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Jo Ann Barefoot explores how to create fair and inclusive consumer financial services through innovative ideas for industry and regulators

Barefoot Innovation Podcast

Filtering by Tag: Banks

Innovating in Payments: Wells Fargo Head of Partnerships and Industry Relations - Braden More

Jo Ann Barefoot

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I could tell I was walking into an innovation lab even before I saw the space, because I could hear the ping pong game underway as I stepped off the elevator. It was great fun to be in San Francisco, on a sunny day in early fall, to talk with Braden More, Wells Fargo’s head of partnerships and industry relations -- and to see their fascinating innovation facility, which includes what they call their R&D Garage.

As Braden explains in our talk, Wells Fargo has reorganized to establish an integrated digital strategy for payments, under the leadership of their famous innovation head, Steve Ellis -- whom Braden described as the Steve Jobs of banking. They know that today’s customers expect a great digital experience, which means they won’t put up with processes that break down as they hit the old silo walls between traditional bank product groups, nor processes that merely automate old paper based, linear designs. Banking has to become fully digitized -- with all the gains in speed, cost, accuracy, and innovation that comes with digitizing anything.

Not surprisingly, a lot of this episode focuses on the challenge of how you change a large organization. Big banks are anything but nimble. It’s not their fault, it’s just their nature -- their size, their complexity, and their reliance on legacy IT systems that have accumulated, in most cases, over years and decades of mergers and acquisitions, and never been fully integrated with each other. On top of that, every move that big banks make faces regulatory requirements and close regulatory scrutiny, and regulators, for good reason, tend to frown on fast change -- especially the kind championed by small fintech innovators who love concepts like “minimum viable product” and (God forbid), “fail fast.”

However, all the big banks know they do have to change, and also that they have to speed up -- dramatically. That’s because the technology change is speeding up. Its curve is exponential, which means that both the opportunities and risks are outstripping organizational models and cultures that were hard-wired many years ago -- even decades or centuries ago -- for linear change.

A big bank innovation model is now emerging. It usually has a few elements. There’s an innovation team, which is usually small, is charged with rapid learning. Some of it is typically walled off, so that the big organization won’t accidentally smother it. There’s a lab-type effort, with a mandate to reach beyond short term, practical applications and do some dreaming. These sometimes have an actual playful edge to them -- hence the popularity of ping pong tables and bean bag chairs. Meanwhile, other parts of big banks today are busy with projects trying to smash down some silo walls and push people into the same rooms, to work knee-to-knee on shared challenges. And there’s usually an accelerator or incubator that brings in startups and tries to learn from them, sometimes making venture investments.

Wells Fargo has all this underway, and Braden explains their philosophy on how to get the best of both worlds -- both isolating ninja-style disruptors while also making innovation central to everyone’s job. If you’re a fintech, he describes their accelerator and some of its successes, including Eye-verify, which verifies customers’ identity by scanning the whites of their eyes with a phone camera, and which has been acquired by China’s huge payments innovator, Ant Financial -- Alibaba. He also tells the story of Wells Fargo incorporating Zelle’s instant payment service into the bank, and its importance to customers who need quick cash. Our conversation ranges widely, from the future of fast payments and crypto-currency to the evolution of skills needed at banks.

Braden also previews coming attractions for 2018. One key:  he says active online and mobile users connect with the bank every 42 hours on average -- vastly more often than traditional branch customers. Converting this rich relationship into more value for both customer and bank is a key to the future.

Big banks have unique challenges in embracing innovation, but they also unique resources for solving them.

A highlight of my visit was seeing the toy room. Pepper is there -- the charming talking robot. So are 3-D printers, biometric safes, and drones -- Braden gives an example of how bank can use a drone. He even talked, intriguingly, of occasionally seeing the folks in The Garage busy making things with soldering irons. You hardly ever used to see that, in a bank office.

More Information

More on Braden More

Braden More is the head of payment strategy at Wells Fargo. He and his team work across Wells Fargo to coordinate payment strategy, incubate new initiatives, and represent Wells Fargo in the payments industry. Braden also serves as the portfolio manager for the Wells Fargo Startup Accelerator, a program that mentors and invests in innovative companies.

Before assuming his current role, Braden was the head of strategy and planning for Wells Fargo Treasury Management. Previously he was with Wells Fargo’s Internet Services Group, and before that held positions in public accounting, management consulting, venture capital, and competitive strategy with Deloitte, Wit Capital, and Intel.

Braden graduated magna cum laude from Bowdoin College with a degree in government and legal studies. Subsequently, he earned an M.B.A. with distinction from NYU’s Stern School of Business, and a CPA license from the state of New York.

Braden lives in San Francisco, where he is active as an advocate for experiential science education. He has served on the board of directors for the Exploratorium Lab and Marin Academy. His Twitter handle is @BradenMore.

More for our listeners

I’m about to finish what I’ve called my World Tour -- travels all over the world this fall making speeches, meeting fascinating people and, happily, collecting podcasts. I’ve learned so much, so fast, about fintech and regtech, it’s hard to absorb it all. I’ll be sharing lots of thinking in the new year.

The upcoming podcasts are amazing. We’ll have one with Nick Cook, who leads the FCA’s innovation work on regtech, recorded at Regtech Enable in Washington. We’ll have Nerd Wallet CEO Tim Chen, and Cross River Bank CEO Gilles Gade. We’ll have one in London with the charismatic CEO of Starling Bank, Anne Boden and one with Innovate Finance CEO Charlotte Crosswell. We’ll also have a lively discussion with a group of amazing innovators working in Europe and Africa. We’ll have one with Michael Wiegand, who heads the Gates Foundation’s work on financial services for the poor. And back in the U.S., we’ll have a show with Financial Services Roundtable CEO Tim Pawlenty...to name a few!

The 2018 schedule is filling up fast. I’ll share those events next time.

As always, please remember to review Barefoot Innovation on iTunes, and sign up to get emails that bring you the newest podcast, newsletter, and blog posts, at jsbarefoot.com. Again, follow me on twitter and facebook.  And please send in your “buck a show” to keep Barefoot Innovation going. And keep innovating!

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I want to thank you for all your wonderful support this year, and I wish you a peaceful and joyous holiday season to you and yours!

Jo Ann



Big Banks and Big Ideas: Citi FinTech's Andres Wolberg-Stok

Jo Ann Barefoot

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My guest today is Andres Wolberg Stok, Global Head of Policy at Citi Fin Tech. We got to know each other this year on a panel at FinXTech in New York, and something I immediately noticed is that he has a special way of talking about innovation -- a very fresh way with words. It might be because he’s lived all over the world, or because he was once a journalist -- see his biography below for a sampling of his journalism adventures, which sound like plots of action/adventure movies.

All large banks have innovation initiatives -- labs, accelerators, incubators and the like. They’re all looking at issues like blockchains, big data, artificial intelligence and human-centered design -- such as, creating a user experience that customers will actually love. Banks have plenty of innovative people, of course -- in our talk, Andres quotes CEO Michael Corbat saying that Citi is actually a technology company with a banking license. However, very few banks of any size have really innovative cultures. This is partly because most are mature organizations, and also because banking has been heavily regulated for so long, which tends to foster conservative, risk-averse cultures and decisionmaking. In today’s world of rapid technological change, banks need innovation (and many innovators need banks as well). It’s important that the big banks are investing in learning how to do this well.

Citi Fin Tech was formed in late 2015 to pursue what Andres calls “fintegration.” The impetus was a critical insight: they realized that their customers’ standards had fundamentally changed. Instead of comparing Citi to other banks, there was a new yardstick -- comparison to technology firms. That set a new, high bar.

Andres explains how they’re tackling this challenge. He describes the new kinds of skills they hire. He explains their focus on agile methodology and co-creation of products and learning to experiment. He talks about building multidisciplinary teams that work concurrently on initiatives, instead of sequentially in the old waterfall-style process that could divert an innovation from what had originally made it exciting. He talks about obsessing on the consumer experience and doing thousands of focus groups to understand what customers really think.

He also talks about how the bank should “feel in the palm of the customer’s hand.” He calls mobile an “exoskeleton” for the human mind, connecting us to all the world’s information, all the time. He talks about the issues ahead in AI, privacy, and data aggregation, including the challenges for regulators. He says the key, for regulators, is to understand the upside benefits of technology, not just the risks.

Andres explains how Citi Fin Tech works with innovators, including startups -- note that he invites people to come and work with them using their API’s and data. That site is at https://developer.citi.com.

I think my favorite insight is that banks need a new model that’s open, not closed. He says the customer relationship used to be one-to-one between a bank and its customers -- and of course, the regulations are still mostly built for that. Now, though, there are multiple parties -- consumers use apps and “modular” financial relationships. If the bank wants to continue to be at the core of that customer relationship, they will have to build an open model -- and regulators will have to change with it.

As you listen, think about how regulators and also community banks could get access to this kind of hands-on experience with financial innovation. The sooner they do, the faster the system and its customers will benefit from, as Andres puts it, “breaking a few windows and letting in fresh air and sunshine.”

More on Andres

Andres Wolberg-Stok interfaces with regulators and policymakers around the world as the Global Head of Policy for Citi FinTech, a new unit spearheading the transformation of Citi’s Global Consumer Banking business into a mobile-centric “Bank of Tomorrow”. He joined Citi from an international personal finance startup and has served in a variety of digital roles, first for Citi Latin America, then for Citi's U.S. consumer businesses, and now globally.

Andres was one of the founders of Citi FinTech from his previous role as Global Head of Emerging Platforms and Services for Citi’s Consumer businesses. In 2015, Andres turned Citi into the world's first bank with an Apple Watch app. Earlier, as Citi Consumer's first global head of mobile banking, he invented Citi Mobile Snapshot, a patented 2014 breakout feature that made Citi the first major U.S. bank to offer no-login account access.

Prior to becoming a banker, Andres was an international correspondent and senior news executive. He had tea with mass-murderer military dictators; was driven, blindfolded and at gunpoint, around the capital of Paraguay after midnight; was arrested in Tierra del Fuego on suspicion of being a British spy; and raced in a car at 120 mph along the edge of a minefield in Croatia. He finds most days in banking very manageable.

More for our listeners

Please remember to review Barefoot Innovation on ITunes, and sign up to get emails that bring you the newest podcast, newsletter, and blog posts, at jsbarefoot.com. Be sure to follow me on twitter and facebook.  And please send in your “buck a show” to keep Barefoot Innovation going.

Support our Podcast

It was great seeing lots of you at the Online Lending Policy Summit this week in Washington. I’ll hope to see many more of you at upcoming events:

We have wonderful shows coming up. One is with Braden More, who leads an innovation payments initiative at Wells Fargo. Another is with Giles Gade, CEO of Cross River Bank. And we’ll have several from Money 2020, including Nerd Wallet CEO Tim Chen and the FCA’s Chris Woolard, whom I’ll also be talking with there in a fireside chat.

Speaking of Money 2020, I’m excited that the AML regtech firm I’ve cofounded, Hummingbird, has been selected to do a startup pitch there. Be sure to come and watch!

See you there!



Innovating at a Bank : Dominic Venturo of US Bancorp

Jo Ann Barefoot

Dominic Venturo, CIO of US Bank

Visiting Dominic Venturo is a little like walking onto a James Bond movie set during the Q gadget briefing scene. There is a wonderful "wow" factor in encountering the most fascinating new technologies in banking.

The title "CIO" used to mean Chief Information Officer. It still does, of course, but today that "I" increasingly stands for another word too:  innovation. Dominic Venturo, the Chief Innovation Officer of U.S. Bank, reflects a growing trend of banks assigning specialized leaders to spearhead their work in innovative technology.

U.S. Bank actually took this step long ago. As we learned in Episode 12 with CEO Richard Davis, this is the country's fifth largest bank, and its focus on innovation caused them to name Dominic for this role eight years ago. In fact, he was such an early user of Twitter that he got the extremely cool handle @innov8tr (be sure to follow him on Twitter - he's one of my favorites).

I always love hearing the backgrounds of our podcast guests, and especially noticing how they break down between people with financial backgrounds, and people with anything but.  Dominic is a career banker with 16 years at U.S. Bank and 26 years overall in financial services product development and management, commercial risk management, commercial lending and sales management. He talked with me about how he's complemented that background with a wide mix of the other skills. He has 25 people, including many who, as he says, probably "spent a lot of time in the principal's office."

In our conversation, he talks about how to make these trouble-makers highly productive and more broadly about the "art" of making great innovation happen inside a big company.  There's a lot of conventional advice about that challenge, including the need to wall-off the innovators. Dominic agrees with that, and also emphasizes that innovation must be a full-time job - he thinks it's delusional to imagine that part-time people will somehow stay on top of today's tech trends by catching up on their reading backlog after hours. At the same time, he talks a lot about how to keep innovation focused on the practical. One key, he says, is that "innovation loves constraints." Another is not to start with an abstract white board session, dreaming up brilliant solutions in search of problems, but rather to focus on finding the real problems that need to be solved - especially problems impacting the customer. When you do that, your bank will usually want them, even if implementation is going to take some work.

At the same time, though, the practical focus has to be balanced with imagination and vision. Dominic's group tries to look 3-5 years ahead in thinking about the bank's operations, and at how people are behaving differently and doing jobs differently. They brainstorm trends and find the insights that will reshape markets and technologies.

One key to getting this balance right is to set up new kinds of success metrics. Dominic discusses the dissonance between bank cultures built to keep risks and failures extremely low, versus innovation that requires trying a lot of things that will fail.  Financial companies need new ways to keep score.

Our conversation also covered the downside risks that innovation creates for consumers; his thoughts on how regulation impacts innovation; and his advice on how to keep up with technology change. As I mentioned in my year-end wrap up, I always advise bankers to attend some fintech conferences. Dominic shares his list of favorites, including Finovate, Bank Innovation, and SXSW (I'll see you there this year, and also check out my end-of-year interview with Chuck Harris of Netspend for my own list of suggestions, including Emerge).

We also got Dominic's recommendations for fintech trend-watching: Wall Street Journal Personal Tech, TechCrunch, and qz.com.

And last but not least, again, I recommend following him on Twitter for cutting edge insight on tech trends, mixed with humor, such as on much needed respites from the content overload.

Dominic's background:

A few highlights on Dominic's background. He is frequently featured as a keynote speaker at industry conferences and has been recognized by Bank Innovation as a Top Innovator in Financial Services (#3, 2013), Bank Systems & Technology as one of "Elite 8" CIOs (2012), Twin Cities Business Magazine as one of "200 Minnesotans You Should Know" (2011), "Bank Technology News as "Mobile Banker of the Year" (2011) and as "Top 10 Innovator" (2009) and by Paybefore Magazine as a "Top 5 Innovator" (2011). He also serves on the board of directors of the Minnesota Community and Technical College Foundation. He earned a bachelor's degree in finance from Oregon State University and is a graduate of the Pacific Coast Banking School at the University of Washington Graduate School of Banking.

The Q Factor:

In our discussion, Dominic shares examples of innovation successes at U.S. Bank, including "advances in mobile payments, voice bio-metrics, tokenization and integrated mobile and web commerce solutions." As often happens, though, I found that our discussion got even more interesting after we turned off the microphone. He showed me an amazing product demo that's still embargoed but that really wowed me. And we talked about the Internet of Things. And then, he admired my iPhone 6s - we met just after they came out, and I'd gotten one before he did. He started talking about the Live Photo tool, which he described as "Harry Potter feature."  As often happens with me, I had a cool feature on my phone without even realizing it. So we recorded a little bonus feature as he showed me how to make a photo animation that looks a bit like the living portraits in Harry Potter's world. These are fun, as is my Google Photo tool dreaming up little animations for me using the photos I've taken. If you have Live Photo and don't know how to use it, here it is

Enjoy my conversation with Dominic Venturo.


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Richard Davis, President and CEO of U.S. Bancorp

Jo Ann Barefoot

Richard Davis grew up in Hollywood and entered the banking world on his 18th birthday as a teller. Today, at age 57, he leads America’s 5th largest bank as Chairman and CEO of U.S. Bancorp – parent company of U.S. Bank. Headquartered in Minneapolis, U.S. Bancorp has over $410 billion in assets and businesses across the United States, Canada and Europe, including over 3,000 full-service banking offices and 5,000 ATMs in 25 states.

This traditional bank model is now also the foundation for active innovation. U.S. Bank appointed its Chief Innovation Officer, Dominic Venturo, a decade ago (I highly recommend following Dominic on Twitter @innov8tr). They are active in payments technologies, and the holding company owns Elavon, which recently opened a mobile innovation center in Atlanta called “The Grove” focused on “new technologies that enable merchants to accept payments via mobile devices while also ensuring the ease of use and safety of the transaction from the customer’s perspective.”

Richard’s leadership earned praise through the financial crisis and its aftermath, including being named “2010 Banker of the Year” by American Banker. The father of three adult children and with three grandkids, he is highly active in civic efforts and philanthropy, including serving on the boards of the Twin Cities YMCA, Minneapolis Art Institute, University of Minnesota Foundation, and National American Red Cross, among many others. He has been the recipient of the President’s Lifetime Volunteer Service Award, while U.S. Bancorp and its employees earned the 2011 Spirit of America Award, the highest honor bestowed on a company by United Way. The company also received the 2013 Freedom award, the U.S. Department of Defense’s highest award for employers for supporting employees who serve in the National Guard and Reserve.

In 2011 Richard received the Henrickson’s Award for Ethical Leadership. In 2015, U.S. Bank was named as a World’s Most Ethical Company by the Ethisphere Institute, the global leader in defining and advancing the standards of ethical business practices.

In my conversation with Richard, he wove together all these themes of business, innovation, and ethics. More than any of our guests thus far, he voices a full-throated faith in the future of retail bank banking -- including branches in lower-income communities. At the same time, he speaks thoughtfully about the need for innovation in the branch and beyond (while warning against falling in love with every new idea).  

He also offers concrete advice for regulators on how to assure that innovation can flourish. And he talks inspiringly about the need for banks to rebuild the public’s trust in them, one customer at a time. He says customers are “the banks’ to lose,” and that, “If it’s good for the industry, it is probably worth doing.”

Richard’s perspective is an invaluable contribution to our search for better consumer financial solutions. Speaking from the vantage point of a lifelong banker at the helm of one of America’s largest and most successful banking companies, he shares his thinking about what to keep and what to change, as the industry and its customers face continuous change.

For more on U.S. Bank, click here.

Enjoy Episode 12

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