Virtual Wallets and a Billionaire’s Balloon at BAI Retail Delivery 2012

by Bill Perry 0

The best (and most-challenging) thing about the BAI Retail Delivery conference, which ended 10 days ago in Washington, D.C., is its size. Fill a three-story conference facility with almost 2,800 bankers, credit union executives, vendors and speakers, and a lot happens.

“We’re an organization dedicated to research, education and information for the retail banking space,” said Debbie Bianucci, BAI’s president and CEO. “And innovation is what drives our focus.”

Among this year’s topics: the virtual wallet. Speakers and vendors dissected it. Other topics included mining big data and re-inventing (or not) the bank branch.

Among 500 exhibitors, nearly 50 firms focused on mobile payments or commerce applications. Fred Alexander, who handles strategic alliances at PayPal, was among the exhibitors. He talked up the convenience of PayPal’s virtual wallet. Alexander touted PayPal’s linked-accounts feature that let customers prioritize which card to use for transactions. “We’re seeing a lot of banks using our P2P functions,” said Alexander.

According to David Wallace, a manager for business-analytics firm SAS, capitalizing on digital channels was a hot topic. SAS helps banks analyze the transactions in a digital wallet, says Wallace. Part of that analysis enables bankers to pick up on digital trails as if they were sitting in a branch observing the facial expressions of a customer.

“The digital wallet was talked about last year, and this year the trend continued,” added Wallace.

In a session titled “Mobile Banking Around the World: What can we learn?,” Junseong Han, head of the new business department for Hana Bank, described how the bank’s “Hana N Wallet” has won Korean banking customers age 20 to 30. The e-wallet features multi-remittance, collection, the ability to send gift cards or split, say, a restaurant bill between payers.

Analyst Bart Narter of research firm Celent presented a case study on Bankinter, Spain’s sixth-largest bank. Mobile banking, says Narter, is the way Bankinter: trims costs, improves customer satisfaction and cross-sells. Bankinter claims to be so adept at analyzing purchasing data that one executive claimed he could tell if a customer was preparing to divorce a spouse.

The conference keynote (more of an interview, really) featured Sir Richard Branson. Slate Group Editor-in-Chief Jacob Weisberg interviewed Branson while three, two-story video screens broadcast the talk to 1,000 onlookers. Branson riffed on launching Virgin Airways, the crash of Virgin Cola, marketing and banking.

Branson briefly touched on buying Northern Rock, a U.K.-based troubled bank, and instilling the Virgin culture. After the purchase, he visited one of the bank’s branches. With a sledgehammer in tow, the billionaire broke down the teller windows’ iron bars. The PR stunt was supposed to show customers they were getting a new banking experience. Weisberg asked Branson if he would risk his life again with a balloon trip across the globe. Branson said, “The balloons were about building the brand, and we’ve done that.” Branson told the audience to come up with their balloon idea. Advertising is expensive, he said, and being conservative means nobody will write about you. Branson should know.

Bill Perry is the managing partner of MARCH 24 Media LLC, a communications and market research firm. Bill has written about financial services, manufacturing and technology for nearly 20 years. He can be reached at bperry@march24media.com.