Bank POV: An Interview with U.S. Bank CIO Dominic Venturo

At the Plug and Play Retail and FinTech Expo on October 22nd, I had the opportunity to interview Dominic Venturo, CIO of U.S. Bank, on his views of the future of fintech and the role of the traditional bank in the new age cloud and increasingly mobile-first landscape. While its invigorating to cover the fintech newcos, they hardly have the monopoly on innovation. And, in the words of the legendary and enduring Grandmaster Flash, “You have to know where you came from to understand where you are going.” Partnering with the banking establishment can provide insight (and resources) that may save newcos time and iterations later.
Why choose to spotlight U.S. Bank? First, it has what Venturo calls a “wide lens” or breadth of business in that it runs a large payments business, is both an issuer and an acquirer, and also has a large retail bank. But mostly I find the U.S.’s fifth largest commercial bank interesting in that it makes innovation a core component of its culture. Aside from the sending of a C-level executive to speak at an accelerator/incubator micro-conference despite not having a venture wing, the company strives to support and to work with innovative partners including start-ups. States Andy Cecere, chief operating officer for U.S. Bancorp, “Innovation is part of our culture and it is how we view the development of new products and services. By anticipating what our customers will want or need in the future, we can better prepare our customers and company for whatever is ahead, capturing opportunities and avoiding pitfalls along the way.” Recent examples of innovation from U.S. Bank include advances in mobile payments, voice biometrics, tokenization and integrated mobile and web commerce solutions.
But what I really like about U.S. Bank is that it is willing to be a banking industry contrarian — and successfully so. One notable example is that while the majority of banks have cut back on small business lending (sub $1 million) over the past few years, U.S. Bank has increased its commitment to SMBs. In its fiscal year ended September 30th, the bank stepped up the overall dollar value of its SMB lending by 15.4% over 2014, while spreading its lending over an 18% greater number of loan recipients. The bank lent $776 million via 3977 loans in its fiscal year 2015 — a modest size loan average of $195,122 per business. Yet U.S. Bank reported an overall full year record performance in 2014 with net income of $5.85 billion.
But back to my interview with Dominic Venturo. Pardon the video quality — impromptu interviews necessitate the occasional shaky frame whilst one adjusts her grip on the cell phone… Thankfully the post-production team has added a little more pizzazz by posting each of my questions on-screen prior to Dominic’s answer.

Some interesting takeaways:

  • It’s not so much the cloud now, it’s mobile.
  • He sees the greatest fintech innovation happening in the minutiae of the payment life cycle — making in-app payments seamless, simplifying mobile payments.
  • Passwords are going away for both internal use as well as consumer multi-factor authentication, with mobile phone-based biometrics being an area that U.S. Bank is focused on.
  • Hardward tokens are not necessarily making a full-out comeback (for authentication) but there is a marked increase in their use — U.S. Bank uses them internally.

 

Slack Posts New Functionality

Slack is widely acknowledged as the enterprise real-time messaging (work chat) tool with the most traction, having passed the million daily user mark in June. It seems that the company is not content to stay boxed into the work chat category, however. Yesterday, Slack announced and released Posts 2.0, a feature that enables the rich authoring of blog posts and publishing them to targeted collections of people.
Since its launch, Slack has had this feature, called Posts, that lets people write content that far exceeds the length of a normal chat message. However, it was so clunky that few people used it, if they were aware of it at all. To create a Post, one was sent out of the Slack application to a web browser, where text was written using a very simple editor and then saved back to Slack as an entry in the conversation stream of a specific channel or group.
The new Posts 2.0 includes an inline text editor, which improves the experience in two ways. First, it keeps users inside the Slack app. Second, it lets them create rich text with formatting styles like headlines, bulleted lists and checkboxes. Beyond that, the new editor also acts on embedded URLs by automatically displaying graphics, showing previews of websites and expanding tweets.
Once written, Posts can still be shared with specific individuals, channels and groups, whose members can comment directly on the entry (as opposed to creating an chronologically-ordered entry in the Slack conversation stream). This is one of two places in Slack where properly threaded discussions are possible; Files is the other.
There is another important new feature in Posts 2.0 – the ability to save and access Posts in the Files section of the Slack application. So rather than having to scroll through or search the Slack conversation stream to view a specific Post again, it can be easily found in the Files repository. Additionally, if an author stars a Post in the editor or a reader does so in the conversation stream, it will show up in Slack’s Starred Items list. 

Cool, But Do Businesses Need This? 

With Posts 2.0, Slack has complemented existing features with new ones that, in combination, begin to move the application beyond being primarily a work chat tool. Slack has now effectively become a lightweight Web Content Management System that enables blogging (to a targeted audience), file storage and sharing and threaded discussion (around Posts and documents stored in Files only). It’s a lightweight people directory with profiles too. Oh, and it’s still a communication and collaboration tool.
This expansion of mission is fine, but it immediately raises the question that I previously asked and continue to pose about Slack. Why? Do work teams really need an alternative to existing corporate communication and information management applications that already satisfy the same use cases that Slack is addressing? How is Slack better than the status update, IM, blogging, file sharing, and discussion tools for communities (groups) that are bundled in the enterprise social software applications and platforms that organizations have already licensed and deployed?
In addition to the functional redundancy, one also wonders if Slack will ultimately lose its audience by becoming the opposite of what it was originally. The application’s strong initial appeal was the simplicity of its user experience. By adding more communication and collaboration features, Slack risks becoming a complex mess of functionality that few will care to use, especially on mobile devices.
On the other hand, Slack may intentionally de-emphasize its application in the future, positioning and going to market as a platform on which developers can create their own apps. We’ll see. Many already refer to Slack as a messaging-centric platform. Time will tell if that is indeed their market strategy for the long-haul, but, for now, Slack is beginning to look like yet another bloated application.

MakerBot founder Bre Pettis heads back to the garage

Bold Machines, a new workshop in Brooklyn headed by MakerBot founder Bre Pettis and owned by Stratasys, is an entrepreneurial garage which plans to give gives architects, designers, and artists access to 3D-printing tools and expertise.

More money and more space for Highway1 hardware incubator

Highway1, the hardware incubator founded by Irish manufacturing giant PCH, is offering its next class of startups $50,000 in seed money, up from $20,000, and has moved into larger digs in the Potrero Hill area of San Francisco. It also opened the application process for its fall program (for more on the program read our story on its launch), so ship yours in before June 20 if you have a hot hardware startup idea you want to bring to reality. Based on the number of hardware ideas in my inbox, hundreds will likely enter and 15 will be chosen.