Charlie Palmer, Innovation Consultant at Fluxx.
London’s Fintech scene is one of the most exciting and disruptive sectors around.
Recently it seems hardly a day has gone by when a Fintech company hasn’t made it into the tech blogs, or a hungry start-up hasn’t cropped up in the pages of the Financial Times. So, as a way of taking stock of the development of the sector, here are five highlights from the world of Fintech over the past 15 months, with a focus on lending and alternative finance.
- Using technology to democratise finance
Financial Services used to be an exclusive club, where certain products and services were closed off to everyone except the largest, most established clients. Some banks, for example, used to require customers to have £10m in revenue before they would offer Direct Debit facilities (deeming it not worth the effort otherwise), despite the fact that it has huge benefits to smaller businesses by helping alleviate cash-flow problems and late payments. Fledgling businesses were frequently refused credit, seen as too small or too risky for banks to bother with. Sole traders could struggle to manage basic accounting without paying hefty fees to accountants.
The most significant and continuing benefit of the Fintech revolution is that Financial Services is now much more open. Slick and elegantly designed digital offerings have drastically reduced costs, and opened up a range of products and services to previously underserved clients. Businesses wanting to set up Direct Debit payments for customers can now simply copy a few lines of code to their website, thanks to the hugely successful GoCardless – without having to go through the banks. Small businesses can secure loans in under 10 minutes through working capital providers like iWoca or Ezbob, or use peer-to-peer lenders like Funding Circle. Online business management and accounting systems like FreeAgent and Xero are brilliant at supporting the basics of not only accounting, but the general running of a small business, and are available at price points to suit almost all businesses.
The Fintech sector and digital technology have opened up a world of financial services to small businesses and individuals who would previously have struggled to access them.
- Growing up fast
Not long ago the majority of Fintech companies were considered outsiders – upstarts that would never really contend with the banks.
Two ground-breaking billion-dollar IPOs in December 2014 changed this and demonstrated the growing maturity of Fintech. The peer-to-peer (P2P) lending business Lending Club reached a staggering valuation of $9 billion through its IPO, while another P2P lender, OnDeck, was valued at $1.3 billion.
Although these figures are still small-fry compared to the balance sheets of global banks, the Fintech revolution is growing and doesn’t show any signs of slowing. NESTA predicts that the alternative finance market in the UK will grow to around £4.4 billion in 2015, having grown at over 150% for both 2013 & 2014.
These remarkable growth figures speak for themselves, but politicians are also speaking up for Fintech, lending legitimacy to this fast maturing sector. The UK Government has so far lent £100m through alternative lending channels, including £20m through Funding Circle.
UK regulators have also spoken up, with the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) saying that it “supports the Fintech industry, providing transparency and creating a level playing field.” In the US, in a big milestone for the industry, a bundle of P2P loans were recently given a credit rating for the first time ever by Moody’s, which suddenly opened the market up to professional investors including hedge funds and asset managers.
Fintech has reached a new stage of legitimacy and maturity that is creating an environment where investors, businesses and consumers are increasingly supportive of Fintech companies.
- Focusing on niches
Great start-ups almost always focus on solving a specific need for a small set of “early adopters”. In the world of Fintech, there has been a strong trend of B2B services focusing on the needs of SMEs.
P2P lending is a good example of a very focused proposition, specifically centred on vertical lending opportunities. SoFi is one example, which is a marketplace for lending to students. SoFi raised $200 million of investment in January 2015, bringing its total investment to a whopping $766 million.
So far, this general strategy has paid off for Fintech companies. However, like many high-achieving businesses before them, the next step for Fintech companies is to expand their scope beyond “early adopters”, moving into areas that are currently dominated by banks.
- Treading on banks’ toes
Direct competition is already happening. TransferWise is a great example of a company that aims to cut out banks – railing against their high fees through high profile marketing initiatives.
But it’s not just marketing efforts that demonstrate this new competition: Goldman Sachs published a report called ‘The Future of Finance: The Rise of the New Shadow Bank’, where it estimated that over $11 billion of annual profit could be at risk from non-bank disintermediation over the next 5+ years. Or, to put it another way, that’s 7% of current profits.
Slick new businesses, with lower cost bases, offering better digital experiences and greater convenience are no longer attracting just underserved customers, but actively disintermediating the banks from their mainstream customers.
- If you can’t beat them, join them
Many banks are recognising that they will have to work together with Fintech.
Renaud Laplanche, the founder and chief executive of Lending Club said, “I believe that it is in the best interest of both banks and marketplaces to form partnerships to further reduce the cost of credit to consumers and businesses.”
In the UK, Santander is the first high-street bank to direct its customers to P2P lenders when they cannot provide finance, having entered into a partnership with Funding Circle.
There is much that banks can learn from Fintech, and vice-versa, but one thing is clear; the pace at which these new businesses have grown is matched by the evolution and increased sophistication of their propositions.
It used to be the case that big companies beat small companies. It’s now the case that fast companies beat slow companies. Banks should take note.
How open banking can drive innovation and growth in a post-COVID world
By Billel Ridelle, CEO at Sweep
Times are pretty tough for businesses right now. For SMEs in particular, a global financial and health crisis of the sort we’re currently witnessing represents a truly existential risk. Yet there is hope of a brighter future. Digital transformation is already helping organisations in countless sectors, with everything from building supply chain resilience to rolling out potentially life-saving contact-tracing schemes. Yet it’s not just delivering transformative benefits in grand projects like this.
Thanks to open banking rules, a new wave of fintech innovation is sweeping the globe, offering business leaders a new launchpad for success. Even something as simple as corporate expenses can be transformed by the power of open data — to help firms cut costs, reduce fraud risk and become more productive.
Opening up data to innovation
It’s easy to get bogged down in the technical details of open banking, and the slew of new acronyms it has ushered in: Third Party Providers (TPPs), Account Information Service Providers (AISPs), Payment Initiation Service Providers (PISPs), and Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). Yet at the heart of the open banking revolution is a simple concept: the idea that forcing banks to open up their customers’ financial data will create more competition, and fresh opportunities for market entrants to create innovative new services.
This was at the heart of the UK government’s world-leading strategy when it was introduced back in 2016. A revised EU payment services directive (PSD2) gave it legal teeth, mandating that all payment account providers in the region provide third-party access for customers that want it. The push is also about reducing banking fees and enhancing financial inclusion, of course, but it’s in competition and innovation that the benefits really shine for businesses.
Access to real-time financial data via open APIs has already resulted in a range of new services which are helping businesses ride out the current economic storm. Whether it’s capabilities that can help freelancers prove loss of income to receive targeted loans, or services designed to streamline business processes to reduce costs and fraud — examples of innovation are endless.
What’s more, it’s already global. Aside from the PSD2, open banking rules are taking shape in Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Mexico and elsewhere. According to frequently cited Gartner predictions, regulators in around half of the G20 countries will create an open banking API regime over the coming year.
In the UK alone this is set to create a £7.2 billion revenue opportunity by 2022, with 71% of SMBs and 64% of adults expected to adopt it by then, according to PwC.
Making expenses pay
Corporate expenses and travel management might not be an area one immediately associates with high levels of innovation. But here too, open banking is having a profound impact. By combining automation, in-app approvals, integration with corporate policy and secure open banking APIs, companies like Sweep are offering new ways to solve old problems.
Part of the legacy challenge relates to productivity. Managing corporate travel costs and expenses was cited last year as the biggest concern of the UK’s small and mid-sized firms. Separate research claimed that SMBs are estimated to lose over £8.7 billion annually due to the time it takes employees and managers to complete these menial tasks. By automatically integrating real-time corporate bank account information into an easy-to-use app, we can save up to 15 hours a month on data input and travel administration per employee. That’s all time they could be spending on growing the business.
Another key area of concern is fraud. According to some estimates, fraudulent expenses claims could be costing UK firms £1.9 billion each year. In the US, the figure could be approaching $3 billion annually. Whether it’s the result of submitting expense claims for personal purchases, claiming for additional mileage on work trips, or over-claiming for other items, it all adds up. What’s more, fraud tends to spike particularly during times of recession, when normally diligent employees look for ways to supplement their income.
In this use case too, there are benefits to be had from open banking-powered solutions. Traditional manual processes offer too many gaps that can be exploited by fraudsters. Submitting paper receipts to finance departments — which must then input the information into spreadsheets or accounting software — is slow, error-prone and lacks accountability. However, with modern digital systems, transactions are automatically fed through from bank account to expense management platform. Here they are seamlessly checked according to policy and automatically approved, rejected or flagged for further investigation.
The future’s open
Thanks to the power of open banking, innovative fintech use cases like this are transforming operational challenges into opportunities to cut costs and fraud risks, improve employee productivity and become more strategic. With real-time data fed through from corporate bank accounts, finance directors can better understand spending patterns, react with greater agility and gain the insight they need to run their businesses more efficiently.
So what of the future? The good news is that open banking is only just getting started. As more sophisticated machine learning algorithms are developed, it has the potential for even greater disruption by empowering SMEs with predictive analytics and forecasting tools, or more accurate fraud checks, for example. Those in Europe may benefit most as PSD2 allows businesses to use tools that work seamlessly and securely across markets, without requiring any duplication of work.
In fact, open banking is not just good for individual SMEs, it’s important for Europe as a whole if we are ever to nurture successful digital unicorns to compete with those coming out of the US and China.
Open banking been described in the past as a quiet revolution. With the right buy-in from business and the continued innovation of digital platforms, it may soon become a full-throated roar.
Banks take note: Customers want to pay with points
By Len Covello, Chief Technology Officer of Engage People
‘Pay with Points’ – that is, integrating the ability to pay with loyalty reward points directly into the online check-out process – is a trend that is growing exponentially with big-name brands like Amazon, PayPal and American Express leading the way.
The past few months have posed an unprecedented challenge in the loyalty space, especially with the pandemic’s impact on travel. The unforeseen impacts across the board have caused institutions with premier incentive credit cards to feel increased pressure to retain their loyalty members. As such, exploring innovative ways to create a personalized loyalty experience for customers is at the forefront now more than ever.
Offering the flexibility to pay with points is certainly one option that can help transform financial institutions’ (FIs) loyalty programs. With the evolution of consumer preferences – like relying on other forms of payment outside of credit and the move towards contactless payments – viewing points as currency naturally ties into the “new ways” in which American consumers bank, pay and shop.
Personalization is a win-win for banks and loyalty program members
As the world continues to evolve in light of the pandemic, consumer habits like mobile banking and shopping online for groceries are likely to carry over long-term. As a result, consumers will expect their loyalty programs to provide new incentives to fit their ever-changing needs. By offering loyalty program members the ability to pay with points for the items they want or need during the online check-out process, FIs are creating a more personalized shopping experience. This can help increase member retention, especially compared to dated loyalty programs that offer limited options for point redemption.
As we’ve learned with iPhones, tap to pay and other technologies that reduce friction, once consumers begin using a new and convenient digital service, there’s little desire to go back to the old way of doing things. By incorporating pay with points into loyalty programs sooner rather than later, FIs will be setting themselves apart in terms of meeting their member’s needs with modern payment offerings.
Outside of providing a personalized experience to loyalty program members, pay with points as a program perk also has specific benefits when it comes to a bank’s bottom line. Currently, there are billions of dollars in liabilities in the form of unused points sitting on banks balance sheets. This is in part due to loyalty program members inability to spend their points how they want. By allowing a more personal and flexible way to spend points, banks can reduce those liabilities while creating a more engaging experience for their members.
Meeting consumer demand is easier than you think
Incorporating the infrastructure to power new digital capabilities is more often than not a cause for concern: how expensive will it be? What does down time look like? How long will it take to get up and running?
Luckily for banks, the process is actually quite simple – and inexpensive. With a lightweight integration of a few APIs, banks can tap into a pool of retailers to make their merchandise available for purchase with points by loyalty program members in no time. And as the retail network expands, there’s no need for additional IT work to add new brands into the fold. Ultimately, API integrations upfront create a frictionless and scalable solution for FIs and a preferred shopping experience for members. And based on market feedback, the personalized experience that results from giving customers the option to spend points as easily as they would cash or card, far exceeds any initial inconveniences that may arise.
According to our recent Customer Loyalty Survey, 75% of customers are more likely to spend loyalty reward points to make a purchase over other payment methods. The findings also indicated that 72% of customers are actively engaged in loyalty programs because of the available redemption options.
Long-term loyalty is not just about acquisition or promotional material, but rather the experience of redemption and viewing loyalty points through a fresh lens. Customers today are well-versed in what’s available to them online. The more redemption options offered to the consumer, the more appealing the FI becomes.
Loyalty point redemption in action
In April of 2020, when the world was mostly in lockdown, we looked at how a select group of approximately 3,000 consumers spent their loyalty reward points, comparing April 2020 to April 2019. Key findings suggest that, if given the opportunity, consumers will spend their loyalty points to buy what they want or need based on their specific circumstances. For example:
- Significant increases in the purchase of outdoor items like BBQs and smokers (+3401%), fire pits and heaters (+2644%) and pool and patio accessories (+1297%) suggested people were making the most of the spaces around them.
- Consumers were focusing on their personal health and well-being with the increase in points spent on fitness accessories (+1664%), bike accessories (+1453%) and fitness trackers (+536%).
- Finally, the increase in purchases of hand-held power tools (+3076%), smart control lighting (+1750%), stick vacuums (+1096%) and specialty small appliances (+531%) suggests consumers took advantage of the opportunity to check projects off their at-home to-do lists.
We’re keeping a close eye on how loyalty point purchases evolve as more retailers and FIs get on board with viewing points as a true form of currency, especially in a post-pandemic world. Which items will rise to the top in the coming months and years as the payments ecosystem evolves? Will flight purchases or experience-based purchases regain popularity?
What’s next in the loyalty payments space?
As consumers continue to look for alternative payment methods, offering the flexibility to pay with points is the perfect opportunity for FIs looking to reinvent their loyalty programs. Engage People has always viewed loyalty points as a fiat currency, creating innovative technology that allows for easy integration that satisfies loyalty program members’ needs.
In the future, there’s a real opportunity to incorporate loyalty reward points into everyday life – extending beyond the online shopping experience. Imagine a world where you can pay for coffee, your bills, monthly subscription services like Netflix or make charitable donations with loyalty points just as you would with a credit card or cash. The future involves a mindset shift by consumers, financial institutions and the entire payments ecosystem, and that shift is viewing loyalty points as a true form of currency. Like reaching for cash, a debit or credit card, loyalty points can easily become a payment option of choice for consumers. FIs that are at the forefront of this trend now have the most to gain long term.
The Importance of Liquidity Solutions
By Justin Silsbury, Lead – Product Manager at Infosys Finacle
Economic uncertainty and business complexity have made a deep impact on corporate treasury management in recent years. With regulations getting tougher, funding becoming elusive, and profits shrinking fast, the way liquidity is managed is making a real difference to companies’ survival. As corporate treasurers around the world struggle with the challenges of liquidity management, they are turning to their banks for support; it is imperative that the industry respond with digital solutions that enable clients to manage money efficiently at low cost.
Why corporates need liquidity solutions
Corporate banking customers need a liquidity structure that maximises security, liquidity and yield. Even today, treasurers in multinational corporations lack visibility into their companies’ overall cash position across countries and currencies. Delivering returns on excess cash, although important, is not a priority for them, but making sure the money is safe and available when needed, is. Therefore, a liquidity solution should be able to consolidate a company’s cash position across all its accounts around the world, provide a unified view in real-time, as well as offer timely suggestions on maximising utilisation and yield. It should automate all these functions as far as possible to reduce both manual overheads and the risk of moving money manually on a daily basis.
Broadly, liquidity solutions are of three types – cash concentration solutions that automatically move money around the world; interest optimization solutions that reward customers based on their aggregated balances without the need to move any money; and investment sweeps that move all the consolidated funds to a money market fund or other short-term investment to earn extra returns.
And why banks should provide them
There are several reasons why banks should invest in a sound liquidity solution. The most important one is that without it, a bank can never become a customer’s principal financial institution. A large corporation will have many banking providers, each one trying to increase share of wallet; in this situation, a high involvement product such as a liquidity solution is particularly effective for building stickiness and strengthening a bank’s position vis-à-vis others. An illustration may be useful here: say a food retail chain banks with Santander in the U.K., and other banks across Europe. If the retailer chooses to consolidate its cash daily into its U.K. account using Santander’s liquidity management solution, where the excess cash can then be swept into an investment vehicle overnight, over time, Santander can cross-sell other products to the client to increase revenue and stickiness.
Technology does it
Corporate banking has historically lagged retail banking in technology adoption. It is high time that banks remedied this by digitizing their corporate solutions. Specifically, they can leverage a variety of digital technologies to provide clients instant access to liquidity, global visibility into the overall cash position, and efficient working capital management. With robotic process automation and machine learning, they can simplify and automate processes to cut cost and lead-time. Blockchain enables banks to offer fast, secure, cross-border transactions, while open APIs ease collaboration and co-innovation with Fintechs, customers and developers.
Banks need to deliver frictionless, personalized, “retail banking-like” experiences over customer-centric corporate banking channels. Instead of channel silos – one for liquidity, another for payments and so on – customers will see data from all their accounts in one place, from where they can manage liquidity, forecast cash flows, secure trade finance etc. On their part, banks can use 360-degree customer insight to issue not just timely alerts but also contextual recommendations. For instance, being able to alert a customer that a large payment is due the following week, but also suggesting the best options for arranging those funds.
Apart from improving the customer journey, a real move in corporate banking is towards cloud adoption. Many banks have started the cloud journey, but many still have some distance to cover before they are fully cloud-enabled; mainly, they are migrating monolithic, on-premise workloads to the cloud. Early adopters, such as JP Morgan Chase, HSBC and Citibank, are setting the pace by developing their own capabilities as well as procuring certain components from Fintech partners to plug into their overall solution.
One size doesn’t fit all
In the past, corporate banking solutions were largely meant for big companies, but today they are relevant to enterprises of all sizes. Internet and mobile have enabled even small local firms to scale far and wide, creating a need for solutions to manage their money across borders. Therefore, banks need to make sure their liquidity solution can accommodate the different needs of different clients. Only a flexible, componentised solution can do that.
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