FinovateSpring 2022: Top Takeaways from Fintech’s Favorite Spring Fling

For the first time since 2019, FinovateSpring was held before a live audience of more than 1,000 fintech professionals, analysts, entrepreneurs, and observers. The energy at the San Francisco Hilton in Union Square was palpable. Attendees arrived early and stayed late – even on a sunny Friday afternoon with the delights of the City by the Bay beckoning.

With the event concluded, what did we see, what did we learn, and what do we know now about the state of fintech that we did not know a week ago? Here are a few thoughts on where we are as an industry and where we might be going.

Embeddable You (Me and Everything Else)

If there was one theme that dominated an event as diverse in ideas as FinovateSpring it was: “embeddedness”. Companies are looking to leverage embedded finance to make banking and investing more streamlined and accessible. Futurists are predicting the rise of smart technologies – including intelligent toilets (!) – that would use embedded technology to help users better manage their physical wellness. The ability to bring both intelligence and connectedness to an ever-growing range of products and services is a trend that looks likely to dominate both technology in general and fintech in specific for years to come.

As more than one main stage presenter noted, the embedded finance revolution brings new heat to a handful of fintech trends that arguably were in danger of cooling down. On the demo side, FinovateSpring featured companies committed to helping banks and businesses alike maximize the embedded opportunity with solutions that will enable them to pursue new customers, launch new lines of business, and grow revenues in new ways.

Among our presentations were deep dives into who was likely to benefit the most from embracing embedded finance (Daniel Haisley of Apiture’s Embedded Banking – Debunking the Myths), as well as strategies that banks can follow in order to make money from the embedded finance phenomenon rather than be disrupted by it (Sam Kilmer of Cornerstone Advisors’ How Embedded Finance Can Generate Over $100 Billion in Revenue for Banks).

What We Know from Best of Show

Our FinovateSpring attendees awarded Best of Show trophies to six companies at this year’s event. Is there anything in their selections that we can use to learn more about what fintech enthusiasts are enthusiastic about when it comes to the latest in fintech innovation?

Every one of the six companies that won Best of Show honors last week was innovating in a different aspect of fintech. Embedded finance and data management (Array and FinGoal). Financial wellness and alternative financing (Spave and QuickFi). Innovations in employee training, education, and retention (Horizn and Keep Financial Technology). This year’s FinovateSpring Best of Show winners paint a picture of fintech innovation that is, in some ways, a little different from and more diverse than what we tend to see everyday in the fintech headlines.

Who’s right: the fintech “buzz” or the Finovate Best of Show winners? On one hand, continued carnage in the crypto space may help moderate the voices of digital asset partisans and steer their efforts toward more in-demand solutions. After all, as one clever fintech observer noted, no one believes that the president of El Salvador had planned to risk his country’s economy on a cryptocurrency that has behaved like an overvalued tech stock. On the other hand, the top picks from our attendees demonstrate a combination of perennial challenges – safe, affordable financing, data access and cleanliness, improving workplace conditions via training and incentives – as well as novel, innovative responses that have always been the hallmark of fintech in general and of Finovate in specific.

Crypto and the Metaverse: The Dogs That Didn’t Bark

Fintech analyst Glenn Sarvady of 154 Advisors made an insightful observation last week when he noted an absence of demoes looking to leverage the current buzz surrounding the metaverse. There was a keynote address from an actual Metaversean – namely, Deepanjan De, Head of Industry, Financial Services, with Meta (formerly Facebook). De discussed how financial services companies can leverage the “creator renaissance” to future-ready their businesses on the final day of FinovateSpring. But that presentation aside, there was precious little to be said about the metaverse even, as Sarvady pointed out, from companies that looked pretty obviously like they were based on the metaverse.

The relative absence of cryptocurrency-related conversations and live demonstrations was also noteworthy. Certainly recent events in the cryptocurrency world have dampened much of the enthusiasm for digital assets that has characterized the fintech conversation for the past few years. But with the exception of Cion Digital, Coinme, and Polymesh, the demoing companies of FinovateSpring 2022 were more focused on solutions to problems that, in some respects, have been long-standing ones. These include access to credit, access to data, access to wellness and financial self-improvement. If cryptocurrencies – and the metaverse for that matter- are able to respond to these core financial concerns, we yet may see a lasting, more enduring place for these technologies on the agendas of fintechs and financial services companies.

The Palmer Report: “Worry Cripples Activity”

Finovate VP (and host of the Finovate Podcast) Greg Palmer set the tone on the very first day of FinovateSpring with an inspiring address on worrying. Mindful of the difficult times we have been going through in recent years – from political polarization and the pandemic to the war in Ukraine and economic uncertainty around the globe – Palmer also urged us to be mindful of the dangers of living life in what amounts to a defensive crouch.

“The innovators and thought leaders you’re about to hear from aren’t worrying,” Palmer announced from the stage on the morning of Day One of FinovateSpring. “Well, they’re not just worrying. They’re building. They’re looking forward. They’re focused on what’s possible now that wasn’t possible before. And we all need to join them.”

Photo by Brett Sayles