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Take Me to the Zoo: Maximizing ROI on Events

Updated: Sep 12, 2023

Conferences are back in person, and wow has my dance card filled up quickly. The move to digital has dramatically accelerated the Alliance’s operating tempo but the lack of audience energy can make it difficult to “bring the noise” when delivering a keynote in front of a camera. Here are 4 things we’ve learned about maximizing event ROI.

Can’t Stop Won’t Stop

The current economic environment has sharpened every organization’s focus on ROI. Events can feel like an expense to be managed, especially with COVID-driven cost increases.

Economic downturns cannot be allowed to stifle innovation. Quite the contrary. Boom times often breed linear evolution because the ROI of incremental improvements (aka “extend the line”) provide sufficient lift to top and bottom lines.

Stephen Jay Gould, famed evolutionary biologist, developed a theory that not all evolution is linear. He posited that the most dramatic changes happen in periods of punctuated equilibrium. Look no further than the foundation Amazon built during the first internet crash when retailers and early e-tailers all scrambled to cut costs. IBM did the same thing not once but twice (moving from mainframes to laptops, and again from devices to cloud computing) when economic downturns crashed their base business.

Progress doesn’t stop. The innovators will still be meeting, collaborating, and investing. The key is focus. Without a clear strategy and thoughtful tactical implementation, the value of events is left to serendipity which is a fancy way of saying luck. The return to in person marks a return of serendipity, but the value of a conference shouldn’t be left to chance or as I’m fond of saying: a trip to the fintech petting zoo.

I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For

JP Nicols has a great saying: “going to a conference without a plan is a lot like going grocery shopping without a list and while hungry. You end up with 2 blockchains, a case of onboarding, a side of AI and I don’t even remember what this company does.”

The first question to ask is what are you looking for and how does it further your strategic goals. If you can’t articulate strategic goals and the gaps / problems you are looking to fill or accelerate on less than 10 fingers, skip the conference and use the time to get your senior leadership team on the same page about the problems to be solved. If you don’t know what you are looking for, you’ll never find it.

Running Up That Hill

Maximizing the value of an event not only requires effort, you need to be strategic on what hill you choose to climb. Here is our version of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Conferences on where and why you should go:

  1. State Level Associations: Good for seeing your neighbor institutions and discussing state level issues

  2. National Banking Associations: by definition an industry association focuses on issues germane to the majority of the members. Innovation tracks skew towards the incremental which is safe for the masses and key committees are geared towards issues that require the full collective to change the industry.

  3. Acquire or Be Acquired’s FinxTech track, Financial Brand Forum, Digital Bankers Conference, SP Global: these conferences bring more progressive players but tend to focus on digitizing existing bank products and processes

  4. Money2020 and Finovate: come for the concentration of innovators but beware of the petting zoo. We are big fans of both conferences. One year we managed to stack close to 30 meetings in 3 days at Money2020 because so many key contacts were there. The cost of entry does winnow out some of the uncommitted but it is easy to chase your tail if you don’t have a plan (see the next section)

  5. MoneyExperience by MX and DevCon by Moov: these are the builders and the content drives real value. The people you will mix with here are looking to reinvent, not just replumb banking.

  6. SXSW: Wait- is that even a banking conference? I wrote an entire blog post on the topic but the short version is: you come to SXSW to see the future world so you can skate to where the puck will be, not where everyone is converging now.

Waiting on the World to Change

Alloy Labs member Corey LeBlanc, co-founder at Locality Bank, once told me at a conference for his previous bank that his worst nightmare was the bank CEO coming back from a conference with a fistful of business cards saying “Go check out these cool companies!” Corey would sift through, watch demos, take meetings and synthesize thoughts on working together. When he presented the recommendations, he was met with a blank stare. (Apologies for the paraphrase Corey.)

To avoid this, follow these three rules:

  1. Define the mandate: are we looking to partner or is this exploratory? Set the expectations with the party you are meeting with

  2. Whom shall I send?: Sending someone too senior means they are too far from the problem to be solved and often too busy to drive the partnering process. But send someone too junior and there are too many layers to get to a decision maker. The goldilocks attendee (one that is just right) is the one who owns the strategic problem or opportunity to be addressed.

  3. Have a post-conference plan: based on the mandate, how will information be shared and with whom? What is the timetable to take action?

Happy hunting. See you on the road.


Jason Henrichs is Chief Executive Officer of Alloy Labs, where he places a particular focus on leveraging his success in venture capital and startups to develop exponential growth opportunities for members, especially through our Concept Lab and Alloy Alchemist Fund.


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