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Key Takeaways from Disruption Forum London: FinTechs, Incumbents and the Rise of TechFins

Who poses the most pressing existential threat to fintech? Is it incumbent legacy financial institutions or tech giants like Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google?

These were the main questions being asked at Disruption Forum London when NetGuru Senior Editor, Tomasz Grynkiewicz quizzed representatives from Lloyds, Revolut, Starling Bank, OakNorth, Funding Circle, Lemon Way, and Monese at the Level39 building, Canary Wharf. Let’s take a look at the event’s key takeaways…

Empathy Before Expansion

Before you grow you need to build brand loyalty. Tomasz Grynkiewicz, Senior Editor at NetGuru asked;  how do you transform your MAUs (monthly active users) into DAUs (daily active users)?

Yannis Karagiannidis, Head of Growth at Monese, answered;

“It’s very important to create a product that is inclusive. We also had an advantage of the first mover and from day one we were very transparent on pricing and other issues. It was all the little things that added up and unlocked word-of-mouth marketing for us”

Whilst Ben Chisell, Product Director at Starling Bank had this to say;

“Honestly, all you need to do, is getting some kind of product out there. Then you need to have empathy, listen closely to what your customers are saying. Try to solve their problems, and be pretty obsessive about it”

Digital Design is like Painting, Except the Paint Never Dries

Martin Dowson, Interim Director, Design Systems at Lloyds emphasised the importance of investing in the best product design money can buy;

“We call it “design for prosperity”. We have to figure out how – beyond money – we can help people prosper. We need to remember that we have a relationship with 30m people. And we need to understand where we are a part of their lives and where we are not. Where we need to step back, and where we need to be present and when”

App vs API

When prompted to choose a side between standalone app development and the emerging API class of interconnected products, Chad West, CMO at Revolut, declared;

“We want to bank the world. We want to be the one brand customers trust to manage all of the financial aspects of their lives within the Revolut app. That’s the vision we’re passionate about”

However, Ben Chisell, Product Director at Starling Bank, begged to differ;

“When you have a selection of products, you’re creating an ecosystem where consumers can get the best value. With an all-in-one app, you’re basically asking your customers to trust that you’re absolutely the best on the market. The thing that marketplace reverses is that you put all the offers in front of the users and ask them to trust your ranking”

Something Disruptive This Way Comes: New Threats

It seems that most FinTechs are more than a little worried about the new breed of TechFins looming up over the horizon. Ben Chisell said;

“I’m not arrogant to think that banking is any different. There’s no reason why Facebook or Amazon can’t do these things. If you look at Amazon, to be honest, they’re already in the banking space, they offer credit cards, business loans.”

Before Chad West added, ominously;

“If we know anything about these companies, is that they don’t want a slice. They want everything. They have the money and the power, they have the brand awareness, they have the scale and infrastructure”

Disrupt Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself

The evening closed with a re-ignition of the tension between fintechs and incumbents in which it was concluded that both would have to innovate or face the spectre of irrelevance.Chad West from Revolut fired the opening salvo;

“Banks can adapt and change, they’re trying, and some of them can succeed to some extent. But they can’t be fast enough”

Dowson, from Lloyds, shot back with;

“We are one of the incumbents, and they say it is one of our burdens. I believe it is also a tremendous opportunity. What we’ve learnt during the past few years is how to do agile transformation at scale. Also, we’re having the huge shift in mindset, coming from our focus on Designing for Prosperity to support our company mission of Helping Britain Prosper. It is also our reflection posed by the fintech companies”

The last word went to Dowson, who concluded that;

“we are close to the transformative moment of catch-up. And I do think we have an advantage over fintech companies. As I’ve said, we know now how to be agile at scale. It will be interesting to observe how new players will cope with achieving profitable, sustainable growth once they reach the maturity level”

How accurate the panelists’ visions for the coming months and years in finance prove to be, only time will tell. However, the only constant here appears to be flux. So, to paraphrase Mr Bob Dylan, don’t speak too soon for the wheel’s still in spin, and there’s no telling who that it’s naming, for the loser now will be later to win, for the times they are a-changin’!

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