One banker’s take on the Consumer Electronics Show

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“It’s a carnival.”

Todder Moning, product innovation director at U.S. Bank, walked the 2.7 million square feet of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week, where 4,400 companies exhibited their newest technology and 182,000 attendees watched demos and tested everything from virtual reality headsets to rolling food kiosks to smart diapers.

Moning, who along with chief innovation officer Dominic Venturo created an innovation group at the bank 11 years ago, is always on the lookout for what’s next and should be brought into the bank’s lab. He shared with us what he liked at CES, what new tech makes sense for banks and fintechs, his picks for future game changers, and the weirdest thing he saw.

To be sure, CES is not a financial or fintech show. “The whole digital money part of the show is amazingly small and quirky,” Moning said. “We see some crypto wallets, cryptocurrency ATMs, a payment ring. There was a blockchain company here that claims to do 8 million transactions per second. You could cover all that in 30 minutes.”

But this is why Moning likes CES.

“Technology continues to change customers’ expectations,” he said. “They no longer only compare companies to others within the industry. They’re just looking for the best experiences that make their lives easier. That’s why we come here; it’s the world’s best show- and-tell.”

As the U.S. Bank team looks at CES products, they ask themselves a series of questions: Is this real? If not, when will it be or could it be? Which customer problem does it solve, and does that problem matter? Could we do something with it at a price that makes sense?

There was no single technology at CES that would be revolutionary for financial services, in Moning’s view, but a mashup of several of them could have a big impact.

“It’s not enough to focus on a single technology,” he said. “They’re starting to quickly converge and cooperate.”

For instance, voice interaction, AI, machine learning, computer vision, decentralization, edge computing, blockchain and 5G together will make new things possible, like intelligent objects that could interact faster with each other, people or blockchains and other software.

Moning and the team saw a lot of voice interaction technology at the show.

“Voice as an interface has progressed rapidly in just a year’s time,” he said. “A year ago we were able to be first at having all the voice interfaces and have skills in those things.” U.S. bank offers voice interaction with Alexa, Google and Siri. “But now it’s built into everything. Amazon and Google are clearly the winners of that race right now. It’s important to prepare for the time when people just ask machines for things.”

Something else that intrigued him, and which U.S. Bank has experimented with in the past, is smart-home technology.

“I’m amazed at how each year things continue to get better, more connected, a little more seamless,” Moning said.

For instance, there were smart washing machines, smart shoe-cleaning devices and smart mirrors. With such devices integrated together, tagged clothing could tell the washing machine what settings to use on an item without a person having to figure it out. Eventually payments will inevitably be part of the mix.

Moning also liked the automated rolling kiosks for food and other products shown at CES.

“They pull up, you log in, the doors open up, you pull what you want, you leave and your card on file gets charged,” he said. “That kind of convenience is slick. While you’re doing it in an app now, in the future you’ll probably speak to it and the biometrics of your voice will allow you to charge the card on file.” And banks will need to, again, figure out how to insert themselves into the payment stream.

There were lots of drones at the show.

“The drones every year get crazier and crazier,” Moning said. Where once they only flew in the air, this year some were land-based and some were water-based for underwater exploration.

And there were lots of robots. This year, the robots seemed more humanoid than in the past.

“It’s more about human-machine interaction, but they still come off either as toys or a little odd,” Moning said.

One, called Cleo, can be used in hotels to deliver towels and pillows and such to guest rooms.

“At the end of the day, that’s little more than a delivery cart with personality,” Moning said.

One of the most practical devices he saw was a John Deere combine with artificial intelligence built in that could discern the difference between corn kernels and other material, and therefore could calculate the value of a load.

“To be able to use computer vision to see whether it’s pure corn or not was mind-blowing,” Moning said.

The weirdest thing Moning saw was rideable drones. These were a little like snowmobiles with propellers.

“They looked like something out of a Hollywood movie,” he said. The propeller blades did not have guards around them and looked lethal. A driver fired up the device, but did not attempt to fly it.

“That was odd,” Moning said.

Don't expect those at the bank drive-thru anytime soon.

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