The Only Speed Fast Enough is Instant: Takeaways from the 2019 CEMC Fintech Innovation Summit

by Deborah Reuben August 2019

Sometimes, the best source of inspiration comes from an outside perspective. At this year’s CEMC Fintech Innovation Summit, held this past June in California, attendees heard from a diverse array of speakers that offered unique viewpoints and lessons that could be applied back to the equipment financing industry.

Innovative consumer buying experiences are driving heightened expectations for the B2B world. According to a 2019 survey of 8,000 business buyers worldwide, “84% of customers say the experience a company provides is as important as its products and services — up from 80% in 2018. In other words, the quality of customer experience you can deliver is becoming a powerful leading indicator of your future success.”

Equipment finance is not immune to this shift in customer expectation. So how do we shift our thinking to innovate customer experiences? What will the future bring? The CEMC Innovation Summit brought together a diverse community of innovation-minded leaders to explore these questions and more.

Held in Dana Point, CA in June, the summit was an excellent opportunity to connect with innovative thinkers, get inspired and leave with new ideas. Charles Anderson, CEO of Currency and the founder of CEMC, opened the event by describing the nature of the evolution of commerce over the course of history, from the ancient practice of bartering to agricultural trading to coins and currency, through today’s e-commerce. Throughout history, we see the timeframes between these innovations shorten.

Change is getting faster. Customers expect instant responses, and innovation cycle times are compressing. For example, it took thousands of years to move from gold coins to the introduction of paper money. The transition from credit cards to e-commerce took 40 years. Today, more than half of business purchases begin online, and the way we pay continues to evolve quickly.

With awareness of the speed with which technology accelerators are transforming our lives, our eyes open to new possibilities and opportunities.

Unique to the summit is the intentional approach to creating a community that embraces diversity of thought. With peer-to-peer sharing and a carefully curated speaker lineup, the CEMC experience broadens perspectives and helps stretch our thinking to imagine a different future.

What can commercial finance professionals learn about teamwork and an innovative mindset from a world-class drummer? What might we learn about customer experience from the founder of multiple successful e-commerce companies? What business model innovation insights can we gain from a company that set out to be one thing and discovered it was something very different? The following are a few takeaways from this unique experience.

Fair’s Fair

New online business models are transforming the customer experience and reshaping entire industries. Business model innovators monitor trends and keep an eye out for friction in the buying process. They understand the implications of applying technology to eliminate friction for the customer.

One of the biggest disruptive trends — at least in retail — is the ongoing move toward buying big-ticket items online. As we learned from Scott Painter, founder and CEO of Fair, a focus on customer experience is key to turning a business model on its head. Recognizing significant shifts in buyer behavior, Painter’s company could see consumers becoming more comfortable buying increasingly larger and more expensive items online. By setting out to disrupt the car-buying process, Fair not only helped customers complete large-scale purchases over the internet, the company abandoned its traditional assumptions about its business.

In Fair’s case, a disruptive business model innovation came from a slight shift in perspective rather than from the technology itself. Fair had enabled access to mobility, but what if it took the consumer out of the loop as the owner? What if people shopped for a car payment and Fair took care of the car buying? What would happen if the company focused on the current value of the car instead of prophecy and prediction?

Through this shift in viewpoint, Painter stated, “We discovered that we are not a lender.” Instead, by reframing the business model, what Fair does is tap into the inventory of dealer networks, buy the car and enable the buyer to drive it. Shop by payment, pick the car you want, pay by the month and return it any time.

“People should not have to go into debt for access to mobility,” he said.

Innovation is all about culture, leadership, and never forgetting the human element. Whether solving a problem or developing a new business model, it goes beyond tech. Fair’s approach to disruptive innovation, Painter said, is to “prioritize the customer experience and challenge your own beliefs about the problems and the solutions.”

Changing Technology is Coming, Ready or Not

In a riveting Fireside Chat, Brian Lee, co-founder of, and The Honest Company, candidly shared  his experience building multiple successful e-commerce companies. Lee stressed the importance of embracing technology because, at the end of the day, you can’t outwit it. It’s coming fast, and you need to be on the lookout for the latest developments.

Customer data and keeping an eye on trends is key to succeeding in e-commerce. Lee noted, “Customer data is everything at all my companies – we are data-driven and data tested, online and offline. You have to embrace technology; you can’t avoid it.”

Beyond technology, across all his companies, the common thread of individual and collective success is a clear mission forming the common bond of the team. LegalZoom’s vision is to make legal services accessible to everyone. The Honest Company is committed to creating a non-toxic world. ShoeDazzle is democratizing fashion for women.

And despite all the changes we’ve seen in the online world so far, we are only beginning. In the next five years, Lee says, e-commerce will get faster. We will see more larger-ticket items sold online. Speed matters, and the efficiency of shipping, logistics and back-end processes will matter more than ever.

Lessons Learned

With technology advancing at an exponential pace, what’s on the horizon for e-commerce? If you want a glimpse into the possibilities for the future, Tom Edwards, chief digital and innovation officer at Epsilon, recommends looking to the new generation of children. They are growing up in a world where they learn to swipe on a screen before they learn to speak. Their expectations for interaction will be far different from our generations.

Commitment to excellence, humility and collaborative teamwork, that’s how you create hits whether in business or music, as we learned from world class drummer, Kenny Aronoff. He fought to study at the best music schools. He practiced relentlessly to master his craft. He was on the path to a great, albeit traditional music career.

However, when the rare opportunity to join a prestigious symphony presented itself, he chose not to stick with the status quo. Instead, “I turned down certainty for possibility,” Aronoff said, pursuing his childhood dream of rock and roll. From humble beginnings, that risk eventually led to traveling the world, collaborating on numerous hit songs and performing with top bands. He was even voted one of the “Top 100 Greatest Drummers of All Time” by Rolling Stone.

He emphasized that every member brings different strengths to a team. Great teams leverage all these strengths to produce the best results. Within each member of the band is the ability to create a hit, but it’s the collaboration that makes the hit happen. In writing music, Aronoff says, “When someone comes up with a better beat, we’re going to use their beat, even though I’m the drummer.” Likewise, when facing complex cross-functional business challenges, it takes diverse viewpoints to broaden perspectives so the team can see new ideas and solutions.

Leadership, teamwork and the willingness to challenge the status quo were just some of the themes interwoven throughout the summit, and the takeaways shared here barely scratch the surface. Inspiration from untraditional sources can be powerful. A variety of viewpoints and experts outside the norm, coupled with peer-to-peer sharing, is a recipe for new thinking. It gives us a window into what is going on outside the walls of our own companies. It spurs us to think differently about what’s next. Anderson’s opening words were, in fact, the conference takeaway: “Get connected. Get inspired. Get ambitious.”

Mission accomplished. •

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