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Observations from Money 20/20 U.S.: Conferences are back! (sort of)

November 22, 2021
By: Will Hernandez

After a year break due to the pandemic, Money20/20 USA was back in full force last month in Las Vegas. Some 6,000 attendees found themselves back roaming The Venetian conference hall as one of the largest financial services-focused conferences sought to pick up where it left off in 2019, addressing the key trends in the banking, fintech, and financial services. And while attendance was not what it once was in this conference’s heyday, this year’s version still proved itself to be valuable.

Personally, this was the first Money20/20 I’ve attended since 2017, which capped a run of four straight shows. So, I like to think I’m in a good position to give some insight about this year’s show, both from an industry trends perspective, and the general environment of being present at a large conference in the pandemic era.

Industry trends
One thing that was immediately clear at the show is that international companies, mostly startups, are seeking to make a dent in the U.S. market. I came across some executives from these companies at the kickoff networking event Sunday night. When I asked why they were in Vegas, their answers were mostly the same: we’re having great success in our home markets, and it’s time for us to tackle the U.S.

We are seeing this at BackBay as well, where over the past several months, we’ve been helping to raise awareness for one of our clients that entered the U.S. market earlier this year. International fintechs seeking to tap into the U.S. market need to be aware of the media landscape and which publications to target. While most of these companies are aware of the major Tier 1 publications (Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Business Insider, etc.), it can sometimes be difficult to get a sense of which trade publications to target if you’re unfamiliar with the U.S. media scene. That’s where we can add real value to their communications and PR strategy.

I anticipate more international fintechs will enter the U.S. in the coming years. We’ve already seen a steady flow of this with buy-now-pay-later providers and challenger banks, but companies that specialize in cross-border payments, cybersecurity, data management, regtech, just to name a few areas, also can find success in the U.S.

Another trend I noticed while listening to some sessions was the fact the banking industry is still talking about how best to manage and use customer data. This ongoing issue is apparent when discussing the benefits of open banking. The consensus during one session is that the quality of data that banks collect needs to be addressed. How can you offer customers the best options if the data isn’t clean, or well understood? One of the biggest issues the banking industry has faced the past several years is this problem of data management, particularly how best to use the data to benefit bank customers.

A related issue to data is the how banks attack hyper personalization. I often like to give a personal anecdote about how banks continue to fail in this area. My bank often peppers me with emails about HELOC loans. I don’t own a home. How such a thing happens in 2021 shows the banking industry’s continuing problems in this area.

The pandemic effect
One aspect of this conference I was curious about was how people would interact in this environment as we’re approaching the tail end of the pandemic in the U.S.

Suits on men were almost non-existent. To be fair, I noticed this trend prior to people becoming more comfortable wearing loungewear the past 18 months. Once the Silicon Valley fintech types started rubbing elbows with bankers at these conferences, the latter took notice and their dress became much more business casual. The two-piece suit was once a uniform at these conferences. Now, it’s a crisp pair of jeans, a nice button-up shirt, and a sports coat.

How people greeted each other didn’t change much. I saw a lot more handshakes than silly elbow taps and fist bumps. Some people even hugged! Imagine seeing that at this time a year ago. In general, pandemic fatigue was a real thing at this show. People were ready to conduct business in the way they’re accustomed to – live and in person and not in front of a computer camera.

Overall, Money20/20 continues to be a solid conference for the fintech industry. It’s a great opportunity to get a heat check for current trends and what might be coming down the line. And I believe the attendance is at a sweet spot where networking is worthwhile, and the show floor isn’t a muddled mess of humanity. I look forward to the opportunity to attend again next year.

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