We all know how quickly well-known brands can become redundant in their sector, be it Nokia and Blackberry in the mobile phones sector, or Kodak in the camera sector. Technology played a crucial role in this disruption. James Séne, Chairman, 11Onze, first community fintech in Europe, is confident that technology will also shake up the foundations of our current banking system. In the opinion piece below, he lays out his argument as to why he believes community fintechs will be the future of banking.
While the industry debates the rivalry between neobanks and traditional banks, would fintech communities steal a march on them?
Increasingly, we are seeing fintech startups such as Chime, Greenpenny, Daylight, Nerve in the US and 11Onze in Europe emerging to carve a place for themselves in the future of banking space. They are not only taking on traditional banks, but also bringing in a sense of “community” in the fintech space.
These fintech start-ups offer services for communities that hold common values. For e.g. Daylight provides LGBTQ consumers with debit cards in their preferred names, even if they don’t match their legal identification. First Boulevard’s mission is to close the racial wealth gap and Greenpenny is for those who want to use their wallet to fight climate change.
So, what makes them tick?
Belonging to a digital community of like-minded people and values.
The very fact that these fintech companies offer a safe space for people with a common agenda, common need, and easy access makes them attractive to customers. In today’s world, where more and more are suspicious of big banks and policymakers, these fintechs offer a sense of control over how they spend their money and with whom.
What community fintech companies offer is a specialised service to niche customers. In order to attract and retain loyal customers, these specialist fintechs offer targeted offers such as First Boulevard offers Cash Back for Buying Black™ with up to 5% cashback on debit card purchases at participating Black businesses, Greenpenny offers cashback on purchases from firms with environmentally friendly policies and debit cards made from renewable materials or upcycled plastics, and 11Onze offers financial literacy to its “members” to support community projects and wealth creation.
Strength in numbers
The second important and worthy aspect of fintech communities is their networks and partnerships. A strong sense of community promotes loyalty and reduces attrition. It also helps offer better value for services as the community swells in numbers.
The third point is, fintechs are agile, finding it easier to develop partnerships to deliver their service, unlike traditional banks. They are ready to move from an idea to a project launch within months. They are able to link up with experts and operational partners soon, be it for operational technology partnerships, banking as a service or for fire-proof cyber security. Outsourcing to a specialised technology service provider means not having to retrain staff or recruit experts to run it and increased budget control and transparency.
However, there are some challenges too, such as lack of transparency, rising customer expectations and customer retention. Not to mention, losing touch with customer experience.
Innovation is a double-edged sword. It is innovation that has made the creation of digital communities possible, but it is innovation that also leads to losing a community or human touch. So, community fintech companies have to maintain a balance between innovation, machine learning and ensuring their members and customers do not miss out on the human touch. Several fintech which have grown rapidly are at risk of losing the essential “human” touch.
Secondly, with cybercrime and data breaches peaking around the world, it is feared that advanced technologies and business models can increase cyber risk if controls do not keep pace with change.
Finally, managing regulatory risk and compliance is challenging when in a fluid ecosystem. Fintech companies have to be careful about money laundering pitfalls and must build robust security systems. Making the offering transparent, compliant and secure costs money.
Customers sometimes question why they can’t have a community fintech service for free. The reason is simple- to build and run a robust, secure system that doesn’t abuse their data and protects them from fraud, is expensive. Many banks offer free services with hidden costs and commitments that customers do not notice such as insurance costs, demands that they pay their pension check into the account every month etc.
This is why in today’s world, gaining financial literacy is important. People have to learn to make informed decisions. If you don’t have the knowledge, you can’t know whether 2.95 euros is expensive, cheap or has to be free.
With growing numbers of customers who have to decide where to get their loan from and where to deposit for the best returns, we need access to safe, credible sources of information, something that forward-thinking community fintechs offer.
Communities are an important aspect of human lives, digital communities that offer and support wealth creation will become an inevitable part of our future of banking. In addition, if people are welcomed to become funder shareholders of a community fintech, it will strengthen the spirit and sustainability of the company.