The Consumer Electronics Show (CES), a tech event that showcases the latest advancements in consumer electronics and technology, is a must-attend conference for those working in the field of tech. But what if you work at a bank?
This year, U.S. Bank sent five representatives to walk the floors of CES to scout out what’s new and what’s possible when it comes to banking technology. Among the group attending last week’s technology showcase were U.S. Bank Chief Innovation Officer Don Relyea and Senior Vice President and Head of Applied Foresights Todder Moning.
We caught up with Relyea and Moning to get their thoughts on the show.
You’ve just returned from CES. Tell us about what U.S. Bank was looking for at the show.
Don Relyea: We are looking for several things. We go to get an understanding of how ready for primetime various technology verticals are for mass consumer applications. We also go to detect new disruptive technology trends well in advance of their readiness for consumers, so we can prepare to take advantage of opportunities – as well as avoid (or leverage) a disruption. A good example is how, a decade ago, we detected the early rise of natural language processing and started testing and learning with it, eventually leading to us being ahead of the curve in releasing an industry-leading voice assistant a decade later.
Todder Moning: We think about it like a “tech safari” or a “future safari” – allowing us to see a lot of the new products or emerging R&D work across multiple tech spaces and across multiple industries. It helps us to see what consumers, business owners, and our employees are going to be experiencing in their lives and helps us better understand what financial solutions are going to become most important to them. We look for how the spaces and tech we follow are progressing and for the weird or unexpected. That gives us new ideas that we take back to start work in our innovation labs and business lines.
Was there any tech on display that had the potential to help improve the user experience?
Relyea: More than I could ever tell you about. A big trend we saw in this space was the leveraging of AI for hyper-personalization across every industry. Companies in so many different verticals were converging AI, digital twins, the cloud, and the sensors in your consumer devices to create highly personalized and useful consumer experiences.
A great example is Incheon Airport (Seoul, South Korea) using a digital twin combined with AI, IoT sensors and consumer phones to give travelers a navigational guide like none other: an augmented reality robot avatar that will lead them around the airport wherever they need to go. Another one I loved was an AI scanner that analyzes your face and detects your skin condition in order to recommend skin care products. When the point of sale becomes your bathroom instead of the mall, that will be a gamechanger.
Moning: Yes, a lot of it.
- Sustainability and waste tracking
- New experiences in the automotive and transportation industries
- The broad use of sensors, AI, displays, and wearables that are bringing services, health, and wellness directly to the consumer
- Easier interconnectivity in smart homes and smart devices across product brands to finally start making those contexts easier
- Continuous advancement in VR/AR glasses for digital and virtual experiences
- Automation and autonomy in vehicles, robots, and other appliances/devices that will help assist or do things for people
How about tech for back office operations?
Relyea: Again, I’ll go to the Incheon Airport example. Not only did a friendly little robot provide guided navigation, but also the airport used the digital twin for operational efficiencies as well, helping to manage air traffic, vehicle traffic, foot traffic, and physical plant operations.
Moning: To be candid, the fintech part of the show was pretty sparse. It’s been that way in years past too. CES is typically far less interesting when it comes to technology we might directly implement to our systems, and much more interesting in seeing how we can integrate into the experiences where consumers would want to use their money. Which, we’re seeing more and more – particularly with embedded finance – is kind of everywhere.
When it comes to implementing ideas like these at a bank, is it better to be on the leading edge to gain a first-mover advantage? Or is it better to wait for other firms to jump in first?
Relyea: It really depends on the use case. In some cases, with fintechs and reg tech, it may be better to be an early mover. In others, where the maturity of the technology is not clear, it is better to wait until the technology achieves a good level of maturity.
Moning: It depends. We like building prototypes to try ideas first. We also like collaborating with or investing in startups when it makes sense. We will go first when it makes sense and we’re ready, like when we were first in ApplePay, first in Zelle, first in real time payments networks, and first to have smart chat services with all three major smart-speaker brands. Other times, we’ve seen the first-in-market attempts by others at really new technology fall flat or miss the mark. So first-mover vs. fast-follower really depends on each opportunity.
If U.S. Bank was exhibiting at CES, what would be the newest tech you would showcase?
Relyea: We get so much out of exploring the show floor, and so we find other ways to launch and showcase our own innovations, but we’re rather proud of our Smart Assistant, including the launch of our Spanish language version this year – the nation’s first voice assistant for banking in Spanish. Other candidates would be some of our work within the real time payments space, perhaps some of our blockchain initiatives or the recent launch of our financial education program for college athletes, which we are doing in collaboration with Opendorse. There are a lot of digital innovations happening across U.S. Bank that combine the best of digital with our amazing team members.
Moning: Some of our voice tech stuff is pretty cool, at the leading edge. We’ve done some really good things with real time payments in auto and some other areas. Our approach tends to be more of one where we work quietly behind the scenes until just the right time to launch it to the public, rather than showcasing our work in prototype or in pilot. I’d love to share more, but we’ll hold some of those cards close to the vest.
Outside of fintech applications, what was the coolest thing you saw at the show?
Relyea: I liked the MPC micro power chip that pulls low amounts of power from dirt and moisture. I haven’t seen anything quite like it before – that can charge a battery array and light an off-grid structure. I’m looking forward to when their tech is commercially available.
Moning: It would have to be the BMW Dee, a concept car that had “e-Ink” panels all over the outside of it, including the windows, and changed color in real-time based on music or your mood. As a sustainability concept, the Under-Ocean Farming that Siemens was showing was amazing. And from Caterpillar, the giant equipment company, they were showing remote autonomy, where you could control a real excavator that was in Peoria, Illinois from a seat at CES in Las Vegas. Pretty incredible.