“What gives them confidence is the growing number of consumers, investors and businesses who favour the new and innovative,” Visa said. “This includes the millennial generation with its undeniable purchasing power. Financial services are becoming a level playing field for new entrants and established players alike - a trend that will only accelerate with the introduction of open data.”
Visa concluded - drawing on its own 60 years as a “fintech” - “the power of collaboration and partnerships is increasingly critical for all businesses in today’s economy”.
I suspect this optimism was heavily in evidence at the FST conference because that survey found delegates were not seeing the “long-anticipated bigtech surge”. The GAFAs impact, they thought, was “some years off, if it happens at all, with just 15 per cent of polled delegates believing consumers will switch their trust towards the tech giants”.
However, surveying the battle field as one between fintech, bigtech and incumbents - setting aside for the moment increasing partnerships - is to miss some of the underlying tides in the market.
Behind the battle for customers is a battle for data. The FST survey found data and AI capabilities were rated equally by 43 per cent of delegates as the biggest technology growth opportunity for financial services industries over the next year, the concern was a lack of opportunities to exploit their existing data resources and the poor quality of data at hand.
“Upwards of 40 per cent of polled delegates believed data quality, or indeed the lack thereof, remained the most significant hurdle to delivering actionable insights from their analytics, with 21 per cent stating they lack the resources to properly access and utilise their data assets - further indicating the industry's persistent struggle to source qualified data scientists and analysts,” FST said.
Here’s where bigtechs come in. Whether it be Facebook or Google or Amazon, as The Economist agreed, they are not after financial services as a business per se. Indeed, in the current environment the sector is low growth, low margin and high regulatory cost. But what the sector is rich in is data - notably payments data.
Data on websites visited, time spent on page, friends, friends’ networks, preferences: these are all valuable as proxies for money spent and money to be spent. Financial services data is the real thing - not just a proxy.
Meet in the middle
So to an extent the war is on a different plane. For incumbents, bigtechs are more likely to be existential threats while fintechs, in partnership, are actually an opportunity to improve processes, customer experience and data management.
As Daniel Wypler, Investment Director for ANZi Ventures - the bank’s innovation and investments arm – says, the bank does want to help its fintech and other investments grow and scale and “become the next big thing”.
“But at the same time we're not there to make a financial return,” he said. “That's important and we'd like to do that - but the strategic benefit between us and them is the most important thing. So if we can work with them to deliver a superior experience to our customers or we can use their technology to improve our current practices and services, that's what we care most about.”
Again, it is that partnership where the bank brings scale, capital, regulatory imprimatur and trust. The fintech brings innovation, customer experience, disruption.
Where the two sides need to be at one is trust: banks cannot afford to lose that customer or regulatory trust.
Banks not only have to secure their own systems; they must be just as confident in the security of their partners. Fintechs are not just a competitive threat or partner, they are a potential risk factor - in the sense that all third parties are.
The EY and Institute of International Finance (IIF) 2019 Global Bank Risk Management survey highlights the point that more partnerships and more data exchange means more risk points.