The FinTech industry didn’t exactly “explode” onto the scene, changing the way we live and do business overnight. While contemplating the multitude of industry startups that dot the scene these days and the skyrocketing investment such startups attract, one should never forget that FinTech essentially started way back in 1998, with PayPal. No, the currently accelerating rise of FinTech was not a quick one, and the unique issues which continue to act as pitfalls for the process, still exist.
A large segment of the industry is focused on consumer financial services, where strict regulations coupled with an overall sense that there’s a war already being waged between the newcomers and the “establishment”, definitely act as a brake on innovation.
While the existence of these problems cannot be denied, are the concerns of the “incumbents” truly justified? According to a study, only about 20% of FinTech industry newcomers are in the same business as banks. The remaining 80% do something completely different. This 20% isn’t much of a problem from the banks’ perspective at a closer look either: the software solutions they deliver can potentially aid existing financial institutions in streamlining their operations, cutting their costs and generally improving the services they deliver. The entities that the startups are at direct odds with are the legacy software providers, who currently dominate the rather stale banking scene.
That said, a unique sort of paradox does plague FinTech startups: often, to make their products work, they need to work with finance industry participants with whom they might essentially compete.
Despite such problems, there’s no stopping the tech revolution that has engulfed the financial industry. Services to ease people’s access to loans, insurance and scientifically planned personal finance are not going back into the proverbial bottle. Business is booming across the board and investors are eager to get in on the ground floors of promising startups.
Which are the most potential-laden FinTech sub-verticals though? Where should you look if you’re planning on backing one of these “promising startups”?
Smart personal finance management is without a doubt one of the verticals with massive potential. While there are already a number of FinTech startups prowling the scene, the overwhelming majority of the population is yet to make use of the tools offering finance planning, automatic budgeting and asset management. Though there are risks for operators in this vertical (highlighted by the recently enacted US Department of Labor rule on fiduciary responsibility), the potential is certainly there.
The industry leader of smart personal finance management is without a doubt Intuit Inc, whose Mint.com lets users centralize every component of their personal financial profile, in a single app. Level Money takes the concept one step further, letting users connect their app to any one of some 2,500 supported US banks, thus adding actual bank account management to the portfolio of services. Level Money was acquired by Capital One back in 2015, in a wonderful example of how the “establishment” can seamlessly merge with the up-and-coming, trailblazing FinTech wave.
Blockhain-based startups have thus far been mostly associated with the rapid proliferation of various digital currencies, such as Bitcoin, Litecoin and Ethereum — among others. The technology goes way above and beyond that though. It can be applied to trading, to payments and to lending. There are startups out there who have for some time worked on developing blockchain networks for institutions such as Citi, VISA and NASDAQ. This trend of offering blockchain technology as a service, has been highlighted by Chain.
Various finance industry giants have shown increasing interest in blockchain-related technology (including crypto currencies) lately. American Express has jumped on the Bitcoin bandwagon recently, allowing users of the Abra app to purchase BTC directly with their American Express credit cards. The fact however that the integration process that led to the cooperation lasted for 3 full months is a testimony to the multitude of problems that need to be overcome to make things happen in this regard.
In addition to such integration-related issues, blockchain technology as a whole — though extremely versatile and game-changing in several ways — is not yet very attractive to investors. Once clear, practical market applications are set though, that will change in a heartbeat.
Trading and online trading is another category where fintech startups have been running wild lately.
Online trading has become accessible for the masses, and day traders who fancy themselves knowledgeable, no longer have to learn the hard way that they can’t make ends meet without the communication tools and data available to the big boys.
Big data and predictive analytics-linked startups represent another vertical where the “establishment” marries off with the new, quite seamlessly and naturally even. Finance industry giants like Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and BofA are looking for ways to secure an continuous edge, by wringing out newfound value from the data they have accumulated over the decades. Antuit and Dataminr fit such needs to a T.
True to its name, Robinhood is all about bringing commission-free trading to the masses. Working a unique monetization-model, the operation may have its shortcomings, but it has managed to secure the backing of celebrity investors like Snoop Dogg and Jared Leto. Under the best circumstances, the app is indeed quite capable of saving massive amounts of money for its users.
Through its big data/analytic capabilities, Stockflare helps the rank-and-file trader make heads and tails of various market moves, picking the right stocks to trade, and connecting with brokerage accounts to deliver personalized insights.
One FinTech sub-vertical not often talked about is the retail trader-oriented dedicated communication one. This industry segment is all about delivering a virtual trading floor experience to users, coupled with data streams similar to what large market-players use for their trading needs. AI may be a major future factor in this vertical, but if and when it lands, it will also act as a great equalizer, erasing the edges certain groups of traders may have over others. Solutions like Echofin take the approach into social territory, by allowing their users to pool their expertise, their resources and to share knowledge with others, in a controlled and easily monetized manner.
Another FinTech trend to keep an eye on for the near future is one that will see large e-commerce companies spill into the financial services sector. Ant Financial have already taken steps in this direction, and the trend is likely to accelerate.
Whether we’re talking about trading community platforms with multiple layers of features, or commission-free mobile trading solutions, one thing is certain: FinTech will make our lives easier in the future, whether or not we currently understand its eventual benefits and ramifications. From mobile payments to crowd funding, mobile investments and micro-financing, it will inevitably permeate every aspect of our financial existence.
Paul Desif, Blogger/Trader