near constant theme of these sorts of future-of-money events.
Wells Fargo, says Jonathan Velline, the bank's head of ATM banking and strategy, might be taking a different tack. The bank envisions a world where tellers work hand in hand with technology.
Velline mentions a Washington D.C. branch where tellers roam the aisles like modern-day fast food restaurant employees or hotel lobby attendants, aiding customers before they get to the head of the line.
"We are trying to make the teller even more effective with technology," says Velline, who chatted in the hallway after his keynote speech Monday night.
He remembers when he first came to his current role in 2007. Customers had to fill out slips to make deposits and withdraw cash.
Now, Velline says, customers can play with touchscreens at the counter. Rather than fill out paperwork, they can digitally enter information. The installation of those touchscreen computers was completed around 2011.
Bitcoin and cardless ATMs were also a point of conversation.
Fexco and First Data demonstrated their take on an ATM concept that allows people to use their smartphones, instead of their cards, to withdraw cash from money machines. (NCR and Diebold both offer ATMs that can do this, and several banks have already installed them.)
At the same time, Lamassu (the brainchild of two brothers who once accepted bitcoin at their guitar shop in New Hampshire) debuted a device that converts cash into bitcoins and sends the cryptocurrency to a digital wallet.
"Our machines are, in a sense, bankless ATMs," says Lamassu co-founder Zach Harvey, clad in a bright-red shirt, unbuttoned a quarter-way down his (hairless) chest.
In Lamassu's case, the ATM scans a dynamic QR code that is sent to the user's smartphone. An app on the phone substitutes for an ATM card, providing another measure of authentication.
Another innovation discussed at the conference was wearable computing.
Indeed, financial services companies have taken an interest in Google's Glass. For instance, Intuit has adapted a version of its GoPayment app for Glass wearers, according to the International Business Times.
In addition, Fidelity has developed a first-generation app for Glass and a Spanish bank is working on a piece of Glass software as well.
And even Disney is using wearable computing to allow theme park visitors to access rides, make payments and gain access to their rooms.
However, in a room full of bankers asked if wearable computing will play a hand in financial services in the next three years, only a few raised their hands.
"You need to place bets in the payments roulette," says Jim Marous, a senior vice president of corporate development at digital direct marketing agency New Control, and author of the Bank Marketing Strategy blog. "If you don't put some moderate bet, either financial or in time, you are falling behind."
All of this is happening under intense flux, says Tony Hayes, a partner at consulting firm Oliver Wyman, who chaired the conference.
"Continued uncertainty about debit regulation — when and how," he says. "Uncertainty about EMV."
This year's conference happened against the backdrop of merchant associations that have yet to finalize plans, such as MCX, and delayed deadlines on the chip and PIN standard used around the world.
“Last year was a step forward,” says Hayes. "This year is two steps back."
Regardless, vendors and bankers, at least here in Sin City, were talking.
After completing his presentation during the first day of the conference at the Payments Innovators Day, Brendon Wilson of Nok Nok Labs (an outfit attempting to revolutionize authentication through FIDO) approached Michael Strange, the CTO of Mitek, which recently debuted a smartphone account-opening system.
"I just thought, you know, we could create a process with what we have on the device," says Wilson, after his presentation was voted conference favorite. "So at the end of an account opening process, rather than setting up your username and password, you scan in your fingerprint."
He handed Strange his card.
Daniel Wolfe and Austin Kilgore contributed to this article.