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Will COVID-19 accelerate the transition to banking alternatives 

Will COVID-19 accelerate the transition to banking alternatives  1

By Gael Itier – CEO & Founder at akt.io

The COVID-19 crisis has led us to witness what will be remembered as a historic migration to digital. While we’ve seen an intense period of experimentation and improvement across financial services in the last five years, we’ve yet to see a truly unprecedented period of innovation to reimagine and rewrite the functionality of capital markets, until now. In less than a few years’ time, the wealth management and trading landscape will become unrecognisable to its current form.

The environment we currently operate in has influenced new consumer behavioural trends and increased expectations for a seamless digital experience. Banks who want to survive the storm must move faster than ever to introduce value-adding services that enhance the customer’s experience of modern banking. In the road ahead, banks and fintechs who want to stimulate long-term growth will see the crisis as a chance to create entirely new ways of thinking about how assets can be innovated to deliver more value to the consumers. While many companies will have to preserve funding, others will increase their investments in emerging technologies, such as AI, automation and blockchain, to make this vision a reality.

Alternatives to the traditional banking system will continue to pick up momentum as COVID-19 becomes a consistent presence in our society and economy. Though what will really set fintechs apart will be the ways in which they solve the challenges of tapping into new, secondary capital market structures and unlock real value by inviting mainstream consumers to participate. What is certain is that COVID-19 has highlighted the vulnerabilities of those who live paycheck to paycheck and made even more clear the need to access new services that help customers take better control of their money to stay afloat during the crisis or better yet thrive financially.

A watershed moment for digital banking consumers

Banks across the world will have to accelerate their digital transformation and future banking strategies to meet the rapid shifts in consumer demand for digital banking services and cashless payments. One recent study found that three quarters of European banks ‘weren’t prepared’ for the scale of change that COVID-19 had triggered in customer behavioral trends, with a further 88 per cent stating that they were overwhelmed by the demand for online and mobile banking during and post-lockdown. It is precisely this pattern that will lend to the rise in demand for fintech’s services given that they have operated for some time without a physical presence and as such are perfectly suited to adapt accordingly to this shift.

In a few short years, customer attitudes towards and interaction with banking products and services have evolved dramatically. Consumers today are more attracted to brands that offer more personalised and convenient experiences. This has led to greater preferences to seek out more intuitive modern banking software, which seamlessly responds to consumer needs. The emerging technologies deployed by fintech providers have shown consumers more sophisticated and intelligent user experiences are available, which has meant there has already been a rising permanent switch to digital pre-COVID.

Unfortunately for many heritage banks, the move to digital during COVID-19 has drawn harsher attention to this distinction. For customers who have traditionally managed their finances solely in brick and mortar locations, the inefficiencies are rife. Many scenarios have seen customers unable to shift quickly enough to mobile apps, struggle to get past hold to customer services for what feels like hours, and feel as though they don’t have enough financial control or stability.

Against this backdrop and the impact of COVID-19, other core traits of fintech providers and neo-banks in contrast to heritage banks make it well poised to come out on top when winning consumer trust and loyalty. The fintech industry’s business model has had yet to fully demonstrate its strength to combat economic uncertainty, until now. From adaptability to self-sufficiency, and speed to market and agility, fintech players are in a good position to ensure customers’ experience with banking runs smoothly during this challenging period.

Making money go further

The COVID-19 crisis has in many ways validated the foundational principles of many current and emerging fintech players: consumer control, rich personalisation, accessibility and transparency. Now more than ever, the average consumer will be searching for new and creative ways to sure up their finances. The pandemic continues to threaten job stability, demonstrating the need for fintechs to present greater opportunities for consumers to have more robust financial backup plans, including alternative sources of income, such as owning income producing assets.

The pandemic has proved itself as a wake-up call to everyone and has undoubtedly sparked a rise in motivation to take full control of finances. We are likely to see a steady rise in investment and trading options to seek out better returns than traditional savings accounts. Yet while investment apps will grow in popularity, for those starting out as investors, the barrier to entry is still very high. When it comes to accessing and effectively managing investments, there is a real need for a platform accessible enough for market participants who do not have the same level of capital and knowledge as high-profile investors to get involved.

A new period of innovation is upon us and this time over-hyped products, offering very little in terms of new functionality and customer benefit, won’t cut the mustard if they don’t provide an effective way to truly help people to manage and improve their finances. To truly be set apart from traditional banking infrastructures and even some of the most impressive fintechs when increasing wealth capital, customer expectations will be high. All-in-one digital platforms leveraging AI and other cutting edge technologies when providing customers with the opportunity to grow their wealth will redefine a promising and much needed era for consumers.

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