The 5 Myths Preventing Bank Fintech Innovation

Banks are now big complex machines that risk losing sight of why the existed in the first place.  Banks protect your money (take deposits) and in return are able to lend some of that to help the economy grow. Somehow we ended up with organisations employing 100s of thousands of people & riddled with complexity.

Time is passing these organisations by in their current form.  What should really worry you if you’re running a bank is how customers are trending to not recommend you and want to leave.


I read a great quote from Seth Godin this morning:

“…Jefferson, Edison, Ford… most of these radicals would not recognize the institutions that have been built over time.

The question each of us has to answer about the institution we care about is: Does this place exist to maintain and perpetuate the status quo, or am I here to do the work that the radical founder had in mind when we started?

First principles. The quest for growth, or for change, or for justice. The ability, perhaps the desire, to seek out things that feel risky.

All of us are part of organizations that were started by outliers, by radicals, by people who cared more about making a difference than fitting in.” – Seth Godin

There are 5 Myths Preventing Banks from embracing the Fintech revolution

I put it to you that there are a set of beliefs about banking that is holding back the entire industry.  Banks, consultants and their vendors…

  1. We Are Already Very Innovative
  2. We Can’t Use “new” Technology Because it’s Not Secure
  3. Our Future is an “Omni Channel” Strategy
  4. Regulation Prevents Innovation
  5. We Will Become a Tech Company

Let’s challenge some of these beliefs…

Myth 1: We Are Already Very Innovative

For some time bank efforts in innovation have been met with skepticism. David Brear pointed out recently that if you look at the headlines banks are all supposedly spending $1Bn+ each on technology and innovation.

For all of that money there isn’t much to show for it! We hear lots about a mobile app or a venture fund.  Yet when it comes to real measures of success, there is silence. Sure they’ll talk about how many users they have, but how engaged are those users? How profitable?

CapGemeni reported recently that banks digital products aren’t delivering cost savings and as an experience are well below customers expectations.  Fintech disruptors ready to hoover up customers with far better experiences.

In the start-up world there are two key metrics

  1. MAU (sometimes DAU) “Monthly Active Users”,
  2. ARPU “Average Revenue Per User”.

I’ve seen many mobile developments across the European banking sector since 2008 and in that near decade, never once heard these terms inside a bank or it’s vendor community.

Banks desperately want to appear innovative, but getting anything innovative done is very hard for them. As I pointed out in the previous post – Innovation by Committee is not effective. The open secret is that mobile services are table stakes, but to me they’re such a wasted opportunity. Brett King talks about Moven Bank’s mobile only customer acquisition being less than 10% the cost of a bank branch customer acquisition.  Yet banks cannot deliver on the experience customers want in these channels.

Banks are spending billions, not taking cost out and missing consumer expectations

  • What if banks had a mobile only product like Moven?
  • What could they learn about that experience?

Myth 2: We can’t use “new” technology because it’s not secure

Let’s be clear. Security is paramount in banking. The problem here is the perception of security vs the reality. Let’s say you try to
implement Apple TouchID so people can login with their finger print (purely hypothetical – and to prove a point)

Typical security consultant responses include “but Apple devices can be jailbroken” and “the finger prints aren’t stored securely” from people paid £600 a day to point out risks but not offer solutions. (This isn’t exclusively a security consultant concern no doubt there were an army of other risk teams who chimed in too). Raising an objection is seen as “job done” instead of finding a way to make the better experience work.


These objections typically take a possibility and turn that into a probability. Confusing these two is criminal.

Many years ago I once heard an executive for a European bank say “but what does analytics about product usage give me that I don’t already have? – It gives you evidence. Evidence you can use to make a decision. The lack of evidence not only prevents you from moving to TouchID, if you don’t accept that the CAP reader has to stay then your sponsor has to sign up to a £10M risk.


When £10M is more than the cost of the entire project by 10x, the security objections mean there’s no way to launch the product, because of a hypothetical paper based exercise.

… rinse and repeat – for every innovation.

Without evidence there is no way to see what small things can make a huge difference to product success. Amazon famously discovered a 0.1% page load time improvement had a significant impact on sales. Having used just about every digital banking product, I wonder how much of that thinking is being applied?

  • What if banks used A/B testing here?
  • Could they take a segment of customers and trial something, and then let the evidence decide if change is required?
  • How could vendors support this?
  • How could the consultants promote this idea?

Myth 3: Our Future is an “Omni Channel” Strategy

It’s well known bank systems are old and resemble spaghetti.

You can’t give a great customer experience on mobile if your core system can’t keep up with the mobile app. This is why innovators are able to offer a better experience. They’re starting from scratch and solving a need end to end.

Over the past decade adding an online “channel” has sort of worked. Online banking, mobile banking were delivered initial results. This lead to a perception that when innovation comes, banks should react by creating a new channel above the core service. Yet as the CapGemeni report states – this game is up.  Digital Channel use has stagnated, and is not delivering cost reductions or better experiences.  It is failing.

Innovation isn’t something you do at the edges. It start’s with the key platforms and works out.

Thinking in channels, suggests the customer experience can be carved off from the core product experience. They are the same thing. It’s the careful union of the core and the digital front end that creates an experience. The term Omni Channel would suggest more investment in the front ends, mobile apps etc.

Problem: That’s creating more spaghetti. Creating more complexity. Creating more cost. Creating a disjointed experience.

Re-architecting the core not only gives your front end so much more capability, it also unleashes innovations that have promised so much but delivered so little like “Big Data”.

  • What will it take to get bankers to accept that the core has to change?
  • Can the amounts bank spend on “tech” be put to better use?

Myth 4: Regulation Prevents Innovation

Banks have had a kicking from regulators in recent years. Approaching the regulator is a tricky thing to do for a bank, the
regulator will tell a bank what the rules are but not how to implement them.

When faced with a spiders web of different regulations the banks react by employing a small army of specialists and ensuring all those
specialists give advice. That advice is then logged in giant spreadsheets to be tracked and traced. Often this means when a new regulation comes out that is designed to support a particular type of customer (small businesses, innovators, money service businesses – take your pick), it actually has the opposite effect. The customer type becomes a “hot topic” and anything in that sector goes under the microscope and is poured over by specialists tracking things on spreadsheets.

The same happens with new products. Banks look at every new idea that crosses their radar as if it’s rolling out a new current account product to the entire customer base. The irony here is it’s not the regulation that’s prevented the innovation (although the lack of guidance from regulators about “how to implement” doesn’t help), it’s how banks react to it. With the only tool they have.


The irony is forcing everyone to do mandatory training, having committees, councils, Excos, Manco’s and Steerco’s hasn’t actually fixed many of the core problems they’re intended to fix. They make banks feel more effective and provide spreadsheets for the regulators to look at…

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing you did yesterday and expecting a different result.

I believe there is a recognition of this issue in some corners of the industry and regulator community, and some ideas about how to change it. If banks are going to innovate though, they’re going to have to internalise the idea of experimentation.

  • What if banks took ideas like A/B testing of new products to the regulator?
  • What if different ways of bringing new products to market were trialled in small / low risk areas?

Myth 5: We Will Become a Tech Company

This is a noble aim, but at the risk of going against previous advice, perhaps it’s better to embrace Tech in ways that focus on the core of
what banks are good at: banking. If any Tech company spent $1Bn on tech and had so little to show for it, investors would revolt.
Fortunately, banking is a profitable business if you have some scale.   Therefore the question is, how do you maximise that investment to benefit what already bank does?

My own view is banks should focus on being banks but come
into this century digitally.

I’ve been a proponent for a long time that banks need to focus on making their core platforms as easy to integrate with as possible and less on “bundling” value. The fear here is the 1990s thinking that being a “wholesale bank” is the same as being commoditised and will erode revenue and margins. The inverse is also true, this is the path to volume and precisely how banks can take advantage of the wave of Fintech Innovators.  Fintech innovators will migrate to the easiest to use bank platform.

BBVA and Credit Agricole have app stores now, but these are just scratching the surface of what’s possible. The bank as a platform allows the bank to focus on what’s really important: managing the liquidity. Innovators will do the front end far better than a bank can ever and take the banking sectors products to new markets and new verticals.

The icing on the cake of thinking as a wholesale platform business is that your retail (both to consumer and corporate) parts of the bank would have a much more flexible set of choices for how to build out the customer experience. Fintech is a giant opportunity not being taken advantage of. The fintech disruptors are now doing the individual products better than the banks can. I think this is a good thing. They all ultimately need a bank behind the scenes, but are able to offer better, more targeted customer experiences.

The game is attracting deposits and liquidity.  Learn from tech companies, but aspire to be a great bank.

  • What if banks focussed on their core and stopped trying to be Apple?
  • Is volume and opening up to 3rd party innovation a strategy banks are missing?

Take Away’s

  • Banks aren’t doing innovation right but they could if they just focus on what they’re good at
  • Challenging for usability has to come from the very top. It’s a board level issue.
  • There is no excuse, core platform investment is now mission critical.
  • Experimentation will help manage new customer segments
  • But don’t try to be a tech company – be a bank that embraces some good tech company ideas

I speculate that by investing in the core, many of the usability and security concerns would be eased. The key here is culture. Culture eats strategy. Knowing when to not use miles of spreadsheets and when to experiment is what will unblock the user experience woes they currently suffer from.

What are your thoughts?

  • Tarik Husain

    Agree 100% with this. When a board member of a large bank recently asked me ‘I have heard all this need for innovation, customer focus, etc, so what’s stopping us doing it’. I replied ‘you are’. Customers will ultimately move to a financial institution that gives them more then a shiny safe to keep their money in :)

  • Chris Greacen

    We’ve seen all of these in-action with our incumbent fintech clients (not just banks). There are many organizations with the will to change, but lack the skills. It’s interesting that there are usually pretty big organizational changes that are necessary in addition to tooling changes and also noteworthy that by embracing these changes, a bank may be able to attract and retain individuals with the kinds of skills to drive real innovation.

  • Spiros Margaris

    GREAT ARTICLE AND INSIGHTS. Myths that hold no truth anymore. Good insights for #fintech and #banks who are open to change and opportunities.

  • guest1

    Although I don’t agree with many points in the article, the key focused 5 myths are very nice topics to be discussed about.

  • RedCloud

    Really intelligent and considered article . Completely agree, and certainly it’s what our bank customers tell us.

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