Market Outlook: Good Times Ahead, But. . .

Another day, another ray of hope in an otherwise dour environment: A new report based on a poll of 137 banking executives from over 100 financial institutions reveals an optimistic outlook for the SMB market. How strong? Try this: 95 percent of bankers describe the untapped potential of this market as equal to or greater than any other current opportunity, while more than half, 57 percent, say it’s huge.

That’s the word from the North American Insights conference held by Fundtech, a provider of financial technology solutions to banks and other corporations. And the good news doesn’t end there: 60 percent say demand for new services from this market sector is higher than usual, while nearly 20 percent call it “unprecedented.” Of course, mobile is a big issue: 38 percent report that building the mobile banking channel is a top priority. Perhaps strangely, almost as many, 34 percent, also note that cutting costs in this area is a top priority. And to top it off, a strong 67 percent of the respondents believe that social networking will play a major role in their growth, but add—and this is critical—they don’t quite know how.

That isn’t the only dark note in an otherwise bright scenario. While no one denies the viability of competition, almost 60 percent of the respondents, banking professionals all, say they see signs of inroads into their business coming from non-banking companies. That would be a tip of the hat to organizations associated with the technology sector—think Facebook, eBay and PayPal. This is by no means an isolated concern. In fact, numerous other analyses have stressed that many successful entries into this market will be made not only by innovative startups but also by companies that have achieved success in the technology arena and apply those techniques to the banking sector.

That’s just one reason why another subject covered in the report is so intriguing: regulation. Bankers confirm that they’re already not clear exactly how to comply with new mandates such as the Dodd-Frank Act—to be fair, almost half say they “mostly” understand—and yet they expect more such mandates to come down the pike.

What’s completely unrelated yet very relevant in this regard are the statements made this week by former Citigroup head Sanford Weill. He startled everyone by essentially calling for the resurrection of the Glass-Steagall Act, the Depression-era legislation that separated commercial banking from investment banking, and was abandoned more than a decade ago. This is one reason why banks got to be ‘too big to fail,’ and as has been widely reported, Mr. Weill himself was a prime mover behind the change. Now he seems to have changed his mind.

Taken together, these are some strange winds blowing for the financial services industry. There are good times for banks working with the SMB sector, but one potential concern is that non-banking institutions might steal some of that thunder. Meanwhile, one of the people most responsible for shredding the legislation that separated commercial and investment banking would like to see it return, a major reason for their existing strength, recommends reducing that power.

This should be very interesting to watch. Stay tuned.

Written by Staff