Tax Time & Financial Institutions: Data from Digital Insight

The tax filing deadline is rapidly approaching, and for many consumers that means looking through last year’s financial records for various items like charitable contributions or tax deductions. Digital Insight, which offers TurboTax ® for Online Banking to its financial institution (FI) customers, took a deep dive into how consumers are using tax software and how it can benefit FI’s. Through tax exit studies and surveys, Digital Insight was able to see how the tax preparation software helps FI’s with customer engagement and retention. Below are key findings from the study, and you can view a more in-depth analysis here.

And, you can view previous Digital Insight studies on mobile banking behavior and online banking. 

Intuit, TurboTax and TurboTax Online, among others, are registered trademarks and/or service marks of Intuit Inc. in the United States and other countries. Other parties’ trademarks or service marks are the property of their respective owners.

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More Profits, More Problems

As an industry, we just made more money than ever before. But it would be wise to see the good news in context.

Late in January, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp announced that profits at commercial banks and savings institutions collectively reported aggregate net income of $40.3 billion in the fourth quarter of 2013—a record by any measure.  The $5.8 billion recorded marks 16.9 percent spike over the same quarter last year. This is the 17th time in 18 quarters that there have been increased profits. That’s a steady drumbeat of positive numbers since the third quarter of 2009, barely a year a year after the dark days of bank bailouts dominated the headlines. For 2013 overall, the industry took in $155 billion, a 10% jump over 2012 and a lot higher than the $148 billion of 2006, the previous record.

Man Looking at CalendarAnd there’s more. The FDIC insures 6,812 institutions, and more than half of them, 53% had year-over-year growth for the quarter. On the flip side, the 12.2% booking losses is better than the 15% that had a losing quarter in 2012. In fact, the number of banks on the ‘problem list’ was down to 467 at year-end 2013, the lowest number since the financial crisis. In fact, it was 888 in early 2011.

Of course, there is nuance in these numbers. The FDIC notes that a big part of the bottom-line boost can be attributed to an $8.1 billion decline in loan-loss provisions. More specifically, 20% of the profits came from putting away less money to cover future losses—more a sign of accounting maneuvers than good business. On a related note, there was significantly less mortgage activity and lower trading revenue, leading to a year-over-year decline in net operating revenue.

Looking at the big picture, here’s one major takeaway. While lending rose generally, primary mortgage loans fell by $51 billion for the year. That’s a bad sign for economic recovery, and it’s got the critics out: At its annual meeting in January, JPMorgan Chase executives got asked why, since its faring so much better, the company isn’t doing more to help borrowers. In the wake of the FDIC report, expect this question to come up a lot more often, particularly since the mortgage market is expected to fall even faster this year.

To get a (perhaps unfair) sense of the dichotomy, here’s a curious factoid: The FDIC is stepping up its legal efforts against institutions during the financial crisis half a decade ago. Cornerstone Research reports that the agency filed 40 director and officer lawsuits in 2013, the same year that had such stellar results. That’s a 54% jump over the 26 suits filed in 2012.

Much of the litigation revolves around the surge in bank failures in 2009 and 2010. In fact, of the 140 financial institutions that failed in 2009 alone, 64 have settled claims or been taken to court. How all these cases play out could provide an indication of the pressure the industry will face in the days ahead.

Of course, it might be safe to assume that while these banks failed in 2009 and 2010, some of their woes go back further, perhaps to the days when the mortgage market was exploding. Yet here we are again, facing criticism for not giving out enough mortgages.

The news of a boosted bottom line is a good thing, but it’s no more than a start. The financial services industry can never be insulated from the economy at large—it’s too large, too integral and too important. The fact that profits have risen so sharply means there will be more pressure to generate similar cheer for everyone else.

What We’re Reading: Branches, Mobile Going Mainstream, Banking Alerts

Below are interesting stories the Banking.com staff has been reading over the past week. What have you been reading? Let us know in the comments section below or Tweet @bankingdotcom.

  • Tech-Savvy Bankers Make the Case for Branches

American Banker

Bank branches may be falling out of favor, but even the most tech-savvy bankers aren’t prepared to renounce them entirely. Take Manolo Sanchez, the chief executive of BBVA Compass, whose bank is spending $117 million to buy the branch-less online startup Simple. You might expect him to declare brick-and-mortar bank locations passé — and yet his company just opened two new branches last week. That’s because customers still want to see branches — even if they don’t go in, and even if they do most of their banking on the computer, the tablet or the mobile phone. Just seeing a physical bank location actually increases a person’s interest in doing business with BBVA Compassonline, he says.

Read more 

  • Mobile is Now Mainstream: Report

Bank Systems & Technology 

Mobile banking features play an increasingly critical role in the consumer’s decision to switch primary banks, according to a survey from AlixPartners. Mobile now plays a crucial role in bank-switching decisions made by consumers, according to a new report from AlixPartners.  According to the “AlixPartners Mobile Financial Services Tracking Study,” 60 percent of smartphone or tablet owners who switched primary banks reported mobile banking capabilities as “important” or “extremely important” in their decision to switch, up from 48 percent in a similar survey in the first half of 2013.

Read more 

  • Apples and Payments

Celent Banking Blog

What is becoming apparent is that the update is not without its flaws, to say the least. My iPhone, for example, lost half its charge in under an hour, doing nothing. Whilst battery life has never been the iPhones strong point, this was taking the biscuit! Twitter and internet forums have seen significant amounts of discussion on the issues, and it seems to be impacting a large number of people. What was noticeable is that most of the fixes transformed the iPhone to, well, just a phone. Suggestions included turning off apps, turning off search, deleting various elements – in short, many of the reasons why we bought iPhones originally.

Read more

  • Banks buying more time for Windows XP-powered ATMs

Dallas Business Journal

Earlier this year, we told you about the impending problems that many banks might face as Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) ends its support for Windows XP on April 8. Roughly 95 percent of the nation’s ATMs operate on the aging system, and many banks now are having to buy extended support contracts with Microsoft as they try to convert the machines to a new operating system. JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM) , for example, has bought a one-year extended life support for its Windows XP machines, CNN/Monday reported. In January, Chase told the DBJ earlier that it was working to upgrade its machines as part of normal operations.

Read more

  • Amazon Tests the Loyalty of Its Prime Members With a 25% Price Hike

Javelin Strategy & Research Blog

After 9 years, Amazon has finally decided to increase the price of its Prime membership – and it’s not an insignificant amount. The cost of Amazon Prime will increase on April 17, 2014 by a hefty $20 (from $79 to $99), and the Prime membership will continue to include free two-day shipping, access to Prime Instant Video, and the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library. The Amazon Prime membership is undoubtedly one of the best online loyalty programs available today, and so this significant price change will likely be a true test of just how much consumers are willing to pay for the perks of free shipping and digital perks.

Read more  

  • Monitise launches Alerting+ for interactive m-banking

Mobile Payments Today

Mobile banking technology provider Monitise has launched Alerting+, an alerting solution which enables two-way interaction between financial institutions and their mobile banking customers.

Read more 

  • Mobile Banking: Critical Switching Trigger Today… Table Stakes Tomorrow

The Financial Brand

Mobile continues to play an increasing critical role in bank-switching decisions, with 60% of smartphone and tablet users citing mobile banking capabilities as “important” or “extremely important” in their decision to switch banks. According to the “Mobile Financial Services Tracking Study” from AlixPartners, 60% of smartphone or tablet owners who switched primary banks in the fourth quarter said that mobile banking capabilities were an “important” or “extremely important” component in their decision to switch. That’s up dramatically from 48% in a similar survey fielded in the first half of 2013.

Read more

FI Spotlight: Arizona Federal Credit Union

AZFCU-Logo

In our latest FI Spotlight we spoke with Aaron Oplinger, Senior Director of eServices & Channel Integration at Arizona Federal Credit Union. Aaron shared AFCU’s recent initiatives with us and discussed how they are better serving their members.

Q: In a few sentences, can you tell us about recent initiatives at Arizona Federal Credit Union? 

In January 2013, Arizona Federal Credit Union redesigned itself internally and externally in support of its mission statement, “to develop and serve an empowered membership through the delivery of financial services and expertise, producing mutually beneficial results.” This included a redesign of our staffing model and physical locations, driving active use of self-service products, reinforcing membership benefits and increasing member participation.

Aaron Oplinger headshot March 2014Q: How did redesigning your staffing model impact the relationship between staff and members?

Our staffing model was changed from a teller/personal banker model to a combined role so that any person within a branch could assist a member with any financial need. The physical branches are also being remodeled to create a more open space that eliminates barriers between staff and members, such as greeting stations, teller lines, etc. Additionally, staff at remodeled locations use wireless tablet PCs that are fully functional with the credit union’s core processor, creating a shoulder to shoulder conversation with members versus being behind a desk or counter.

Q: Specifically, how did you increase the active use of self-service products?

We’ve pre-loaded iPads in every location with our apps as well as 40-50 financial education apps, such as mortgage and loan calculators, auto and home research, valuation and repair apps, gas price apps and more.

Q: How have you found the response amongst your members so far? 

Our members are increasingly becoming familiar and comfortable with our apps.  And, they are also receiving additional value from the financial education tools we provide, supporting our mission statement of providing financial expertise. Early data indicates that the first remodeled branch has the highest penetration rate for both acceptance and usage for Mobile Remote Deposit Capture.

Q: Can you tell us more about your membership rewards? 

As an industry first, Arizona Federal Credit Union began charging $3 each month for membership dues. The dues have shown an increased use of services and we were able to give back $8 million to members from December 2012 through December 2013, with the average actively participating member receiving more than $50, well beyond the $36 per year that is paid.

Want to hear more from Arizona Federal? Like them on Facebook.

Think your FI deserves special recognition? Submit your FI here.

What We’re Reading: Retail Banking Myths, Security, ChaseNet

Below are interesting stories the Banking.com staff has been reading over the past week. What have you been reading? Let us know in the comments section below or Tweet @bankingdotcom.

  • 43 retail banking myths—busted!

ABA Banking Journal

With the financial services industry changing so quickly, it should come as no surprise that many assumptions banks and credit unions believed to be true for years could actually be rendered obsolete.  Myth 1. Banks must embrace big data to be successful. Reality: Most banks and credit unions have not fully leveraged insight that is currently available within their firewalls. Account ownership, demographics, product use, and other behavior data should be used for offers and communication before adding unstructured data from outside the organization.

Read more

  • Holidays Drove High Use of Mobile Banking Apps

American Banker

December was a busy month for mobile banking, as on-the-go holiday shoppers actively logged into their accounts to check balances or see if purchases went through. In American Banker’s monthly survey of mobile banking activity, more than 65% of respondents said that volume was up in December from a month earlier, while just 2% said activity declined. The rest reported that activity was roughly the same month to month. Several respondents attributed higher activity to the fact that their mobile banking app is relatively new.

Read more 

  • Mobile Banking: Making Security and Convenience a Package Deal

Bank Systems & Technology

The key to mobile security success is a multi-layered approach that enables companies to verify who their customers are and what they are authorized to do. The clash between convenience and security has been in motion as the world has shifted to mobile devices, but this is only the beginning. While highly-connected companies have been managing these challenges for years, the speed, scale, and scope of the ongoing business transformation are enormous.

Read more

  • Chase’s Quick Checkout: Leveraging the Power of ChaseNet

Celent Banking Blog

A digital wallet, which stores customer’s payment credentials and shipping details, and pre-fills them at checkout. Like other digital wallets, Quick Checkout is “open” – i.e. customers can register their non-Chase cards. However, their Chase cards will be automatically available and kept up-to-date in the wallet when they get replaced in case they expire or get lost or stolen.

Read more 

  • Capital One Ups the Punching Power of ClearXchange

Javelin Strategy & Research Blog

Person to person (P2P) payments are quickly becoming a regular feature of today’s banking industry. ClearXchange, the P2P payment platform that developed as a partnership between Bank of America, Chase, and Wells Fargo, has announced that it has added Capital One to its list of owners. Capital One is the second FI to join clearXchange (the first institution was the regional FI FirstBank) and is scheduled to go live with the service later in 2014. According to Javelin data, the addition of Capital One now gives clearXchange the capacity to reach 40% of all U.S. banking adults and 53% of all adult credit cardholders.

Read more

  • It’s Time to Uncork Commercial Relationship Revenue

Gonzo Banker

There is a brutal feeding frenzy occurring in the banking industry today: the complete commoditization of mainstream commercial and commercial real estate lending. Like a pack of vultures picking at the flesh of a potential new mini-perm deal or term loan, liquidity-rich banks are feverishly bidding down pricing into the zone of shareholder destruction. We see fixed-rate deals for 7 to 15 year terms that carry coupons lower than many banks’ net interest margins. Despite calls for sanity from every senior loan committee across the country, the brinksmanship continues. Business customers have grown savvy, and even the most loyal now send their credit needs out onto the street for competitive RFP bids. Loyalty these days seems to buy about 10 basis points for the banker.

Read more  

  • Banking Trojans emerge as dominant mobile malware threat

ZDNet

Kaspersky Lab’s latest mobile threat landscape report portends more ominous news for mobile device users as the number of new malicious programs tailored for smartphones and tablets more than doubled to nearly 100,000 malicious modifications in 2013. The vast majority of the most damaging mobile malware targeted users’ money and bank cards, according to the security software firm’s latest data, and more than 2,500 attempted infections by banking Trojans were blocked last year alone.

Read more 

Why Banking Needs Even More Disruption

Question MarksThere’s no question that in our business we’ve seen more than a few ‘disruptive’ technologies. You could even argue that the entire industry has become conditioned to the notion of disruption—every day, it seems, there’s a new startup, a new device, a new paradigm, and of course a flood of new apps, all designed to make life easier for professionals and consumers alike. All of these inventions have done their part to move the industry forward.

But what if the changes don’t go far enough?

What if many of the innovations don’t reinvent the industry as much as they refine existing capabilities? What if the new technologies we marvel at are time-savers (which is surely a good thing) more than game-changers?  What if basic functionality has gotten much easier but is still too hard?

There have surely been ground-breaking advances along the way. A number of online-only banks have sprung up to offer services that are both more varied and less costly than some of their traditional counterparts, ramping up competition in the process. A full roster of mobile applications from startups and multinationals alike has changed consumers’ core perceptions of day-to-day money management. Mint.com helped shift the landscape with technology that identifies and organizes transactions made in virtually any account, boosted by search algorithm that finds personalized savings opportunities.

Simple logo

BBVA recently announced a deal to acquire startup Simple. Image source: Gizmodo.com

The innovation isn’t letting up anytime soon, and the money is there to support it. Just last week, BBVA, a Spain-based multinational whose U.S. subsidiary Compass operates close to 700 branches, announced a deal to acquire Simple, a fledgling venture that has taken numerous apps to market. By itself, the deal is not exactly gigantic—the $117 million price tag is puny compared to, say, the $19 billion that Facebook is willing to shell out for What’sApp.  (Now there’s a deal that’s got many marketers scratching their heads.)  But the Simple acquisition is interesting for a number of reasons.

First, Simple is not a bank in any sense, in fact, it doesn’t even hold customer accounts. (That function is currently managed by Bancorp, though BBVA will eventually take it over.) More interestingly, perhaps, Simple is essentially built on the notion that traditional banks do things wrong. Its founders have been loudly critical of existing practices, which is why they don’t charge fees but instead create services around data-driven behavioral patterns.

The key belief here is that while banks are content to show consumers what they have left in their checking accounts, those same consumers must also do mental gymnastics to incorporate factors such as rent and groceries before deciding what they can actually spend. Simple’s services helps with that thinking, and will in turn propel changes in end-user behavior. Moving forward, these are the kinds of innovations that the market will demand.

Some industry professionals are making the case to go even further. Aman Narain, global head of digital banking at Standard Chartered, stresses that insight into current finances does not by itself enable action. So what actually might help?

Imagine a personal finance application that estimates a user is spending too much on cabs when it rains, automatically checks the weather, and makes a recommendation via the mobile device to carry an umbrella or raincoat. There are endless possibilities: It could match financial information with health concerns to guide decisions at a grocery store or a restaurant.

Yes, the Big Brother aspect to all this is obvious. It’s a little intimidating to think that the smartphone, in its own way the most personalized computer ever, could be so personal as to make the best decisions about what we spend money on, entirely based on our own best interests. Yet that’s exactly how the best technology works—it doesn’t make decisions for us, but it changes the way we make decisions. And those products have a much, much bigger and better memory than we do.

In our business, the core product is money—it’s personal, visceral and vital, and it helps enable the acquisition of every other product. That makes comparisons to advances in other industries seem like a stretch. Our industry has good reason to be proud of the innovations we’ve taken to market. We’ve come a long way. But we can, and must, go much further.

How Do You Rate?: Q&A with VERIBANC President

Mike Heller Veribanc

We recently spoke with VERIBANC, a company that provides bank ratings on all U.S. federally insured financial institutions. Michael Heller, president of the company, told Banking.com about what the VERIBANC does and who they work with.

 

Q: Can you tell us more about VERIBANC?

A: We’ve been in business since 1981 and our bank rating system has helped banks, consumers, business people and government offices manage banking risk and protect their deposits and investments against bank failure and fraud.

Q: How do you develop your bank ratings?

A: The ratings are developed using our existing ‘Beyond CAMELS’ quantitative only methodology. This methodology has been audited and approved by several insurance companies for use with insuring deposits in excess of the FDIC’s limit. No bank or holding company has ever paid us to rate them. We have always published our track record (ratings effectiveness) and not just a few of the good years.

Q: What does your track record look like?

A: We don’t claim to be perfect, just optimally tuned. Our current ratings effectiveness rate is over 99 percent, while our false alarm rate is about 20 percent. Our rating system is unique in that we do not “conservatively adjust” our criteria so that a large part (30 percent or higher) of the banking industry winds up in our lower rating categories – so as to improve or inflate our predictive results. Instead we balance predictability of bank failure with false alarms, so we can provide our customers with true value. We even publish our track record on our website at: http://www.veribanc.com/TrackRecord.php.

Q: What products do you offer to help Banks and Credit Unions meet regulatory standards?

A: Our most popular report for banks is our Regulation F Report. Comparable to this for Credit Unions is our Section 703 Due Diligence Report.

Q: You released your Q4 ratings at the end of 2013. Can you share an excerpt with us?

A: Our Director of Modeling at VERIBANC, Milton Joseph, wrote the following on “Size Equals Strength”

The FDIC’s recently released September 2013 (Quarterly Banking Profile) reveals an overall sound condition and continued financial improvement among the nation’s Insured commercial and savings banks. For the quarter, the sector achieved a nearly 1.0% return on average assets, and, as of September 30th, the industry’s Leverage (Core Capital) Ratio reached 9.4%. Nonperforming Assets-to-Assets fell to 1.8% at that date. At mid-year, comparable percentages were 9.3% and 1.9%, respectively.

Our asset size review indicates that small banks and thrifts, those with assets of less than $100 million, demonstrated particular strength. As of September 30th, that category of institution reported a Leverage Ratio of 11.7% and a Loss Reserve-to-Noncurrent Loan Ratio of 87.4%. Both percentage were the highest among any of the measured asset-size peer groups.

Interestingly, at September 30th, deposits held by FDIC-Insured institutions exceeded $11.0 trillion. Included in that total were deposits of close to $1.6 trillion that were higher than the FDIC’s $250 thousand Insurance limit. Nearly all of the $1.6 trillion of Un-Insured deposits (91.6%) were held at large institutions with total assets greater than $10 billion. One might conclude that size does continue to equate to strength 

 

To learn more you can go to www.veribanc.com.

What We’re Reading: Biometrics, Photo Bill Pay, Mobile Wallet

Below are interesting stories the Banking.com staff has been reading over the past week. What have you been reading? Let us know in the comments section below or Tweet @bankingdotcom.

  • U.S. Bank Pushes Voice Biometrics to Replace Clunky Passwords

American Banker 

When U.S. Bank announced Wednesday that it’s testing voice biometrics for possible use by customers to access account information, it joined a line of banks that have been testing this technology, including Wells Fargo (WF) and Barclays. Voice biometric software users log in to an application or website by speaking a word or phrase. That word or phrase is compared to a previous recording the customer has made, to verify it’s the same user. Many industry observers have been saying for at least a year that the password is dead and more secure alternatives to authentication, such as voice biometrics and iris scans are needed to verify a user’s identity when banking online or via a mobile device. Some press accounts Wednesday stated that the goal for U.S. Bank’s pilot is to improve customer data security.

Read more

  • Mobile Photo Bill Pay Continues Shaky Start

Credit Union Times

Major players are investing in mobile photo bill pay as a natural next step to mobile deposit checking but the tool may have a long way to go to catch up with taking pictures of checks with smartphones. In the past year, 600 to 1,000 banks have installed mobile RDC and less than a dozen have done the same with mobile photo bill pay, said Bob Meara, an Atlanta-based senior analyst for the New York-based research firm Celent. “Mobile RDC is this wonderfully convenient invention and it scores highly on all the consumer surveys, but if you ask the same question about mobile photo bill pay, people just don’t get as excited about it, for a variety of reasons,” Meara said. “It’s just not as compelling.”

Read more 

  • It’s Time to Rise Above the Risk and Compliance Whining

Gonzo Banker

According to The Cornerstone Report, 7th Edition, bank assets per enterprise risk management FTE decreased from $147 million in 2010 to $55 million in 2012. Furthermore, the gap between median and 75th percentile performers was much wider than the gap between 25th percentile and median performers.

Read more

  • MCX and Paydiant Mobile Wallet – and Capturing the Consumer

Javelin Strategy & Research Blog

MCX announced it would be adopting the Paydiant mobile wallet, a cloud-based, white label platform. MCX is a consortium of 70 prominent brands with 110,000 locations representing over $1 Trillion in annual payments volume and 700,000 loyalty cards. MCX includes companies like Wal-Mart, Best Buy, CVS, Bed Bath & Beyond, Target, Exxon, Southwest, and today it extended to QSRs like Wendy’s. FIS, rated Javelin’s Best in Class Mobile Banking Vendor provides MCX with payment processing, routing and settlement for mobile commerce transactions.

Read more

  • Study finds small business mobile banking services lacking in US

Mobile Payments Today

U.S. banks need to make a greater effort to capitalize on their small business customers’ appetite for mobile banking services, according to research by Aite Group. This will involve providing their clients with business-specific mobile banking offerings instead of rebranded consumer mobile banking services, the U.S. consultancy says. In September 2013, Aite Group surveyed 1,003 U.S. companies with revenues of under $20 million for two reports: “Monetizing the Small-Business Opportunity” and “Why Banks Should Offer Mobile Banking to Small Businesses.” The survey found that about 32 percent of those businesses bank via mobile devices, according to Christine Barry, research director for Aite Group’s Wholesale Banking practice.

Read more 

  • Banks See More Confidence But Face Threat From New Providers

Wall Street Journal Blog

After a period of sharp decline coming out of the financial crisis, the banking industry has seen a rise in consumer confidence for two years in a row, according to a new survey of 32,000 banking customers in 43 countries. The study, by Ernst & Young, showed that globally, one-third of customers reported an increase in confidence in the banking industry compared to a year ago.  This marks a rise from Ernst & Young’s prior survey in June 2012, when just 22% reported an increase in optimism. In 2011, only 13% percent reported an increase in confidence in the banking industry, compared with 44% who reported a decrease.

Read more 

Should Banking Go To Pot?

weed plantBanking and weed: It’s easy to snicker at the very idea. But as the marijuana industry—and that’s exactly what it’s becoming—continues to grow, there will have to be a system in place in handle the finances. That’s where we come in.

The question is, do we want to?

Let’s be clear about the broader issues here. At last count, 20 states and the District of Columbia permit medical cannabis, specifically as therapy to treat a range of diseases and alleviate symptoms. This is a relatively recent phenomenon, although the cannabis plant has been used for this purpose for many thousands of years. On fact, the trend toward the acceptance and even embrace of medical marijuana was happening gradually, but it got a swift kick forward in the 2012 election when two states, Colorado and Washington, voted in favor of legalizing the recreational use of cannabis (a similar effort in Oregon came up short). Not surprisingly, other states are seeing initiatives to follow suit.

It’s still way too early to gauge the effects of the new trend. By the time the law had taken effect in Colorado on Jan. 1, 2014, at least 37 outlets were legally open for business. It was initially reported that overwhelmingly high demand was causing stores in Denver to run out of inventory, but that proved erroneous; while the novelty factor likely drove many consumers to check out the merchandise, there was thankfully no shortage.

However, what all this really means is that there’s quite a bit of money coming in, with more on the way. Most of the companies doing the selling, and perhaps even those in the supply chain—yes, the marijuana supply chain—are presumably small businesses. And just like every other small business, they need a financial services support system. And again, that brings it back to us.

It’s been reported that some of these entrepreneurs are doing business in cold, hard cash lugging bags around even to pay taxes. And of course, as volumes continue to rise, there be more money in more bags—a dangerous scenario by any measure. Of course, banks are heavily regulated by the federal government, which still has laws on the books banning not the sale but even the use of marijuana. Taking in and storing money from pot dealers sounds like the textbook definition of a criminal enterprise.

This isn’t just an inconvenient gap between what’s legal in one place and illegal in another. It’s a chasm the size of the Grand Canyon.

However, the feds have finally stepped up. The U.S. government just issued rules that, for the first time, allows banks to legally provide financial services to state-licensed marijuana businesses. There are still strict penalties against certain infractions: distribution to children, trafficking by cartels, shipping to states where marijuana isn’t legal, and so on. Short of those restrictions, however, financial services providers doing business with these businesses “may not” be prosecuted.

That said, the guidelines—which comes from the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN)—basically just signal that banks doing business with pot dealers are in compliance with federal anti-money laundering laws. That clearly falls short of the explicit authorization the industry was hoping for.

In other words, it’s not as if the floodgates have opened. We’ve got a long way to go before the cannabis industry—medical or recreational—is comfortable with us, and vice versa. But the stage is set for the best practices to be established.

The real action may be just a little bit further down the road. For now, most of the debate seems to be focused on whether the entrants in this category can officially open bank accounts and avail of the services, just everyone else.  (Some businesses already have, with innocuous names and without explicitly saying what he business does.) But what happens when aspiring entrepreneurs come to us for startup funds? How do we even assess the viability of a business plan built around a substance that’s technically illegal in most parts of the country?

Let’s acknowledge that if we don’t provide banking services to these businesses, someone else will. This is a textbook case of an industry that has long flourished underground and is slowly coming out, with public support and government sanction. The dealers and suppliers are, in their own way, innovators and entrepreneurs. Where do we fit in?

 

Image courtesy of Paul/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

What We’re Reading: Mobile Bankers, Millennials, Cyber-Attack Trends

Below are interesting stories the Banking.com staff has been reading over the past week. What have you been reading? Let us know in the comments section below or Tweet @bankingdotcom.

  • Mobile Banking Increases the Need for Mobile Bankers

American Banker

Ask a thousand bank managers what makes their bank a better choice than the competition, and about nine hundred and fifty will tell you “our people.” I won’t argue that. In an increasingly commoditized industry, our people can be one of the few true differentiators left. But the model that has them forever sitting in buildings that fewer and fewer people utilize makes less strategic sense each year. The term “universal banker” has become pretty ubiquitous. Universal bankers (usually) can handle anything from assisting with a teller transaction, to opening an account, to performing varying levels of financial needs analysis.

Read more

  • Banking Cyber-Attack Trends to Watch

Bank Info Security

The key for banking institutions in 2014 will be to focus on detecting and mitigating multiple risks across multiple channels. “We will see more blended attacks that combine DDoS with some form of attempted data compromise,” says Doug Johnson, vice president and senior adviser of risk management policy for the American Bankers Association.

Read more 

  • Three Ways Millennial Business Owners Differ from Your Traditional Business Customers

Barlow Research

Barlow Research recently hosted a Webcast panel-discussion on the millennial generation entitled “Banking the New Face of Business: Millennials, Boomers and Dynamos.” Our panel included three very knowledgeable panelists: Himmat Randhawa from Digital Insight, and John Yarley and Alfred Chin from Visa. Through the course of the panel discussion on millennials, we learned three important things about this generation. 1. Instant Gratification Is Expected. Himmat Randhawa from Digital Insight believes that a challenge that financial institutions have with understanding the millennial generation has to do with their usage of technology and their channel preferences. “The vast majority of millennials are tech-savvy and think about the online channel as their primary channel with very little interaction with the offline channels. Millennials want anytime, anywhere access to information and don’t have an expectation to do that in-person.”

Read more

  • Top Reasons Card Data Breaches are Here to Stay

Credit Union Times

By far, the main reason thieves have begun to steal card data from U.S. firms, some experts say, is because they can. “The U.S. payments industry has become the one household in the neighborhood that has not upgraded its security system while everyone else has,” explained Karisse Hendrick, program manager in payments and fraud for the Merchant Risk Council, an international trade group that is organized to help firms fight card fraud. “When you are perceived to have security that is the easiest to beat, she added, thieves will try to beat your security.”

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  • Ally Bank launches app for Windows Phone 8

Finextra

Ally Bank, the direct banking subsidiary of Ally Financial Inc., has expanded availability of its popular Ally Mobile Banking app to include a version designed exclusively for Windows Phone 8 users, enabling even more customers to access and manage their money “on the go” using the Bank’s award-winning app.

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