Jun 21 | 2017

What’s Happening in FinTech?

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Top FinTech LearningsThe spring season brings a lot of activity to the financial services space in Canada. It’s one of the busiest times of the year for typical “money out” campaigns from our banks and coincides with strong activity in listings, transactions, and ultimately closings.

More recently the spring season has also come to signal the start of FinTech conference season across Canada. The size and scale of these events continue to grow while our own homegrown talent is taking center stage. With over 250+ FinTech companies across Canada and $1BN in cumulative venture capital investments, Canada is well on its way to solidifying itself as a global center for financial innovation.

As Head of Product at FCT, one of my primary responsibilities is understanding how the needs of our lenders are going to be changing over the next 3-5 years. Internally, we’ve been aggressively transforming our own product portfolio and expanding our focus on hybrid solutions that leverage the best of our financial technology, business process outsourcing (BPO) capabilities, and insurance expertise. As I have been working through the process of how we align our own product roadmaps to these opportunities, I wanted to share more broadly what I’ve learned on the conference circuit throughout the year.

Developments in FinTech

Opening up financial services data:

  • The European Union is already well ahead of North America when it comes to FinTech penetration. In an unusual role reversal, we actually see governments across the globe leading the charge to create an environment that is conducive to FinTech growth and innovation.
  • Initiatives like the European Union PSD2 open banking API, where by 2018 all lenders will be required to open up transactional data (with user permission) to enable third parties to build new types of financial services is one important example. While Canada is definitely lagging in this area, there are several opportunities to target key data as a starting point and use that information to re-engineer how financial services are delivered to customers across all segments.

While cash flow will always be king, managing identity in the digital age is close behind:

  • Online identity is the next cycle of the internet and as we see more and more digital lending platforms that don’t require in-person interaction, there is more of a need for identity management applications that simplify and perfect authentication/verification, early detection of fraud, and are adaptable.
  • Contextual commerce is the next major area of growth in the financial service space. This area deals with making payments through internet connected devices that are not a smartphone or laptop but rather devices like Amazon Echo, Google Home, Oculus Rift, and even your connected car. Thinking through the connected car example, how would you know the driver of the car is the right driver to offer a service?

Homegrown products will find greater product-market fit than global imports:

  • Canadian built and managed FinTech solutions will have the advantage over more global or regional efforts that try to ‘Canadianize.’ Rethinking financial solutions from the ground up will provide another advantage. The underlying point here is a true need to take a product-driven approach to building new financial services as opposed to a clone strategy from other markets.
  • For example, at FCT we believe understanding your customer segmentation in FinTech is critical. Existing companies overly rely on safety, security, legacy as the bread and butter of their solutions. Those features are table stakes but do not do enough in isolation to capture the wallets of the millennial, and eventually Gen Z segments. Great user interface and user experience, smart use of data, and transparency are at the top of the decision matrix for these segments and are causing radical reinvestments in technology talent across existing companies of all sizes.

This is the year of blockchain….or maybe its Ethereum… but it’s time to see RESULTS

  • By now everyone has heard of blockchain and the power of the underlying technology in financial services, but the conversation is FINALLY shifting to the business opportunities and that will be the catalyst for blockchain-infused products to gain traction. Experiments like Project ‘Jasper’ which is a Bank of Canada + Big 5 proof of concept with blockchain to reduce reconciliation efforts in payments systems are examples of the results and value of using distributed public networks.

We strongly believe that we are less than 12 months way from seeing the first mainstream pilot for tools like smart contracts and we are even bigger believers in the truly disruptive nature of these technologies.

I’m incredibly interested in your opinions and welcome comments. If you are passionate about thinking differently in the financial services space, I’d love to chat and can be reached at rlambert (at) fct dot com or through LinkedIn.

Mar 20 | 2017

Your Feedback Counts

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See what improvements you’ve inspired at FCT17-025_Health_Check_Blog_Box_03-17_v1

Tell us what you love about working with FCT, and what you don’t.  Our online customer survey for legal professionals runs twice a year; the next survey invitation will arrive in your inbox soon!

Your feedback helps us identify key areas where improvement is necessary, so that we can implement solutions to make your FCT experience that much better. Recent survey results have inspired various process improvements such as:

  • Reduced call transfer wait times
    When you’re in the middle of placing an order and have a question for the underwriter, you can now be placed on a three-way call to get your question answered and then continue with your order.
  • More efficient ordering process
    We’ve improved how you order over the phone by structuring the order forms to be consistent with the sequence of questions from the underwriter. This helps you prepare for the call and organize your files accordingly, ensuring a fast and smooth experience. You even have the option to order by email to further speed up the process.
  • Faster issue resolution
    When you provide feedback in the survey and indicate that you would like to discuss it further, our team will reach out. This has helped deals that appeared to be in jeopardy close on time, as we believe it’s important to action survey feedback quickly.

While FCT is a driving force for change and innovation in the real estate landscape, the one thing that hasn’t changed in 25+ years is our unwavering focus on you – our customers. We consistently strive to improve our products and services so they work better for you. One of the ways we identify how to improve is through our customer surveys.

If there are any improvements you’d like to see at FCT, be sure to complete the survey!

If you want to share your feedback directly, you can contact our Chief Customer Officer, Colleen Reitzel at creitzel@fct.ca or 888.771.0065 x 763455.

Jul 6 | 2016

Here comes InsurTech

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FinTechThese are interesting times. The insurance business is the next frontier for FinTech, the tidal wave of digital businesses that’s already remaking (and hollowing out) the big banks all over the world. As mobile smartphone apps on the one hand and online banking at home on the other disintermediate—blow out of business—all manner of middleman functions, banks are poised to lose the money-spinners they’ve had for decades.

In a remarkable presentation in London, England a few weeks ago, InsurTech (FinTech meets the insurance world) experts from the European Union (EU) and North America spent an hour looking at how insurance companies are even more vulnerable in some respects than the banks themselves.

The headlines?

  • Personalization to the point that your insurance app will practically be a lifestyle app, like MapMyRun or Sleep Cycle. The insurance product cycle will be far shorter than it is presently, with customization driving far more specific premium strategies.
  • Customer-centric service design—user experience—will rule. Convenience and speed are already remaking what InsurTech specialists call “inside out” product design, where value is more important than price; and engagement, more critical than transaction. This is contrary to traditional financial services thinking, which focuses on designing the product that delivers the transaction with “outside in” thinking.
  • Here come the robo-brokers, on-demand, on your mobile phone app, from Germany to the United Kingdom to the United States to Canada and Australia. Self-service and video claims processes are setting new standards for customer satisfaction.
  • Direct-to-consumer apps are already in-market, selling policies based on digital profiles. The Silicon Valley startup, Sure, is utterly focused on mobile service of the customer on his or her journey, which is “phone-only and instantly and completely individualized,” says Sure CEO, Wayne Slavin. “We want to marry technology to the customer user experience, frictionlessly.”

Since the dawn of insurance circa 1750, periodic payments of self-owned insurance have been the norm. On-demand services, Slavin says, mean consumers won’t “own” their insurance: they’ll “rent” insurance, just as they rent an AirBnB or an Uber cab. High-frequency, always available, personalized insurance will replace “life moments” insurance (marriage, birth of kids, first house), just as rental housing is becoming far more socially acceptable to millennials than ever it was to older folk.

“Tap and be insured” is the ultimate goal, even though InsurTech is still barely a toddler. That mantra applies because the new purchasers of insurance don’t focus on what the insurers want to sell them: they want their insurance provider to embrace technology and customer data for better underwriting and better customer relationships.

And switched-on customers want to be sold insurance right before they need it—and know, like iTunes® and month-to-month mobile phone plans, what the next month will bring.

Sure and other startups like Ireland’s Trov and Germany’s GetSafe are applying artificial intelligence and machine learning to reimagine customer risk profiles and the behaviours that underpin those profiles in order to insure a particular behaviour or new purchase. (Think: why be insured for a sports injury when you’re at the office and your mountain bike is at home in the garage?) Claims are already being settled by “compassionate chat bots” in pilots in Ireland.

In five years, insurance is going to be a very different beast from what it is today, with entirely new customer-facing platforms.

FinTech geeks will revel in the technological changes, but for consumers, InsurTech is going to get really, truly interesting, and in short order.

Jun 8 | 2016

Why hasn’t smart home technology taken off?

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smart homeIt’s a science fiction film cliché, the responsive house that all but turns down your bed and butters your toast. For the past decade, sensor-based technologies have been marketed, in aggregate, as “the smart home,” with big companies and technology giants queueing up to integrate the possibilities of cloud-based processing and ever more refined sensors.

But the headline isn’t that any of these name brands are blowing the doors off. To the contrary — the smart home market is kind of a replay of the early days of the videocassette: no industry standard, lots of innovation off the beaten track…and siloed technologies blocking real progress.

Silos are definitely not what the house doctor ordered; the vision is all the other way—appliances, control systems/devices and home entertainment platforms all interoperably linked and smoothly interfaced.

Not.

It’s more like a hobbyist’s approach: one widget at a time. (One suspects people are still sufficiently peeved at their remote to have much faith in a house full of remotes.) That’s on the consumer side; on the company side, insurance companies and grocery super brands are already experimenting with individual technologies as outreach programs to build engagement with customers in a whole new way. So the game looks far more like a slow aggregation and integration of niche markets (wins with integrated safety, thermostats and security systems (“background apps”) migrating customers to softer, more personalized interactivities around entertainment, cooking, health management and monitoring special needs family members (“foreground apps”).

And what about fun? These devices can’t be simply widgets: the winners, like the now-legendary HitchBot—a “social robot” which traversed Canada, parts of Germany and several US cities before being destroyed in Philadelphia in July 2015, winning some 500,000 Facebook followers—will become part of our complex, all too human lives.

At home, we are most ourselves. Technology has a long way to go to reflect that fact, inhibited as progress is by high product prices, limited consumer interest and overlong device replacement cycles—but the highest barrier is interoperability: too many networks, too many platforms, far too many niggling problems (“I have to program this remote? What?!” Remember that one?). What’s wanted is an innovator to crash the barriers and build an ecosystem that actually works as if people mattered.

May 12 | 2016

25 years and counting . . . Why FCT’s decades of experience matter to you

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16-187_FCT_Blog_Renzo_Exper_SquareAnyone working in this global marketplace knows that business today is characterized by relentless change. For a company to succeed, it needs to constantly adapt to stay relevant and innovative in order to add real value and meet customer needs.  After all, our success rests squarely on the shoulders of our customers’ success; customers we see as long-term, highly respected partners.

After more than two decades and thousands of commercial policies issued by our niche experts across the country, you can be rest assured FCT has your commercial needs covered. We’ve been listening to our customers since day one — listening so that we truly understand what they want in a partner. Our goal has always been to offer trusted solutions and support to help grow businesses and shape the future of the industry. And in this competitive insurance market, I can say without reservation that Experience Excellence® makes all the difference.

But why should our experience matter to you? I think that a quote I came across in an online marketing blog called Why “EXPERIENCE MATTERS” sums it up rather nicely:

“The nature of business is about constantly adapting to change and starting anew, but each time with deeper experience, greater knowledge, stronger relationships and more confidence.”

Although this particular blogger is writing about the benefits of experience in the world of marketing, the same holds true for any business, including the title insurance industry.

Having been a leader in the Canadian real estate industry since 1991, FCT is in a unique position to offer you unparalleled customized underwriting solutions. Plus, with experienced legal professionals on staff who combine in-depth title insurance knowledge together with years of hands-on real estate practice exposure, we can offer you a customer experience like no other in the industry. This experience and acumen equal confidence for you: confidence to move ahead with your commercial deal, regardless of the complexity, knowing you’re backed by a leader.

As we reflect on the last 25 years, can you think of a time when FCT provided you with a solution that closed a difficult deal? Feel free to comment below.

May 9 | 2016

Move over Bitcoin? There’s a new digital currency in town and it’s called Ethereum

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bitcoinNo one quite knows where Bitcoin is going or just how powerful its core technology, the blockchain, really is. But you don’t need an engineering degree to note when a reputable major bank says Bitcoin is considerably undervalued  — to the tune of $200 per Bitcoin or some 58% — there’s something going on. Bank analysts and policymakers alike are beginning to see Bitcoin as a kind of “digital gold” that seems to be a virtual benchmark of value exchange as well as a transactional system itself.

Key players continue to position themselves to exploit the new technology; the LINUX Foundation (the people who made open-source operating systems universal) announced recently that 10 startups—all of them A-list—have joined the Hyperledger Project. But it’s the advisory board members who are immediately impressive: CTOs from IBM and Thomson Reuters and CEOs from major software and FinTech companies. And the board chair is Blythe Masters, a scary-smart Englishwoman and former JPMorgan wunderkind whose own startup, Digital Assets, is ground-zero for Wall Street’s interest in the technology. (For more on women leavening financial successes in C-suite roles, see our April EXPERT/ease special feature, It’s incontrovertible: women make companies more profitable.)

This past year, Ethereum, a blockchain with the promise to decentralize more than just the exchange of value, is being widely experimented with by major financial and tech institutions , via a permissioned version of its distributed ledger.

Ethereum is the brainchild of a 21-year-old Russian-Canadian, Vitalik Buterin, who dropped out of the University of Waterloo to develop the platform with a small team of hacker-collaborators; the early Canadian work led an Ethereum startup in Brooklyn, where progress over the past few months has sparked big institutional interest.

So what does this thing actually do?

Imagine a contract—a smart contract—which not only executes itself between two parties transparently, but is also subject to instant peer-to-peer review to keep everything above-board. That contract that is Ethereum’s task is also programmable: additional binding agreements can be added near-instantly.

One obvious use for such a “universal contracting machine” would be betting on a hockey game via the Ethereum blockchain, triggering a program which ultimately governs (impartially, automatically, and agreed to by all parties) the payout for the winning bet. Ethereum’s basic unit is Ether, which, if the rest of the process weren’t amazing enough, also pays for the entire process as it plays out between the contracting parties.

Things get even more intriguing when you understand that Ethereum is a kind of massive spider web of a network of computers, a single networked super computer, that’s run by the users participating on the network and through which resources are distributed (and paid for) by Ether.

If this sounds like a kind of artificial intelligence transaction system, it sort of is.

Sort of.

While no one has yet to proclaim the Ethereum/blockchain combination the “category killer,” it’s safe to say things are moving in the right direction—and very fast indeed—towards a true universal “distributed ledger”: a whole new virtual spine for Earth’s financial transactions.

May 2 | 2016

Mobile phone currency: How Somalia is building a cashless, safer society

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bitcoinIn our EXPERT/ease special feature last month, we took a look at Bitcoin, the “cryptocurrency” that’s been bubbling away beneath the surface of orthodox finance, attracting scandal, criminality and some very original thinking, all at once. But meanwhile, in North Africa, there’s a cashless society growing by leaps and bounds, in, of all places, Somalia.

We’ve written before on this blog about the Kenyan mobile phone economy in and around Nairobi, fuelled by airtime-as-currency; most savvy travellers know you can pay your cab fare from the airport in airtime, on a system called M-PESA, “pesa” being Swahili for money.

But Somalia’s gone a lot farther, a lot faster—and with far more at stake, namely the future of the country.

The arithmetic is starkly simple: decades of horrific civil wars have destroyed the banking sector and the rise of mobile phones has removed credit and debit cards from the equation. In a country with a still-stratospheric crime rate, the safety of cashless transactions is transforming not only how ordinary people do business, but the very fabric of Somalia itself; a country still dependent on billions in remittances from Somalians working abroad and sending money home to loved ones. In fact, the CIA estimates fully 20% of the country’s GDP is from expat Somalis.

The number of mobile phone subscriptions in Somalia has nearly tripled over the past three years—and the World Bank’s Global Findex Database 2014 reports some 40% of the Somali population of 12.3 million has a mobile money account.

The upshot? Businesses line once-shell-holed streets; produce vendors and cafés thrive; cabbies are far safer and buy their fuel with a few clicks of their phones. One note on M-PESA: the Somali system is denominated in US dollars and thus stable. Subscribers to the biggest mobile money service, EVCPlus, can buy more airtime, pay their utility bills and move money around via pre-approved payments—all without an internet connection.

Needless to say, all this progress has driven competitiveness in Somalia’s telecom sector through the roof. And all this in a so-called failed state, where so much else in the Somali economy struggles. It’s heartening.

Mar 10 | 2016

Certified Resale Home gets a makeover and a new partner!

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15-075E-CRH_FB_profile_v2The launch of Certified Resale Home last year was the culmination of significant customer insight and feedback and a result of our drive to fill a gap in the current process with an innovative solution. In fact, by leveraging core competencies of process optimization and risk management, FCT has been delivering innovative real estate solutions for the past 25 years: our mission is and has always been to make financial transactions simple and secure. But what really sets us apart from the competition is our ability to provide exceptional customer experiences. With that at the forefront of our strategy to redefine the current approach to home inspections, we set about making the following changes to Certified Resale Home based on customer need:

  • $20,000 worth of coverage — We’ve upped the maximum coverage from $11, 500 to $20,000 to ensure we’re providing the best warranty coverage possible for the main systems in a home.
  • Removal of previous capped limits – Now an owner can determine how to allocate the limit based on the extent of repair and replacement necessary.
  • Optional extra swimming pool equipment and septic tank system coverage  — For a few dollars more owners can now get greater peace of mind protection for these additional systems.
  • A simplified warranty coverage document — With an easy-to-read, visually appealing design that uses straightforward language and no fine print, we’re aiming to make our coverage simpler to understand and completely transparent.

We are also very pleased to announce that as of February 11, 2016, Certified Resale Home has been available to homeowners through an exclusive partnership with Re/Max Niagara Realty Ltd.  With offices in Niagara Falls, St Catharines and Fort Erie, Re/Max Niagara Realty has joined forces with FCT to bring the unique benefits of Certified Resale Home to these new markets, including:

  • Differentiating the property from other listings;
  • Promoting greater buyer confidence; and
  • Helping the owner sell their home faster.

If you are a homeowner in any of these new markets and you are looking to list your home for sale, we invite you to reach out to your local Re/Max Niagara Realtor to start a conversation about putting the benefits of Certified Resale Home to work for you. For more information on the program, please visit http://niagararemax.thecertifiedresalehome.ca/.

Warranty Services by First Canadian Title Company Limited
Feb 29 | 2016

Hacking time management: part two

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Why asking “what if” is the motime managementst valuable use of your time

We’re told that real estate is always going be more valuable eventually because there’s only so much of it.

We’re told that time is the one thing we never get back.

But imagination, the soul of creativity: now there’s a limited but renewable resource. This is especially true in human organizations, which all too easily forget that which made them successful—the exercise of our capacity to see what doesn’t yet exist.

Time management methods almost never take this into account; as individuals, we often lose sight of the fact that we don’t actually decide to do something before you imagine what that thing is. We imagine the outcome first.

We think our imagination is somehow a waste of time.

From a business standpoint, this is epically, monumentally wrong-headed.

Businesspeople are all too frequently scared stiff of imagination. How many bosses have each of us had who believed that imagination belongs to children and “artsies,”  and who were bound to the received ideas of the people around them and therefore never did an original thing in their working lives?

The point is, you can’t outsource imagination. You can’t hire imagination or order imagination into existence. People get used to “the way things are done” and lock themselves into habits of learned helplessness. They resist change, simply because change represents something different from what they know.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is how businesses die. So, in the name of time management that actually leads to innovation—the useful new—here’s a shortlist of the key elements of the art of “what if” drawn from a lecture the artistic director of Lincoln Center Institute, Scott Noppe-Brandon, gave in 2010. LCI annually works with over 400,000 students and educators, for-profit and non-profit managers and administrators alike, using the arts as a springboard for critical thinking.

  1. Notice deeply: This is the childlike ability to identify the layers surrounding around a problem through continuous interaction and study with that problem—as if time didn’t matter.
  2. Think inside the box. Yes: limitations naturally inspire creatively—in fact, great design is about less, about delimiting what’s possible…but with an open mind.
  3. Live with ambiguity. Not every problem has a single, clear-cut solution; issues have more than one interpretation.
  4. Share meaning. This one’s enormously powerful: it’s the soul of collaboration. Discover something and then share it, even (especially) if the idea seems odd or “hasn’t been done before.”
  5. Give yourself permission to fail fast. No one ever gets it right, first time, all the time. The best outcomes often come from fast failures, junking failed ideas quickly, rather than hanging on to early ideas, simply because they occurred to you.
  6. Leave a gap. Deliberately leave an idea or concept unfinished and see what bubbles up in the space “in between” what’s already there.

Most of the change we need to improve our businesses and our lives stems from new connections, making new connections between previously unrelated ideas.

No, we won’t always accomplish wonders with what we imagine: there are simply too many ideas that can’t be implemented once we dream them. But one thing’s certain: we will never accomplish what we refuse to imagine.

Make the time to ask “what if?”—it’s about the healthiest thing you can do with your time. It’s how JK Rowling conceived the Harry Potter books. It’s how Edison nailed the light bulb and Larry Page first imagined Google’s search.

This thing works: give it time.

What methods do you employ in your business today to make time for idea generation and critical thinking?

For more on how to devote more of your time to real productivity, read Imagination First: Unlocking the Power of Possibility.

Dec 15 | 2015

Does digital disruption mean the end of branch banking?

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onlinebanking_smallThe psychology of customer interactions with live bank branch staff in bricks and mortar branches is, according to business intelligence giant IDC, rather more nuanced—and, for bank employees, optimistic—than you’d first think.

Why?

Because the answers regarding the relevancy for customers of live interactions with bank staff are (as you’d imagine) highly age-dependent. Elderly customers are habituated to a live banking experience; latest IDC data suggests that some 25% of millennials (the biggest cohort of human beings on the planet) have never set foot in a bank branch. Ever.

So let’s get out the crystal ball and take a hard look at what might lie ahead.

The real bump for most bank customers isn’t the digital experience—which is largely information gathering—or the live experience—which is largely about trust-building and sharing stories about family, life experiences and the like to establish value connections.

No. It’s the hand-off between the digital and the live user experience (UX).

People have been going to banks for an exceedingly long time; the first merchant banks, in northern Italy circa 1350 were decidedly formal affairs, not open to the general population: they funded wars and merchant sailing projects.

Fast forward to Q4, 2014, when Barclays in the UK closed 98 branches; and to this past year when smartphone transactions have skyrocketed, literally being used anywhere and everywhere digital banking- is possible and practicable.

So imagine if video chat were possible on your smartphone for a mortgage application: why would folks come to the bank branch to transact business? Well, here IDC has identified what might be the secret to bank branch prosperity—and it’s as paradoxical as the latest data that shows paperback book sales are growing by leaps and bounds, while e-reader sales plateau and a renewed interest in vinyl LP records and turntables explodes.

In a word: contact.

Human beings like having other human beings help them with a complex piece of business. US data shows that bank branch preferences are fast overtaking web- and mobile-only preferences for complex transactions—and a mortgage definitely qualifies for ‘complex.’

Like music-lovers who want their iPhone for commuting music but a vinyl record collection for their highest-engagement listening experiences at home, bank customers are rapidly evolving a non-‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. In a phrase, they want what they want.

And that means seamless banking is the Holy Grail, not single-channel. Bricks and mortar banking will continue to evolve ever more touchpoints relevant to the live customer experience—and continue to close the many gaps between digital and live service experiences, online, mobile, branch and ATM.

The secret to great customer experience hasn’t changed: know what your customers want before they do.