As 2021 draws to a close, it’s safe to say that this year has been full of ups and downs. With the world very cautiously emerging from the global pandemic, one thing has remained constant: the innovation and growth the fintech industry continues to bring. While the year has been a whirlwind for most, the fintech sector has seen many challenges and opportunities that will no doubt continue into the next 12 months.
This December, The Fintech Times is asking industry leaders for their ‘View from the Top’ to gain an insight into the decisions behind the last 12 months. Today, we hear from Brett Brunick, Nick Chandi, Lynne Darcey Quigley, Alex Mifsud and Ximena Aleman on their 2021 thoughts, plus a look ahead to 2022. Will there be a Happy New Year? Read on…
Brett Brunick, Chief Digital & Technology Officer at Thrivent said: “The financial services industry needs to pivot toward being experiential and digital-first.”
He continued: “It’s no secret the financial services industry lags behind other industries, but it needs to respond quickly because consumer expectations are continually rising. One trend I’ve seen is a shift in viewing fintechs accelerators to innovation rather than as competition. Many fintechs are reimagining parts of the customer journey, which creates an opportunity for companies like Thrivent to reimagine the entire journey through strategic partnerships and fully embracing technology. We’re also seeing digital viewed as more than automation or an improved user experience, it’s now redefining the business and expanding the way we deliver holistic advice and solutions to our clients.
“Also, as an industry, we’re using “inside baseball” language, but we need to shift to use language that resonates with clients. Fintechs and industry leaders have proven that a more simple, personalised experience is important. For Thrivent, this is about delivering experiences that meet and exceed the changing needs of clients today and into the future. We do this by walking in their shoes, understanding their needs, and providing experiences and solutions that resonate in a way that’s meaningful.
“One trend I’m excited about is the macro-transition we’re seeing across organisations and how they view technology. They’re moving from viewing technology as a corporate shared services function to understanding the importance of being a truly digital-first, technology-driven organisation to compete in today’s landscape. This is a trend we’ve been seeing for the last few years, but we rarely saw anything like this even 10 years ago.
“CEOs and leaders want to have technology-driven companies for a reason. It’s a fundamental shift in how companies have historically thought about technology. Ultimately, it goes beyond having a set of specific platforms or embracing a new trend like AI for example, which is important, but its impact on the client experience is what matters most. Companies are now prioritising the competencies they need to be successful in this experience-driven society. And those competencies in design, engineering and data are critical to enabling these experiences. I expect this trend to carry on and those who embrace it will continue to take market share.”
Nick Chandi is the CEO and co-founder of ForwardAI, as well as a serial entrepreneur.
He said: “In 2021, I saw the technical revolution the world experienced in 2020 continue onwards. As we all experienced the change to digital formats came almost overnight for businesses worldwide. A major trend I noticed was the rapidly growing need for direct data connections. Since so many companies were now working digitally, the gap between those who connected using APIs and those still intaking specific document formats (PDFs or spreadsheets) became much more apparent.
“In lending, this gap was noticeable. Lenders that have direct connections with financial data sources and don’t have to bumble around with document transcribers or manually cross-referencing documents simply have a faster review process. For small business lending, where a lender may have been requesting statements from 5-6 different sources, it could take over two weeks just to get the information they needed to approve a loan. With direct data connections instead, a lender could be looking at seconds if they build the data into the software they’re already using. It’s a technological advance that can lead to a drastic disruption in the way a lender underwrites their loan applications.
“Next year, the gap between those who are innovating and those who aren’t is going to continue to grow rapidly. I think we’re going to see a bit of a revolution in banking and financial services as innovators continue to differentiate themselves from their competition and capture market share. I know of many financial companies that are looking to make a splash with services like premium cash flow management platforms and lending offers based on real-time cash flow of the business.
“Once a few companies jump significantly ahead of the rest of the market I think the race will be on to revolutionise as soon as organisationally possible. This, in turn, is going to cause some degree of chaos as operational restructuring is needed to accommodate higher application volumes, shorter application times, and overall less manual labour.”
Lynne Darcey Quigley, CEO and founder of Know-it and Darcey Quigley & Co. believed digitalisation has been a trend of the year.
“We’ve seen the increased adoption of fintech apps and products as an alternative to traditional banks. Digitisation is of course a pattern repeated throughout every industry, but finance, I think, is unique in peoples’ opposition to the traditional alternative – think long queues, early closing times, and expensive transaction fees.
“One way banks can, and have, started to catch up with this trend is by turning from competition to collaboration. Fintech startups and established names have started to work together – which gives smaller banks legitimacy and trust, and bigger names a foothold in the digital-only banking industry.
“I think these new consumer demands, and the rise and rise of cryptocurrency for example, all represent an increasing decentralisation in finance. What we must do next is turn this into democratisation; if we improve access to sound advice, reliable infrastructure, and good finance for everyone – but particularly for women, for people of colour, and for small businesses, we can unlock huge economic and personal potential.”
In terms of 2022, she said: “I think blockchain will become a growing feature of our lives, and not just in cryptocurrency – as it is fast, global, secure, and cheap. Finance is already the industry leading the charge in blockchain adoption, so it makes sense this will continue to grow.
“Secondly, I expect (and hope) to see a surge in platforms, products, and tools to help small businesses. The pandemic seems to have been the catalyst that caused many people to take the leap and start an enterprise of their own, but so much more needs to be done to support them. Whether that be through access to investment, or tools like Know-it. According to data from Salesforce, 71% of growing SMEs survived the pandemic by going digital – so new tech to help in this area is vital for their survival.
“More generally, I expect to see a surge in payment innovations. China is leading the way in this, and the rest of the world is starting to catch up – with new developments such as digital wallets and mobile payments.”
Alex Mifsud, co-founder and CEO at Weavr, an open platform for embedded finance for the digital economy.
He said: “Covid has transformed the way we handle money and lockdown accelerated the downfall of cash payments dramatically. With many retail stores now only accepting card payments, the emergence of the ‘low touch economy’ is one of the major fintech trends we’ve seen this year, and it’s never been more important for businesses to adapt.
“Traditional human interactions are continuing to be replaced with digital alternatives thanks to embedded finance options like Klarna and Apple Pay. At the same time, the promise of open banking has bumped against the reality of its current limitations. These successes and (relative) failures have in turn ushered in a new generation of embedded finance platforms to democratise the ability to design, build and run financial services that are seamlessly integrated in digital applications.
“Embedded finance is the new and unstoppable force that is revolutionising business, just like e-commerce did 20 years ago. Traditionally, only companies with big budgets could integrate financial services into their digital applications. But now, any business can.
“It’s almost inevitable that having been hyped in 2021, Embedded Finance will fail to deliver in 2022, but we will also start to see the first boring but mainstream cases that will ultimately make Embedded Finance as much of a force for change as e-Commerce did a couple of decades ago.
“Promising areas to look for Embedded finance are marketplaces, B2B SaaS and the adaptation of Buy Now Pay Later to B2B. Indeed, Consumer BNPL will start looking dangerous to regulators, but other, safer embedded B2B credit products emerge partly inspired by the erstwhile success of BNPL
“I’d like to think that DeFi will make the first crossover from a strictly for geeks to the first applications within the mainstream world of finance, and certainly, there is a fundamental reason why DeFi should be part of Embedded Finance and not separate to it.”
Ximena Aleman, Cofounder & Co CEO at Prometeo, shared her insights into the Latin American Market.
She said: “For Latin American fintech companies, 2021 was an outstanding year. The investment startups received until half of the year was $7.6 billion, this number represented a record compared to the $2.9 billion from 2020.
“There was also a great growth of startups dedicated to payments, crypto and wallet which is not surprising given the fact that digital banking and online payments became a necessity for continued operation during the pandemic. Numbers speak for themselves, four of the top 10 deals in Latin America were raised by neo banking services corresponding to the boom in neo banks and digital wallets currently taking place in Latin America. Although these companies had a major growth due to the pandemic, they are here to stay, get stronger, and sell more and better services to users.
“For next year, we envision that open banking together with super apps and interconnected platforms will take the stage. Financial services will become more and more personalised and with lower fees in order to be able to capture and maintain their customers in a hot market. Also, we’ll see a lot of progress in the fintech laws discussions that have already started in different countries of the region. Although the landscape is still uneven in terms of regulations, 2022 will be a year where these regulations will make great progress in some countries.”
This article is part of our 2021 December series, View from the Top, to see others like it and our special edition from December 2020, please click here.