Five Key Themes from Financial Brand Forum 2024 

By James White, General Manager of Banking at Total Expert

This year’s Financial Brand Forum was one of those (relatively) rare corporate events where it feels like everyone truly recognized the importance of coming together to share insights. The gravity of the event stems from the importance of the moment we’re in: It’s already been a challenge- and turbulence-filled year for banks and credit unions. The economy remains hard to read, though it’s clear that we’re settling into a high-rate environment for a much longer term than originally predicted. These macro factors pile on top of the evergreen challenges we’ve been facing for the better part of the last decade: tech-driven disruption, fading loyalty putting market share up for grabs, and tightening regulations on the FinServ industry. 

Nevertheless, the overarching story of the event was categorically optimistic: Periods of uncertainty and tumult can be powerful opportunities to differentiate and capture growth. 

The key question: How? Here are five key themes I saw emerge over the three-day event. 

The digital transformation imperative 

The event started with a compelling session on the ongoing necessity for digital transformation in banking. Digital transformation has been a topic of concern for banks and credit unions for at least a decade now, but the acceleration of AI and machine learning over the past two years have suddenly made the risk of falling too far behind a real threat for financial institutions (FIs).  

Several speakers made the point that embracing these next-gen digital technologies will rapidly move from an innovative strategy to a default for survival. At the same time, a common theme within sessions was where and how banks and credit unions can apply AI to most practically and rapidly prove value, including operations, customer interactions, and personalized financial solutions.  

Enhancing customer & member experiences 

Another theme that’s been bouncing around Forum for years now is the need to elevate experiences to meet increasing expectations of customers and members. Here, too, the story is only growing more urgent: Top brands in other sectors are delivering next-gen experiences that continually elevate what consumers want to see from FIs. 

The industry has a clear consensus on what needs to happen: FIs must prioritize personalized, seamless, and intuitive customer/member experiences to increase growth and retention. But the challenge is delivering meaningful personalization—and doing it at scale.  

Total Expert Founder & CEO Joe Welu shared strategies for leveraging data analytics to gain deeper insights into customer behaviors and preferences. In particular, Joe zoomed in on the need to look for signals of intent to deliver personalized messages at the right time. 

The rise of FinTech collaboration 

“If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em,” sounds a little defeatist. But the truth is that smart businesses have always recognized situations where partnering with a potential disruptor makes more sense than trying to out-innovate them.  

In this regard, FIs have been talking about collaborating with FinTechs to create new value and stay competitive, but many don’t really know where to start. Sessions at Forum explored various partnership models, how to identify the right FinTech partners, and how these collaborations can lead to developing new financial products and services. The key here is finding synergies that leverage the legacy strengths of traditional financial institutions with the tech-driven experiences and offerings of FinTech disruptors. 

The future of payments 

One area where FinTech collaboration will be particularly critical is enabling the future of frictionless payments. Consumers increasingly demand these payment methods, and banks and credit unions will largely find it impractical to develop in-house offerings from scratch. 

Speaker sessions looked at how digital wallets, contactless payments, and blockchain technology are already transforming the payment landscape and what banks and credit unions must do to keep pace with these changes. The most important consideration here will be balancing consumer demand for frictionless convenience and best-in-class experiences with the need to ensure security at every phase of the payment process. 

Leadership and culture in times of change 

Tough times call for great leaders. One of my favorite parts of the event was the Executive Leadership Series, led by The Financial Brand’s own Jim Marous. The series addressed the critical role of leadership and organizational culture in navigating change.  

Keynote speakers shared their experiences and strategies for fostering a culture of innovation and agility within FIs. The importance of resilient leadership in guiding teams through digital transformation and market disruptions was a recurring theme. 

What did I miss? 

Those were just the big things that stood out to me, but Forum 2024 was jam-packed with insightful discussions, topics, and trends. If you attended the event this year, I’d love to hear your top takeaways from the event and how you think our industry will continue to evolve. If you didn’t attend the event, I still want to know what challenges and opportunities are on your mind and what your institution is facing in 2024 and beyond. Send me a note on LinkedIn, and let’s chat!