Apply to Demo Your Latest FinTech Innovation at FinovateSpring 2015!

By Eric Mattson on January 14, 2015 6:30 PM | Comments

btn3_ov.pngWith the presenter roster set for FinovateEurope, we've begun our global search for the financial technology innovations that will be showcased at FinovateSpring in Silicon Valley on May 12 & 13.  

Last year, FinovateSpring welcomed a record crowd of 1,300 executives who witnessed 70+ new fintech innovations debut via our signature demo-only format.

This year, based on the early interest, we expect the event to grow significantly and to showcase even more great innovations than last year.

If your company is interested in debuting your latest and greatest at the premier event for fintech innovation, please email us at for more details.

If you're interested in attending FinovateSpring to watch the future of fintech unfold live on stage, tickets are on sale for the event at the affordable super early-bird price through this Friday only.

We'll see you in Silicon Valley in May (or London in a few weeks)!

FinovateSpring 2015 is sponsored by: The Bancorp, CapitalSource, Envestnet, Financial Technology Partners, Hudson Cook LLP and Life.SREDA.

FinovateSpring 2015 is partners with: Aite, Bank Innovators Council, BankersHub, Bobsguide, BreakingBanks, California Bankers Association, Canada, Celent,, Filene Research Institute, Hotwire PR, Javelin Strategy, Mercator Advisory Group and Western Independent Bankers.

Categories: FinovateSpring 2015

Capital One's Well-Designed "Suspicious Activity" Email Alert

By Jim Bruene on January 5, 2015 2:47 PM | Comments

image I've used Capital One's credit card fairly actively for the past 4 or 5 years. And they've rarely, if ever, declined a charge (and there has never been any fraud on the card). The last fraud message I can find in my email was in December 2011 (see last screenshot). But apparently our travel combined with extra holiday spending finally caused the banks' fraud system to flag our account, rejecting a $100+ Target purchase a few days after Christmas.

I have Capital One's mobile wallet installed which pushes near-real-time notifications to the lock screen (iOS). I did receive a notice I'd been declined, but no word on why or what to do about it. But luckily the issuer's email system handled that task admirably. Within a few hours I received an excellent email detailing the five most recent charges, and providing a simple "all clear" button that was clickable within the email, a major improvement over issuers who merely tell you there is suspicious activity and make you call or login to find out the details.



This is the best suspicious activity notice I've ever received. Typically, I receive message similar to Capital One's "old" version imploring me to call the bank (see last screenshot). However, there is still room for improvement, especially in the reporting process.

As much as the fraud folks desire a concrete yes/no answer, the real world is often full of gray areas. In this case, I was sure that I'd make all these transactions, but often that's not the case. Sometimes you don't recognize a merchant or your spouse may have made the charge or you simply don't recognize something you may have authorized a while ago. There needs to be a third option here, "I'm not sure." Furthermore, when faced with a list, users should be able to address each transaction individually.

In my case, clearly the Target purchase triggered the red flag. It was a large amount, I rarely shop there, and I'd just flown 2,000 miles from my previous transaction the day before. In reality, the other transactions were pretty meaningless to the fraud detection algorithm. Even if I couldn't remember one of the previous four routine transactions, Capital One wouldn't have wanted to shut my account down. They'd already lost a few dollars on the declined Target transaction, there was no reason to compound that loss with costly calls to customer service to vet the other transactions.

Finally, I'm not a fan of the web pages presented after clicking on the "Everything's OK" or "There's an issue" button (see second and third screenshots). The bank gets points for thanking me for my help, but they forget to apologize for the inconvenience of declining my purchase at Target. It's pretty embarrassing to be standing at the checkout with a basket full of goods while everyone thinks you are a deadbeat.

The webpage responses don't go very far it telling me what to do next. Even if I'd given the all clear, I still have questions. Which of the transactions, if any, were declined? Will the declined transaction go through now that I've said it's OK? And how can I avoid this in the future.

And if I did have issues with one or more of the transactions, the only option is to call the bank, and there isn't even a number supplied. Aren't there self-service options at this point that could save everyone some time?


Suspicious activity email from Capital One (28 Dec 2014)



Webpage after clicking "Everything's OK" above


Webpage after clicking "There's an issue" above


Previous Capital One Fraud Alert (16 Dec 2011)



Holidays Promotions (or lack thereof) at Top-20 Banks

By Jim Bruene on December 31, 2014 4:12 PM | Comments

For the past 10 years, I've done a year-end post looking at holiday promotions at the largest U.S. banks. And surprisingly, fewer banks than anytime since 2004 were running holiday messages in the days before Christmas. This year, only four of the 20 largest banks referenced the holidays on their homepages. That compares to nine banks last year, eight in 2012, and 10 in 2011.

I'm at a loss to explain the retreat. My guess is that holiday promotions simply don't drive measurable sales lift. But these are massive retail banks and I'd think that virtual holiday decorations would be in the branding budget. Perhaps that, too, was tapped out by year end.

Here are the holiday participants this year:

As usual, PNC Bank led the pack with its three-decade-long holiday CPI (Christmas Present Index). Fifth Third and Comerica were reasonably decked out for the holidays. Finally, Citizens (RBS) had a small holiday message in the lower right (see screenshots below).

While we catalogued only the top 20, many other banks and credit unions displayed creative holiday promotions and/or messaging. For example, Navy Federal Credit Union featured several holiday messages on its hompage the day before Christmas Eve (see screenshot) and Huntington Bank used an eye-catching graphic to pitch its rewards card (screenshot below).

The scrooge list: top-20 banks with no holiday promotions or graphics on 24 Dec 2014: 
Bank of America, Bank of the West (BNP Paribas), BB&T, BBVA Compass, Capital One & Capital One 360 (formerly ING Direct), Chase, Citibank, Harris Bank (BMO), HSBC, Key Bank, SunTrust, TD Bank, Union Bank (Mitsubishi UFJ), US Bank, Wells Fargo, Zions Bank.

Following is a quick overview of the promotions, including a 1- to 5-bulb rating.

Previous year-end holiday posts: 2013, 2012, 2011 (big banks), 2011 (CUs/community banks), 2009 part 1, 2009 part 2, 2007, 2006, 2006, 2004


Top-20 banks in the holiday spirit
(rated from 1 to 5 bulbs; screenshots from Tuesday morning, 24 Dec 2014)

PNC Bank

  • Animated Great Carol Comeback tied to its annual 12 Days of Christmas CPI price index (which it has published for the past 30 years)
  • Visa tie-in for holiday spending (lower left)

Score: imageimageimageimageimage

Hompage: PNC is leading with its "12 days of Christmas" price index


Landing page: Each of the 12 items from the famous song have humorous animations (link)



Fifth Third Bank

  • MasterCard Gift Card promo (#3 in 3-promo rotation)
  • Happy holiday greeting (#2 in 3-promo rotation)

Score: imageimageimageimage

Homepage promo #3


Homepage promo #2




  • Gift card promo in lower-left of main homepage
  • Large gift card in main promo area on main personal page (#1 in 3-promo rotation) with engaging holiday graphics (same promo ran the last 2 years)

Score: imageimageimage






Citizens Bank (RBS)

  • Holiday tie-in for credit card cashback

Score: image



Bonus standout: Navy Federal Credit Union

  • Happy holiday message with snowman at top of page
  • Cash rewards credit card offer displayed mid-page with bright holiday colors
  • Holiday rewards reminder in lower right

Score: imageimageimageimage



Bonus #2: Huntington Bank

  • Triple rewards credit card offer in mid-page with bright holiday colors

Score: imageimageimage



1. Observations taken between 6:30 AM and 8 AM, Eastern Time, on Wed, 24 Dec 2014, from a Florida IP address, running Mac Chrome browser with cookies cleared.
2. Animation from


Oscar Ties Health Insurance Premiums to Fitness Tracker

By Jim Bruene on December 10, 2014 3:47 PM | Comments

imageAs we speculate about the usefulness of wearables in payments and money management, an insurance startup has already launched a direct tie-in. Buzzy health insurance startup Oscar is paying customers $1 per day, up to $240 annually, when they hit their step- goal tracked on a Fitbit-like tracker from Misfit.

imageOscar has attracted $150 million in venture capital and is looking to bring modern ecommerce thinking to the massive health insurance market. The company is looking to be on the forefront of insurance tech trends, such as mobile help from physicians, easy access to records, digital communications, and transparent costs (see app here).image

How it works
Customers who buy health insurance through Oscar (available in NJ/NY only, but coming to California and Texas in 2015), are given a free Misfit step-tracker (retail value = $50, currently discounted 50%). The tracker syncs to Oscar's mobile app (see inset) and credits customers $1 each day a step-goal is achieved. Goals start at a relatively easy 2,000 to 3,000 per day and ratchet up to the 8,000 to 10,000 per day recommended by fitness experts.

The bonuses are paid in Amazon gift certificates in increments of $20. The Amazon credit is likely bought at a discount to par value, reducing costs to Oscar (more details here).

Significance for FIs
Oscar can pay out $200 per year because it's selling a big-ticket item, health insurance. And it stands to benefit from healthier customers who use less medical care. Unless you are in the health insurance business, you can't copy this dollar for dollar. The important thing is making a game out of healthy habits by keeping score and delivering tangible rewards (previous post).


Gift Card Season Off to the Races: Square Places New Bet, Starbucks Goes All-In, Banks Stuck at Starting Gate

By Jim Bruene on November 21, 2014 3:43 PM | Comments


image This week, digital poster child Square jumped into the plastic gift card market. Unlike many of its new endeavors, old-school cards were met with a decided lack of enthusiasm in the tech press (and my Twitter feed). Many recalled the company's failed efforts with virtual gift cards (which I liked then, and still do). Most people in the tech press (and even more so in my Twitter feed) want their iPhone to handle all transactions, loyalty points, and payments. But that's not quite how the world works yet. Even Starbucks, claiming 90% of all U.S. mobile payments (pre Apple Pay of course), just launched a major holiday plastic initiative (see below).


How Square Gift Cards Work

The Square offering is compelling for its core small business clients. The cards are drop-dead simple. Merchants order from their Square dashboard which is powered by eCardSystems. Cards cost $1.50 per card with a minimum order of 125 and are shipped in 3 business days. Merchants load by swiping through Square's POS dongle or Register, and users are good to go. The merchant receives the entire load amount immediately (less Square's 2.9% cut).

The cards are heavily merchant branded. The merchant's name is printed on the front in a choice of fonts and colors and the merchant's contact info is printed on the back. The card design can be one of 20 generic designs (see screenshot) or can be customized with any image uploaded by merchant (cost is the same, but minimum quantity rises to 500, and turnaround time is 15 business days, so almost too late for the 2014 holiday season). The only Square branding is a small logo, seen back-of-card, lower right (see top of post).

The cards are reloadable, so they can be used as a loyalty platform, with rewards based on load amount. For example, my favorite coffee shop adds an extra 10% of value for each load.


 Starbucks Unveils In-Store "Card Collection"

imageOne of the the Starbucks flagship stores is in my neighborhood, so we occasionally see merchandise being tested. So, I'm not sure if this over-the-top gift card display is in wide use (see its Nov 12 press release). But the Seattle U-Village main Starbucks has two of these massive display cases near the queue (the back side has the usual holiday beans and merchandise). Apparently, there are more than 100 different designs.

It's no surprise. Last year, the company reported that $1.4 billion was loaded onto cards during 4th quarter and an astonishing 1 out of every 8 U.S. adults received a Starbucks card. It looks like they are going for 1 in 7 this year.


Bank Opportunities

I've been following bank efforts in gift cards for 10 years and have found little exciting to report (see archives). While a few bursts of activity have occurred at holiday times the last few years (previous posts), banks seem content to let their customers pick up cards at Safeway. Even Chase, which has a great card that my son uses, and was the highest-rated big-bank card in Consumer Reports (Aug 2013, Prepaid Buying Guide), has zero merchandising for "gift cards" on its website (see third screenshot below). 

Few banks are going to emulate Square's approach and build gift cards for acquiring clients. But I do see an opportunity to develop a retail gift card marketplace offering both plastic and virtual cards with distribution via online, mobile, in-branch and even ATM. It's on my short list of ways FIs could turn a buck from their presence (see post).


#1: First step in ordering plastic gift cards from Square's merchant dashboard


#2 Choose your card design (or upload your own image)



#3 Searching for "gift card" at Chase Bank



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