A New Era of Financial Innovation

Episode 280

State of Identity Podcast


Episode 280

A New Era of Financial Innovation

Open finance and APIs are driving a new era of financial innovation that will fuel new use cases and business models for financial institutions and fintechs. David Whitcomb, Vice President of Product at MX and Crystal Anderson, Vice President of Product Management at MX join the State of Identity podcast to define “Open Finance,” how it’s part of the Open Banking movement, and will explain how financial institutions can benefit from open finance and drive innovation vs. leaving it to the latest fintech app.


Cameron D'Ambrosi, Managing Director at Liminal


David Whitcomb, Vice President of Product at MX

Crystal Anderson, Vice President of Product Management at MX


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Cameron D’Ambrosi [00:00:03] Welcome everyone to State of Identity. I’m your host, Cameron D’Ambrosi. Joining me this week are David Whitcomb, Vice President of Product and Crystal Anderson, Vice President of Product Management at MX. David,Crystal, welcome to State of Identity.


David Whitcomb [00:00:18] Yeah, thanks so much for having us. Love to be here again.


Crystal Anderson [00:00:21] Yes, thank you.


Cameron D’Ambrosi [00:00:22] It is my pleasure. You know, MX, obviously a true pioneer in the kind of open banking and financial connectivity space more broadly and really excited to dove into, you know, the role you’re playing and where we think this entire space is headed in and the role that MX has to play there. So before we get into all that, I do want to take a brief detour into, you know, a little bit of your personal backgrounds and biographies. Crystal, maybe we can start with you. Would you mind walking us through a little bit of your 20 year career leading digital and financial product organizations?


Crystal Anderson [00:01:01] Sure. As you mentioned, I’ve been in the financial services industry specifically doing product management for about 20 years. My my career started in product management in something completely unrelated. It was the center elimination business for the hunting and fishing industry, which is a fun story and probably for another podcast. But my first real product management job was at H&R BLOCK, where I launched many of their financial products, including their prepaid debit card called the Emerald Card, and then many lending products, identity prevention or identity theft prevention products. And worked my way up to vice president of financial services there. I did have a couple of years break in service where I worked for FASB Payment Systems, which is a prepaid card processor that was acquired by U.S. Bank. And I did product development there. I was at H&R BLOCK for a total of 17 years and and then made the move to MX last August. So I’ve been at MX for about ten months now, leading product management.


Cameron D’Ambrosi [00:02:04] And David, how about yourself?


David Whitcomb [00:02:07] So I’ve been in financial services for around 15 years. And 15 years ago when I started working for Credit Union, where I came in and ended up re processing a mortgage fulfillment system. So loan applications would come in, they would hit the new digital system, the credit you invested in, and then the people process processing loans would pour out the paper and process it by paper. And so I came in and had to automate that and make it as digital as possible and then move to the I.T. side of the organization. After I kind of built the mortgage top up and became a software developer, which I think was my first exposure to to product because my boss said, Hey, here’s an API spec. We think the tellers need some help getting some credit card data. See if you can build something, help them. So I ended up writing a program in like 4 to 6 weeks. A program was deployed and I was getting continuous feedback from tellers on a regular basis, making improvements to the product until we had a working product. And I took that and pivoted to a different space in our digital banking ecosystem and was getting feedback from on that point and improving the product. And so it was my first exposure was really hands on building solutions, getting direct feedback immediately, and now I’m a VP of product at IMAX and working to ensure that everything we build works together goes smoothly and really impacts our mission, which is empowering, will be financially strong. So it’s been a fun run. Spent some time at a company called Fiserv as well, which is a Fortune 500 financial services company. So that’s been a been a good gig at IMAX so far.


Cameron D’Ambrosi [00:03:35] That’s awesome. And you know, I presume to some degree that our audience is going to know maybe a little bit about MX and about the, you know, open banking space in general. But let’s presume that someone’s coming in with a completely blank slate and you had to give them a quick 15,000 foot overview, you know, cocktail party style about what MX is all about, what you do, what your role is in this ecosystem. You know, how would you open up that conversation?


David Whitcomb [00:04:00] So I’d say MX is we call ourselves a leader in open finance. Ultimately, everything we do is geared at giving consumers the ability to act, access and act on their financial data. So what the way that looks when we look at when we talk about what we do is it looks we access everywhere from the connections. So giving the user the ability to connect to their accounts, to the data that comes into our ecosystem because we take that data and what in its raw form it’s typically pretty unusable from a user perspective. So we take it, we cleanse it, we enhance it, we add value to it, and we make it. We make it easier to use. And then at the highest level, we provide digital financial management tools and an insight tools to help people understand how they live and move with their finances. So I think Crystal is is deeply focused on financial health. And so she’s she’s doing a lot of work there to ensure that the products we’re building are creating the right outcomes. So, Kristen, do I say more about what we’re doing there?


Crystal Anderson [00:04:59] And we partner with the Financial Health Network, you know, among many other organizations. But really in our work within the financial wellness space and financial health space is understanding what really drives financial wellness. And looking at, you know, there’s eight real indicators of financial health and it’s within spending, saving, borrowing and planning. And so as we’re building our experiences, as David said, we’re bringing in the data, we’re cleansing it, and we’re making it actionable and we create our experiences. It’s really to drive better health and better behaviors within each of those categories. So let’s take spending as an example. One of the ways that you drive financial health is ensuring that users are paying their bills on time and in full, or they’re spending less than they make. And so that manifests for us in products like what we call spending plan, where someone can really plan out how they’re going to spend their cash and get real time insights about how they’re doing or negotiating bills or looking at their subscriptions and canceling subscriptions. So that’s just. One real example about how we’re we’re impacting wellness and the spending space. And then there’s many examples within each of those other categories as well.


Cameron D’Ambrosi [00:06:10] So, you know, thinking more broadly about open banking, I think it’s something that. Inherently makes sense to the consumer, right? In many cases, I don’t think the average consumer really understands why we you know, we can’t have open banking this entire time or maybe has some flashbacks to an earlier era of using products like Mint when they were asking you for your username and password and using like screen scraping and other non privacy preserving technologies to get some approximation of the functionality of open banking. But behind the scenes, you know, very much a Rube Goldberg machine with lots of, you know, bits of tape and string and, you know, a little hamster spinning a wheel that cranks some pencils, that tightens a rope, that knocks some dominoes over, that takes a picture of your account statement that runs through OCR. Right. And in the meantime, the platform has a database somewhere that your username and password are sitting in because they’re logging in on your behalf every time you need to update your account. That obviously is a whole handful. And I just threw out a bunch of terms that your average, you know, layperson, consumer might not understand. And in many cases, you know, nor will some of the folks who work at at banks or maybe even at fintechs. How do you see your role in the open banking ecosystem? And where where is your your mandate coming from? Why do you see it as empowering consumers? Do you see it as empowering the fintechs that are looking to provide new and exciting use cases for consumers? Or do you see it, you know, with those those financial institutions that are seeking for conduits where their consumers can kind of, you know, use that relationship they have with an existing bank and take that data and do more with it.


David Whitcomb [00:08:02] We really see our position in the market as is interacting with everything you just said, and we see ourselves as an accelerator to this to way of doing that securely. So you you talked about screen scraping and the in the Rube Goldberg machine machine how that works. I would love to say that we are out of the woods and that’s not happening anymore. Unfortunately, it’s not the case. Banking technology hasn’t moved that fast, that this is an identity podcast. The identity and access management systems of banks is still not up to speed with where the industry has come, and that leaves consumers behind. And so one of the things that MX has been is doing is actively building and has deployed with a couple of institutions already is a platform that helps facilitate token based sharing so that when the credentials are shared, actually they’re not shared. When the credentials are given, they’re given only to the bank or to the or to the fintech who’s providing the data out. And within MX, it’s a token. That token is the mechanism we use to access the data from that. On that token is linked to the person consuming it or the company consuming the data behind the scenes. So the end user has a strong identification of who is in the middle, which is MX. They have a strong understanding of who is receiving the data after MX touches it. And now they know that they can always go into their their banking platform and say, I want to actually turn this off or enable more accounts or change which data flows to them. And so we really see our position as created, facilitating the relationship between the end user, their financial institution and the fintechs and the other end other banks. We want to call up their not just fintechs, but other banks who are leveraging the data that that consumer wants to share with their chosen partners. So it is a it is a three year, almost four party relationship at all times where MX is facilitating the secure flow of data from the consumer, from from the bank on the behalf of the consumer to the end to the fintech application. So we are, we see ourselves playing all that stuff in space.


Crystal Anderson [00:10:00] And you mentioned meant and what was so brilliant about it and my goodness, was it 20 years ago, 15, 20 years ago when they came out was it was the first time I think you could really see all of your financial data in one place. And so that need is still there. We based on surveys that we have done with consumers, 90% of them still expect or want to be able to see all of their their full financial picture in one place. But that experience of those broken connections and, you know, it just became really labor intensive for the user. And in some ways the access to the data wasn’t there. And so the concept is really great. But what this what this will enable is that like really truly delivering on that need because, well, 90% say they want it. Only 40% say they actually get that or have that experience with their financial institution or credit union. And so we’re still not delivering on that need that has been there for so long as an industry. I would say.


David Whitcomb [00:10:57] That adding to that, I think we’ve only the industry in general has only gotten more complex. So we look at 20 years ago with Mint, you may have had a relationship with one or two banks, you might have had your investment advisor, depending on where you were in effect or financial status or stage of life. But today when you think about. Financial technology and financial services. I have an HSA account with health equity. I’ve got a couple of different checking accounts and savings accounts for a high yield savings account. I’ve gotten I think the average for consumers is three or four credit cards. I may have that or more. Then you step back and you think about, well, what about PayPal? What about Venmo? What about Cash app? We we’ve inserted financial services and so many different functionalities in our digital life that the challenge of seeing your whole financial life in one picture has become even more challenging, which again further just continues to reinforce the need for the Americans of the world to help consumers see everything together and to help ensure that when they’re seeing it together, that it’s done securely.


Crystal Anderson [00:12:02] And securely is so important. Because everything David just said, you know, that you have so many more accounts. But then also we’re seeing the willingness to share and the expectation to be able to share has increased so, so significantly as well. And so there’s there’s more data sharing, there’s more comfort doing so. And security just has to be such a critical component of any solution that’s out there.


Cameron D’Ambrosi [00:12:25] So where do we think the appetite is in terms of, you know, not necessarily consumer interest in adoption? Because I think from my perspective, the interest has always been there. And we know that it’s super strong because of the fact that people were using, you know, non secure methods to to get this functionality out of the financial system many years ago. But I think we’ve seen some potential reticence, you know, on behalf of financial institutions that think like, gee, you know, open banking is is just a way to enable folks to kind of pull transactions away from me and I’m going to get turned into dumb pipes. I don’t necessarily think that that is and an accurate read, but I think. As we’ve seen non regulatory enabled pushes into open banking that has been some source of friction in the industry. Has that worm started to turn yet? Do you think from your perspective that the big banks are now fully realizing that open banking is is one here to stay and kind of the new normal? So folks should get used to it. But to that, this is not actually a core threat to these platforms. This is actually making them more indispensable and more of the core fabric of financial services and enabling them to be stickier for their customers, because the functionalities that are not offered don’t require a customer to open a new account. They can actually just kind of Lego brick style, put a laser onto their spaceship as opposed to having it build a new spaceship from scratch.


David Whitcomb [00:13:58] Yeah. So the I would say it varies. There are some banks who embrace it wholly, and actually some of the biggest banks in the country have led the way. They’ve made the investments because in one sense, they see the significant risk of having millions of customers and having millions of customers credentials being in ecosystems that are not their own. And so for their legal teams and their risk management teams, they’re saying this can’t happen anymore. So there was a significant legal and risk stimulus for them to get a secure API built for open banking. So they led the way there. They made the investments and made it happen. What we see is that as you go down to smaller what I guess it would stay in the big banks are some big banks who who CEOs have made statements like the data is not the consumers, the data is ours. And so that type of philosophical position is completely opposed to open banking and finance is opposed to the existence of an aggregator like MX and all reality. So there are two very different philosophies that a bank can take when it comes to giving a consumer the right to share their data and to do it securely. I think what we’re seeing as a whole, though, is that the vast majority of banks are seeing it as an indispensable function of how they connect with consumers. And when we talk about we talk to banks, we say, well, let’s not stop thinking about how data leaves. Let’s start talking about how data comes in. How does a user connect their paycheck to their bank account? And let’s not like let’s make a little bit more specific. Let’s not talk about the 60 year old who has been using checks for 30 years. Let’s talk about the 20 year old has no idea what a check is. How do they connect their paycheck to your bank account after their parent wants it for them? And they say they have to get an account routing number. Do they know what that is? How easy is it for them to find that on your online mobile site? What if they can just put their fingerprint, connect to the account and they’re done? That’s the experience that consumer wants to have to become and stay sticky, indispensable for you to stay indispensable in their life. So that’s getting a paycheck. That also applies to getting payouts from Venmo and PayPal and Cashapp and all those other places where they’re exchanging money left and right with their friends. And when they want to use it for a debit card or credit card or make a payment, you should want them to bring it back to you as far as a financial institution to do that. If you don’t let them do that easily. They’re going to use the more easy forms which are Venmo this card, cash apps, card pay bells, cards. There are lots of options, so make it easy for them to bring money in and give them a good reason to be there.


Crystal Anderson [00:16:31] I think as David saying, you know, so much of what we are doing, what MX is doing is helping to educate on what the market trends are and what consumers are doing and and help banks, financial institutions and even non-financial institutions see where the use cases are going and how. How they benefit from participating in this. We look at in the future things like embedded finance where as David saying, like people are transacting in a in a more nontraditional fashion. You know, one of my favorite use cases is getting a loan or getting finances for a big purchase within the purchase experience. You’re in the shopping cart and we have buy now pay later and and we’ll continue to see financing that’s happening during the purchase the purchase activity versus someone going into a bank branch or going online and applying for a loan and waiting for those funds to be available. It’s just consumer behavior is changing. And so part of what we are doing is educating financial institutions on how that’s happening and how open finance can really enable that for them and for consumers. And the other thing is that with our product mix access, they can also see where their consumers are, like what they’re connecting to. They can see of these I think it’s on average six different apps that they’re their consumers, their clients have where they’re actually transacting. They can go look at what that competitive set looks like and see how they can can continue to compete for mindshare and usage with that user. Otherwise, you know, there really isn’t a ton of insight for them into where their consumers are also transacting and and and what other apps are engaging with.


Cameron D’Ambrosi [00:18:12] So where do we go from here? I think you’ve hit on in many cases, the the current promise of of open banking as it stands now. What are the use cases that you think you know, whether it’s consumers, whether it’s relying parties or the financial institutions themselves? What are they most excited about, kind of looking forward? And and where are these kind of untapped reservoirs of excitement that you think are going to drive interest in the space as we move forward?


David Whitcomb [00:18:41] I think the first place I look is I think we’ve seen tons of new check out crystal referenced buy now, pay later. Why not be a leader may be a bit flawed as a whole business model. We’re seeing the valuations of those companies that were sky high come down quite a bit. Some challenges to the risk models that they’ve done. But the reality is the checkout experience is still one that can be improved. So I was just looking at my pull up, my phone was looking at the apple card and apple and apple cash. And I thought, what if when you pay your bill or pay whatever you’re doing with your device, you can see your balance is right there in line. Right. So we thought we embedded finances, we’ve taken some steps, we’ve gotten closer. And typically embedded finance today has meant you’ve got a buy now, pay later checkout. We had point of sale lending rate that’s been around for a long time. It’s not really that new, which just we digitized it. But when I think about embedded fine into the future, it’s when I check out, I can see my balances of all my accounts that I could pay from at checkout. So it makes my choice that much easier. It’s not about being able to do it easier. It’s about being able to make the decision, take the action with intelligence, not blindly or not having to look at my phone and look at my balances before I push the pay button because I need to make sure. So I think there’s this MX historically has talked about financial literacy and we built tools to help people be more literate. I think where we’re going is this place of financial advocacy, where my connection of my accounts to my to my life and my whether it’s digital or physical, is so deeply connected. I know the context of my payment, what I’m making it not just that I’m paying with the card or with that with a checking account. So that’s where I think that’s where I get most excited. I think we have a ways to go to get there. Honestly, I think the infrastructure still has a ways to go that the providers who are doing check out services have a ways to go to get that their MX will be a part of it, I guarantee you that. So I’m excited about that. Crystal, what are you seeing?


Crystal Anderson [00:20:35] Yeah, I think in addition to the the use cases that that you mentioned, you talked about intelligent decision making. I also see we’ve talked about this, but building personalized experiences, that’s another thing that open finance enables for someone to access and then act on their financial data. It can help financial institutions and financial technology companies discover new business models, support financial wellness that we talked about. And then also I’m David mentioned this before, but mitigating fraud and risks, I think those are the really the big buckets of areas that we we see open finance enabling.


Cameron D’Ambrosi [00:21:10] I love it. And, you know, if if we are thinking about how the growth is going to come, like in some ways in digital identity, we talk a lot about, you know, technology problems versus network problems. And in many cases, I’ve talked about how we’re kind of where we need to be from a technology perspective for many of these challenges and arguably have been for several years. And it’s not technological innovation that’s going to get us over the line towards progress. It’s building of communities, building of consensus, alignment of stakeholders. Would you say that’s the case in the open banking space, you know, is the technology where we need it to be in it. It’s all about building community and and getting folks to be a part of ecosystems that’s going to drive growth. Or or do we still think there’s some technological, low hanging fruit that can also be be addressed here?


David Whitcomb [00:22:01] I think the technology’s all about adoption of the technology. The technology exists that the identity provider space has grown up dramatically over the past five years to provide secure access to the vast majority of banking service providers have API layers now that can enable services like like open banking and finance. So the technology is there. It’s now now really is about the communities aligning on what the what the, the right way to do it is in terms that are acceptable kind of across the board. So when you look at the financial data exchange there a consortiums creating a standardized interoperable API to new with OSX of the past that fixes the effects of the future. It’s much it’s bigger and more robust and has a greater set of capabilities and room to expand the way they look at the data that’s being shared so it can grow over time. It’s not stuck in a static state. But that alignment is significant because you have people from fintechs, aggregators and banks all working together to establish standards. At the same time we have say we I think every aggregator in the U.S. right now has teams working in Washington talking to legislators, because some people are saying, hey, you’ve got to stop scraping immediately. We’re saying if you stop scraping immediately until this technology has time to come up to speed, you’re going to cut off consumer access. So there are ways to there are ways to ensure that aggregators are safely using data and securely accessing data outside of just saying kill, scraping, kill, scraping and cutting off the financial activities of some of the marginalized in society. Under-banked don’t often use big banks. They use neobanks. They use niche banks that are providing very specific needs for them. And so the risk of cutting off scraping is actually cutting off access to people. So we can’t just jump right in. So there has to be the buy in, there has to be the technological development by the service providers so that the banks that thousands of banks in the US, which is unique in the world, can actually provide the services to their users that are required.


Crystal Anderson [00:23:59] WILSON.


Cameron D’Ambrosi [00:24:00] All right, last question here, too, to bring us over the line. This is a fun one, crystal ball prediction time. Crystal, I think we’ll have to make you go first because your name is Crystal and feels apropos. You know, what are you expecting to see over the course of the next few years in the digital identity space? Feel free to keep this as broader or as narrow as you want. Open ended question would love to hear your thoughts.


Crystal Anderson [00:24:25] Yeah, I, I think as David was mentioning before, the financial institutions believing the data is theirs, I think that’s the biggest shift we’re going to see. And just like my credit data and all of my trade lines, I view transactional data. And beyond that, all of your financial data is yours. And I think that that’s the biggest shift we’re going to see. I think of it almost like a key ring of your data that you take with you everywhere you go. And, you know, we’ll be creating the infrastructure where that is possible. And in everything that we’re talking about today makes that possible. That’s it is very broad. But I think that that wholesale shift in the way we think about your financial data being yours and being owned by the consumer will be what unlocks this.


David Whitcomb [00:25:15] Got excited about my crystal ball as I heard what Crystal was saying and then thinking about identity. There’s a guy named David Birch, I think he lives in the UK, writes a town identity and security and specifically tokenized identity. But the idea that identity has to be intrinsically tied to a physical person is significant in my mind. And one thing that banks in the US have is they have a ton of physical locations. And so when we think about identity specifically around open finance, open banking in the U.S., one of the ways to ensure an identity is verified is to have a physical verification point. And that’s where I think there’s this unique opportunity. I’m sure people are trying to solve this problem somewhere, but it’s having a way to have a physical verification of identity that links digitally that you can take with you, that accesses a network of banks or a network of services around the US. I think there’s a because we have such a diversified banking ecosystem in the U.S., we have a unique opportunity that other, other countries don’t necessarily have. So I think there’s something something cool can happen there.


Cameron D’Ambrosi [00:26:14] Amazing. No, I couldn’t agree with both of you more. I think this is such a such an exciting space and and tremendous opportunity for open banking to really be, you know, this conduit for this identity layer that in many cases, you know, is the original sin of the Internet. I know it’s a cliché. I say that all the time on the podcast, but banks have such an impressive position in in this ecosystem because of that level of trust, they’ve established and built and maintained with consumers, you know, over the past generations. And I think open banking is really so, so critical to unlocking that promise and, you know, to some some ways protecting that beachhead of the banking system against what’s what’s a polite way of putting this encroaching, shall we say, from other industries that are kind of trying to to lay claim to that high level of trust. So, so, so great having you both on to bring us home here. Shameless plug time for listeners who are looking to get in touch to understand how they can partner with MX, better understand what types of integrations you have, how they might be able to leverage the data that your platform can provide access to. What is the best way for them to to reach out, to get involved, to learn more?


David Whitcomb [00:27:32] So if you want to reach me directly, you can search me on LinkedIn or you can hit me up on Twitter at outlook.com. W h i t dotcom. Otherwise go to our website and make wsj.com tons of places for you to put in your name, get a demo. And we have salespeople that will be happy to come talk to you. So just be glad to be able to communicate in any channel.


Cameron D’Ambrosi [00:27:54] Amazing. Well, David Crystal, thank you so much for your time. So, so appreciate it. Always great to have folks on who are are bringing this exciting and unique perspective. You know, we don’t talk about open banking perhaps as much as we should on state of identity. So thank you for illuminating this corner of the digital identity space for us and looking forward to having you on again soon.


David Whitcomb [00:28:15] Thanks for sharing.


Crystal Anderson [00:28:16] Thank you so much.


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