It's difficult not to like the Finovate conference format, which serves up savory, bite-sized demos of financial technology innovations in rapid succession. One can imagine if Henry VIII of England were to put on a fintech conference, this is just the sort of format he'd use – easy to consume, fast moving and never boring. If you don't like what you're seeing at any given moment, just wait seven minutes and it will change to something entirely different.
The risk in a two-day conference that packs in nearly 70 demos, however, is that style often trumps substance; being memorable sometimes beats even the most brilliant of products or solutions.
The companies this year that struck me as both memorable and brilliant had simple messages around solving common problems. Here are some that stood out most (listed in no particular order):
- BizEquity: As a small business owner, I couldn't resist the thought of being able to quickly and simply look up a quote for a valuation on my company. BizEquity is like Zillow for businesses, and it's intended to make it easier for companies and their financial advisors to discover the value of their business. The Henry VIII in me gives this one a rating of "four out of five chicken legs." I'm reserving the fifth drumstick until I've had a chance to use it on my own business.
- Blooom: 401ks have always been somewhat painful – starting with the fact that they're called 401ks (could no one come up with a more consumer-friendly name for the financial instrument intended to sustain us in our old age?). Well, Blooom is trying to take a lot of the pain out of 401ks by outsourcing much of the time and trouble it takes to manage them with care.
- AnchorID: This company had me at "No more passwords. Ever. For anything." The idea of having one universal ID that can be authenticated only by me to access everything from online financial accounts to news and social sites to ecommerce shopping would be a royal improvement. Here's where I invoke Richard III, "My kingdom for no passwords!"...only to have King Richard discover AnchorID is available as an app in the iPhone App Store.
- Matchi: I like things that help people find what they're looking for faster and easier than before. Matchi tries to match financial innovations from around the globe with financial institutions seeking their solutions. It provides a continuous flow of curated innovations to banks and other FIs, reducing the search and vetting process and speeding overall financial services innovation.
- Global Debt Registry: Now there's nothing exciting or sexy about debt. But this company caught my attention because it seems obvious we should be able to easily trace the sale and placement of debt in this country, an area where transparency has gone to die. Global Debt Registry offers a solution to clear up the situation for banks, debt owners and consumers with a simple, standardized approach to avoid fraud and error. Using this service, for example, the Tudors might have been able to easily track the history of their debt with France and Spain.
I've touched on these Finovate presenters because they were different from anything I'd seen before and aimed to solve a problem as simply and in as straightforward a manner as possible. But there were loads of other interesting innovations on display, some of which you can read about in Forbes and this post by Celent analyst Will Trout, which looks closely at the wealth management solutions specifically.
I'm already craving the next serving of fintech companies at FinovateSpring 2015. Perhaps accompanied by a good 16th Century buffet of meat and ale.