You'd never have guessed that the market fell 700 points that day, that an eight percent drop in the Dow would be viewed as same-old, same-old by the more than 400 attendees at the second annual Finovate conference in New York in late October. The show more than doubled its attendance over last year, though only about a quarter of the crowd were bankers, with venture capitalists, other tech players, and all varieties of consultants rounding out the lot.
If you haven't heard of the novel-format show, each of 24 presenters was given seven minutes on stage for a demo-call it speed-dating for online financial services technology vendors. Jim Bruene and his team at Online Banking Report selected the group from more than 200 applicants, so the trends spotted might reflect a bias toward some of OBR's content.
That said, the vendors presented variations on three sometimes overlapping trends. The first: personal financial management tools are getting more user-friendly, and more sophisticated at the same time, combining account management tools with the ability to guesstimate future cash flow with budget and forecasting tools. Leading banks such as PNC and Frost Bank, which are building these tools into their accounts, are likely to see the rest of the industry's early adopters soon following suit, either mimicking or building partnerships with exhibitors such as Mint.com, Quicken Online (now free), Boulevard R, CheckFree, Yodlee, Thrive and BillShrink.
The second bucket of vendors were focused on building online financial communities that let consumers interact with others just as ignorant as they are, or, in some cases, with experts. Among this group were WeSeed, Wesabe, Inner8, Fiserv's Facebook application, and Smart Hippo.
The final category represented the latest version of the idea that began more than 20 years ago with Bankrate, but has been updated to include all sorts of customizable aspects of product picking. The predominant focus was on steering consumers to the best credit card deals, with BillShrink, Credit Karma, MyBestInterest, FiLife, and MoneyAisle falling roughly into this category.
Viewing all the demos in succession felt a little like 1999. Or as Fertilemind Capital general partner Aram Fuchs noted, some seemed to have enough meat to be actual companies, while others felt more like products or features bound to be acquired or ripped off. And there were competing opinions about how the devastation in the economy might affect the rate of innovation in online financial services. From organizer Jim Bruene-half full. "If we ever need new ideas, it's now," he says.
And from Jupiter Research senior analyst Edward Kountz, there is no glass. "When there's blood in the streets," he says. "It's all back to basics."