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A Gen Xer on the Future of FinTech

June 13, 2016

Sleepy beagle dog in funny glasses near laptop

I’m not a millennial…let’s get that out of the way quickly.

Matter of fact, I turned 41 this morning and take a multivitamin so I’m definitely not a millennial.

I think I also pulled a hammie last week.

While taking my vitamin.

But, I give a sh*t about millennials and financial services because I have been a young banking professional who had to learn everything financial himself. Who had to learn to balance a $19k annual salary with bills, who had to move back home for a time after college graduation, who had student loan debt, who hated the time requirements of getting financially educated on my already time-limited life.

And all the while I was trying to fall in love (check), get married (check), buy a home (check), get pets (check, check, and check), and have kids (check, check, and check).

While I was doing all of this growing up, I was also growing up in the financial services industry.

I started as a copywriter for accounts like Capital One and BB&T, then managed a creative department whose sole focus was to understand what makes people change banks and get these consumers to select our clients, to finally ending up in sales where I sold holistic million dollar customer acquisition strategies that covered everything from how to design your checking account menu so there’s something easy to sell for every demographic, to front-line sales training, to direct marketing that gave away free gifts with every checking account.

Despite my success during that time “getting ahead,” it felt like a celebration of horsesh*t (feel free to tweet this) as we were also optimizing our bank clients’ overdraft fees and back office tactics like posting high to low and our clients were “killin it” when it came to optimizing fee income.

How did we sleep at night you may ask?

On piles of money like this:

But I did have a conscience.

And that lead to a question.

Where does the consumer go for great information about getting ahead when it seems as if the very system meant to support them (banking) was in many ways against them?

The easy answer was financial literacy. But who wants that?

We all want the outcomes but without the work. My problem with literacy is that it’s slow and painful and that it knowingly or unknowingly propagates a system that doesn’t give a sh*t about the customer.

Well I give a sh*t. I give many sh*ts! And we’re too far a long technologically and with smart phone adoption to rely on the systems of the past.

If you need to do 10 hours of work to get ahead, you won’t always do it. I doubt many others would either.

But I’m the anomaly as I did do many hours of research on all of this to get ahead. This is the book I read when we bought our first home:

Seriously…I read that sh*t.




Seriously, who the hell does that? Only a crazy person. But I’m crazy like that, I guess.

But I also know that people aren’t geared like me.

And we also have less time now than every before. So asking someone to read that book, or take a class, come to the bank, or sit though a seminar to get financially educated is a bad system. But it keeps the status quo.

What we should be asking ourselves as an industry of FinTech, is where is the tech that gets the average user 90% of the benefit with only 10% of the effort? If the smartest banker is in your pocket (your phone), then why do today’s banking apps merely help to deposit checks and transfer funds?

Where is my consultative financial best friend app for life’s most important decisions?

When I was 21, I waited tables in a steakhouse. I know, I’m cool like that. At the time, the management’s philosophy on hiring young college-aged waiters and waitresses was to “only hire someone you’d date.” But it wasn’t as politely worded as that. As a result, the staff was fun and sexy and, ultimately, temporary.

After I graduated and moved away to Atlanta for a year and then moved back to my parents’ basement for 5 months – don’t judge – I worked two jobs to get that fixed ASAP! One of the jobs was at that same steakhouse. Only something big had changed.

The staff was of all ages this time – 21 to 58ish – and was friendly and encouraging and supportive as never before. There were many career waiter and waitresses there. It was odd after having last remembered it as a swanky sexy server steakhouse (feel free to tweet that).

What changed? The new management’s philosophy had been implemented. The hiring philosophy now was “only hire someone if you’d let them wait on your parents.”

In this new environment, I learned what it’s truly like to serve someone. To kneel at the table, to upsell, to craft a unique dining experience that a customer would never forget. To fold your leftovers like a tiny tinfoil steer or duck.

Today’s FinTech is mostly sexy and fun and, ultimately, temporary. We’re seeing a contraction now as there’s a bigger gap in Series A to B financing and sh*t is getting harder. Sexy doesn’t like hard.

But a real career FinTech-er doesn’t sweat that. They are in it for the long haul. They know the cyclical nature of our industry and have ridden an up and down or two. They know whom they serve and how to serve them. They do it for a living.

For. A. Living.

It’s what happens when you focus on the promise of what financial services could be instead of just the products that make up a bank.

So, this Gen Xer wants to know: who do you serve in FinTech and how do you serve them?

You have to know this to create meaningful value and change in our industry.

“FinTech” is half financial service and half technology, It isn’t one without the other. Those who marry the two and who are creating blue ocean opportunities will serve the future of FinTech (#FutureFinTech) for generations.

Those who won’t will die alone…at a steakhouse (feel free to tweet that).

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