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Smart innovation and cool technology in banking

If you haven’t seen some of the technology that’s going to change the way you bank, you’re in for a shock. A glimpse of what’s coming was on display in Atlanta the first week of October at BAI Beacon, an open campus financial conference with the theme “Innovation and Technology”. BAI, short for Bank Administration Institute, is a nonprofit organization that provides research, training and thought leadership events for the financial services industry and is based in Chicago. The conference was held at the Georgia World Congress Center.

The coolest thing I saw? Easy. A Virtual Reality headset that connects to your smart phone and allows you to make payments. It makes taking a photo of a check with a smart phone to make a deposit look as antiquated as an eight-track tape.

Here’s the way the VR payments work – or, will work, as this technology is till being tested: You put on the headset and see images of people or the logos of companies you want to pay. On the right side of the headset is a scroll pad. You scroll through the people/companies until you get to the right person/firm. Then you press a button in the center of the scroll pad to select the right entity. You’ll also see dollar amounts in increments of 20s. Using the scroll pad again, you scroll upwards until you get the right amount and, once there, click on it to select it. Click submit and Voila! Payment made.

This technology isn’t available now, but it’s coming. The banking rep who handed me the VR headset looked at my gray hair and said, “You may not use this, but your grandchildren will.” His comments reminded me of the scene in Back to the Future when Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox), who has returned to 1955 from 1985, takes over for Marvin Berry (Harry Waters Jr.) at the "Enchantment Under the Sea" dance at Hill Valley High School after Berry cut his hand. He does a rendition of Johnny B. Goode that ends in a guitar solo that sounds like two trains colliding head-on. As McFly looks at the bewildered Hill Valley students, he says, “I guess you guys are not ready for that yet. But your kids are going to love it.”

There were many other cool things at BAI. One was a light up conference wrist watch that connected to Linked in accounts. Instead of exchanging business cards, you simply put your watch against another person’s watch, the watch faces lit up like Alexa when you call her name, started blinking and transferred contact information in what BAI Beacon called a “meaningful connection.” Goodby business cards for this event! So cool!

There were numerous great sessions, but one of my favorite was the opening keynote by David Robertson, a best-selling author, senior lecturer, MIT Sloan and Professor of Practice at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania. Standing under a giant screen with images on both sides on the main stage in a double ballroom at the Georgia World Congress Center, Robertson – who had to keep turning to face audiences on both sides ("I've never don this before!") – challenged attendees to think about how to define innovation.

He calls innovation a new match between a solution and a need that creates value. Innovations, he said, don’t have to be patentable or even revolutionary. They can be products, business processes, financial models, pricing methods or services. And, he said, they may or may not be profitable. Especially noteworthy was that he said they don’t have to be outside the box!

His views are food for thought for all of us. What are we doing in each of our businesses to innovate and serve customers or clients in new and creative ways that bring value to their businesses – and our own?

Thanks to Scott Mills of the William Mills Agency in Atlanta for getting me a press pass to BAI Beacon.

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