The fintech space is a rapidly expanding industry that continues to impact the financial services sector. As new technology has been introduced, so the innovation of the financial services offering has been uncovered – and this, in turn, has given rise to an unprecedented digital transformation era.
This era, and the emerging trends that have come with it, have seen the financial services sector and its adjacent industries facing significant disruption. This has resulted in the need for established institutions within the financial services sector to adjust dramatically to emerging players entering the arena. Legacy institutions have scrambled to embrace a rapidly changing market whilst simultaneously adjusting to the birth of a new breed of consumer.
What we have seen is that priorities have shifted. Consumer-centricity has stepped boldly to the forefront… but as we witness this change, we duly ask, what trends have informed this, and where did it all begin?
For starters, the fintech evolution (or “revolution”, as some would coin it) has only recently taken hold – notably in the early 2000s. It began with non-banking entities in the financial services sector seeking to pioneer the deconstruction of traditional financial and banking institutions. What this meant for these institutions is that their long-established value chains, business models and the like were challenged. The result? A mass shift within the industry, catalysed by technological innovation and an addiction with probing the norm to better the consumer experience.
As fintech companies (or rather “start-ups”) gained traction, they began to breach the steadfast barriers long maintained by their traditional counterparts. We were then introduced to new methods of facilitating payments, lending “money”, approaching investment management, and attaining financial security (to name a few). With this rise (or disruption?), we were gifted with the emergence of trends that have successfully shaped the industry and global economy alike.
So what are these trends, and why have they been so influential?
We are all familiar with the ease and convenience of mobile payments and digital wallets. Gone is the suave issuance of a cheque (a phenomenon for our younger readers) and the days of paying in cash. Why deal with the inconvenience of actual money when we can simply tap our cards (here’s looking at you, smart watches), conveniently scan a QR code, or transfer funds via a digital wallet to facilitate a payment?
While digital banking may form part of an overall traditional banking offering, neo-banking has emerged as a standalone form of digital banking as it operates entirely online. Zero branches. Zero physical contact…but with banking solutions akin to that of our traditional banking offering.
While many may argue that face-to-face engagement is preferable – especially when managing one’s own money – what cannot be argued is the preferential interest rates and lower fees offered by neo-banks when compared to traditional banking institutions.
Neo-banks possess the ability to provide greater personalisation in their service offering where, for example, they may use artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms to analyse customer data to provide personalised financial advice.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML)
While AI concerns a machine’s ability to identify the most probable avenue for success, ML entails the deployment of algorithms, targeting available data to identify patterns and predict future outcomes… but why is this relevant to fintech and the financial services sector? Well, amongst a variety of reasons is that these capabilities allow for the automation of fraud detection and loan origination processes while providing more accurate insights into consumer behaviour. Further to this, these technologies are capable of analysing market trends and making investment decisions with greater accuracy and speed than traditional methods.
Additionally, the customer experience has been revolutionised through the emergence of Chatbots and virtual assistants who are able to provide real-time support to customers. With the automation of tedious, repetitive tasks when it comes to data entry and the like – AI and ML have significantly enhanced efficiency within the fintech space and in turn reduced operating costs. The list is arguably endless but overall, the quality of financial services has been greatly improved by the emergence of this trend.
Next, we have open banking (or “open bank data”), which is a banking practice that affords third-party financial services providers unencumbered access to consumer financial data and payment systems through application programming interfaces (APIs). This specific trend resonates with a focus on hyper-personalisation, as it provides a means to tailor financial solutions to the needs of the consumer based on their available data.
While open banking undeniably boasts attractive benefits, we cannot discount privacy and a need for security – two areas which have recently received significant focus (ahem, POPIA). In light of this, it is to be noted that to allay these concerns, open banking currently faces strict regulatory parameters and data protection measures to mitigate associated risks.
An example of where regulations have impacted players within this space is the freezing of Flutterwave and Chipper Cash’s accounts by Kenyan authorities when The Central Bank of Kenya asserted that they were not licensed to operate in the country. The Kenyan government filed a lawsuit against Flutterwave, a company founded by two Nigerians in the US, alleging “financial impropriety.” The suit also claimed that fraudulent operations were being conducted using bank accounts associated with both companies.
As of February 2023, Flutterwave have regained $50 million with the charges levied against the company having been dropped by the Kenyan authorities. However, their contemporary, Chipper Cash, are yet to have their charges dropped, with their assets remaining frozen.
According to our humble soldier, ChatGPT, “blockchain technology” is described as “a decentralised digital ledger technology that allows for the secure and transparent storage and exchange of information without the need for intermediaries”. Ultimately, it enables secure, transparent, and tamper-proof transactions without involving third-party intermediaries such as brokers or traditional banks – significantly reducing transaction costs. It is currently utilised across a vast array of applications, such as cross-border payments, supply chain management, and digital identity management.
Post the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic, insurance companies have since partnered with tech counterparts to collaboratively provide innovative product offerings and an altered manner of distribution to consumers. Leveraging a multitude of technological innovations, insurance companies have shifted from a reactive to a proactive approach in relation to the insurance offering.
Often considered a sub-sector of the fintech space, InsurTech is focused on utilising technology to disrupt the insurance industry – with companies harnessing AI, ML, and other technologies to improve the customer experience, automate claims processing, and reduce fraud.
While having touched on a few of the leading trends shaping the fintech industry, we can expect to see many more in the near future. Whether professionals within the industry or consumers in the market – what we have seen and experienced in recent years is that the notion of money, the form in which it takes shape, and the manner in which we all transact has been drastically altered. We can no longer advocate for the times of old – as what it once was is no more. The best course of action is to simply welcome change and what it has to offer as we adapt as best we can – and as quickly as we can – for fear of falling behind.