Wrestling with Your Digital Talent Gap

 

By Robert McGarvey

 

For CU 2.0

 

Wake up to a frightening reality: very probably your credit union is falling behind in the race for digital talent and that just may be a sound of impending doom.

Consulting firm CapGemini, working with LinkedIn, recently issued a report on The Digital Talent Gap and the takeaways for credit union executives have to be frightening.

According to CapGemini, six in ten banking executives acknowledge they face a widening talent gap. The report pinpoints banking as a sector where that gap is especially high.

The money center banks, almost certainly, are not pointing to themselves. They are busily hiring top digital talent as they chart their paths into a 21st century where digital is seen as the core of banking.  They see that future and they are preparing for it.

Down a checklist, CapGemini sees less skill than is needed in a range of digital activities that are central to banking today. Included on the list are cybersecurity, mobile apps (where a big skill deficit is cited), data science, and big data (another huge deficit).

A lot of what has become core in delivering financial services is now emerging as areas where many, many credit unions and community banks are just not keeping up because they don’t have the talent to stay in the game.

Employees know these realities. According to the survey data, 30% of banking employees believe their skills will be redundant in one to two years. 44% believe their skills will be redundant in four or five years.

That suggests a frightened, anxious workforce.

Employees also express dissatisfaction with trainings offered them by their organization.  45% say they are not helping them attain new skills.  42% say the trainings they attend are “useless and boring.”

Ouch.

Question: does your credit union leadership know their own employees fear their institution is lagging in the race for digital competence – and that they despair over the viability of their own skills?

It gets worse. You just may lose the digital talent you presently have. The CapGemini survey found that “over half of digital talent (55%) say they are willing to move to another organization if they feel their digital skills are stagnating.”

The good news: CapGemini offered concrete suggestions about what organizations need to do to remain players in the race for digital talent.

A suggestion not on the list is blunt: credit unions often will need to find their digital talent through third party vendors and CUSOs.  No shame in that.  At a certain institutional size, the savvy survival strategy is to know where to go outside to help chart the credit union’s digital path.  There still needs be digital skills internally – especially a sharp sensitivity to what matters digitally inside the c-suite.  But a lot of the digital heavy lifting can and should happen through third parties at all but the very largest credit unions.

But the biggest credit unions need to be sure they are nurturing internal digital talent. And smaller institutions need to know what they can do with the talent they have and they also need to stay watchful of their third party vendors and their talent development efforts.

Just because a CUSO was spot on technologically in 2010 doesn’t mean it has a clue today. Things move very fast in this world.

That’s where the CapGemini suggestions about how to develop digital talent come in.

And step one is Attract Digital Talent where CapGemini points a finger at the institution’s leadership.  Specifically: “Align leadership on a talent strategy and the unique needs of digital talent.”

How does your credit union measure up there?

Does your leadership see the ultimate importance of digital in charting the institution’s future?

The next steps are no easier: “create an environment that prioritizes and rewards learning” and “align leadership on a talent strategy and the unique needs of digital talent.”

Digital warriors go where they are loved and wanted.  It’s that simple.

One more step: “Give digital talent the power to implement change.”

This doesn’t sound easy?

Nope. It all is very hard, especially for small and mid size credit unions.

But the alternative just may be planning to go out of business.

That makes the choice easy.

 

The Sad State of Inflight WiFi aka Bring a Book

 

By Robert McGarvey

 

It was 10 years ago that you probably first experienced inflight WiFi and if you are like me you remember that moment with delight.  GoGo rolled out WiFi to a handful of flights on a handful of carriers (American Airlines, Virgin America, Delta, Air Canada, Air Tran Airways and United) in 2009 and, pretty soon, I was picking flights based upon my guess about WiFi availability.

How cool was it to email at 30,000 feet? Very. And, honestly, the speeds just didn’t seem slow back then – in part because users were few.

Meantime, think about today where there’s WiFi in coffee shops, homes, fast food restaurants and – you know what? – it is pretty much ubiquitous. In Phoenix there’s even free WiFi on the lightrail ($4 to ride all day), just about every coffee shop offers it, and so do apartment house lobbies, doctors waiting rooms, and I could on on.

Where we are, WiFi is.

Except on airplanes.

Let’s put aside the issue of how bad – slow, overpriced, unreliable – inflight WiFi has become. There also very real issues around security (or lack thereof), where everybody from crooks to government agencies may be eavesdropping on your keystrokes. We’ll get to that momentarily.

For now what grabs me is that WiFi is very far from ubiquitous inflight – indeed odds are that any given seat will not have WiFi, according to a report from Routehappy. That report says that 43%
of available seat miles (ASMs) worldwide have at least a chance of Wi-Fi on board. Note that hedge – at least a chance. That’s because many planes claim WiFi but it may not in fact be actually working.

That 43% is up from 39% last year – which highlights the slow pace of upgrades.

This means 57% of seats have zero chance of providing WiFi.

US carriers are better than the rest, per Routehappy: “U.S. airlines offer at least a chance of Wi-Fi on 86% of their ASMs, with 85% of ASMs fully rolled out.”  It added: “Non-U.S. airlines offer at least a chance of Wi-Fi on 32% of their ASMs, up by 14% from the 2017 report.”

Now chew on this: “Three carriers now offer Wi-Fi on 100% of their flights: Icelandair, Southwest, and Virgin Atlantic.”  That means many, many dozens don’t. By Routehappy’s count, 82 airlines globally offer WiFi, so that means 79 don’t offer it on all flights.

A morsel of good news is that “13 airlines globally offer Wi-Fi on 100% of long-haul flights: Air Europa, Delta, Emirates, Etihad, Eurowings, EVA Air, Iberia, Kuwait, Lufthansa, SAS, Scoot, United, and Virgin Atlantic.”

Another morsel: “While passengers have come to expect Wi-Fi on large global airlines, many smaller airlines have now begun offering Wi-Fi as well. Air Astana from Kazakhstan, Air Côte d’Ivoire from Ivory Coast, and Air Mauritius from Mauritius are just a few of the numerous smaller airlines that began offering Wi-Fi in 2017.”

Nonetheless, the bad news is that when flying overseas, you have a better than even chance of not having WiFi access.

Despite the rising global ubiquity of WiFi.

Routehappy, by the way, holds out hope for the disgruntled passengers – myself often among them – who no longer even try to use inflight WiFi.  My usual preference is to read a book on my iPad – and I carefully insure the books I want to access are downloaded before I leave for the airport.

At most I will do a fast email session inflight.  But not usually.

But there are glimmers of hope that our increasingly loud kvetching about WiFi quality will be dealt with by the carriers. Said Routehappy: “Best Wi-Fi is now available on 16% of ASMs worldwide, representing a staggering 129% increase from the 2017 report.”  

It defines “Best WiFi” this way: “Fastest Wi-Fi systems currently available, capable of advanced media streaming (whether allowed by airline or not); comparable to a home connection.”

That is good news on first glance but on second what it says is 84% of ASMs don’t have “best WiFi.”

In the 2017 Routehappy report, by the way, it noted that 6% of flights offered “best WiFi.”

There has been progress in bringing “best WiFi” to more passengers globally – but not a lot, not really.

And airlines plan to get us viewing movies and such on this “Best” WiFi – and how good is your cable connection at home when you try to stream a movie on Friday night?

Right.

Don’t expect better even from “Best” WiFi on long, packed flights.  I know I’m not. I saw the drop in inflight quality circa 2012 as more of us discovered it and started using it. Similar will befall “Best” WiFi and it will surely deteriorate.

That’s why for now I’ll stick with my plan to read books on my iPad, maybe make notes in my paper calendar-planner.

How 1999.

But has anything really changed?

How Frightened Should You Be About Amazon Banking?: Memo to Credit Unions

 

By Robert McGarvey

For CU2.0

 

Think very – that’s the question’s answer. But maybe you already have in hand the exact weapons you need to defend your position.  Surprised?

Read on.

Triggering this discussion is a recent Snarketing post by Cornerstone Advisors’ Ron Shevlin that  offered hard data about Amazon’s potential popularity as a consumer bank. 

Cornerstone had surveyed 2015 consumers – with both a bank account and a smart phone – and asked two questions: would you bank with Amazon for a free checking account?  Would you pay, $5 or $10 monthly, for a premium checking account that bundled in perhaps cell phone damage protection or roadside assistance?

Before guessing the answers – they will surprise you – feast on this recent headline from the Evening Standard newspaper in London: Is data the new oil? How information became the fuel of the future.

That question is deeply intertwined with Amazon’s possible banking play.

Ask yourself: what US company knows an incredible amount about you, probably more than any other?  Hint: it’s a company that sells just about everything, much of it delivered free within two days.

Amazon, very quietly, has emerged as a real king of the data mountain.  Google may know what interests you, Facebook may know who your friends (and enemies!) are, and Apple knows what tech bling you will splurge on, but Amazon – in many households – knows everything you buy, from groceries to clothes.

In 2017 Amazon tells me I placed 107 orders. Many were for multiple items.  From cat food to an Echo Look.  

Think how well that data resource positions Amazon to pounce into banking.  It knows its many millions of customers, it’s already providing credit cards and purchase credit to millions of them, and CEO Jeff Bezos has never shied away from offering discounts if he believes doing so will produce longterm profits.

Will Bezos take the plunge into the slow moving financial services world? Do we – consumers – want him to?

A free Amazon account just might seem to be a threat to a credit union sweet spot. According to Bankrate.com, 84% of credit union checking accounts have no monthly maintenance fee, up from 72% a couple years earlier. For many credit unions, this is a key marketing difference.

And yet Cornerstone’s research found something interesting.  Asked if they wanted a free Amazon checking account, 42% of consumers said nope.  Just 26% said they would open it.  Another 32% said they would consider it.

Matters get more intriguing when Cornerstone asked if they wanted a premium, bundled account with a small monthly fee of $5 or $10.  Only 34% said no thanks – that’s sharply down from the 42% who rejected the free account.

And 29% said they would open it, up from the 26% who said they would open a free account.

Does free carry less weight than you thought?

Is it maybe time to rethink using free as the centerpiece of the institution’s marketing?

Shevlin stressed that, at least superficially, the institutions that would be most impacted by an Amazon entry into banking would be the money center banks, mainly because they are courting millennials who, Cornerstone said, are the ones most attracted to the Amazon potential products.

But Shevlin tossed out this poisoned dart:  “The smaller financial institutions are already challenged in attracting younger consumers to their institutions. An Amazon entrance into banking will only make it harder for them.”

And remember this: Amazon may well know your members better than you do.

Frightening? You bet.  But there is that solution that already is in your hands.  The solution is to fight back by diving ever deeper into member data.  The data will tell you your next steps – if you learn to listen to it.

Plenty of credit union focused big data experts are adamant that credit unions can fight back against the Amazons.

Fight data with data.

You have lots of data, from sharedraft accounts, credit and debit cards, maybe car loans and home mortgages. Use the data you have to prepared a battle plan.

You will need it because, whether Amazon takes the plunge into consumer banking or not, other non banks will.  They already are circling this pond and they act as though they smell blood in the water.  

You have the data. It’s the only weapon you need.

And remember that in the 21st century data is indeed the new oil. Let it power your institutional growth.

 

Become a Tech Company – or Die: Memo to Credit Unions

 

By Robert McGarvey

 

For Cu2.0

 

A credit union leader has to break out in a cold sweat reading Aite Group’s new report on the top 10 trends transforming retail banking.

Here’s trend 1: Tech Firms Become Banks.

Trend 2 is blunter: Banks become tech firms.

That latter trend ends with this prediction: “Going forward, the banks that quickly adapt and recognize this shift will stay relevant to their customers and even gain a stronger foothold in the market. Those that do not will struggle to acquire and retain customers, and to survive.”

Read that again. What Aite is saying is that credit unions that don’t climb aboard the tech express are doomed.

Does that mean you?

I’m not aware of an exact count but I would be surprised if at least half of today’s credit unions aren’t hopelessly mired in a Luddite world of anti technology.  So many want to blather on about how great their branches are and what wonders their employees are, as though either matters in a 21st century technology world.

But back up.  Look at the threat. Increasingly, tech companies from Quicken Loans to PayPal are gobbling up traditional bank and credit union business.

Non banks are on track to very soon have more than 50% of the home mortgage business. PayPal and Venmo, meantime, are feasting on p2p payments, a niche many credit union executives saw as theirs just five years ago but between bad tools and bad marketing, credit unions are increasingly irrelevant in a sector that looms as one of the key financial tools used by Millennials,

Amazon, maintime, has made more than $1 billion in small business loans – how many bankers and credit union execs even know they are in that business?  Credit unions may want to up their business lending operations, but do they have a market that craves their offerings?

Non banks also are zeroing in on car loans.

Some techs may even unfurl official banking colors. Aite’s Julie Conroy, in an email, wrote this: “Square already has a bank charter application in progress, and I don’t think it’s beyond the realm of possibility that Amazon would set up a wholly owned sub to do something similar.”  

Amazon and PayPal both have been meeting with bank regulators.  Nobody knows exactly why but a good guess is that both are interested in expanding their bank-like activities (with or without bank charters).  

Conroy, in the report, also warns that banks – this also means you, credit unions – are increasingly becoming what she calls an ingredient brand to whom the consumer has little or no loyalty. The consumer uses Apple Pay, does he/she remember what financial institution it is connected through? Ditto PayPal. Android Pay. Etc.  They all run on financial institution rails but few consumers really care what card is connected. They see themselves as Apple Pay loyalists, period.

And she points to Asia where Alibaba and Tencent “have made substantial inroads” into banking.

There are no good reasons to think similar won’t happen here.

David Albertazzi, writing in the Aite report, offered this warning: “FIs need to change entering 2018. They need to fundamentally shift their mindset, business model, and operating model. They must be equipped to fight for the modern consumer—who, because of technology, has a whole new set of expectations. The modern consumer doesn’t want a traditional branch bank. They want their transactions to happen on their mobile devices in real time and on-demand. This is why FIs must become tech companies and provide elegant, nimble, and technologically sophisticated solutions to their customers.”

He also advised a “sharp increase in digital transformation.”  So right. It’s hard to find a credit union that doesn’t have a digital transformation committee. But it’s harder to find a credit union where that committee has any say beyond what doughnuts to serve at the next meeting.  It just is time to get very serious about digital transformation.

That’s because your institutional life depends on it.

Wrote Conroy in her email to me: “Effective use of technology will be increasingly important to competition for FIs of all sizes.  Those FIs that don’t invest (either in their own tech stack, or by finding progressive processing partners) and are constrained by legacy technology will increasingly be marginalized.”

What do you need to do now?  Commit to going digital – really – in the next year or two.  Poll members on what digital tools they want and offer them.  Keep hunting for powerful digital tools your members will want.

And ask yourself this: if I didn’t have to use my institution’s technology, would I?

If you wouldn’t, why are you offering it to members?

Do better.

Read the Aite report.  It’s short. But it will give you sleepless nights.

And that is good for you as you face a crossroads in consumer banking where those who take the wrong fork are heading towards extinction.

Take the other fork.

 

Sharing Your Hotel Room With Alexa

 

By Robert McGarvey

 

Amazon has sounded its intentions loudly: it really, really wants to see its voice controlled artificial intelligence device Alexa (aka Echo) in tens of thousands of hotel rooms, pronto.

I am all for this. It’s an easy way to make my every hotel stay a little more comfortable. 

I am aware of concerns about Alexa’s potential to spy – dealt with below – but I am not deterred.  I want such gear in my hotel rooms.

I’ve been an Alexa user since early 2015 and have also supported its penetration into banking – Capital One has had a live skill for many months that I’ve used and liked.  Presently I own an Echo, a Dot, an Echo Look, and I recently added a Google Home mini.  I’ve gotten into asking my devices for the information and actions I want. It’s a whole lot simpler, and more accurate, than me typing into a cellphone.  Exactly that is why, suddenly, big tech powerhouses like Google and Amazon have plunged into voice controlled devices

And I can imagine dozens of uses for Alexa in my next hotel room, if only it’s there.

For sure, Amazon wants it there. In a recent Amazon Web Services conference in Las Vegas, Amazon executive Werner Vogels noted that Wynn is rolling Alexa out to its many thousands of hotel rooms and will let guests use it to lower the blinds, turn on the TV, turn on lights, adjust the temperature, etc.

I can already picture myself waking up in a Las Vegas hotel room and asking Alexa for the day’s weather.  Also my calendar.  I can get news headlines read to me.  And, yes, I’d definitely use Alexa to open and close the blinds (a continuing struggle for me in Las Vegas and only in Las Vegas, I can’t explain why), to adjust the room temperature, and to turn lights on and off.  No more learning curve for the inroom technology.

And with Alexa, there really is no learning curve. Just preface any request with: Alexa. That tells the device you want something. Then ask. Sometimes it won’t know the answer but Alexa confesses ignorance and moves on to the next question.

Concur, the big corporate travel manager, has also integrated an Alexa skill that will let travelers ask for their itinerary – and that’s often a question on my mind. “Alexa, when’s my flight today? Where am I going?”

Skift reports that Alexa is in trials with Marriott, also Best Western.  Skift elaborated: “At Best Western Plus Hawthorne Terrace, the Echo device greets guests on arrival in the room. Guests can ask it for services like more towels or ask it for the hotel’s recommendations on places to dine locally by cuisine and time of day.”

Hotel Management, in its reporting on the Hawthorne Terrace deployment, said: “The new device acts as a gateway to all the local happenings in Lakeview East, the vibrant neighborhood where Hawthorne Terrace resides and encourages them to ‘Live. Play. Stay. Like a local,’ which is Hawthorne Terrace’s overarching purpose.”

In Nyack, NY Dream Hotel Group has put Alexa in rooms at its Time Hotel. 

A big player in this niche is Volara, a third party that helps hotels build out customized skills and that’s key because to be truly useful, the Alexa in my hotel room has to have knowledge about the room, the hotel, the city that I don’t readily have.  

Particularly cool is that Volara – and doubtless competitors – can build in answers for Alexa, what’s the WiFi password? What are the fitness center hours? When does the restaurant open for breakfast? Can I get towels brought to my room?

Work through the many demos on the Volara demo page and you get a sense of how useful this will be.

Think of it this way. You could call the front desk with all your questions. Or you could ask Alexa. Which do you believe will be faster? More accurate? I know my answer.

A frightening question: can Alexa spy on you?  The answer seems to be yes.  Sort of.  Definitely it has the potential to hear everything said in its range and, theoretically, could transmit it to others.  Is there proof this has happened?  Not that I’m aware of but I would say that if I were having a hush-hush, on the QT convo with Jeff Bezos, I’d be surprised if he didn’t unplug Alexa before he got into the nitty gritty of his plans for throttling WalMart and making the Washington Post the nation’s best newspaper.

Do likewise. If you are having a sensitive discussion in a hotel room equipped with Alexa, unplug it. How hard is that?

When you’re done talking, plug it in and within a minute or two it’ll be ready for new questions and commands. It’s really that simple.

This is one hotel in-room technology revolution I am all in with. Color me impatient: I want it now.

 

12/9 – Changed “she” pronouns to “it,” per reader suggestion.  

Hotel Tech Worth Applauding: Bunking with Alexa

 

By Robert McGarvey

Finally a hotel technology push – a big one – that is worth applauding. Wynn Las Vegas has announced that its 4748 rooms will be equipped with Amazon Echo, the voice driven answer machine, aka Alexa.

Much – most – hotel tech “innovation” leaves me bored or cranky.  It’s an industry that generally is at the rear of the curve when it comes to technology adoption and I point you to the silly in-room phones that hoteliers continue to talk about. No, I haven’t used one in a decade and can’t say I miss this.

Hoteliers also babble about robots which, I suppose, are okay but I have not personally seen one yet and can’t say I care. Ditto for beacons, which are the buzz in some quarters.

Alexa is a different matter. I have owned an Alexa since January 2015, and just recently installed a second, the diminutive Dot – in another room in my house. I don’t go a day without talking with the Echoes I own. Alexa has dramatically simplified my life and is a poster child for technology that works.

Here is why I am excited about what Wynn is doing: Let me take you back maybe five years when I checked into a Strip hotel.  I don’t name it not to protect the guilty but because I don’t remember which one. In Las Vegas I have no brand loyalty and generally stay close to whatever meeting brings me to town.

But Wynn may be winning me over to the Wynn brand with Echo because this solves a big problem for me.

Back in Las Vegas some years ago – I come back to the room late one night, the window’s drapes are to the sides, the lights of the Strip cascade into my darkened room. I have to close the drapes to sleep.  Honestly, it took me 10 minutes to figure out how to use the electronic system to close the things so that I could go to sleep.

In some rooms, too, in-room lighting is a mystery to me. Occasionally so is the thermostat.

Wynn Hotels plan to solve exactly that pain with its Echo installation.  The device will roll out with a limited range of skills but they are exactly what I want in a Strip hotel.  In a press release Steve Wynn said, “The ability to talk to your room is effortlessly convenient. In partnership with Amazon, becoming the first resort in the world in which guests can verbally control every aspect of lighting, temperature and the audio-visual components of a hotel room is yet another example of our leadership in the world of technology for the benefit of all of our guests.”

That’s a helluva tangled sentence but as I parse it, Wynn is saying you can ask his Echoes to close the drapes, turn lights on or off, raise or lower the temperature, probably control the TV.

And exactly those are the things that too often confuse me in Las Vegas rooms.

Wynn’s Alexa should also be able to handle the questions and tasks I throw at mine daily: What’s the weather? What time is it? Set an alarm for 6 a.m.. Give me a news update. Etc.

You can do the latter – much of it – with Siri, certainly with Google’s voice recognition tools. But neither of them can handle your in-room comfort and what matters more than opening/closing the drapes, setting the temperature and the limited range of Wynn specific skills enabled on his Echoes.

If I had to predict a hospitality tech trend for 2017 and beyond it is that we will see more voice activated devices in hotel rooms, at least those with somewhat sophisticated in-room equipment.  And probably the winner will be Dot, mainly because of the price point.  Amazon sticker s $50 – but I got mine for $25 (net), by combining various Amazon offers.

The big brother Echo costs $140. That’s what Wynn is installing.

Google Home costs $129. It’s doubtless a good device – Google voice rec works superbly on my Pixel phone, vastly better than Siri on an iPhone. But Amazon already has a vast user base and that’s a plus for any hotelier. Guests need no instruction with Echo.

Watch, too, as Wynn enables more skills – that’s my bet. Soon guests will be able to make restaurant reservations, book spa treatments, buy show tickets just by talking with their in-room assistant.  Program the device to know the room it is in, that connects to a credit card and right there commerce is enabled. Send the guest a confirming email and there’s some verification.  I’d use it.

Now if only hotels would finally eliminate the front desk check in routine, a process that is honestly unchanged in my 40 years of checking into hotels.  Okay, way back when, accounts were usually settled with cash, not credit cards, but really nothing else has changed.  For many years hoteliers have talked of eliminating the front desk check in.  I’m still waiting.

And you know what? Alexa already is Expedia enabled and, probably with some minor tweaks, Expedia could handle check-in, even issue an electronic key to my phone.

I’m ready. Are you?