Spend enough time with bankers, and you’ll hear whispers that the fintech industry has already seen the most exciting achievements it has to offer.
The good news is I disagree — there’s a lot more still to see. But, equally, I share some of that disillusion because the truth is that today, true innovation in fintech is far and few in between.
To date, fintechs — from neobanks to trading apps — have picked only the low-hanging fruit. Yes, fintech has catalysed the financial sector to take new strides and provide better banking and payment services. However, they’ve still largely only chased the areas that established businesses should have grasped themselves, meaning fintech is basically efficiency gains — not a new financial landscape.
Henry Ford allegedly declared, "If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said 'faster horses'", before inventing the automobile. Many, perhaps most in the financial industry are still thinking about faster horses.
The question stands: is it enough to merely compete off the back of better customer experience? Better 'horses', to extend the metaphor?
I truly hope not — not if fintechs want to be truly competitive in the long-term.
I’d like to see developments from fintech — and from the financial services industry as a whole — that offer surprise and excitement en masse. We've seen that elsewhere with phenomenons like TikTok, an app that has suddenly changed the social media landscape and gained massive adoption.
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The next phase: an optimist’s dream
I am convinced that fintech will see a ‘TikTok moment,’ or 'Ford moment', or a ‘Tesla moment’ — which took the idea of electric cars mainstream. We need players such as these that can take our industry to the next level, leaving the horses in the dust.
But that may not come from the players that are currently lauded.
Indeed, many of today’s prominent fintech players will disappear or morph into something we barely recognise. Some fintech companies will be bought by larger companies that will embed their fintech services in their company, including non-financial firms. That change will be driven by known competition (tech giants and other fintech companies) and by fast-learning incumbents with no options left but to attack at all costs.
What’s more, today’s fintech stars will come to be viewed as the incumbents, and these businesses will then need to defend their turf — just like the banks are doing now.
That's what will mark the progression from disruption to innovation (or revolution), even at the cost of devouring its own.
I don’t know exactly what the future of fintech will look like (if I did, I’d have done it and made a fortune!). But I imagine — and hope — it’ll look have the same impact the original iPod had on music and how the iPhone changed communication and access to media. Those markets existed before Apple entered it, but we all know it was never the same thereafter.
To be clear, it’s not so much that we need to change the ingredients. Instead, we need to cook differently, and get more creative about the dishes we want to see. That will probably, also, require new chefs, and possibly new rules (or in fintech-speak, 'regulation').
So no, fintech's best days aren’t behind it, but let’s accept that the days we are living in are still painfully average.