In February, I attended the Retail Banking Financial Technology (RBFT) 2001 trade show in London. The event attracted many of Europe's leading financial technology companies. Some were familiar to me from their dealings in the United States. Many, however, I did not know, so I decided to drop by their booths for a quick chat.
Like many North America-based companies, these mid-sized technology providers tended to concentrate on their local marketplace, and were concerned about a potential economic slowdown. However, despite these fears of slow growth, many were going forth with plans to introduce products into the North American marketplace.
That is refreshing to hear. I doubt you will get the same response from U.S.-based technology providers, many of whom have likely curtailed expansion plans until the current backlash against technology stocks dies out.
Although these European financial technology businesses are small, they bear watching. Indeed, many have experience providing solutions for converged financial enterprises-which is where the North American banking market is headed.
I'm a believer in the old adage "the best defense is a good offense," and hope that U.S.-based technology companies will overcome domestic difficulties and push products overseas into Europe and elsewhere. After all, although European businesses may have gotten a head start in providing technology for a converged financial market, it's not as if there's no room for improvement.
Peter McManus, publisher of BS&T, can vouch for this. Because of his heavy slate of world travel, he long ago switched his accounts over to a London-based bank with numerous worldwide outlets. He accompanied me to London for the RBFT show and while there we both stopped at an ATM at a branch of his bank for cash. Through the Cirrus network, I was able to draw money from my New York City account, but for a rather hefty service charge which I complained to Peter about. Peter, smiling, claimed this was when being a client of a European bank paid off and inserted his card, expecting to get money without any charge. Much to his chagrin, he was told the system could not process his transaction. He tried again, but got the same result. He then entered the bank and went to the customer service area to find out what was wrong, and was told, well, nothing since that branch could not access his North American information. Finally, he used his cell phone to call his bank's U.S.-based customer service representative who eventually found, and corrected, the problem.
The lesson: There's always an opportunity to build a better mousetrap. And, to use another cliche, don't count your chickens, or ATM transactions, before they hatch.