FINTECHS–OPPORTUNITY OR THREAT?: a pragmatic approach for organizations to assess the value of financial technology initiatives

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    FINTECHS–OPPORTUNITY OR THREAT?: a pragmatic approach for organizations to assess the value of financial technology initiatives

    In the last six years, a proliferation of new financial services technology or “FinTech” ventures, eager to capitalize on shifting market needs and preferences, have emerged. Rather than sit back and watch these new models eliminate them, financial services organizations need to address these innovative initiatives as opportunities rather than threats. In this article, Sean O’Donnell reviews the drivers of the FinTech evolution, where and how they are transforming financial services, and approaches for businesses to adopt (rather than run from) these new offerings.

    While the mainstay of the financial services industry was busy dealing with the global financial crisis in 2008, start-up organizations in Silicon Valley, New York, London and other major financial and technology hubs were turning their attention away from social media plays and looking to reinvent financial services. Despite the 2008 global recession and slowing population growth, the continued rise in global gross domestic product (GDP) paints a profitable picture for FinTech start-ups. According to a study by the Center for Financial Inclusion, global GDP is predicted to reach $85 trillion by 2020—a four-fold increase over four decades.1 This rise in real incomes across all regions of the developing world will translate into greater demand for financial services.

    Many of today’s banks and other financial organizations are still stuck in post-crisis mode, grappling with current and pending regulatory changes, bloated business models and shrinking profit margins. As such, investing in new technologies to better meet their business and customer needs has been very low (or non-existent) on the priority list. This complacency has opened the door for innovative thinkers to come through with better, faster solutions that address most organizations’ legacy technologies and complex processes.

    Leveraging open source software, mobile, cloud and digital technologies, these new competitors are providing intuitive apps and tools, streamlined processes and a fresh approach to a usually monotonous services industry, and in the process, they are changing the game and turning the financial services world upside down.

    From payments to wealth management, from peer-to-peer lending to insurance, emerging FinTech initiatives threaten to grab $4.7 trillion in revenue and $470 billion in profits from traditional Wall Street firms.2 Moreover, with heavy financial backing—$12 billion in FinTech investments in 2014, up from $4 billion the prior year—this digital revolution can no longer be ignored.3

    While open source software, an agile delivery process, cloud technology and mobile computing form the foundation of the FinTech sector, its explosive growth has been driven by significant changes within the financial services industry. As a result, most established organizations have been either too busy (particularly with regulatory changes), too cash strapped, too inflexible or just unable to address changes on their own. Seeing an industry ripe with opportunity, innovative start-ups have quickly stepped in to fill the void. Here are five main issues that have helped fuel the FinTech evolution:

    1. Eye Not on the Ball: Changing Regulatory Landscape Stringent regulatory changes over the last few years have increased reporting, transparency requirements and costs for all capital market participants. Many firms invested heavily in their legacy systems to meet requirements, but did little to streamline their processes or improve their analytical capabilities. Given the industry’s shortcomings, new technologies have emerged to focus on institutional-only problems. Examples include Algomi, which leverages social concepts to ease bond trading, and Tradier, which provides full-fledged brokerage services as APIs.
    2. No Money: Shrinking Budgets and Margins In response to a wave of new regulations, most organizations made significant investments in their legacy systems and point solutions to achieve compliance. With rising cost pressures and shrinking profit margins, companies know they need newer and less costly delivery models but most have little to invest in new technology initiatives. FinTech companies, unencumbered by complex systems and processes, are looking at all areas of finance for opportunities to simplify and successfully improve margins. For example, Roostify is tackling the mortgage business by taking the traditionally complex process of buying a home and turning it into a streamlined, instant online process. Their cloud-based service helps lenders process loans faster and reduce risk, while improving the homebuyer’s experience.
    3. Falling Behind: Shifting Customer Preferences Influenced by mobile technology and social media, rising customer experience and service expectations as well as lower switching costs for customers to take their business elsewhere have dramatically changed the competitive landscape for banks and other financial services companies. Strongly held by legacy systems and rigid business models, many organizations are finding it nearly impossible to deliver sophisticated, technologydriven solutions to meet their customers’ changing preferences. FinTech start-ups have quickly stepped in. One such area is wealth management. Here, roboadvisors Wealthfront and Betterment are attracting young investors interested in financial advice yet seeking simplicity and speed. Betterment now manages $2.2 billion for 85,000 clients, while its rival Wealthfront has amassed $2.3 billion in 27,000 accounts.4
    4. Everywhere Access: Growing Use of Mobile Cisco Systems predicts the number of mobile users will rise to 4.9 billion in 2018 from 4.1 billion in 2013 as consumers in emerging markets come online.5 This continued growth in mobile users is fueling a wave of new mobile technologies, many focused on financial services, including mobile banking, payments, locationbased commerce and personal financial management. According to CEB TowerGroup, bank investments in mobile banking technologies are expected to increase at an annualized rate of 13.4 percent through 2017.6 While customer demands have forced most banks to develop mobile banking apps, other financial service sectors have been slower to develop mobile-specific solutions.
    5. Predictive Intelligence: Increasing Role of Analytics Today, companies need forward-looking, predictive insights to help shape their business decisions. This is a significant challenge for many financial services organizations that operate with siloed databases and systems. FinTech companies, built from the ground up with a focus on data, are able to combine their internal data with external information, such as social media, demographics and big data, to quickly determine which efforts are most profitable, evaluate their risk exposure, streamline processes and analyze future margins. This type of fast analytical power enables FinTechs to quickly improve and enhance their products, provide highly personalized offerings and strengthen their competitive positions.

    As technology advances at an ever-increasing rate, customers, partners and employees of the financial services industry are demanding more in terms of exceptional service (e.g., faster access to information, personalized products, quicker response rates and transaction speeds, enhanced analytics and real-time decision support systems) and they are not willing to wait. Meeting these demands with five-year implementation plans is no longer feasible. In this age of digital transformation, agile organizations that can quickly integrate and drive innovation into the business will succeed. Those who do not are destined for the fate of Polaroid, who watched profits plummet as digital photography blossomed.

    Determining the right path for your organization
    Faced with a new brand of competitors, financial services organizations should quickly determine if and how these new initiatives map to their existing businesses, and whether they pose a significant opportunity or threat. Figure 1 highlights one suggested path to determine how best to integrate a FinTech initiative into an organization.

    FinTech Figure 1

    Figure 1: A framework for deciding how to embrace FinTech initiatives.

    Step 1: Determine the impact of the initiative on your current market.
    The first step is to define the FinTech initiative’s core value proposition and what impact it currently has on your market. The goal is to determine whether an initiative will be of value to your customers (opportunity), is irrelevant at this time (no impact) or provides significant value to your customers to the detriment of your business (threat). Some areas to investigate are included in the following chart.

    FinTech Figure 2

    If this initial assessment shows no impact, organizations should take a “wait and watch” position as the market and technology continue to evolve. If the initiative is clearly a threat or presents an opportunity to the business, management should move quickly to determine the best course of action (engage or defend). First, however, a company must determine how valuable the technology will be to its own business.

    Step 2: Determine the value of the initiative to your business
    The more areas of the business an initiative can bring value to, the higher its overall value will be. Some areas to consider are included in the following chart.

    FinTech Figure 3

    If an organization determines the technology will offer little or no value, it may decide on a “wait and see” strategy in order to preserve resources or eliminate the risk of potentially harming the business. A company may also opt to divest the product, service or business segment under attack and focus on opportunities that are more profitable. Additionally, an organization may decide to take defensive measures and leverage its established brand and competitive position to fend off the new competitor.

    Step 3: Determine your organization’s level of readiness and select a course of action.
    If the value is deemed moderate to high, the business should consider the best course of action to “engage.” This should be determined by evaluating a number of readiness factors, such as budget, culture, experience and desired time to market. These factors can assist an organization in deciding whether a strategic partnership, investing in or acquiring an established FinTech or building the capabilities in-house is the best engagement model. For some organizations, a combination of the various approaches (e.g., partner and invest) will be most viable.

    FinTech Figure 4

    * Partner with either a FinTech leader or third-party provider with blend of technology, digital and financial markets expertise.
    **Build innovation in house or in collaboration with a third-party provider.

    The options in terms of the chosen engagement model include:

    1. Partner with a FinTech leader or third-party services provider
      The least risky and expensive option to add value is to partner with an established player or innovative start-up. A strategic partnership can strengthen a company’s competitive position and reduce the time needed to develop and bring to market new products or services. For example, the UK’s Santander Bank has partnered with peer-to-peer lender Funding Circle to grow its small business loan business.7 Santander refers rejected business loan applicants to Funding Circle for assistance. In return, Funding Circle directs businesses to Santander when they require traditional banking services such as a relationship manager, international banking and cash management.
    2. Invest in a FinTech
      Some organizations may prefer to have a bigger stake in a FinTech initiative, particularly if the value to its market is high and time to market is critical, in which case it may directly invest in or form a dedicated VC arm to fund promising technology. Goldman Sachs has made significant investments into payment platforms Square and Revolution Money; payments security firm Bluefin Payments; and bill presentment and payment start-up Billtrust.8
    3. Acquire a FinTech start-up
      For many established financial players, legacy technology and lack of an innovative culture are huge barriers to making an in-house innovation lab successful. For these organizations, the best option for gaining new technology and innovative processes is to acquire an existing FinTech. This approach can often be less risky if the technology is already established, and can add immediate value to the business in terms of revenue and customers. Additionally, buying new intellectual property, products or services may be more cost effective than developing in-house.

      Earlier this year, DH Corp of Toronto acquired Fundtech for $1.25 billion.9 Fundtech’s transaction banking software will help DH expand its service offerings to global financial institutions and large US banks. Last year, BBVA acquired the start-up Simple, a Portland-based bank that operates entirely online, for $117 million.10

    4. Build innovation in-house or in collaboration with a third-party provider
      While a more expensive approach, the build option enables a business to develop innovations from the ground up and enhance existing ideas already in the market. This is just what Charles Schwab did earlier this year. The launch of its Intelligent Portfolios platform seeks to capture a piece of the rapidly growing robo-advisory market. According to an A.T. Kearney report, robo-advisors will manage 5.6 percent of Americans’ investment assets totaling about $2 trillion by 2020.11

      Others are establishing innovation labs to discover and build their own FinTech innovations. Capital One has three Digital Innovation Labs in the United States tasked with advancing Capital One’s enterprise-wide digital agenda.12 Its team of entrepreneurs focuses on building products and experiences for Capital One customers.

      When a company lacks specific capabilities, it can partner with a service provider that offers a blend of technology, digital and finance expertise, providing innovative insights and helping to accelerate the project.

    Today’s digital technology can bring both great opportunities and daunting challenges to the financial services industry. New business models have already proven they can reduce costs, create efficiencies and improve the customer/client experience. Banks and other financial services organizations can no longer avoid embracing FinTech initiatives. Stepping into this emerging world does not need to feel threatening, overwhelming or impossible. By using a pragmatic approach, as well as seeking strategic guidance from consultants who understand the FinTech space, organizations can quickly understand what they are up against and determine the best approach for future success.

    The Author
    Sean ODonnell

    Sean O’Donnell
    is a Director of Technology based in London. Sean’s background is in designing, building and running financial trading platforms, particularly in FX, CFDs, metals and some money markets for tier one, tier two and large broker clients. His technology experience is primarily in Java and open standard platforms, KDB+, UX, and highperformance/ scale technologies deployed as cloud-based services. Over the last 10 years, Sean has worked in Product Management roles, bridging business and technology, and driving business development in Europe, North America and Asia.

    1. “Financial Inclusion 2020,” Center for Financial Inclusion, June 2013: fi2020/mapping-the-invisible-market/growing-incomegrowing- inclusion
    2. “The Next Big Acquisition Craze: FinTech,” USAToday, May 18, 2015: money/2015/05/17/silicon-valley-wall-streetfintech/ 27321361/
    3. “The FinTech Revolution: A Wave of Startups is Changing Finance—For the Better,” The Economist, May 9, 2015: wave-startups-changing-financefor-better-fintechrevolution
    4. “Robo Advisors Take On Wall Street,” Barron’s, May 23, 2015: on-wall-street-1432349473
    5. “Mobile Traffic Will Continue To Rise, Rise, Rise As Smart Devices Take Over The World,” Forbes, February 5, 2014: connieguglielmo/2014/02/05/mobile-traffic-willcontinue- to-rise-rise-rise-as-smart-devices-take-overthe- world/
    6. “The Rise of FinTech: New York’s Opportunity for Tech Leadership,” Accenture, 2014: uploads/2014/06/NY-FinTech-Report-2014.pdf
    7. “Goldman Sachs Investment Activity into FinTech Startups Intensifies,” CB Insights, May 10, 2015: https://www.
    8. “DH Expands FinTech Portfolio by Acquiring FundTech,” Proactive Investors, March 31, 2015: http://www. fintech-portfolio-by-aquiring-fundtech-60775.html
    9. “Banking Startup Simple Acquired For $117M, Will Continue To Operate Separately,” TechCrunch, February 20, 2014: for-117m-will-continue-to-operate-separatelyunder- its-own-brand/
    10. “Robo Advisors: The Next Big Thing in Investing,” CNN Money, June 18, 2015: investing/robo-advisor-millennials-wealthfront/
    11. “Peek Inside 7 of The Banking World’s Coolest Innovation Labs,” The Financial Brand, June 8, 2015: http:// in-banking/

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