Smaller institutions should think of financial technology firms as friends, not foes, as they compete with the biggest banks.
These companies, often called fintechs, pose real challenges to the biggest banks because they offer smaller firms a way to tailor and grow their offerings. Dozens of the biggest players are set to reach a $1 billion valuation this year—and it’s not hard to see why. They’ve found a niche serving groups that large banks have inadvertently missed. In this way, they’re not unlike community banks and credit unions, whose people-first philosophy is akin to these emerging tech giants.
Ironically, savvy fintechs are now smartly capitalizing on their popularity to become more like big banks. These companies have users that are already highly engaged; they could continue to see a huge chunk of assets move from traditional institutions in the coming year. After all, what user wouldn’t want to consolidate to a platform they actually like using?
The growth and popularity of fintechs is an opportunity for community banks and credit unions. As customers indicate increasing openness to alternative financial solutions, these institutions have an opportunity to grab a piece of the pie if they consider focusing on two major areas: global trading and digital capabilities.
Since their creation, community banks and member-owned organizations have offered many of the same services as their competitors. However, unlike fintechs, these financial institutions have already proved their resilience in weathering the financial crisis. Community banks can smartly position themselves as behind-the-scenes partners for burgeoning fintechs.
It may seem like the typical credit union or community banking customer would have little to do with international transactions. But across the world, foreign payments are incredibly common—and growing. Global trading is an inescapable part of everyday consumer life, with cross-border shopping, travel and investments conducted daily with ease. Small businesses are just as likely to sell to a neighbor as they are to a stranger halfway around the globe. Even staunchly conservative portfolios may incorporate some foreign holdings.
Enabling global trades on a seamless digital scale is one of the best avenues for both community banks and credit unions to expand their value and ensure their continued relevance. But the long list of requirements needed to facilitate international transactions has limited these transactions to the biggest banks. Tackling complex regulatory environments and infrastructure can be not only intimidating, but downright impossible for firms without an endless supply of capital earmarked for these such investments.
That means that while customers prefer community banks and credit unions for their personalization and customer service, they flock to big banks for their digital capabilities. This makes it all the more urgent for smaller operations to expand while they have a small edge.
Even as big banks pour billions of dollars into digital upgrades, an easy path forward for smaller organizations can be to partner with an established service that offers competitive global banking functions. Not only does this approach help them save money, but it also allows them to launch new services faster and recapture customers who may be performing these transactions elsewhere.
As fintechs continue to expand their influence and offerings, innovation is not just a path to success—it’s a survival mechanism.