By Larry McClanahan
Technology evolves faster than our minds can keep up. We create one revolutionary idea today, but by tomorrow, that idea has morphed into something greater. Since the creation of the wheel, this sentiment has been true.
Currently, the most significant difference is that the speed of acceleration is most often driven by consumer expectations. One example of this is real-time payments, which emerged alongside faster payments methods such as Zelle as consumers increasingly expected instant access to their deposits.
Having spent the last decade creating visionary digital initiatives for banks and leading organizations that can execute them, I understand the digital journeys financial institutions take. My experience at digital early adopters MidFirst Bank and Fifth Third Bank brings a deeply personal voice of the financial institution. I have experienced firsthand how short-term innovation can lead to long-term growth for financial institutions ready to embrace the change.
But change now moves at lightning speed. A clear reflection of just how fast change happens is the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. In its first 10 years of existence, only 229 patents were granted. Fast forward to today, and we see over 229 patents granted every single day. Each year, PTO sets records, demonstrating not just growth, but accelerated growth.
The fintech industry is no exception. Over the last 10 years, financial institutions and fintech companies have been collaborating more and more to transform traditional banking into something modern. In fact, 94 percent of financial services companies say they are confident that fintech partnerships will help grow their revenue over the next decade. Partnering with fintech companies is a cost-effective way to innovate. Instead of exhausting budgets and resources to build new solutions in-house, banks collaborate with fintech firms to quickly deliver market-tested products, particularly digital products.
This increased need to partner has also led to massive growth. Largely uninterrupted by economic factors, fintech firms are growing faster than other technology markets. Following the start of the pandemic, budgets were slashed across most industries. Financial technology, however, hardly saw any declines and has since picked back up with double-digit growth expected over the next five years.
Stop dreaming up project plans
As the speed of technology continues to accelerate rapidly, it is impossible to predict what the world will look like tomorrow and this is inclusive of project plans. Steve Blank sums this up in his Harvard Business Review article “Why the Lean Start-Up Changes Everything”: “No one besides venture capitalists and the late Soviet Union requires five-year plans to forecast complete unknowns. These plans are generally fiction, and dreaming them up is almost always a waste of time.” This notion is especially true for the financial services industry. The question is, how can financial institutions pivot to a more agile process to remain competitive in such a fast-moving environment?
Historically, product roadmaps have looked 24-to-48 months out, and financial institutions understand they must have a seat at the table to fully comprehend the product capabilities and to be confident that their technology partner is continuously innovating for growth. In the past, because technology hasn’t always evolved so quickly, banks could plan product and feature rollouts further down the road. But this timeline no longer works, as technologies mapped out on a four-year roadmap are sure to become obsolete.
Consider BlackBerry as an example. A failure to prioritize innovation in the long-term planning sent BlackBerry plummeting from an astounding 85 million subscribers in 2013 to a meager 23 million as Android and iOS platforms gained popularity. In 2016, the organization ceded and announced it would no longer make smartphones and instead shifted to software and enterprise services.
Blackberry’s demise also marked a shift in banking. As Android and iOS platforms gained popularity, so did a different kind of banking. Featuring superior, built-in cameras, mobile check deposits emerged. Driven by consumer demand for greater convenience, it quickly took hold. But any bank that had plans to “innovate” its back office and teller check capture solutions four years down the road versus adding mobile capture was at a disadvantage.
This is the world we now know. As technology moves at lightning speed, product roadmaps should be shortened to accommodate swift changes and evolving consumer expectations. With a short-term vision of no more than six months, banks can be much nimbler. They must ask: What are our top priorities right now? Then, let’s tackle the next set of technology priorities when it’s clearer what those should be.
A shorter timeline also calls for a roadmap with a shorter list of included products. By focusing on the immediate needs without speculating on what may or may not be relevant four years from now, fintech companies and banks can approach technology with dedicated attention. Teams are no longer spread across a dozen or more products and will, instead, prioritize what is most relevant with greater dedicated resources. As technology advances, resources can be shifted to the next product.
Accelerate growth with a true partner
With a sharper focus on short-term goals, fintech firms also ensure successful and speedier executions, which leads to greater confidence among banks. According to a recent study from Cornerstone Advisors, communicating credible roadmap commitments ranks second in importance when evaluating bank-fintech company relationships. In other words, is the fintech company living up to its promises? The overall relationship with fintech partners ranks number one.
“We should all take a breath and avoid random acts of software which are the creation of usable new functionality that has no real reason to exist,” notes Brian de Haaff, CEO of Aha, a roadmap software solution.
Reaping the rewards of employing a six-month roadmap are typically seen when teams set clear-cut, and ambitious goals. By outlining precise roadmaps that align with specific themes, we can develop and predict better outcomes throughout the process. Implementing this strategy prevents crippling budgets, ineffective communication and failed projects while leading to more focused products and features. Truly differentiating products are born from shorter roadmaps and continuous iteration, ultimately producing stronger customer success and satisfaction.
This strategy also leads to true accountability. For decades, the transactional model has stayed the same: Financial institutions pay big money to vendors to deliver products. Anything that changes post-delivery becomes the bank’s problem. Instead, it should be about true collaboration. Accountable partners move quickly to identify new opportunities and niches, and then bring new products and services to market. This model requires input from the financial institution themselves about what they—and their customers—need.
Fintech partners can develop relevant and reliable product roadmaps while building lasting, mutually beneficial relationships. Ultimately, shaping a tried and true partner for the long haul, enabling banks to develop a clear strategy that meets today’s needs and anticipating tomorrow’s goals without speculating on what might be relevant in the years to come.
As financial institutions continue to lean into partnerships with fintech partners to stay competitive and keep pace with change, shortening product delivery timelines is imperative. Attempting to predict what is on the horizon of financial services and technology three, four or five years from now is a fruitless task and only limits a bank’s ability to compete. It’s time to rethink the old model of traditional product roadmaps and get hyper focused on six-month intervals to achieve greater flexibility. As a result, as technology and consumer expectations ebb and flow, proactive financial institutions will be primed to respond quickly, not just to meet, but to exceed the high expectations consumers set in their digital banking journey.
Larry McClanahan is chief product officer at Nymbus. McClanahan previously directed digital banking initiatives at Fifth Third Bank and MidFirst Bank.