Reflections on Net.Finance East.

Net.Finance EastLast week I was in New York for Net.Finance East. Truth be told, I’m kind of ODing on conferences, and with all the financial turmoil and chaos affecting the banking sector, I wasn’t sure I was looking forward to this conference. And yet it was one of the best conferences I attended all year.

One of the key signs of a great conference is an engaged audience, looking for ways to contribute and participate by asking good, challenging, insightful questions of the presenters and having good conversations at breaks and in between sessions. That happened in spades.

Maybe it is the tough times we’re in that brought us all together in a spirit of knowledge-seeking and camaraderie. Maybe it was the manageable size of the conference – at about 175 attendees, it was neither too large nor too small. Maybe it was the mix of speakers from FIs large and small, all sharing their stories. Whatever it was, the mix of presentations, attendees and subjects was excellent.

ShoreBank VoicesOne of the companies I was most excited to hear from was ShoreBank. ShoreBank is a community development bank based in Chicago. They do amazing things to alleviate poverty and economic distress in their community. They truly show the power a financial institution can have when it follows a triple-bottom line business model, and focuses on the economic, social and environmental impact of its business.

I was excited to find out that ShoreBank has launched a blog called ShoreBank Voices Blog. It’s one worth following to see what they do with it. They have experimented with several social media efforts. This is definitely an FI with something to say.

Umpqua BankIn our first meeting of the advisory board at Net.Finance East, I said that the two FIs I would love to hear from are ShoreBank and Umpqua Bank. I learn as much from the big players like Wells Fargo and Bank of America as I do from outliers like Umpqua and ShoreBank. I was gratified that people responded so positively to these presentations after hearing what these small FIs with different ways of doing business have to say.

I have long admired Umpqua and really enjoyed reading Leading For Growth, the book written by their CEO Ray Davis. They spoke about their Word of Mouth marketing efforts, including The Lemonaire.

There many, many good sessions, including a joint presentation on Mobile Banking by Royal Bank of Canada and Wachovia (I was impressed by their simply showing up). It was a great discussion, perhaps one of the best on the subject I have been at at a conference.

I can’t mention all the presentations here, but almost every one was a solid presentation followed by a dynamic discussion, which made for a very satisfying, productive and informative event.

And now I look forward to staying home for a few months and taking a break from all the conferences.

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