Last week, Citi held the Sydney leg of its Mobile Challenge, which gives FinTech developers worldwide a chance to compete against each other to create innovations that work with existing Citi technology.
The Citi Mobile Challenge in Asia-Pacific is a next-generation accelerator that combines a virtual hackathon with a developer program, and worldwide network of FinTech experts, to help create solutions across more than 100 markets.
There were 17 finalists in the Sydney Citi Mobile Challenge, primarily from Australia but also the US, Spain, and New Zealand. It is interesting to note that there were more finalists at the same events in Bengaluru, Hong Kong, and Singapore. The perplexing question is, does this reflect on the quality of FinTech startups in Australia?
It is always tricky as a judge to work out and calibrate what looks like a slick presentation versus a demo that has real potential with a significant value proposition.
To make this assessment, I was there with 45 other judges to rate pitches (innovators were given a maximum of 8 minutes) using the 5 star evaluation criteria on a mobile app.
This included the following criteria:
- Benefit for the user
- Business potential
- Customer experience
- Technical functionality
What was trending?
Wealth investment was clearly over represented with Macrovue, Quant Stats, Simply Wall Street, Gold Bean, SAGE and Wealth Projector with variations of investment portfolios.
A few of the presenters added that they had ‘robo-fund’ functionality, which appeared to be the latest buzzword that everybody wants to quote. All of these startups had some differences but it is undeniable that it was a crowded space in this single pitch event.
Wealth Projector used a gamification approach and had a very nice UX. It noted that the average time spent on the app was 18 minutes, which is quite a reasonable active engagement for such a tool. To me it was the pick of this genre of demos.
There was also a strong trend towards no or low cost platforms such as Mclowd, a self managed superannuation fund, and First Step, which operates as a sweep function for putting small change into an investment vehicle. There were clearly a few judges who like the niche market that this was targeted at.
What was unique?
A startup named Capital Preferences was an interesting risk management approach that used game theory to understand investor preferences. This sounds complex but it was executed simply and made into a task of choosing between two different axis constraints that have different paybacks.
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Another demo named Citi Rewards was an entertaining approach that used geo zones to make relevant dining offers. We all thought that this sounded good, until you get overloaded with too many offers, and this would become SPAM.
A startup that I mentor, KnowledgeFlux, was also unique (and while I am biased) it clearly had a very rich proposition that was unlike any other. KnowledgeFlux demonstrated the concept of collective intelligence and how this can be applied to integrate loan processes with information and collaboration.
Wearables and FinTech?
Another startup named Strap presented its app, which interfaces to any wearable that you may use using a standard Citi API. In the demo it was all about Citi providing reward points for the more steps that you take. Perhaps not the most realistic use case.
For me, I can that imagine that a life or health company would consider this as an active risk monitoring approach.
Blockchain for smart tenancy contracts
One of my favourite innovators was Michael Smolenski from Lend2Fund, which uses private Blockchain technology and has applied this to standard paper contracts to be digitised into smart contracts with real-time settlement.
His use case outlined was around how landlords not receive their monies for a month lag time. (This was previously deposited into a trust account, with a delay on getting your hands on the funds)
With the future advent of “smart contracts” which have additional information about the contract, terms and deposits, payments could be made into a Citi app and the monies are available instantly. Citi is then rewarded with a transaction fee.
But of course, the bank also the opportunity to cross sell for loan products or perhaps reward payments for on time payment.
Smolenski also made reference to the concept of a virtual credit bureau, and he made a startling comment that if this happens, then the current enterprises that do credit services will be challenged:
“Veda and Experian could be obsolete,” he said.
In the startup world, it is clear that there are major differences in the capability of the different teams and Citi, like any other corporation, is trying to connect with its customers in new ways.
This is clearly a great approach for this international bank to ensure it is exposed to some great talent and innovative ideas.
There were no winners announced at the Sydney event but for most of the startups, the reward was in connections and the network that was at the meeting.
David Gee is the former CIO of CUA where he recently completed a core banking transformation. He has more than 18 years' experience as a CIO, and was also previously director at KPMG Consulting. Connect with David on LinkedIn.
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