General thoughts

Understanding The Fintech Paradox

Using discreet tactics that presumably wouldn’t be out-of-place in a Bond film, the editors of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) have a perpetual “watch-list” of words that are continually assessed for potential inclusion in the hallowed pages of the OED. Once a word is eventually included, it becomes part of that generation’s authentic lexicon - an elite member of the modern taxonomy.

What seems like eons ago in 2015, the general excitement and confusion about the term “Fintech”, conjured articles like this despite the term not having passed the OED scrutiny. In those days, the primary opinion was that financial plus technology equalled cost saving. This opinion held (and holds) merit, yet the surface was merely scratched in terms of commercial potential and fundamental disruption.

Spin forward to 2020 and the business world is very familiar with the potential of Fintech and, unsurprisingly, it proudly resides as a term in the OED. It was only a matter of time.

The extraordinary impact on financial services is now chronicled substantially. This industry vertical was always viewed as being majorly vulnerable to disruption by software, because financial services, similar to publishing, are made of information rather than physical products. Paradoxically, many revenue streams relied on the processes to be as inefficient as they were (and still sometimes are), so the promise of efficiency in cost and process hasn’t necessarily been met with enthusiasm.

The relatively cold reception of Fintech by financial services organisations makes sense though. After all, the risks of data breach and information malpractice are so high, anything new and unproven is bound to be met with skepticism. When I started assisting the Australian firm Moneycatcha, who have a range of award-winning blockchain solutions, I witnessed this challenge first hand. Explaining to banks that there were even better ways of doing business, was hard but rewarding work. We spent thousands of hours interacting with senior executives who could see the upside potential, but found it hard politically, economically, ideologically and logistically to adopt them. Their initial resistance was understandable and encouraged us to adapt the phrasing and positioning of the solutions, to better address their underlying concerns and issues. One major invention actually came from us conversing with a set of banks about risk, and pointing out that risk could be drastically reduced with a tweak of our technology. That tweak became a new product and that product gained faster traction than the original offering.

The capability of adjusting what is offered, is a level of flexibility I detail in my book Powered By Change, in the final section on ‘Process’. I believe that as the rate of change increases, we must be increasingly more flexible, adaptive and porous in our structures to let innovation flow.

The key takeaways are these:

  1. The level of adoption for a new concept is directly proportional to the level of challenges within one or more industry verticals.
  2. The capability to inform and educate an industry involves listening to concerns and addressing them in a proactive and respectful way.
  3. The Oxford English Dictionary is almost always the last place to recognise something has already become part of everyday language ;)