Links to my articles covering the main developments in 2017:
Financial technology is heading into its next inflection point. The financial services industry’s last transformation, mobile and digital systems and apps, is morphing yet again into the age of platforms and machine learning.
The FinTech revolution is evolving into a phase of innovation in which addressing customer needs, expectations, and preferences take precedence over disrupting the business models of incumbent financial institutions. Entrepreneurs are filling gaps in existing services and starting to use new analytical tools to uncover new needs. Smart bankers are paying attention.
The low-hanging fruit for banks lies in software that makes aging online banking systems easier for customers to use. Anything that prevents the redundant data entry customers and banks do daily can make a bank seem more technologically with it and less ancient will help. Reducing friction in systems makes customers happier and more likely to stay customers.
The banking drama unfolds in three acts:
I. Payments Possibilities
II. Regulatory Ruminations
III. Lending Lessons
Some 62% of global banking executives say they are not completely satisfied with the overall user experience of their mobile apps, according to a newly released study commissioned by digital banking firm Kony. A device’s or app’s user interface can make or break any banking technology solution. Indeed, an optimized online customer experience has become one of the biggest advantages large banks and FinTech firms have over community banks.
Payments processing firms have been consolidating all year, in several mega deals. But what of the future, when new industries require new payment channels?
Bitcoin is the elephant in the payments business today. With the launch of bitcoin futures, the cryptocurrency has entered the investment mainstream as the asset class of the moment. But as a payments currency? Therein sleeps the elephant for the payments industry. Cryptocurrencies are the future of payments, and banks should be prepared
The State of Illinois finds itself poised to lead innovation in two rapidly growing industries. As the state backs digital currency technologies and supports legalized cannabis, it stands at the nexus of federal and state jurisdiction, banking regulation, and the digital future of money and finance.
A look back at the last five years in mobile payments, based on my own use. The context is useful because we’re still facing the same problems today.
The payments sector of the FinTech ecosystem heats up this month. Recent developments in the largest and most mature FinTech sector include the release of the final report of the U.S. Faster Payments Task Force, major consolidation among worldwide payments processors, and reports of high growth in person-to-person (P2P) payments.
FinTech lending vexes me. I use online lenders to fill credit gaps that my banks either cannot or will not fill and understand the high rates I pay while disliking them all the same. I also see great potential for collaboration with traditional financial institutions.
Online lending platforms don’t have to be the competition. In the past year or so, some community banks have started to take advantage of online lenders’ technology, which can make lending and other financial services easier and more efficient for both banks and their customers.
As a follow up to my article, Breached, the Equifax breach likely will have regulatory effects on FinTech that go beyond the credit-scoring business itself. In an ironic but not unsurprising development, legacy institutions questioned new technologies in relation to legacy problems.
Initially, it looked like FinTech in the capital markets sector would both intensify and become more pragmatic. Excitement and hype around blockchain technology that marked the sector’s FinTech activity would become more realistic, with greater interest in other capital-markets applications.
Sometime during the first quarter, FinTech news and hype shifted toward artificial intelligence and machine learning, and blockchain technology almost started to seem like last year’s model. I described predictions that real pilots would start coming to fruition in the post “Blockchain, baby!”
Then the price of bitcoin started to rise, and Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) became the buzz at the Consensus conference. By fall, bitcoin and ICOs were mainstream media mainstays.
Initial Coin Offerings have existed in a gray area of securities law, offered as a way to raise money outside of traditional securities and venture-capital channels. They are widely popular, highly speculative and, by many accounts, will revolutionize capital markets.
The wild ride in bitcoin and ICOs continues, as the story woven by these links shows. I’ve attempted to select articles that balance the hype with realism and healthy skepticism.
I had a chance to sit down with Jeff Garzik, co-founder of Chicago-based enterprise blockchain firm Bloc, during a lunch break on May 28, the last day of the Consensus 2017 blockchain conference in New York. Note that this was just about at the start of the Summer of Bitcoin. Jeff’s answers amount to a tutorial on blockchain technology.
Wealth-Personal Financial Management
I met with several interesting firms in this area. Limitless co-founder Sara Koslinska told me about her firm’s microinvestment app, its white-label proposition for banks, and the difficulties of getting proofs-of-concept going. Chicago-based investment app M1 Finance launched a year ago and is gaining traction, as is Genivity, profiled below.
Seasoned advisors may find that while they work hard making client’s money, if they don’t plan for specific health risks, the clients have nothing left in their bank accounts for wealth. With Genivity, the client and advisor can plan for a bright future.
This week I met with Baur Bektemirov, chief economist at the Astana International Financial Centre Authority, Astana, Kazakhstan. AIFC is writing FinTech regulation from scratch, including provisions for distributed-ledger and cryptocurrencies. Regulations are based on English common law and taking the FinTech sandbox approach of the United Kingdom’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), he said.
That seems to be a good approach for a country located between Russia and China and wanting to be a regional financial hub. AIFC is also concerned with financial inclusion.
Regulators worldwide, but especially in the United Kingdom and Singapore, are starting to see themselves as FinTech change agents: they are working to define new regulatory regimes to fit today’s rapidly evolving financial products. FinTech startups and investors must pay close attention.
Financial regulators leave a lot to speculation in their public speeches. They leave clues and indicators but, knowing market participants are eager for early policy indications, they are careful not to say much.
“Digital currency is inevitable,” I told a federal reserve researcher recently.
“You mean fiat currency? Issued by the Fed?” She was a bit taken aback by my certainty.
“Yes, it’s inevitable. I’m not saying when or how or what, but that’s where the market is moving.”