not a big fan of Vegas, but I went anyway so you didn't have to. You're welcome.

I went to the Financial Brand Forum so you didn’t have to.

In just a few years the Financial Brand Forum in Vegas has developed quite a following, so I decided to check it out.

What I found most interesting was that there seemed to be two competing schools of thought espoused throughout the event, and it wasn’t credit unions v. banks.

It was more like a battle between the “FinTech is going to eat banks’ and credit unions’ lunch really soon” prophets v. the “chill, bro, you just need to be more human” philosophers.

And I’m still not sure who came out on top.

But there were several top-tier speakers and inspirational success stories shared throughout those three days. And while I couldn’t attend every breakout session or talk to every supplier, here are my top takeaways:

People can’t tell you what they need, but they can help you improve what you have.

People only make recommendations based on what they know (and according to Steve Jobs they would have suggested a faster, cheaper Apple II instead of the Macintosh.) Innovators need to ignore naysayers, and limit their exposure to “bozo-city” (which is kind of like the flu, so a little exposure isn’t necessarily a bad thing if it helps to build up your immunity.) Guy Kawasaki, former Chief Evangelist at Apple

Personal Loans need to be personalized.

What good is a loan name that needs so much explanation? First Source Credit Union repositioned their Personal Loans as an entire suite of lifestyle loan products: Holiday Loan, Home Energy Loan, Health Improvement Loan, Home Improvement Loan, Healthy Pet Loan, Family Support Loan, etc. And in four short years they have lent $42M in this one product.

There is a growing epidemic of “out-of-touchness” within executive levels of most FIs.

Today’s digital experience “ego-system” is constantly reinforcing the idea that the user is the center of the universe, so don’t expect people to conform to you. In this time of “digital darwinism” we need a tech-first relationship with younger markets – especially since 74% expect to be banking with Apple, Amazon or Google in the near future. If you are waiting for someone to tell you what to do, you are on the wrong side of innovation. – Brian Solis, Altimeter

It’s not a matter if AI will affect you, it’s when.

AI is a learning system from Day 1, and every day you wait means one more day behind. AI observes, interprets, evaluates, and decides just like people do. AI helps free us from the mundane, so that we can do things that matter, while we collect insights. After all, “data is the oil and you have the drilling rights” (an interesting take, especially with GDPR in the news.) – Louis Richardson, IBM

Her Wealth. Her Way.

JMMB Group saw that women in Jamaica were under-appreciated by FI’s and did something about it, developing a comprehensive financial services package with rewards, discounts on everything from plumbing to medical services, to purse insurance. It has four main themes: Her Independence, Her Responsibility, Her Protection, and Her Dreams. They offer free workshops on marriage, divorce, kids, safety and more, and built a microsite where women can upload pics of the women they admire (and the bank makes a donation to a non-profit trying to help break the cycle of abuse). – Kerry-Ann Stimpson, JMMB Group

Emotionally-connected customers are 6x more valuable and profitable.

Tech is not going to replace the power of human connectivity. The most powerful connections are human driven, and all FIs need to create at least one new forum for connected conversation. It does not have to be complicated, definitely not a gimmick, and needs to align with the needs and demands of your market. – Joe Sullivan, Market Insights

Humans know what they want and Google tracks humans.

When it comes to SEO we need to understand humans, not Google – because Google looks for intent, letting human data override algorithms. That’s also why Voice will only take over search when humans want it (such as in the car), but doesn’t work when you need multiple options or complex questions. Local results and snippets are hot, and be sure to check the bounce rate between organic and PPC to determine what is working and worth paying for. – Wil Reynolds, Seer Interactive

The #1 driver of behavior is parenting.

Millennials are a reflection of their Boomer parents but with less credit card debt, and are moving less than previous generations, more risk adverse, and less likely to start their own business (even thought they aspire to). They aren’t tech-savvy, they are tech-dependent, and prefer text/email/social media in that order. They are also older than most people think (ave. age of 30), the largest generation in the workforce, outspending every other generation, with so much college debt that they are likely delaying adulthood.

GenZ’s parents are GenXers, who do not want their kids to turn out like Millennials. GenZ will be amazing referral sources for businesses, with less entitlement and lower expectations when entering the workforce (“just give me a chance to prove myself”). They choose colleges where they can graduate with less debt, making them less reliant on Mom & Dad for housing afterwards, and giving them more mobility for job relocation. They are also more pragmatic with money, having been heavily influenced by watching their parents during the Great Recession. – Jason Dorsey, The Center for Generational Kinetics

People simply like visual simplicity.

Behavioral studies have debunked the myth of  the “rationale consumer” and the human brain prefers not to work too hard. If you want to motivate people to take action, eliminate unnecessary details and be sure to avoid calculations. Games and choices are okay, but people really respond to stories with a bit of a challenge, with a clear path forward (attainable goal), and a reward at the end. – Wei Ke, Simon Kucher & Partners

Would I recommend going?

Even though I can’t say I learned a ton of new things (I have been doing this for quite awhile, you know), the content was very good and it was refreshing to connect with different people with different experiences. I never once sensed any bad blood between CU and bank attendees – the entire event was collegial, and everyone was friendly – even to someone with a different-color name tag that labeled me as a vendor.

But I kind of hate the Vegas location. Okay, I guess “hate” may be a bit strong, but I’m not much of a gambler, or a big Cirque fan, and most of the other shows seemed to feature has-been talents or impersonations. The Strip is almost always packed, the weather almost always oppressively hot, and taxis take forever since traffic crawls through extremely long red lights. There are some good (but pricey) restaurants, and Fremont Street (downtown) is kind of fascinating if people-watching is your hobby or you always wanted to ride a zip line under a light show. I would definitely recommend setting aside a half day or more for a short road trip to Red Rock Canyon, about a half-hour drive out of the city, and bring your hiking/climbing shoes.

Kent Dicken

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