Posted by Andrew Marshall on Sun, Feb 16 2014

All Posts by Andrew Marshall

Ten Takeaways from Finovate Europe 2014

Here are top ten takeways from Finovate in London:

1. There seemed a strong group of innovation types from major UK and European banks in attendance, and they were pretty active in going up to stands and digging hard for info for companies presenting – much more so than at many conferences. There’s weren’t so many US focused banks, but that’s probably to be expected.

2. The VCs present were quieter in how they went about their networking. But a couple of companies with successful funding rounds behind them said that previous Finovates had been incredibly important in raising their profile. Most presenting companies appeared to be more focused on using Finovate for profiling to support funding and partnerships, rather than for direct sales to financial institutions.

3. A remarkable number of the presenting companies weakened their impact by unnecessarily complicating their brands. If you’re an early stage company and you’ve seven minutes, I don’t see the merit in trying to convey to the audience both an unknown corporate brand and an unknown product brand (sometimes more than one). Whatever brand theory might say, saying “XYZ powered by ABC” doesn’t work that well when neither are known. If you’ve really only got one product, try and use one brand name for everything and push that forward. If you grow and diversify, worry about your brand hierarchy at that point. Too many of the companies were taking the wrong lessons from big tech on this. What happens, I suspect, is that companies register a legal name, then within months are using a product brand that works better. If at all possible, try and sort this out and come to Finovate with a single, memorable brand name that represents your company and your product.

4. According to scuttlebutt from Finovate staff, audience reaction differs a bit across the various Finovate events. In London the audience is rather subdued – you don’t always get a laugh when you think - and relatively polite in terms of online comment on those presenting. The Bay area audience, in contrast, is easier to get a laugh from on stage, but can shred a presenting company to pieces online. The NYC crowd (and I’m only passing on what I heard) is a tough gig both in the hall and online.

5. Get your social media as ready as possible before you present. Twitter is the must have for immediate profile and comment, LinkedIn for networking. One presenting company had only 32 followers on the handle that was in the conference programme, and which tweeters in the audience were therefore referencing. Even if you’re a start-up, it is not beyond the wit of man to get your followers into triple digits via friends and family. Secondly, be ready to react straight away to commentary your demo gets online. Favouriting and retweeting of positive stuff is fine – what I saw much less of was substantive responses to the more reasoned/constructively critical comments from the audience. If analysts/journalists are talking to you on Twitter – then talk back, in real time.

6. Two of the nine Best of Show winners (voted by the 1,000 attendees) were in investment/personal finance. But in general, the content and mood of the event was, perhaps inevitably, much more around personal and mobile banking, rather than wholesale banking, securities or investment. That doesn’t mean the show is irrelevant to securities or wholesale credit or risk propositions, but it does mean that if you’re in that space, you need to think harder about which particular niche of the delegate population you are targeting and why. In terms of winning Best of Show, or just generally making a buzz at the event, recognise that lots of attendees are not going to follow you if head off deep into arcane wholesale finance.

7. Most of those presenting did not speak English as a mother tongue, with Eastern and Central Europe and the Nordics strongly represented. That’s a huge compliment to all those presenting in a second language, and the audience recognises that, and of course standards of spoken English were really very high in general. In preparing to handle presenting in English, we’d suggest making sure you rehearse in front of a native speaker if at all possible. Also, while humour is fine, recognise that it can be harder in a foreign language – our advice generally would be not to stretch hard to tell elaborate jokes.

8. Hot themes at Finovate included anything around AI, with a number focused on expense management, personal budgeting, and integrating a user’s social networks with their financial services providers. New for me was the importance of “abandonment” – in highly regulated financial services sites, the drop-out rate from those trying to register or buy is an even bigger problem than elsewhere, and several of the companies had intriguing offerings to ameliorate this. Several people mentioned during the networking breaks that some big themes were rather underrepresented – one being branches and how banks can maximise returns from their branch assets, which still represent a very significant share of total new business for most FIs in Europe.

9. To me, the lack of any questions in the demo format is a shame, though I understand the time pressures. This means that as a presenter, you need to expect the tough questions on your stand after you’ve presented, or indeed on social media or from journalists attending. There is no substitute for not thinking hard about the nasty questions that you know can be posed to even the most compelling proposition – and external help in prepping for that, from a non-exec, VC, or communications advisor, can be invaluable in helping you see the wood for the trees.

10. There are a reasonable number - not a huge number – of media attending. Some major media were down to attend but it seemed that they didn’t have the time on the day. So 67 presenting companies, and various others, were trying to get some share of attention from perhaps 10-15 core reporters in attending. The maths suggests that not every company was going to get all the interviews it wanted. So work out a realistic media plan in advance. Determine which publications would be most interested in meeting you, and prepare for what news you can give them. Ideally set up your interviews in advance, but also have someone with communications experience there to ensure they round up the reporter and actually make the interview happen. Do NOT imagine that an interesting demo is going to result in all the reporters just generally milling around your stand and picking up what your company does via osmosis (several companies genuinely seemed convinced this might work).

In conclusion, our advice for presenting companies is: Be yourself, try and keep the proposition and brand simple. Rehearse well, and try and get an external perspective. Think about the audience that matters to you, both investor and big financial institutions. If you get a laugh great, but don’t bank on it. Make sure you have a realistic, practical media and social media plan to exploit the time and investment you’re putting into the demo and the stand. And make the full two days count in terms of targeting networking – use the networking tools Finovate provides, and keep talking to those who can help move your company forward. At the end of each day, it may look like a great party, but a party you need to keep working.

Financial Services, Financial Technology,
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