Hi 5! The top five fintech stories we’re following today

top 5 weekly fintech stories

Can fintech drive new auto lending?

Startups smell money as the auto industry has bounced back post-2007 (there is an estimated $1 trillion in auto loans outstanding in the U.S.) New partnerships, like the kind Ford struck with AutoFi this past week, are being inked between auto lenders and fintechs. There are still plenty of opportunities to improve the buying, lending, and payment experience in the car market.


Forget fintechs. Focus on GAAF

It’s becoming a more common theme. The financial industry is waking up to the fact that today’s tech giants, Google, Apple, Amazon, and Facebook, are interested in securing their piece of the financial industry pie. A recent Accenture survey polled investors found that a lot of people were definitely open to receiving investment advice from their favorite tech firms.

Whoever wins the race for the future of fintech, it’s about humans. And has the potential to be massively more inclusive than our system today. And may be located in…Florida?

State of the business: Online lending

online loan growth for SMBs

There are a lot of new options for businesses to go online to access working capital. Even so, very few businesses are turning to these alternative sources and that means they’re struggling with cashflow. That may begin to change as more alternative lenders and banks collaborate.

Financial media generates growth

Technology hasn’t been kind to the media industry. Financial media also suffers from the same trends impacting the industry as a whole: decreasing engagement, struggling ad sales, and noisy alternatives. But Bloomberg has found a way to restart traffic to its homepage.

As media firms have become leaner, that’s meant there are fewer people on staff to work on new products. The FT created a new special projects editor to help bring good ideas to life. Early results look promising.

The year of the 1099er

As the gig economy includes more people taking on project-based work, a growing number of Americans file 1099 forms when they do their taxes. The online tax software industry is all over this trend, launching new products to service DIYers. Many of these services have free versions, like Credit Karma’s new offering. Credit Karma will make money, just like it does with the 60 million users of its free credit scoring service, by making referral offers for credit cards and loans.

Financial firms are trying to connect our financial dots. That’s why the JPM-Intuit partnership is a big step for data sharing.

How the Financial Times keeps up editorial experimentation

By Lucinda Southern

All publications are under the gun, and the first things to get cut are usually experimental. To help guard against that, the FT last year brought on a “special projects” editor, Robin Kwong, charged with leading temporary experiments that don’t always lead to a permanent product.

These experiments include everything from posting original content native to Facebook to live streaming video in 360 degrees. As the experiments operate in an ad hoc fashion, Kwong often works with different teams on a temporary basis. The role sits somewhere in the middle of an effective editor and a commercially minded product manager.

“Most reporters — especially the organized ones — will have a column of broken dreams, ideas they want to do but they don’t fit anywhere and they don’t have anyone to help with it,” Kwong said. After feeling frustrated that there was no one leading the charge on these irregular projects, Kwong, a former interactive journalist at the FT, moved into the role to give more structure to these experiments.

“There’s always the core of an idea of something we want to achieve, but translating that into the end product and discussing who else needs to be involved, that’s where I come in,” he said.

Some special projects are tied in with the newsroom’s priorities. One experiment was to live stream in 360-degree video the moment when Nigel Farage, head of the campaign for the U.K. to leave the EU, found out the results of the referendum.

Robin Kwong

“In terms of outcomes, it was an abject failure,” said Kwong. “In terms of experiments, is was a resounding success.” After five seconds of low resolution and choppy images — thanks to sluggish Wi-Fi — they killed the stream. However, the FT was satisfied because it now has a detailed 12-point checklist it can use for any future 360-degree live streams. Some were simply small operational points, like an additional person is needed to field the YouTube comments, so turn them off if resource is low.

Other projects do become more permanent: The FT has started creating online hubs for article series and special projects like Robot Week (a series on features on robots) and a series on human trafficking. Insight gained from these led to the product team making improvements to topic pages on the new FT.com, which launched in October.

“Regardless of how readers arrived (through social, search, or direct), they then tend to want to just go from one interesting article to the next, rather than going to the landing page in between to hunt for the next piece they want to read,” he said. “A key design lesson here is that we need to put a lot of effort into thinking about how we guide people to the next story from the article page.”

Going forward, the FT plans to create more visual stories. But most of its reporters haven’t had to write storyboards. Inevitably this has forced a change in culture, process and workflow: Reporters have to do more pre-reporting and working with photographers even in the planning stages.

This piece, for example, follows a barrel of oil from the Syrian oil fields. For five weeks, the reporters worked with the FT’s cartography expert to figure out what would be needed to create all the maps and data tables in the piece. The article was written three days before publication. Previously, the process would have been reversed, with reporters spending weeks writing the text and leaving the graphics desk a couple of days to get get the images in order.

Kwong’s ultimate aim is to no longer be needed by putting enough tools and processes in place for editors and reporters to pitch and run their own special projects. He’s created, for example, pitching forms for the reporter, a checklist for the editor and a list of questions to ask of Lantern, FT’s in-house analytics dashboard.

It has already starting to pay off. Kwong had no direct involvement on this piece about how China’s exports dominate the world’s oceans, but it came together thanks to systems he had put in place.

The FT wants to create more visual stories.

“Something can start off as a special project, but once we’ve done it several times, you create the resources and tools,” he said. “It’s not sustainable for the FT to rely on one special projects editor.”

Why the Financial Times still believes in comment sections

Why the Financial Times still believes in comment sections

In times of belt-tightening, the Financial Times is making more data-informed decisions around audience development. For this reason, it is improving its approach to comments and commenters on site.

With a lot of conversation having migrated to social media, it’s not uncommon for some publishers — like The Telegraph, for example — to ax its comments section entirely. But the FT believes its readers are paying to be part of this community and to take part in the debate.

Up until recently, the strategy around comments was more about damage control. Last year, Renée Kaplan joined as head of audience engagement and has built up an 11-person team. Now that team is getting more proactive and is using comments as a tool for engagement. “For other media companies, the comment strategy is more about growth,” said Kaplan. “For the FT, we have a unique commitment to make something of these comments, the readers are entitled to being part of the quality conversation and what the community has to offer.”

Currently, FT readers can comment on news stories, analysis and opinion pieces, where the highest volume of comments is. The FT routinely disables comments on more explosive news stories, though — Russian politics, climate change, Islamic extremists — because no productive discourse took place here.

That said, here’s how its strategy is shaping up.

Putting a commercial value on the commenter.
Only subscribers can post comments; therefore, the FT already knows a lot about them. Not enough, though. Leading the research into understanding the commercial value of commenters is community manager Lilah Raptopoulos.

“We want to know whether they are, as we suspect, our most engaged users,” said Raptopoulos. “We need to understand what the commercial correlation is, what effect does a comment have on our subscribers, will commenters share more, or visit the site more often?” Anecdotally, the team has hunches about these hypotheses, but for now, this is a work in progress.

Extending the audience.
Comments have been also a springboard to bring in new, younger audiences, crucial for a heritage brand like the FT wanting to stay relevant.

The comments on a recent story called “Why millennials go on holiday instead of saving for a pension” were overwhelmingly left by older readers and showed a real lack of understanding about young people. So Raptopoulos jumped in calling out for younger voices, and cross-promoted the call-out on social media too.

Shout out to all those financially-minded millennials
Shout out to all those financially-minded millennials

As a result, the FT received around 15 more comments from younger people. Kaplan thinks it’s unlikely they would have been subscribers; instead, they took the time to sign up to the one-month trial subscription which costs £1 for one month in order to comment. This led to its own piece on the most interesting comments, leading to another 150 comments.

Getting journalists to care.
In a shrinking newsroom, getting reporters to care about comments is a challenge, making it all the more important to have this data-informed research on the value of a commenter.

“Newsrooms tend to hate comments,” admitted Kaplan. “They’re a pain. There are trolls. People feel abused.” Kaplan’s team developed best practices, based on the minority of journalists who are already engaging with commenters. Tips included tricks for turning around a negative tone and for leading the conversation offline.

Shaping article ideas.
The FT is not typically a publication that goes in for crowdsourcing article ideas, but there are occasions where the personal experience of its readers is proving to be particularly enriching, triggering leads and story ideas.

Rather than hoping for the best from comments, the FT is playing with different formats in the space under articles and seeing which ones work the best for feedback. This private call-out box was placed underneath a news story about how Brexit would impact U.K. expats living in Europe. People could anonymously give feedback on their own experience knowing that their responses would help the journalism. It also went out in newsletters to subscribers interested in Brexit, and under other relevant stories. In 48 hours, the FT received 350 responses from U.K. expats in 45 stories, on their experiences, which are being used to shape an interactive piece for the site.

Comment callouts to shape future pieces
Comment callouts to shape future pieces

Trolls are subscribers too.
Just because the FT has a paywall, that doesn’t shield it from trolls. Like other publications, it will delete posts that are defamatory, personal attacks or outright false. Users have three strikes before they are shut down. Comments are moderated practically 24 hours a day, and if something is deleted or a warning is sent, Raptopoulos is in there saying why and linking to the guidelines.

But these people are paying for the privilege to engage in debate, so it’s a double-edged sword. “Outright banning is never the right approach,” said Kaplan. “We’re not here to censor.”

“We see the value of comments as fundamentally good,” adds Raptopoulos. “We’re more interested in encouraging better conversation than just chastising the bad.”

This article originally appeared on Digiday.

How the Financial Times uses reader insight to evolve its native ad offering

FT, insights, and native advertising

By Lucinda Southern

Six months since its creation, the FT’s content marketing unit, FT Squared, is giving paid posts a new look.

The FT’s branded content unit has been improving. Since the first paid post it ran in October, the publisher is seeing the time spent on these posts increase by 123 percent (although it wouldn’t disclose what the actual time was). And engagement is rivaling that on its editorial pieces.

FT Squared’s “paid post” format sits in a prime position on the FT homepage. Across the nine brand campaigns run through FT Squared since launch, it has improved click through rate from the home page by 30 percent, according to the publisher. Then they are taken to separate pages that contain client-voiced articles, videos and images, chosen by the brand.

“We’re now creating ambitious content environments that are immersive,” said Alexis Jarman, content activation director at the FT. Previously paid posts were similar in look and feel to FT articles, although labeled as paid. With the latest update these brand pages will be using the full width of the screen, on all devices, and include more multimedia features, like animated graphs and infinite scrolling. Here it borrowed from the success of its editorial special reports, particularly that of “Distinctive Living,” a series looking at expats around the world, adding in more multimedia features like the infinite scroll. “We saw significant increase in active engaged time,” said Jarman.

When FT Squared launched in September 2015 the aim was to offer more tailored advertiser partnerships around branded content, all under one banner. Increasingly, the publisher uses reader insight to inform content and adjust campaigns in real time. And it’s proving successful, in cases engagement paid for posts have matched that of editorial, according to Jarman.

“We’re learning about what the FT readers want and looking at the ways they interact with content,” she said. “Evolution is very much the right word. We’re far more reliant on the data to prove something, rather than going on intuition, and we can use that to be the consultant and advise clients.” This means it spends more time A/B testing on the home page the combination of the headline and the first line of the piece, the combination of text and images, whether posting a question or a statement. “As we run more campaigns, we will start to see more trends here, perhaps related to the sector of the client, or theme,” she said.

BP, a new client for the FT, is the first brand to make use of the new and improved paid posts, launching the campaign Committed to the U.K., currently only two articles have been published, “Changes in the World of Energy,” and “Why Scientists Give Science a Bad Name.” The next will publish in June, there’s currently no end date for the campaign, but in terms of tracking reader engagement, it is still in the exploratory phases.

BP - Article 1 - Graph Stage 1

BP in the FT: The paid post ‘Changes in the World of Energy’

Previously FT Squared found even the smallest changes had positive impacts on a campaign’s performance. For instance, for an S&P Dow Jones campaign last month, the client’s campaign objective was to drive whitepaper downloads. Such a small step as hyperlinking to the downloadable report — rather than featuring a large download button at the end — at resulted in 15 percent of those reading the article go on to download the whitepaper. 

For a technology client, NTT Communications, last month the brand first ran a piece with FT Squared around a broad subject matter. Here it found that active engaged time (identified by mouse movements) and scroll depth were performing well. In the second piece the focus was more relevant to the brand, and the click through rate to the brand’s site was higher. “If delivering insight and awareness is the objective then a more broad subject matter works, or if click through rate is important then the piece can be more authentic to the brand,” said Jarman.

Of course, native solutions take time and resources. Currently the FT Squared team itself stands at five people and it’s “efficient,” but it pulls on the expertise of the commercial and data teams for audience insight, and external editorial contributors. Jarman said there are plans to staff up.

FT Squared solutions are outside the FT’s paywall, and the publisher helps advise on distribution through its own platforms, the brand’s sites and on Twitter in order the reach the right audiences. As such, the FT’s rate card is as bespoke as its solutions. As FT Squared grows it will continue to offer more fluid packages around specific customer journeys, and increase targeting around the FT’s audience.

“It’s important to think of native advertising in context,” said Jarman, “it means a lot of different things to different people.”

This post appeared originally on Digiday

Digital subscribers surpass print at Financial Times

FT, insights, and native advertising

I remember during the Internet bubble, the financial media would look to bellweather stocks, like Cisco, to represent how the stock market was moving.

The Financial Times (along with its stateside brother-from-another-mother, the Wall Street Journal) is a bellweather of financial media.

So, when the venerable FT reaches an inflection point where its digital subscribers surpasses those from print, I think it’s fair to extrapolate that out that — hey, we’re really there…

According to Paid Content:

“Work will shift from night to day, when people are actually online reading. “[The] 1970s-style newspaper publishing process — making incremental changes to multiple editions through the night — is dead,” Barber wrote. “In future, our print product will derive from the web offering — not vice versa.” Journalists will “publish stories to meet peak viewing times on the web rather than old print deadlines.”

Though it may have taken longer for finance to embrace digital (from a media consumption point of view), when the FT has 100k more digital subs than print, it’s time to say we’ve arrived.

Extending this out further in the financial ecosystem

So, couple of thoughts about the move to digital.

  • I was early to the Finance 2.0 movement. Many of the next-generation finance companies I covered in my book are still around but they haven’t quite trampled the incumbent players. Are we reaching a point where we’re going to see more mass adoption of these tools like Motif Investing, Wealthfront, and Covestor?
  • Curation becomes as important as original content: Seeking Alpha has it right. In a digital age of investing, print is so late to the game. Curation becomes paramount as news moves faster and the trading-side of the investment game moves faster.
  • Do financial content and investing get closer to one another? Investment platforms understand that content is what brings new investors in the door (see the job Mick Weinstein is doing at Covestor), but I’m not convinced it makes them stay. Are we going to see that change?

What do you think of the news? Let me know in the comments.

BTW, if you’re interested in getting serious about publishing a finance book, check this out.