Three Takeaways from FinovateEurope 2023

There is a challenge when it comes to writing about an event like FinovateEurope when you’re busy covering live demos, hosting on-stage fireside chats, and conducting off-stage video interviews. On the one hand, there’s a lot you’re going to hear and see. On the other hand, however, there’s a lot you’re going to miss, as well.

With that in mind, my apologies if I overlooked your favorite demo or keynote presentation in this “day-after” review of what I found most memorable at FinovateEurope. Better still, drop us a line and let us know just what kind of magic moment you had at our annual European fintech conference in London last week. We’d love to hear what you think!

Bringing the “E” the “S” and the “G” to the ESG Party

The maturation of the ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) movement in fintech and financial services was on display as early as rehearsal day (the day before FinovateEurope officially opens when demoing companies practice their presentations on stage). It was impressive to see the number of companies that were offering solutions to make it easier for banks and FIs to leverage technology to better track their – and their customers’ – carbon footprint. Innovators like Connect Earth were among the most prominent. But companies like Storied Data, Topicus/Fyndoo, and OpenFinance also made it a point to show how their technologies gave institutions often granular insights into not just their environmental impact, but also into ways to minimize it.

From the main stage, ESG was also a theme that speakers returned to – often emphasizing the importance of connecting the “S” or “social” component of ESG with the “E” or “environmental” component. Sanghamitra Karra, who runs the Inclusive Ventures Lab at Morgan Stanley, reminded attendees during her Wednesday morning Fireside Chat that those who live in the most economically and socially underserved conditions in society are often those who are the most vulnerable to the challenges of climate change.

And in the wake of the Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) crisis, it is easy to see how “G” or “governance” has become an increasingly important issue for those who work for and rely on fintechs and financial services organizations. While some critics were busy trying to blame SVB’s woes on “wokeness”, or an inappropriately intense focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion, other more astute observers noted that Silicon Valley Bank, for example, did not have a Chief Risk Officer for much of 2022.

Crypto Still Out in the Cold

As the crypto winter slowly metastasizes into what FinovateEurope 2023 keynote speaker Steven Van Belleghem referred to as a “crypto ice age,” it was probably no surprise that the number of demoing companies boasting their cryptocurrency bonafides at FinovateEurope this year was low.

That doesn’t mean that there was zero discussion of cryptocurrencies at FinovateEurope this year. But what it does mean is that there has been a reckoning during which it looks as if digital assets like Bitcoin and ethereum will have to take a backseat while those innovating with the underlying blockchain technology search for better use cases.

Fortunately, there is a precedent for the path cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology may be forced to pursue over the next 5-10 years. In the same way that it took almost a decade for the promises of the era to be realized, so too may a few dark years for crypto be just what the industry needs in order to figure out how its technology can be best used in order to solve real world challenges. Beware of solutions in search of a problem, Van Belleghem warned from the FinovateEurope stage last week. And while he was talking about enabling technologies writ large – from embedded finance to the metaverse – those innovating in the cryptocurrency/blockchain space would do well to heed his advice.

CX as the Killer App

Whether the task was right-sizing the responsibilities that financial institutions have to ESG concerns, or understanding that building new products alone is not enough to help people solve problems, the solution offered was both consistent and clear: focus on the customer.

Want to improve your carbon footprint – or help your customers do so? Make it easier for customers to access the data and insights they need in order to make the changes they are often eager to make? Want to see more innovative technologies in the hands of more consumers? Make interfaces more intuitive, more seamless, and with greater interconnectivity and interoperability. Think more fintechs should be using your tools and platforms? Leverage low- and no-code building blocks to enable innovators with more modest technical resources to be as creative as larger, better resourced firms.

It has been a cliche in fintech and financial services that “every year is the year of the customer.” But at this moment of retrenchment – with fintech funding down, crypto crashing, and new enabling technologies still en route to proving their true utility – keeping the customer’s needs top of mind might be the best strategy for weathering the current storm and emerging unscathed when the clouds finally do part.

Fintech 2023: Don’t Call it a Comeback

From the crypto crash and subsequent crypto ice age to the Silicon Valley Bank crisis, there has been a headline sense that fintech may be entering a slowdown period. Very little of this was in evidence at FinovateEurope this year. Chris Skinner reminded us that great things often emerge from the rubble of dashed dreams. Hundreds of fintech and financial services professionals braved the turbulent winds at Heathrow airport (as well as a tube strike) to mix, mingle, and talk shop as our return to live events continues.

The desire to innovate in our industry remains strong. And with a focus on improving the lives of everyday customers – from individuals and families to businesses small and large – we are optimistic that fintech’s best, most productive days, are still to come.

Photo by Drew Powell