People often ask – what is the most significant driver for FinTech innovation? Is it the reduced cost of running a startup, banks offering bad service, or the democratization of tools & software? Is it the ease of technology creation (supply-side dynamics with open source, cloud, etc.) or ease of technology consumption (demand-side dynamics like smartphone + internet penetration, cost of data, etc.)?
We discussed and debated. We narrowed it down to one thing – mobility-driven customer expectations, wherein everything should happen in four clicks on the phone. Everything else (other drivers of FinTech) is to satisfy that demand.
Ask yourself about the one big factor that led to this change. The mobile experience in other industries like transportation (Uber/Ola), hotels (Expedia/MakeMyTrip), and e-commerce makes people demand similar experiences in FinServ. Who is best positioned to satisfy the need in the long run if this is the case? Is it only the FinTechs and their bank partners, or does this truly open the market to new players?
One may argue that some of the finest FinServ experiences are built by commerce or non-banking/non-FinTech companies (Starbucks, Alipay, WeChat Pay, etc.). However, that may not be a secular and scalable trend. What we do believe, though, is that there is an opportunity to democratize the delivery of financial services.
Let’s take a look at the payments sector: payments have always been the last part (or one of the last parts) of the commerce journey. The best experiences are those that can’t be seen or felt (Uber or Amazon Go). Instead, their technology creates immersive experiences. Over the last few years, I have spent some time in China and have witnessed these immersive experiences with the convergence of enabling technologies that the Chinese companies have built.
What’s happening in China is the playbook for FinTech. My favorite example is Alipay. The average amount that a Shanghainese Alipay user paid for food using the Alipay wallet runs in thousands of dollars – this demonstrates the immersive nature of the platform to handle food and their distribution channels, whether online or offline (from streetside hawkers to supermarkets to restaurants). It’s a much more extensive data play that uses location, preferences, buying patterns, targeted offers, personalization, etc., to offer a broader set of financial and non-financial offerings.
Because of all the above reasons, would you believe me if I said anybody with a vast customer base & data could lend? Anybody = especially internet & consumer technology companies. ‘Lending’ is a generalization, but it could be any financial service for that matter – payments, lending, and perhaps even insurance. A player like Amazon or Grab enhances the consumption of goods/services by doing just that. If you aren’t sold on my hypothesis yet, let’s check out some examples and objectively assess this hypothesis:
FinServ is one space that touches every business segment and individual. So I’m making a case for internet & consumer technology companies here in the FinServ space. If the customer base, their information, transaction data, technical prowess, and above all, building great immersive experiences is what is required, who has the best chance of winning?
All is not well for such endeavors; not all initiatives in this regard have been successful. Tech companies have to learn ‘Fin’ to make FinTech work. Despite some early failures, there is a massive opportunity for value creation by TechFins. Tech giants are beginning to use their tech brainpower, user base, and data to offer superior financial services experiences. Alipay and WeChat are leading the way and, in the process, are building some interesting tech infrastructure that can revolutionize FinServ back-end operations.
It fits in with segment-specific trends as well. For example, lending has become a pure data play (transactional data & past behavior).
Let me point you to another big connection: PSD2 in Europe. It is taking shape in the form of Open Banking. We were talking to the CTO of a European bank who has built the Open Banking platform as well as the APIs – it turns out he now wants to work with the TechFins.
I think in five years, we may or may not call this industry FinTech. Maybe the overuse of the term FinTech will go away. It will get consumed by industries as a layer – invisible payments, data-driven, API-led lending, and so on. Look at it from the perspective of a customer (four-click experiences), TechFin (data & captive audience play), Open Banking, or any other perspective – it just makes so much sense. I think the time has come: anyone can lend or sell insurance.
PS: I’ll leave you with one last thought: Better underwriting – There is a school of thought that believes some of these TechFins can do a better job at underwriting. Alibaba and its subsidiaries (Alipay, Sesame Credit) have created a model where identity, authentication, credit score, job eligibility, admissions, and access are all colliding to make way for the ‘social score.’ The possibilities are endless.
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