GlobalFintechSeries Interview with Steven McKean, Co-founder and CEO at ApexEdge
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Global Fintech Series Interview with Steven McKean, Co-founder and CEO at ApexEdge

Steven McKean, Co-founder and CEO at ApexEdge joins us in this Friday chat to share a few top predictions on the state of fintech today while throwing light on the importance of FIs turning to fintech startups for innovative solutions to customer facing problems:

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Steven, Hi! We’d love to hear about the ApexEdge platform…how (and why!) did the idea come about…take us through the story and growth over the years?

We officially launched the ApexEdge platform in 2020 to empower banks and credit unions to become true advocates for their customers and members by going beyond offering money saving recommendations to actually generating savings on their behalf.

The platform uses actionable intelligence to identify and pursue savings opportunities through the negotiation and cancellation of monthly service bills and subscriptions offered through either a referral or wholesale model. With over 80% of U.S. consumers overpay on monthly bills, consumers have an opportunity to realize significant savings by renegotiating routine services bills or cancelling recurring subscription fees, but the challenge is in navigating biller contacts, processes, and pricing plus creating the time to do so.

Recognizing a gap in the market, we developed a secure, SOC II-certified, modular platform to help financial institutions provide this value-added service, as well as ongoing personal financial management (PFM) tool support, to their customers.

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The platform is built on a server-less architecture to allow a quick, seamless and easy launch for financial institutions, fintechs, PFMs and more via APIs, which gives organizations the flexibility to choose how to deploy the service to customers and members: either a direct referral to ApexEdge’s Billshark service, or as a co-branded or even white-label service hosted through the bank to further strengthen the institution/customer relationship and provide cost reduction and the generation of additional non-interest revenue.

            To meet the need in the market, the platform provides four key services, including:

  • Negotiate: Negotiation of lower monthly services bill rates without compromising the current level of service or changing the provider;
  • Cancel: Cancellation of those unused or unwanted auto-renewing subscriptions and memberships;
  • Enhance: Negotiation of credits or refunds when service outages inevitably occur, overages are billed or services go unused; and
  • Protect: Demand erasure of customer’s personal information and data footprints retained by providers.

In today’s consumer banking environment, financial institutions find themselves under increasing pressure – from large competitors to emerging fintechs – to remain relevant to their customers and protect their position as primary partners in their financial well-being.

With this in mind, we designed our platform with banks’ business needs in mind. Banks benefit from access to truly actionable data insights and the flexibility that our secure, modular design and use of APIs enables. Through the ApexEdge platform, bankers are strengthening their relationships with customers in a meaningful way that delivers tangible value to institutions and consumers alike.

What are some of the challenges you feel today’s consumers face when they look to optimize their billing and subscription management? How can financial institutions help meet this need?

From a consumer standpoint, the easy-to-see challenges are time, stress and annoyance, right? Everyone wants to save money, but who has the time to look through their bills and subscriptions line by line to see where they are spending their money and where they can save money. And that is just the start, then, they would have to call the company to renegotiate their service costs or go online to cancel their subscriptions. No one has the time to do that and quite frankly, no one wants to do that.

However, that’s where financial institutions can step in and fill the gap – through partnerships that offer innovative solutions that can help consumers save money, cancel unwanted subscriptions, lower their monthly services and bills and monitor outages and fees. Financial institutions can use the information and attention from their customers that they already have access to and can combine that information with subscription management or bill reduction solutions to make managing bills and costs a seamless, frictionless experience.

Can you talk about the impact of optimized billing processes in overall business operations and even revenue: some examples for the industry to learn from?

By optimizing these experiences for your financial institution’s customers, banks and credit unions can reap the benefits as well. Financial institutions need a way to stand out and create more reasons for their customers to stick around, especially as younger generations are more likely to work with alternative players in the finance space, like fintechs and virtual institutions.

Institutions need solutions that entice their members and ultimately bring in additional business, create more brand loyalty while also driving in non-interest income and increasing revenue streams. But, winning over various generations can be hard. For example, Forbes explained that Venmo adoption beats Zelle adoption when it comes to Millennials and Gen Zers; however, “among smartphone-toting Baby Boomers, two-thirds use more than one service, typically PayPal and their bank’s service.”

Of course, financial institutions would rather have all of their customers or members leveraging their digital platforms to perform all of their financial needs, like bill pay or mobile payment transactions. This is where financial institutions need to embrace strategic partnerships that can help them win over their customers – strengthening relationships, improving the overall user experience and significantly reducing consumers’ financial stress.

Institutions are in a unique position to bridge this gap by forming strategic partnerships with technology providers that offer quick-to-market, cost effective solutions. This not only helps consumers improve their financial wellness, but also allows the institution to target their entire customer/member base (including younger customers and members), converting customers and members into using other/more banking services.

Just look at Varo Bank – the bank has more than seven fintech collaborations that they are utilizing to add value to their relationships and save their customers money, which can in turn, be routed back into other services that the bank offers, such as savings accounts or investment opportunities.

In fact, American Banker described the bank’s relationship with ApexEdge as a “natural-fit” and stated that the benefits of its “latest partnership with ApexEdge, a Boston company that offers bill and subscription management solutions as either a co-branded or referral service and is better known for its consumer-facing site, Billshark. The negotiation “sharks” will contact internet service providers, telecommunications firms and more to haggle for savings on a consumer’s behalf.”

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How will B2B companies need to strengthen value-added services, given today’s market changes and consumer need?

Financial institutions today need to provide immediate value to customers in order to strengthen the customer relationship, which can prove challenging in today’s digital environment. Since most consumers want to improve their financial wellness journey, it is important that banks, credit unions, PFMs, fintechs and more offer the solutions necessary to transform institutions from just another advisor to a trusted customer advocate. Such solutions help institutions establish and strengthen the critical customer relationship through digital channels, providing companies with tools to offer immediate value to customers and in turn fostering customer relationships even further.

Can you share a few thoughts on some of the most innovative (global) B2B finance solutions you’ve seen in the market, changing the game for users in this space?

Having worked in the industry for more than 20 years, I admire continued innovation in the financial services space. Whether it’s a new app on the market or an API that easily integrates with an institution’s platform to help streamline its processes or enhance its customer experience, innovative solutions are paving the path to the future of the industry.

A few industry partners and solutions that I find particularly game-changing include:

  1. Stripe – because of how the platform integrates artificial intelligence (AI) into their core product offering.
  2. Albert – because of how they take a different approach, blending human and machine automation into a unified customer experience.
  3. Visa – because of the company’s recent product announcements around embedding blockchain into their platform.

As an innovator in the space, I’m excited to see these companies changing the way the financial services industry works and continue to disrupt the market in new and exciting ways. Seeing innovation in the industry continues to inspire the ApexEdge team, including myself, and we are excited to introduce new and exciting products and services into the market in the future.

As global fintech trends change and the market shifts due to business environments (and also, Covid-19), what are your comments on the state of fintech in 2021 and beyond?

Right now, we are in a macro-cycle – a demographic shift where millennials are entering their prime years of family formation and transfer of wealth from baby boomers to their children. This will accelerate the need for digital transformation to exceed expectations of millennials and Gen Zers. Each generation will expect more from their financial institution and each will demand greater digital service.

In fact, a recent article (on Fintech Futures!) explains that banks need to step up their physical and digital strategies to keep up with the future generations, citing that “Gen Z could be the first generation to ditch debit and credit cards and manage cash and credit on their smartphone. So, how in-branch self-service machines interact with smartphones for authenticating and accessing services, like updating digital wallets is key.”

The financial industry must meet these challenges or large mega-cap technology companies will. And, we will see these trends around abstracting the customer experience of companies, like Amazon and Apple, into financial services continue for the first part of this decade.

Before we wrap up, what are a few of the biggest learnings and tips you would like to share as a fintech innovator?

During my years working in the industry, I have picked up a few tips and tricks along the way. I have learned that product and technology stack go hand and glove. They must work together in order to be effective.

I’ve also learned that larger financial institutions need emerging companies to accelerate innovation and experimentation. When you have a platform, product or software that fills a gap in the market, work hard to present it to leaders in the market. Yes, it will benefit your company, but it will also benefit even the largest of institutions if they don’t have a solution to fill the gap in the market that your solution will fix.

Read More: GlobalFintechSeries Interview with Mark Morissette, Co-founder and CEO at Foxquilt

Lastly, I’ve learned that you can plan on your product becoming obsolete through competitive featurization. Make sure you always continue innovating, making strategic decisions and staying ahead of your competition.

By transforming insights into action, the company’s concierge enablement solutions deepen relationships with meaningful, personalized conversations and real results, which helps customers save money and helps partners grow into customer advocates – generating brand loyalty as well as revenue opportunities.

 Steven McKean is the Founder and CEO of ApexEdge, a partner-enablement platform that offers monthly bill and subscription management solutions to support the financial health of consumers, as well as its consumer-facing, sister brand Billshark. At ApexEdge, McKean is responsible for setting the overall strategic direction and building the team to deliver outstanding experiences for our customers.

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