Fast-changing fintech is our future

August 21, 2017
in Leadership
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Here’s an astonishing fact: it took the telephone 75 years to reach the same number of users as Facebook reached in just three and a half years. Seems fast? Only a few years later the Angry Birds game app reached that same number of users in just 35 days.

Do you get excited for the future when you read things like this? Or scared? Are you awestruck or intimidated by technology? All of the above? Whatever your reaction, there’s no denying that major technological change is influencing the way we interact with the world at a faster rate every day.

Nowhere is this on display better than here in the financial services industry. From simple things like online banking and near-field payments (including the tap feature in your credit card) to complex products and services like robo-advisors and digital currencies (like Bitcoin), financial technology, or fintech, is already embedded in our daily lives. And like all technology, the pace of evolution is staggering, taking the way we manage our money along with it.

At First West Credit Union, we’ve never been content to sit back and let fast-changing financial technology dictate our future. We decided early on as an organization that we wanted to lead at the forefront of innovation, for the benefit of our members. That commitment to innovation led us to a string of firsts, like in 2015 when we introduced the first wearable payment accessory in North America to use Visa payWave®, or last year when we became the first financial institution in B.C. to offer Mobile Pay for Android™ devices and the first credit union in B.C. to provide personal online financial management tools.

The question I’m asked often is, how do you go about bringing things like these to market?

Given the exponential rate of technological change and the vast array of innovation in financial technology, how does First West choose what’s actually worthwhile investing our limited time and resources in? How do we pick which financial technologies to develop and deliver for members?

In my role, I get to work with dedicated teams of people whose mission is finding and delivering the best, safest advantages that financial innovation can and will offer. Our decision-making process is guided by four key questions that we rigorously work through:

  1. Does the opportunity offer true value to members?
    In other words, does a particular innovation or type of technology solve a real challenge our members are facing? We always ask first to get a clear picture of the problem or need. An innovation could be cool and unique, but if it doesn’t improve most members’ financial lives in some way or solve a critical problem, it stays on the shelf.
  1. Do we have solid support through our partners and systems?
    New credit union products and services are often brought into being through partnerships with a credit union central (like Central 1 Credit Union) or a cohort of other credit unions working together, as well as suppliers and other industry partners. For example, First West’s Mobile Pay for Android™ offering requires alignment between card issuers, system operations, our own technology along with Android developers and payment processors, to list a few. When we have all the right players in the game, we can proceed with confidence.
  1. Is the risk reasonable?
    You could call our perspective “careful open-mindedness.” We use incremental development, testing within closed markets, and member feedback to evaluate transformational ideas. We ask hard questions like “How good is this particular solution, really? Is it simple to build and use? Are we confident it is the best way to solve a problem?” By learning from experience, we only proceed with that are best for members—like our Deposit Anywhere™ feature, for example, which in the future can adapt to help business members realize the convenience of depositing cheques without leaving the office.
  1. Are the costs controlled?
    As a member-owned organization, the expense and effort of building and maintaining any product or service has to balance with fiscal or service benefits.

Making the leap: bringing a new product or service to life

When all the evaluation points are passed, we’re ready to make the strategic decision and push some boundaries. Our teams develop road maps, steering committees, and milestones that dictate timelines and quality—like we did recently with our personal financial management tool, MoneyView. In that example, we created an immersive online experience instead of the variety of add-on tools that many other financial institutions provide, and from this leap we cut through the clutter of sign-ups and log-ins, offering a single-source solution that has seen great member adoption.

What’s ahead for First West

At First West our radar for technological innovation is always on. We monitor the landscape of need and opportunity, using our agility to act quickly when the moment is right. Here are a few things currently sounding blips on our radar:

  • Apple Pay—we’re committed to bringing more mobile payments (beyond our Mobile Pay for Android™) to members as these technologies continue establishing themselves and gaining popularity.
  • Convenience technologies are allowing people to conduct transactions from a growing list of internet-connected objects. We’re keeping our eye on opportunities to extend these technologies into financial services.
  • Predictive advice could become your financial management best friend. More-refined information could bring instant recommendations to you based on your real habits and needs.
  • New communication tools continue to proliferate and we’re exploring more ways to allow you to contact us from anywhere. Prefer to IM or text your transactions instead of logging to a website, for example? Your user experience is likely to get uber-flexible.
  • Faster, smarter risk management through the use of artificial intelligence benefits everyone. With all of our conveniences comes the need for ever-more sophisticated fraud detection. Technology will continue helping us reduce risk by making monitoring and response faster and more precise.
  • Simpler services—instead of a visit today, a phone call tomorrow, and an app in between, we believe our members prefer expert financial advice and service that happens in a single source. We’re working to be that one point of contact.

There are plenty of reasons to be excited for the future when it comes to FinTech, and the teams I’m part of at First West are working hard to lead the vanguard. Through it all, however, one thing won’t change: our commitment to keeping it simple and providing members with an exceptional experience.

As a member, you can also influence innovation at First West. Tell us what products and services you need or want, the problems you’re having, or ideas that would transform your financial services experience. There are lots of ways to get in touch.