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The week in fintech: USAA prepares to leverage mobile remote deposit patent

This weekly recap features updates on bank technology, payments, online lending and other news in the financial technology space. Send tips, ideas and chatter to kate.garber@spglobal.com. For other recent fintech news, click here.

A patent on one of the most popular mobile banking features could force banks to pay up or push back.

United Services Automobile Association, the inventor of remote deposit capture, is asking banks and credit unions that use this technology "to return some of the value they have received" by obtaining a license from USAA, according to a statement from the company's director of public affairs, Roger Wildermuth.

"We created mobile check deposit technology using our members' money to help military families because their lifestyles often make getting to the bank difficult, particularly if they're out at sea or deployed outside the U.S.," Wildermuth said. "Nearly every bank and credit union in the U.S., and many overseas, have now adopted our patented technology, leading to a revolution in consumer banking, with 87 million U.S. consumers now using this feature."

USAA timed this move well, according to Richard Crone, CEO of Crone Consulting LLC, a Silicon Valley firm that advises financial services and retail companies in mobile and electronic payments strategy.

Remote deposit capture has become standard at banks, Crone pointed out. Nearly 38% of mobile bank app users surveyed by S&P Global Market Intelligence earlier in 2017 named remote deposit capture as one of their most-used features. That is up from 34% of survey respondents in 2016.

Crone said USAA is probably approaching the expiration of its patent. Patent holders often wait until a product or service is widely adopted in order to gain maximum returns on their claims, he explained.

"If you can bring in a net new revenue stream that isn't from your membership, it could have a big impact on earnings," he said. "They have nothing to lose other than the attorney fees from pursuing it."

Crone said it would make sense for USAA to go after one of the nation's largest banks, since any sort of disruption in their remote deposit capture service would materially impact business. The banks might counter with their own patent claims and there could be some back-and-forth, he said.

If and when it reaches an agreement with a large depository institution, USAA might then turn its focus on negotiating with a large bank processor like Fidelity National Information Services Inc., which implements the technology for many small and medium-sized institutions, Crone added.

"They have leverage and that's what you need to enforce a patent claim," he said.

In other fintech news, Fidelity Investments CEO Abigail Johnson said the company's website will let clients see their holdings of bitcoin and other virtual currencies on digital asset exchange Coinbase, Reuters reported. Fidelity and Fidelity Investments are registered service marks of FMR LLC.

At CoinDesk's Consensus 2017 conference in New York this week, Citigroup Inc. and Nasdaq Inc. announced a partnership that leverages Chain Core technology to connect Citi's treasury and payments platform to Linq, Nasdaq's private market blockchain platform. Also at the conference, panelists discussed the potential of blockchain-based systems in facilitating cross-border payments.

On May 23, distributed ledger technology consortium R3 secured a $107 million investment from 40 institutions.

From May 18 to May 25, the SNL U.S. Financial Technology Index rose 3.37%.

S&P Global Market Intelligence released a fintech primer on four areas — digital lending, payments, blockchain and digital wealth management — of particular interest due to their rapid pace of growth, technological disruption, and regulatory and other risks. Click here to read the primer.