Fintech has become a convenient (and amorphous) term applied to virtually any technology or technology-enabled process that is, or might be, applied within financial services. While the technologies are complex, the vast array of the current wave of fintech boils down to three simple dynamics: (1) leveraging technology to measure or predict customer need or behavior; (2) meeting customer need through the best customer experience possible; and (3) the ability to execute more nimbly to evolve products and services and how they are delivered.
Every reasonably well-versed person in fintech knows that the ability to predict customer need or behavior is achieved through a strong data infrastructure combined with a high-quality analytics function. But what defines the quality of the customer experience? At Fundation, we believe the quality of the customer experience within financial services is determined by the convenience, simplicity, transparency, intuitiveness and security of the process by which a product or service is delivered. The challenge for many financial services companies in developing the optimal customer experience lies in the rigidity of their legacy systems. They lack the flexibility to continually innovate products and services and how they are delivered.
The distinct advantage that fintech firms like Fundation have over traditional financial services companies is the flexibility gained from building their technology infrastructures from scratch on modern technology. With in-house application development and data operations capabilities, fintechs can rapidly engineer and, more importantly, reengineer the customer experience and their business processes. The capacity to reengineer user interface (UI), user experience (UX) and back-end processes is a major factor in the ability of financial services companies to maintain a competitive edge in the digital era where customers are accustomed to engaging with the likes of Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple in their digital lives.
Banks Remain Well Positioned to Win With Fintech
Armed with these capabilities, we, like so many fintechs, could be thumping our chests about how we are going to transform banking. But at Fundation, we see the future differently. We believe that the biggest disruption to banking is not going to come from outside of the banking industry—it’s going to come from the inside. A handful of banks (and maybe more) will reengineer their technology and data infrastructure using modern systems and processes, developed internally and augmented through highly integrated partnerships with fintechs. As a result, these banks will generate superior financial returns and take market share as customers migrate to firms that provide the experiences they expect.
In addition to enjoying a lower cost of capital advantage versus fintechs, we believe banks are well positioned for three other reasons. First, banks will remain the dominant choice of customers for financial products given their brand strength and existing market share. Second, banks have far more data than the average fintech that can be used to develop predictive analytics to determine customer need or behavior. Third, and perhaps most important, banks have what we at Fundation call the “trust asset:” their customers trust that they will protect their information and privacy and that they will recommend products best suited to their needs.
Be the Manufacturer or the General Contractor
Banks are in a strong position to win the fintech revolution but what remains are the complexities of how to execute. There are a few basic strategies:
- Do nothing
- Manufacture your own capabilities
- Operate as the general contractor, aligning your institution with third parties that can do the manufacturing
- Some combination of manufacturing and general contracting
For banks that are predominantly in relationship-driven lines of business rather than transactional lines of business, doing nothing is viable for now. The pressures on your business are not as severe, and a wait-and-see approach may enable you to make more informed decisions when the time is right.
For others, doing nothing is fraught with peril. Assuming that you choose one of the remaining three options, the implementation process will be hard, but what may be even harder is the change in organizational psychology necessary to execute on your decision. Resistance to change is natural.
That is why fintech initiatives should be driven top-down. Executive leadership should command these initiatives and set the vision. More important, executive leaders should explain why the institution is pursuing a fintech initiative and why it has decided to build, partner or outsource. Explaining why can reduce the natural resistance to, and fear of, change.
Manufacturing your own capabilities is hard work but has advantages. It provides maximum control over the project and limits your vendor management risk. The downside is that the skill sets required to execute are wide-ranging. That said, building in-house doesn’t mean that everything needs to be proprietary technology. Most fintech platforms are a combination of proprietary technology along with third-party customized components. Should you elect to build off of third-party software, you must ensure that the platform is highly configurable and customizable. If you don’t have significant influence over customization, you will lose the opportunity to reengineer the processes necessary to rapidly innovate and evolve.
Being the general contractor isn’t easy, either, but banks are very adept at it. You could make the argument that most banks are just an amalgamation of business lines, each of which employs a different system (mostly third-party) and are already operating as general contractors. The business line leaders we have come to know have significant experience managing critical third-party vendors and therefore have the skill set and knowledge to manage even the most innovative financial technology partners. What’s more, they often know what they would want their operating platforms to do, as opposed to what they are built to do today.
Should your institution decide to outsource services to a fintech firm, it is paramount to align interests. Banks should embrace their fintech counterparty as a partner, not simply a vendor. Welcome the flexibility that they offer, and allow them to empower your institution to innovate and evolve.
Don’t Squander the “Trust Asset”
In a world where Amazon, Google, Facebook and Apple dominate the digital landscape, deliver ideal customer experiences, and may possess a “trust asset” of their own, the status quo is not an option, no matter how painful change can be. If your financial institution intends to compete over the long term, executing on a fintech road map is vital, moving towards infrastructures with a foundation of flexibility. Over the next decade, flexibility will allow financial services companies to compete more effectively by delivering the products, services and experiences that customers will demand. Flexibility is what will allow your institution to maintain its competitive position over the long term.