FinTech Cracking Ice

The changing (and awesome) world of Fintech

Adaptable Tools' CEO Danielle Nagler looks at what's really going on in the Fintech universe.

Glance at any technology news site these days and you can’t escape the FinTech glare. All of a sudden blockchain and bitcoin development are the sexy places to be, and the venture capital interest is swarming around ideas that promise disruption within the financial world.

What’s Reality?

But analysing what is actually happening, it, it is clear that the vast majority of the noise is in the consumer space, around how technology might change the customer experience. It’s the area that from our perspective as users of financial services is most ripe for change (because it contains our day to day frustrations). It is also the area that the large institutions who dominate financial services are most comfortable in addressing. It is so much easier to make information visible to account holders online, to use social media marketing as a proxy for leaflets or emails, to substitute online chat and advice for the free-call number. Banking on the move is now the norm for millions worldwide.

These are not small advances but… they are entirely in line with the status quo of banking service delivery through centuries. These kind of innovations are commonplace across all retail chains in more developed markets. They mark only the tip of a rather enormous iceberg which has been minimally impacted by the warming effects of the technology climate change so far.

Retail Lessons

The retail revolution can prove insightful for financial services. Headlines trumpet the rise of online sales. But it is those who have combined process and technology behind the scenes who have really transformed how things are done for the benefit of both service providers and consumers. Take Ikea’s revolution in self-service; or Zara’s work on supply-lines and near-shoring production; or Amazon’s insights into the truly comprehensive catalogue offering combined with delivery. While there is real meaningful improvement that can and is being delivered in consumer communications and interactions in financial services, the dramatic changes should take place below the waterline.

Hope for Fin Tech Break Throughs

Here FinTech start ups, with insight and a love of technology, come up against the challenge of a sector in which both consumers and providers are technology risk-averse, and used to targeting only incremental gains. Whatever the 2008 headlines on attitudes to financial market risk, the majority of players tend to be traditionalists, particularly under the wrathful eye of increasingly powerful regulators. Having said this, the sector has always been alive to the power of technology to deliver competitive advantage. Over recent decades it has been willing to invest to shave those extra couple of seconds off transaction and analysis time, while avoiding overhauling the fundamentals of how operations work. An appropriately informed and empowered leadership team might take the logical next steps, and move relatively quickly towards the kind of investments and approaches that those on the FinTech frontiers are pushing for.

Endgame

But let’s be clear on the goal and recognise that we may not all share the same one. Technology can open up new forms of lending, and admit new financial services players all along the value chain. In the long term that could change the industry beyond recognition. But few existing participants are likely to be pushing for that sort of outcome. More plausible is the deployment of technology to make transparent the walls that have divided financial institutions from their users, and to cut through many areas of delay, and duplication. Done properly this will give regulators much of what they are looking for, while also cutting costs and pain for financial service providers and consumers alike.

It could give us a financial services sector which really does deliver more to us as direct and indirect customers. Now that’s a goal would make FinTech worth shouting about.

For more perspectives on this, I recommend reading

• Chris Skinner – in particular this recent blog http://thefinanser.com/2016/09/bankers-not-retailers.html/

• Don Tapscott – this TED talk demystifies Blockchain and other current FinTech buzzwords and ideas http://bit.ly/2cTPGGx

• Jonathan Wolfson at Adaptable Tools for an example of how technology can address duplication http://tinyurl.com/zxkjj9m

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Adaptable Tools is a startup focussed on transforming the user interface in data systems.

Adaptable Tools currently works with clients in Financial Services and other sectors from its London HQ.

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