From online banking and payments to chip cards and data security, the financial services industry is constantly changing and evolving to meet consumers’ needs. Whether money is sent from a mobile device or a company is storing financial data for thousands of customers, technology is a critical component of the industry.
Just 30 years ago, a person or company made or received a payment by writing and depositing a check. In fact, as the dominant form of payment for many years, paper processing peaked at 49.5 billion checks handled in 1995 alone, according to a report by the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. However, with technology development on the rise, the check payment system quickly became too arduous and inefficient for the fast-paced financial world, paving the way for a new era of payment processing and security.
By the late 1990s, checks had begun to lose significant market share to alternative payment options, like electronic funds transfer (EFT). As check payments declined, EFT quickly became the industry standard, serving as a highly efficient and secure way to send and receive funds in a matter of minutes.
Before EFT was widely accepted, one Corridor-based company saw potential for the technology and was determined to become a trailblazer. Headquartered in Tampa, Fintech launched in the early 1990s with a novel concept—make electronic payments mainstream in the alcohol industry. The only problem was that not a single state in the country recognized EFT as a cash equivalent for the payment of alcohol. Not to mention, retailers and distributors didn’t see a need for such a service.
“At that time, it was illegal to pay through electronic funds for regulated products,” said Scott Riley, CEO of Fintech, during a previous interview with the Tampa Bay Times. “You had to pay with cash, check or money order. We had to get every single state in the U.S. to approve electronic funds transfer.”
Fintech pressed on, recognizing that electronic payments would increase security and ensure compliance with alcohol regulations. It took 15 years to accomplish, but the company’s electronic payment system was eventually approved in all 50 states. Today, Fintech processes more than $24 billion in payments annually, firmly positioning the company as a pioneer in financial technology.
More Change is on the Way
Though the industry has made great strides in terms of electronic payments, there are still significant shortcomings, particularly in the business-to-business arena.
“The process of sending and receiving invoices and payments is a source of inefficiency for all businesses across all industries,” said Max Eliscu, founder and CEO of Viewpost, a financial technology firm based in Orlando. “But ultimately, the underlying issue is that businesses can’t connect to one another. There’s an incredible lack of access to transaction information, and it serves as a weight on efficiency and productivity.”
Notwithstanding the speed of technological evolution in the consumer segment, businesses continue to be mired in paper invoices and payments, which are slow to be received, processed or paid. It is all costly and time-consuming, and it negatively impacts nearly all businesses.
Recognizing the scale of the problem, Eliscu was inspired to start Viewpost, a network designed from the ground up to help businesses securely exchange electronic invoices and payments on a single, cloud-based platform. Users of the Viewpost network have the ability to connect with trading partners, send and receive invoices and payments, and manage cash flow in real time. Founded in 2011, the company has already inked partnerships with Bank of America, U.S. Bank, Capital One and Fifth Third Bank to help the banks’ business customers reduce transactional inefficiency.
“If we just focused on the B2B space, I could spend all day talking about the friction in electronic payments, loans and credit. But Viewpost is working to solve all of those problems by making them easy,” said Eliscu. “Businesses big and small can seamlessly send and receive invoices and payments without sharing confidential bank information, and they also have the ability to track the status of invoices and receipts. It’s that unique combination that makes our network so powerful.”
Just as Viewpost is using technology to provide more visibility, accessibility and connectivity, the rest of the industry is also innovating to improve the customer experience. Whether it’s online banking, mobile payments or electronic trading, financial institutions have had to keep up with demand by utilizing new tools and technology. Particularly in the financial planning arena, consumers want a complete—and instantaneous—picture of their investments and overall fiscal health.
That desire is what led to the genesis of an investment advisory firm with a unique name based in Gainesville, together. Launched in 2015 by Tom Mallini and his son Jud, the company, together, was founded for the purpose of using newer and better technology to deliver a more integrated planning service. Jud, who worked as a financial services representative for a major company for 10 years, felt frustrated by the lack of technology available at his job, motivating him to start an independent firm.
“As we were starting this firm, I was introduced to an engineer at the University of Florida who opened my eyes to all the technology I could use to provide a simpler, more seamless experience for clients,” said Jud Mallini. “Using tools like customer relationship management software, I saw the potential to take this practice to a whole new level thanks to a constantly changing technological environment.”
Before technology development became widespread in the industry, financial planners and investment advisors faced an arduous task in preparing for client meetings. But today, firms like together are utilizing the latest technology to create more efficient workflows, better analyze client risk tolerance and provide easier access to reports and data.
“The key is to use technology to help clients gather all the data in their life and quickly put it into a simple, visual representation of whether they’re on pace to meet their goals,” said Tom Mallini, who spent 43 years in commercial banking before starting together with his son. “If you can provide that high-quality picture, it enhances the human-to-human interaction and allows clients and advisors to spend more time on the things that are important.”
Keeping it Secure
While financial planning, banking and payments have become more automated and easier to access, these advancements have created a significant hurdle—security. With fraud and major hacks becoming more prevalent, banks and businesses are investing more resources than ever before to protect consumers’ data. The challenge is finding a way to heighten security while still providing ease of access.
“In the early days, cybersecurity offenses were more like proofs of concept. Hackers didn’t know what to attack and they weren’t actively going after money or financial records,” said Dr. Manish Agrawal, a professor at the University of South Florida who specializes in information systems and security. “In the last few years, however, we’re seeing better prepared attackers who are patient and have better capabilities. So now, we’re increasingly seeing attacks on valuable targets such as financial institutions. A recent development is the exploitation of trusted business-to-business connections.”
Though there has been a rise in data breaches, Agrawal says the technology industry is maturing rapidly to make necessary changes. For most organizations, improving cybersecurity primarily means ensuring regular updates to technology systems or implementing cloud-based solutions for improved security. And on the consumer side, technology like biometrics and dual-factor authentication is gaining traction as a way to keep data safe.
“The smartest way to mitigate the majority of risk that exists today is through tools like dual-factor authentication and biometrics—whether it’s voice recognition, retinal scanning or fingerprint validation,” said Eliscu. “The other thing that’s now possible with technology is creating a ‘DNA profile’ of a person’s behavior. For example, a bank or business can accumulate behavioral characteristics to better understand customers and improve security at great scale and with great accuracy.”
As technology continues to enhance financial security, connectivity and accessibility, Corridor companies are making significant contributions to the industry’s growth. For example, FIS, with an office in St. Petersburg, offers chip cards and a number of innovative security solutions. And in Orlando, startup company Fattmerchant pioneered a novel platform that makes it easier and more cost-effective for businesses to process payments.
“The Corridor has become a gathering point for people in this industry, and we’re starting to see a lot of growth,” said Tom Mallini. “We’re seeing technology companies locate here because of the talent we have—and that can only mean success for our region.”