In 2020 the COVID-19 global pandemic pushed digitisation faster than anyone expected, especially in Fintech. Many leaders predict that last year was just a jumping-off point, and we’ll continue to see the category grow at ‘warp speed’ in 2021.
Here, experts from all corners of fintech share their thoughts on what we should expect to see, which trends will continue, and those that will fizzle out as the year progresses.
Prediction 1: Neobanks and digital banks will continue to see challenges, as big tech and financial services companies enter the space
“Digital banking will undergo significant changes in 2021,” Despite the category being all the rage as recently as two years ago, we saw several neobanks shut down in 2020. That’s when it became obvious that general consumers were unimpressed with digital banking platforms and their perceived limitations, instead preferring traditional banks’ broad array of services and reputational confidence,” says Rich Silverman, Founder, and President of RTS Strategic Communications, an advisory firm that specializes in traditional banking and fintech companies.
“Simultaneously, several platforms based on specific groups’ unique financial services challenges were launched, including Tenth, Greenwood, and Paybby (catering to Black and LatinX communities) and Daylight (LGBT). Each of these firms seems to comprehend their own financial needs and why their groups sought to walk away from traditional banks. It will be interesting to see how these companies fare in 2021 and beyond as we observe whether or not their mission-focused business plans resonate with their targeted prospects.”
Prediction 2: Social media, eCommerce, payments, and rewards will converge, creating new ways for people to discover and purchase products and cutting the middle-man (AKA paid advertising). The main beneficiary: The consumer’s wallet
Wissam Dakka, is the Co-Founder of Meemo. He explains just what drove her to create the app. “I purchased an excellent subscription to receive science books each month for my 7-year-old. After a year and a half of being a happy subscriber, I was having a conversation with Evan [Speiglemen] and my co-founder Andre to tell them about the books. Then it hit me, these are 2 of my best friends, we chat with each other on all social platforms, probably for 2 hours a day, we all have Amex [American Express], which is what I used to pay for the subscription, we also all use the same bank, Schwab [Charle Schwab] and we email and know the algorithm on Google and
Snapchat to recommend stuff. And here for a year and a half, a brand that I’m very loyal to was kept a secret.
“Had Evan and Andre known, they would have bought a subscription for their kids who are the same age as mine. This was a ‘wow’ moment for us, a major product here that hadn’t been built, and we looked into why. Google does not have the transaction or credit card information, credit cards don’t know about other people, and banks don’t know anything about my social network, and we thought the future was an app or system that somehow was able to connect all these dots in a safe way and be able to tell me ‘hey we think your friend Andre might like this brand. Would you like to recommend it?’ That was the start of Meemo. We really wanted to redesign the experience of discovery by connecting all these disparate sources of information.”
Prediction 3: Commercial banking will continue to digitise and experience a subscription revolution to change the way companies of all sizes approach their banking relationships.
“Just as consumers have grown comfortable with subscription models that make it easy and efficient to add or delete features, so too corporate and commercial banking clients want the ability to add or remove products and services quickly. To attract and retain customers in 2021 and beyond, banks must adopt an easy “plug-and-play” approach with price transparency in order to create value-driven relationships., said Matt Cox, EY Americas Corporate, Commercial and SME Banking Consulting Leader.
Prediction 4: The number of fintech unicorns is set to grow, despite many analysts’ belief that the overall number will decrease.
“2021 is already seeing some surge in investments, with five companies receiving unicorn status in the first week of the year. While there is a lot of disruption in every industry at the moment, businesses are finding new and innovative ways to keep moving and even thrive. It may be that private-market investors are anticipating exit valuations and that a late-coming venture market will continue this year,” comments Rob Israch, CMO at Tipalti.
“When we take a closer look at the unicorns in the market, it is clear that these businesses have reached status by focusing on the product-market-fit for their specific product. They all have a unique growth strategy and fundraising plan; some have received VC funding, others bootstrapping, and some even crowdfunding. Our research shows that the fintech and e-commerce industries, in particular, were thriving in 2020, suggesting that these, along with other growing industries such as AI and internet services, will continue to service and innovate consumers in their time of need and hit unicorn status in 2021.”
Prediction 5: Merchants of all sizes will adopt a cloud-based payments infrastructure, continue to seek socially distant and zero-contact solutions as the point of sale.
Nili Klenoff, Senior Vice President, Global Acceptance Solutions at Mastercard said, “We announced the first live deployment of Mastercard Cloud Tap on Phone anywhere in the world. We have moved our Tap on Phone product to the cloud, which will enable partners to develop their own tap on phone
solutions more easily and more quickly than ever before. With Tap on Phone, any business – regardless of size – can deliver new and best in class contactless consumer experiences using a device they already own – a smartphone.
“The desire for a seamless experience is where we are today and what will continue to be the expectation for consumers and businesses in the future. We are preparing for this future by leveraging the cloud to empower every business, consumer, and financial institution to remain resilient in today’s evolving tech world.”
Prediction 6: Online payments still have significant room to grow
Believe it or not, many companies of all sizes have yet to fully adopt the multitude of solutions available in a vast market. Just look at Checkout.com’s recent roughly $400m valuation and the continued success of Shopify, stripe, and others as indicators for this category’s potential.
“Checkout.com’s valuation sets the tone for 2021 and is indicative that investors continue to believe in the growth of eCommerce and the need for merchants to have a strong online payments/checkout infrastructure. Merchants want more flexibility and control and so are looking for alternatives to the Amazon model. The continued growth of firms like Shopify, Stripe, and now Checkout.com shows that there is room for new entrants to differentiate as this sector continues to grow at a high pace throughout 2021, with Covid accelerating the shift to digital for retailers. However, on the pathway, while growth will accelerate in 2021 and early 2022, I expect it to stabilize after that as the world settles into the new normal post-pandemic,” adds Sudeepto Mukherjee, Managing Partner, Financial Services at Publicis Sapient.
Prediction 7: Financial institutions continue to focus on accelerated digitisation (despite saying this for years)
Internally and externally, they’re are finally behaving more like technology companies. The pandemic has proven to be a wake-up call.
“As we’ve seen trends in the shift from offices to remote work and analogue to digital, establishing a collaborative digital workplace creates a strong foundation for digital transformation in banking and financial services. Slack is uniquely suited to respond to the challenges of fast-moving, regulated industries, and also integrates with systems across different sectors of businesses, streamlining work and boosting efficiency. There are several ways in which financial institutions have been leveraging the platform to bring the future of work to life,” said Robert Frati, Senior Vice President of Sales & Customer Success at Slack.
“Our work with HSBC shows an example of how Slack is empowering digital transformation, The company has made it a priority to make online customer experiences both enjoyable and easy to navigate. With Slack, HSBC’s 1,000-person developer platforms team can bring solutions to market faster. With Slack, HSBC has radically improved its ability to serve its customers, enabling them to launch 31 times as many customer journeys digitally—from 7 to roughly 220. Customer journeys could range from ordering a checkbook onsite to getting a mortgage quote.”
Prediction 8: Open Banking Is going to do to banking what open source did to software
Junta Nakai, Global Industry Leader of Financial Services & Sustainability at Databricks, said: “Open Banking is quickly becoming law across major markets around the world. While it is not yet widely known in the United States, Open Banking represents a significant paradigm shift for Banks. At its core, Open Banking is about data ownership. It forces incumbent institutions to open up access to customer data to third-party developers. Banks will be forced to move from a historically ‘closed’ model to an ‘open’ model where customer data now belongs to the customer, and thus data can be moved across institutions. It increases the risk that incumbent banks will become invisible to the end customer.”
“Open banking will do the same thing to banking that open source did to the software industry. Specifically, starting in 2021, it will spur Innovation, render old business models obsolete, and bring transparency to Banking services. We have a historical precedent. In the 2010s, as open-source became prevalent in software, it significantly accelerated innovation. Agile incumbents and startups that embraced an open mindset were able to capture outsized value. Similarly, in Open Banking, incumbents that survive and thrive in this paradigm will need to become more innovative, data-driven, and cost-efficient. A modern and simplified tech stack will become a prerequisite to competing in an open banking paradigm. While Open Banking is primarily centred around West Europe and Australia at the moment, the repercussions will be quickly felt around the world.”
Prediction 9: More people will trust in Bitcoin
Bitcoin went legit in 2020, and more conservative investors like JP Morgan who were sceptical of the new digital currency, have shown they see its potential. The main factor behind this transformation: trust.
“Trust” is the only proxy for intrinsic value (or lack thereof) in a money system. Trust in state-dependent central banks has been corroding over time, culminating on the back of Covid; over-leverage has played a principal role in that corrosion. What we are witnessing is an exodus, from fiat state-backed money to state-agnostic assets – be it gold or BTC as a result of trust corrosion between people and their state. BTC’s recent parabolic ride is testimony to trust transition and is one that is set to continue. Said Eleesa Dadiani, Founder and CEO of the Dadiani Syndicate, a firm that brokers the sale of cryptocurrencies and commodities to high net-worth individuals.
Prediction 10: It’s only a matter of time before the Ethereum bubble begins to burst
Ethereum, which peaked in 2020 at $752.61 and has continue to rise in the first weeks of 2021 to $1281.58 is a bubble waiting to burst. When it does, its price will likely drop by a minimum of 50%. That’s according to Jamie Finn, President & Co-Founder of Securitize. “I fully expect we will see $400 ETH again in 2021 as the bubble subsides and people realize that ETH is not BTC and we are not dealing with constrained supply. It’s crucial to remember that we are dealing with two different users for ETH. The first and primary use is speculation, and I think investors will realize that ETH and BTC are two totally different types of currencies with different use cases, and therefore they should decouple so we will see BTC rise whilst ETH withers in comparison. The second for developers is that something has to change for ETH to be a true platform long term, either Gas Fees really decouple from the ETH price, or there is more scale introduced to the network by increased capacity, which should drive down prices. Either way, we should see a drop in the price because it will evolve or be abandoned.”
Surprise! The future awaits
Science Fiction author Karl Shroeder said, “Foresight is not about predicting the future, it’s about minimizing surprise.” In this instance, as we look at what the future holds for Fintech, this quote is highly relevant. Speaking with a selection of the industry’s leaders offers insight into what they’re preparing for based on their informed knowledge of this continually evolving category. At the end of June, I plan to revisit these themes to understand which came true, which didn’t and why.
As a journalist, my editor has taught me that it’s never about my opinion (despite how much I love to share my opinion) but rather to focus on the facts. Since we’re dealing with predictions, I’ll take this as an opportunity to break this rule. Based on my view of the industry, I agree with the entire list. In June, we’ll see if these myself and these experts are correct. But for now, Happy New Year from everyone at The Fintech Times.