Hollywood’s biggest and most anticipated release this year was undoubtedly the new “Batman” movie, directed by Zack Snyder and starring Christian Bale as the Dark Knight. The movie is set for release on June 25, 2016 and already seems to have stirred up a lot of interest in the financial services world. Here are just some of the noteworthy trends and insights that the film’s plot may have inspired.
1. Virtual Banking
One of the film’s most intriguing aspects is the way it fleshes out the future of banking and the way we do business now that technology and the internet have taken over. As the movie opens, billionaire Bruce Wayne (born John Doe) has just completed an IPO (Initial Public Offering) for his company, Wayne Enterprises, and is settling into life as a wealthy man when his trusted bodyguard, Alfred (Anthony Minghella), suggests that he should consider moving into the world of crimefighting as a way of life. It turns out that the Joker (played by Joaquin Phoenix) has taken over the city, declaring himself as the “king of crime” and demanding that everyone pay handsomely for the right to live in peace. In response, Wayne devises a brilliant plan to take down the Joker and his gang: he will don the mask and cape of the Dark Knight and seek justice himself. With the help of his trusted employees, Barbara Gordon (played by Rosie Perez) and Lucius Fox (played by Cory Johnson), he enlists the help of the public to form a vigilante task force, which he dubs the “Bane Squad,” and sets about systematically eliminating the crime wave that the Joker has set loose upon the city.
The crux of Wayne’s plan is to “cut off the head of the snake” – namely, to isolate the Joker and destroy his criminal empire one by one. To that end, he designs a virtual banking system, which he calls the “Arkham System,” after the prison where he locks away all of his enemies (mostly gangsters, but also a few corrupt politicians). The system allows him to scan individuals’ biometrics (such as their fingerprints or retina scan) and match them against a digital dossier of crime-related information, such as whether they have a record of violent crime or not. If they do, then they are added to a watchlist. This way, Wayne can stay committed to his personal brand of justice, without any doubt of falling foul of the law himself.
The mainframe of the Arkham System is located in the secret headquarters of Wayne Enterprises in a top-secret underground bunker. Once every fortnight, a trusted employee descends into the bunker, connects the mainframe to a terminal in Wayne’s main office building and downloads a complete file of all the information on every person added to the watchlist – including surveillance photos and background details concerning their financial situation (i.e., whether they have enough money to pay their debts or not). The data is then stored on high-security hard drives and backed up on remote servers around the world.
What makes the system so revolutionary is that it blurs the lines between honesty and deceit. Since anyone can be added to the watchlist for any reason at all (ranging from being suspected of a minor crime to terrorism or treason), there is no guarantee that the information gathered will be trustworthy. Indeed, it’s all too easy to imagine a corrupt employee adding someone to the list for political or monetary gains. Moreover, since the entire database is constantly updated in real time, the information gathered is inherently unstable – which is why the system must be continually re-administrated.
Wayne’s obsession with creating a completely digital bank was perhaps inspired by the rise of “leverage” banking, which has been around for more than a decade. While the notion behind traditional banking is that you give your money to a bank, which then loans it out to individuals and businesses (at a hefty interest rate), leverage banking allows you to borrow larger amounts of money by offering various financial products, such as credit cards and home mortgages, with low initial down payments.
Leverage banking allows individuals to skirt the traditional banking system and does away with the concept of a ‘bank account.’ In its place, we have the “consumer banking account,” which is akin to a checking account but with more features and perks attached to it. Think of it as the digital equivalent of a debit card – you can digitally transfer funds to and from your account, making it much easier for lenders to hit you up for money whenever they like, as long as you can prove you have the means to pay back what you owe. You can use your computer or mobile phone to log into your account and, depending on how you set it up, you can even add extra layers of security to your account (e.g., password protection).
Just like traditional banking, traditional mortgages have become virtually extinct in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. The collateral damage inflicted by this pandora’s box of an economic crisis, which took down some of the biggest financial institutions in the world, was that homeowners found themselves unable to sell their properties (at the time, property was one of the biggest investment categories in the world), making them effectively “financially insolvent.”
What’s more, since the crisis, individuals and businesses have been reluctant to borrow large sums of money, leading to a historic drop in mortgage applications and a marked tightening of underwriting standards by lenders. Put simply, if you want a mortgage, you have to prove that you’re worth it. To that end, Wayne applies for a mortgage with the Bank of Gotham, using the leverage that his consumer banking account provides to make his dream of a family estate become a reality.
Wayne Enterprises is a pioneer when it comes to utilizing technology and the internet to streamline its back-office functions. One of the perks bestowed upon owners of Wayne Enterprises is the ability to sign documents electronically – no need to run around all day signing papers as a notary public!
The genius behind this innovation is Lex Luther (Jonas Brothers). After the Joker’s men break into the secret bunker and kidnap Alfred, forcing him to reset the entire system and delete all of the personal information of the entire city, Wayne recruits Luther to help him forge new identities for himself and his company, which now goes by the name, “Wayne Enterprises, Inc.” Using the resources at his disposal and the information gathered from the Joker’s men (who have the tech-savvy Lucius Fox over a barrel), Luther fabricates a massive, completely digital archive of the signatures of various well-known individuals, making it easily searchable. What’s more, he implements a technology that allows him to’sign’ documents on behalf of his customers, eliminating the need for human signature entirely.
With his talents, Wayne Enterprises is able to save hundreds of hours that would have otherwise been spent notarizing documents and manages to greatly streamline its loan approval process. In fact, the entire process from start to finish takes no more than a few minutes, leaving the company’s vice-president of lending, Francis Gaugain, time to pursue other ventures. What’s more, Wayne Enterprises is able to collect payments on its loans without the need to ever set foot in a bricks-and-mortar bank, thanks to an innovative digital solution that tracks payments, prepays expenses and eliminates bad debt – all from a computer or mobile phone. In this way, the movie illustrates just how far technology has come in the financial services world, enabling us to do things that would have been impossible just a few years ago.
Since that fateful day in April when the Joker’s men attacked the secret bunker, Wayne Enterprises has continued to push the boundaries of innovation, launching new products and unveiling updated plans for existing ones, all with the goal of making the company more efficient and profitable – and, perhaps most importantly, of giving the business a happier, more sustainable workforce. And it seems to be working: according to Forbes, the business now has a 95% employee rating on Glassdoor, with several employees going as far to proclaim that working for the company is like ‘working in Disneyland.’
Although the film is set for release in June, it’s already possible to get a sense of what the financial services industry can learn from the latest “Batman” movie. Just like the Batman himself, Wayne Enterprises is a business that operates at the edges of the law, using its resources and innovative thinking to push the boundaries of financial possibility, challenging long-held assumptions about what a ‘bank’ can and cannot do.