Potential: Revealed

Strategic Thinking, Innovative Ideas, Growth Marketing, and Revealing of Potential

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Recent Commentary: Person-to-Person Payments (P2P)

For a client recently I published some commentary on recent news in the financial services technology (Fintech) market.  Just sharing the publicly available portions here for your interest – and of course comments!

Here’s the second one (the first is here):

clearXchange P2P Next in Long Line of Mostly Unsuccessful Mega Bank Consortiums

On May 25, 2011  Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo announced the launch of a joint venture — clearXchange — which will enable their customers to move money using just a mobile number or e-mail address. A direct competitive move versus eBay’s Paypal unit. And threatening Person to Person (P2P) offerings from Fiserv (NASDAQ:FISV) (ZashPay), PopMoney (CashEdge), as well as money transfer players such as MoneyGram (NYSE:MGI), Western Union (NYSE:WU), Obopay and Fundamo.

The announcement garnered significant attention of course due to the banks involved.

Previous bank consortiums as mentioned in the article (e.g., Spectrum, Pariter, ISIS) have a lousy track record for a reason. Innovation and market success requires many characteristics such as capital – which the big banks have, of course – plus nimbleness and persistence in the face of inevitable challenges and failures along the way — which the big banks generally lack on an individual basis. I never see how the latter gets overcome if a group of mega banks simply band together as a “committee”.

P2P payments as the author notes have found success only where some friction in the marketplace could be reduced for a price the market would pay – providing for a sustainable, relatively defensible revenue model such as Paypal did with small/micro-sized merchant payments (e.g., eBay sellers and their auctioned merchandise).

I am unclear that this requirement is met with P2P where the P’s are really that, “persons” — indeed as the author points out this is a sort of last mile problem/opportunity in the payments market place. But is there enough friction with current methods (e.g, checks, cash) and processes (e.g., the infrequent incidence of paying another person such as a baby sitter or repaying a friend for picking up the drink tab last night) to offer sufficient latent demand that is ready to be met?

If successful in some way though, clearXchange would provide a positive force if they are a “network amongst networks” which interconnect to facilitate the critical mass reach that will eventually be required for P2P to become more mainstream.

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Recent Commentary: E-Banking

For a client recently I published some commentary on recent news in the financial services technology (Fintech) market.  Just sharing the publicly available portions here for your interest – and of course comments!

Here’s the first one …

Online Banking Increases Lead While Mobile Banking Continues to Lag

Online Banking (OLB) is far ahead now — 55% v. 28% for branch v. 2% for mobile — as the most satisfying channel for retail banking consumers according to May 2011 study from Foresee. Cautiously good news for leading providers like Fiserv (FISV), Intuit (INTU), Jack Henry (JKHY).

OLB’s main competition (or complement) is the branch. Together they make up nearly 75% of the channel preference for retail consumers. Financial services (FI) firms should continue to see these channels as complementary, driving as much customer interaction as possible to electronic channels but integrating the experience with the branch and other personal touch points rather than trying to fully replace them.

Mobile continues to lag because it is often erroneously sought as an OLB or branch channel replacement (to further drive out service costs and serve younger demographic segments). Since it is not a replacement at all, it falls naturally short of retail banking customer expectations and needs, and in turn harms its value proposition.

Mobile is more likely a successor (or complement) to the ATM and call center – and at best a complement to the online channel. Until some day far in the future, if a killer mobile device form factor emerges, mobile banking is likely to be over-hyped and under-performing. The aforementioned FinTech firms plus others such as ClairMail, FireThorn (Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM)), mFoundry, the telcos are heavily invested in mobile banking technologies and apps — and their strategies need to be well crafted or they’ll continue to miss the mark and expectations.

This will mean for foreseeable future mobile banking will at best grow to 15% penetration as the “preferred” retail banking channel. A better strategy is a focused and integrated set of functionality centered around payments and customer service.

An online bank — as a stand alone or as the flag ship of retail strategy for a brick and mortar FI — done right has a significant and receptive market awaiting it. . .

Payments Evolution Continues

Sorry for the delays between posts. Much has been going on for me. Recently I was working with a client on an assessment for where payments, especially online bill payment offered particularly by financial institutions. I turned part of it into a white and will share that here. Thanks for giving it a read and providing feedback!

The Digital Transformation – The Evolution Continues In Electronic Bill Payment

The digital transformation is changing everything – how we obtain and consume information, how we interact with one another and how we conduct business. The digital transformation has been evolving for several decades and it is easy to lose track of its impact in various parts of our personal lives and business dealings. Its impact is so pervasive that it requires stepping back and focusing to see the particular impact in any one area since pervasive does not equate to uniform. For example, in the area of bill payments the impact of the digital transformation has been profound but is still evolving and hardly complete.

One way to see both the impact and the evolution is to focus on the payments value chain. As a simple framework, think of it as a chain starting with payors (Originators), ending with payees (Receivers) and in the digital realm, passing through and facilitated by intermediaries such as Payment Networks. This payments value chain is changing at each stage. Players in this value chain, particularly financial institutions and payment network firms, will need to understand the current situation, clearly understand the developing changes across the value chain, and make wise choices in order to be relevant, competitive and win as the digital transformation plays out.

The Current Situation

The digital transformation is changing how consumers listen to music, how they shop, how they plan vacations, how they manage their money and how they make payments. As evidence, according to a recent Fiserv consumer research study, Internet Banking (36%) handily tops Branches (25%), ATMs (15%) and all other (24%) interaction channels as the preferred channel for U.S. financial services customers. The widespread adoption of mobile phones is further accelerating change. An emerging factor is the rapid growth in use of Smartphones. In 2010 there were nearly 60 million adults in the U.S. with a Smartphone and by 2014 this is expected to more than double to 129 million according to a recent Javelin Research study. Smartphones are a possible game changing device with their ability to provide an intelligent but easy to use user experience, always-on access and capabilities that facilitate several options for making payments while on the go. Altogether the digital transformation places increasing demands on financial institutions, businesses and their financial technology partners to both meet the expectations of consumers and to take advantage of the possibilities these changes may offer.

As expected these digital channels and devices are transforming payment options and choices. Overall they have driven the move from paper (and offline) models to electronic and online. Over the past two decades bills paid with checks, stamps and envelopes have been replaced by electronic bill payments made directly at biller sites or at consolidated sites such as a financial institution. Cash at the point of sale has been replaced by debit and credit cards and all sorts of pre-paid cards. Cash and checks used to pay friends, relatives and the babysitter is being replaced by electronic person-to-person payments. All of these developments, though, continue to march ahead, going mobile and making them ever more convenient and available on-demand. Correspondingly this further raises the bar on the level of intelligence, service reliability and security required. Clearly the move to electronic payments continues but is hardly complete. A recent study by a payments research and consulting firm estimated that from 2009 to 2014 over 11 billion paper (cash and checks) payments will move to electronic payments. Where those payments will go and who will benefit depends upon choices made by the players in the payments value chain.

Opportunities in the Payments Value Chain

Fleshing out the reference earlier to the payments value chain, a simple, traditional depiction begins with Originators, such as consumers, businesses and governments with an obligation to pay some other party. It also includes Receivers which are the “other party” and can also be consumers, businesses and government. The payments made by Originators are facilitated in some way by a Payment Network which connects the Originators and Receivers, moves information and money to handle settlement, and provides various levels of required security. Specifically in the electronic bill payment arena, value was initially created by giving Originators – largely consumers — more convenient options versus the routine of writing checks, purchasing a stamp and putting an envelope in the mail. The value to Receivers – also called Billers – came mainly from more timely payments, and cost savings due to reduced risk and more efficient processing with electronically received payments. The Payment Networks in the middle have been the drivers of these benefits enjoyed at the ends of the value chain. Through reach and scale they have offered low cost yet fast, reliable and highly secure payment services. The value provided however is limited and as electronic bill payment has emerged into the mainstream it has become commodity-like in growth and margins. 

Relative to potential value, the consumers who have adopted electronic bill payment have received a disproportionate benefit; saving substantial time, money and increasing their security. Despite this, still less than 50% of online banking users – those showing a clear interest in dealing with their bank electronically – use their financial institution’s online bill payment service. Over 60% of the electronic bills that could be presented to those who use online bill payment go unsubscribed and are never viewed each month.

The Billers have yet to receive, at least in significant proportion, a number of potential benefits such as richer and more standard information flows and as just noted with the lagging adoption of bill presentment, the elimination of paper from billing side of the payment cycle. The value potential, however, is real and substantial. A study done for a very large cable company identified over $100 million in annual savings from the application of intelligence available from the mining of bill payment data (e.g., understanding payment channel and type choices and precisely guiding subscribers’ choices), and an equally sizable amount of savings from elimination of monthly paper bills.

Financial institutions, which have been the allies of the Payment Networks have arguably benefited more so than the Billers but have also borne most of the cost of providing the service. Compounding the challenge, the benefits the Financial Institutions enjoy are indirect and soft since bill payment is typically provided for free and generates no direct revenue.

While the Biller benefits are lacking and the Financial Institutions find the benefits to be soft, the value to consumers is on a new, upward trend – driven largely by developments such as those described earlier with the widespread adoption of Smartphones. In turn these enhanced services are likely to further raise the costs of the Billers and the Financial Institutions and their Payment Network allies as they scramble to keep up with consumer demands, making the precise ROI even more elusive.

Winning Strategies

Returning then to the depiction of the payments value chain as a three part process, consumer and billers at the two ends and the payment network and financial institutions in the middle, going forward the opportunity for new value creation calls for a focus away from the middle and outward toward the two ends where emerging and unmet needs clearly exist. For consumers as the Originators there are still unmet needs in making basic electronic bill payment compelling for mainstream households. While a majority of households now pay at least one bill online at either the Biller or through their financial institution it remains a minority that have made the commitment to paying most or all of their bills this way. As mentioned earlier, a far larger number of electronic bills could be presented to online customers which would eliminate paper and further enhance security (with reduced identity theft).

The winners in the race to capture these potential consumer users and their transactions will recognize that existing choices must be expanded both in terms of where online bills can be received and paid, particularly on Smartphone devices and generally everything mobile, and choices about how the payment is made such as expanding to include as many payment options as possible and moving to even faster payment speeds. There are information-based opportunities as well, with examples including enhanced financial management tools and alerts, which can help consumers better manage and increase control over their household cash flow. The stepped up value proposition may in turn provide a firmer foundation for charging a fee for online bill payment and creating a more intense electronic relationship. A relationship which offers richer data that can be tapped for deeper insights financial institutions can leverage to improve cross-sell and enhance customer profitability.

On the Biller side, unlocking latent consumer demand for electronic bills is a clear opportunity. In addition, Billers today face a complex array of payment streams coming to them which are neither uniform in their quality nor the quantity and value of the information that accompanies them. Billing and accounts receivable systems while obscure are the life blood of consumer oriented companies such as energy and telecom, cable, insurance and financial services and any improvements made by payment networks that reduce errors and speed revenue collection cycles will be eagerly received. The winners will recognize this opportunity and work to streamline their information flows to Billers and provide easier ways to integrate and facilitate straight-through processing. They will also enrich the data that is transmitted including pre-processed analytics that Billers can act upon directly or integrate into their own data analytics engines and customer marketing systems for use in up-sell and cross-sell, risk and fraud management, and improving customer loyalty.

Together these types of improvements offer the promise of a more widely adopted and active value chain where richer payment and information flows move more quickly, nearing real time. In turn, latent and highly valuable demand at the ends of the payment value chain can be unlocked and monetized by those that compete in the race to provide the winning value proposition.

Happy Customer

Here’s a two-fer: a customer of mine gaining new, happy customers. Making my customer, of course, happy too! See the customer reviews on Salesforce.com’s Appexchange (like on the “Review” tab). DecipherTech is a provider of sales analytics solutions, offering a truly innovative “cloud computing” datawarehouse application, delivered in a Software as a Service (SaaS)model. DecipherTech really applied the approaches I’ve been writing about (hopefully not too preach-ingly) over the past year about being practical with your strategy (so you can understand it and act quickly), defining your target market clearly (so you know where you want to go), and having focus and discipline in your marketing execution.

An interesting aspect of their business is offering their SaaS solution on Salesforce.com’s Appexchange. It gives access to literally millions of potential customers but also requires that customers can write reviews of your product for all to see — similar to the consumer world of eBay and Amazon, but relatively new and possibly intimidating, in the B2B world.

But if you are executing your strategy and business plans with confidence – you’ve got nothing to fear!

Where do we want to go?

This is the third in a series on developing a “practical strategy”.  So far we’ve looked at two of the five basic questions that can be used as a framework for building and testing the strategy of an organization. The last three questions we’ll cover in this post.

The first two questions are “what business are we in?” and “where is the market going?” These questions serve to both build upon the vision which was developed (described in the first post ) and to test it in a practical way. The final three are “Where do we want to go?”, “How will we win?”, and “How will we get there?”. If the vision and the first two questions are for framing and testing then these last three are to useful for building out the details and getting ready to launch.

Picking up from the last post where the market landscape and strategic choices were developed the next step is to make those choices and identify the possible outcomes in order to be precise with the strategy. It is easy to be wishy-washy (sorry for use of such a jargon-laden term!) or settle for being too-high level. After all this is just the “strategy” and details can come later, right? Not right! Sure more details will come later in iterative execution phases and over time but forcing out specificity at this point is very valuable. Otherwise you can easily develop an elegant and logically sound strategy that still fails in the real world.

For example, while developing long term strategy at CheckFree, the leading provider of outsourced online banking and bill pay to U.S. financial institutions, the market — of both consumers who used it and the banks who provided it to them — was rapidly coming to accept such applications as mainstream (a classic sign of  market “maturity”). But there was clear difference in the states of the two key market segments that made up the value chain for CheckFree. One segment, the bank market, was more mature and the competition was likely to force price into being a key competitive issue. Consumers, the other key segment, were still in the early stages of mainstream adoption. Plus a key variable was not simply adoption (what % of households were paying bills online) but penetration (what % of all household bills were being paid online — a sort of share of “bill payment wallet”).

The adoption metric was headed to and beyond 15% (and was at 30% at the leading bank in the U.S.) but the share of wallet was less than 5%. A clear choice on “where do we want to go?” was made: focus on the consumer. Clearly it seemed that there was both a significant unanswered challenge – how to get adopting households to pay all of their bills online through their bank — plus significant upside (increasing penetration offered a rich pool of latent, recurring revenue).

Turning to “how will we win?”: as with all of these questions they are best used in companion and with one another in an iterative manner. For instance, if we had chosen, instead, to give primacy to the bank market’s needs and compete on dimensions of traditional IT outsourcing — such as low cost, scale and quality — we felt we could win yet these were more mature areas and risk of commoditization was high (and price being a likely, and recurring, battleground). When we thought through our choice to compete with a consumer-focused strategy we were betting on this “pulling” through the banks and positioning us as clearly differentiated and preferred option in any competitive situation. The thinking was: if we could be the world-class experts in consumer adoption we were purposely choosing a more difficult yet competitively defensible path. We believed this competitive stratgegy would further raise switching costs and lock in market share with banks who chose us — and serve to help us avoid competing on price.

The last question, “How will we get there?” seems a little anticlimatic. This is by design. As I’ve mentioned previously a risk in developing strategy (amongst many!) can be that it is not practical (e.g., too high level, non-specific, hedges or is wishy-washy). If we’ve been thorough in answering and iterating through the vision and the first four questions the we’ll combat the impractical through the explicit development of a plan to accomplish the chosen strategy. The plan must include a clear set of discrete steps, time-phased and integrated across necessary functional or other organizational boundaries, assign specific accountable owners, and designate expected outcomes which become goals and metrics upon which to review and judge progress of the strategy execution and success of its outcomes. Wrappered around this methodology for developing practical strategy should be some sort of on-going strategic review, discussion and revision process (which I might blog about some other day). I like developing a 2 to 3 year strategy and then reviewing it every quarter on a rolling basis.

That’s it. I would welcome Comments from friends of my blog and from those just passing by and here for the first time.    Randy

What business are we in?

Following on from the previous post, and the second in this series on developing a “practical strategy”, there are five basic questions that can be used as a framework for building and testing the strategy for an organization. I will cover two of them in this post and the rest in a post or two over the next few weeks.

The first two are “what business are we in?” and “where is the market going?” These questions serve to both build upon the vision which was developed (described in the first post ) and to test it in a practical way. The thinking being: the vision has to not just read nicely and seem logical but you should be able to deconstruct it and determine its practical applicability.

For example, here’s a real-world vision statement: We help mid-size businesses improve their Pipeline-to-Profitability (“P2P”) cycle. Our business intelligence solutions are easy to use, offer immediate value and require minimal investment, using existing systems and data sources. For this company, it was a significant turning point to re-define their business in this way. Previously they were more me-too as a business intelligence software provider delivering custom solutions in the “small to medium” (SMB) market. This was a good business but to grow it and to develop efficient marketing strategy and execution behind it was actually difficult because “what business are we in? “ resulted in an answer that was too broad and undifferentiated.

Above I underlined some key elements of their new vision. Each of these were chosen carefully and were backed by analysis, discussion and judgment to test whether they gave clear guidance about what business are they really in and whether data could be gathered which indicated where the market was going. As a product and marketing professional, having clear sets of facts and decisions about these two elements is a big advantage – and too-often they are not clearly available as marketing strategy is developed.

I’ll discuss just a couple of the key elements of the new vision from above to illustrate:

Mid-size – depending upon the definition of “small to medium size (SMB) business” there are at least 6.6 million (and some reports put the number at 20+ million if you include part time, SOHO and cash-only businesses) in the U.S. There’s a fair amount of hype about the potential for pursuing and selling to this somewhat untapped and very large B2B segment. Some iterative analysis and pondering of readily available data on this market showed us that the larger revenue size (what we came to call “mid-size”) businesses were more readily identifiable (e.g., segmented into industry categories) and still represented a significant market (625,000 in the U.S.).

Pipeline to Profitability – the company had developed some good off-the-shelf analytics that could be used by sales management to better understand their sales performance and provide insight that can improve effectiveness and results. The sales cycle though is a generic concept and varies widely across businesses due to product mix, complexity, price, market segments and channels. Some study of the marketplace indicated though that the sales pipeline – the narrow set of sales steps used to move a “qualified” prospect through to final sale – was a universal issue and the heart beat of any sales process. It was also well-defined and lent itself to simple analytics that yielded significant (i.e., high value) insights. Most importantly it was generally poorly served in terms of linking the management of the sales pipeline to profitable outcomes. Most solutions on the market totally ignored this critical component.

Immediate Value – later on you’ll learn that this was the chosen “key differentiator”. Every business or organization needs a key differentiator – ideally just one (that is so powerful that if well chosen and executed it is sufficient) to anchor the focus of the business, including technology and product investments, marketing messages and delivery or supply chain operations, as those apply.  Much of what happens, or more accurately doesn’t happen, in business intelligence solutions and particularly in the CRM or sales arena is that value is not immediately delivered. Rather data (e.g., reports, alerts) is delivered slowly after much effort (and investment) and typically is not exactly (in form or content) what is needed by end users such as busy sales managers and executive managers. So rounds of iterations and alterations take place in search of the value and satisfaction required to ensure the solution will actually be deployed and used. This lag in achieving value – some call it ROI — and reasons for the lag are too numerous to go into here. It simply became clear that if value could be delivered “immediately” (the initial goal is within two days and long term goal is truly immediate) there was a void in the market and competitive differentiation could be clearly articulated and achieved.

Using these two questions in an iterative fashion is the best approach. Take each key element of the vision, ask: “what business are we in?” if we use that element. Then gather some external market data to ask further: “where is the market going?” relative to this key element – and you will rather rapidly shape, focus and finalize the business vision and also build up the fact-base behind it. This should give any business confidence that it is on the right track and once we are done with our five questions, should give the business confidence to pursue the entire vision with high energy and the proper amount of investment to achieve success.

Practical Strategy

True to my intent, I have written somewhat eclectically about discovering potential, looking ahead, thinking critically and objectively and wanted to get back to a business-oriented mode for a few posts.

Many organizations (and individuals!) are scratching their heads trying to figure out how to deal with our current, unique and challenging circumstances. But they are also trying to plan for the future (with optimism that “this too shall pass” and wanting to be ready for the next set of opportunities and challenges). I applaud any form of optimism! And so, I have a practical tool for use in getting some strategic thinking and planning done, which seems especially useful in these times as an overdone, over-wrought approach will be overkill when “directionally correct” might be all that is needed until some of the uncertainties and issues of the current time pass. I would argue though that even in more certain times, the approach I’ll write about in this and subsequent posts is useful and gets most any organization beyond being stuck in the present and looking ahead with a critical and purposeful eye.

The approach I advocate is squarely focused on getting a specific vision and strategy down on paper — and will serve as a very powerful tool to also use in successive iterations (a critical component of the strategy process as a one-time vision and strategy exercise might not even be worth the effort).

What I also like about this approach is that it uses language and key words that were not “strategy double-speak” and won’t put off the executives and other participants who often tune out of a strategy exercise because of preconceived notions about strategy, consultants, etc. (i.e., “too complicated”, “too high level”, “not executable”).  

The approach also ensures completeness without being overly complex and strenuous as a management team exercise. I often say when about to embark on this process that I want the team to “work out”, not “wear out”, their thinking capacity.

I call it Practical Strategy because of the definition of the word “practical”: \ˈprak-ti-kəl\, adj., useful and no-nonsense.

There are two basic steps to the process, with the second working through and answering a series of questions. I’ll summarize the first step in this post, and then work through the second part and the questions in a couple of subsequent posts.  The first step is to articulate a long range vision for the business. This can sound too simple on the surface. A good vision is not just a statement that gets put onto posters, inside annual reports, or laminated on cards handed out to employees and customers. Getting it right is hard work but needn’t be a too-long effort. It must be clear, specific and define the place for the business to aspire reaching (but with no set time horizon). A test will be that a good vision statement can be decomposed and set the boundaries for and guide the answering of the subsequent questions in this exercise. If it fails this basic test, the vision is not practical and should be refined.

I’ll give an example. The practical vision for Domino’s Pizza: “Make and deliver a fresh, hot, high-quality pizza to the customer’s home within 30 minutes or less.” Several things:
– this makes clear what value is to be delivered – fresh, hot and high-quality. Any one of these may be sufficient, why choose all three? Knowing why make subsequent decisions about business model, operational strategies and so forth quite clear

– a key differentiator is articulated – 30 minutes or less (and in their advertising they backed this with a guarantee-or-free offer)

– a key operational characteristic is defined – to the customer’s home. If taken literally (which they did), this kept them focused on the home delivery model and away from building sit-down or walk-in or stores, and has clear direction for their location and logistics strategies. 

– even the omission of something can be useful — the vision only mentions pizza. No mention of other products or open-ended placeholders for other foods or items that could be thrown in. It is about pizza, plain and simple.

Not all businesses are as simple as Domino’s. Or is it that not all businesses go to trouble of defining their businesses in such clear and practical ways? I’m sure the answer is in the middle somewhere but I will argue it falls toward the latter.

As always I welcome your feedback and look for a post soon on the first of the questions that must be answered to complete the rest of the Practical Strategy process.