The power of collaboration in fintech

According to a global fintech survey from London Stock Exchange and TheCityUK, UK-based fintech companies expect 88% growth over the next three years. Achievement of this forecast however will not come without challenge as 43% of UK companies surveyed cite competition as the largest barrier to expansion. Founder of currency comparison aggregator, Find.Exchange, Ricky Lee explores how planting the seeds of collaboration could harvest a lucrative future landscape for fintech startups and traditional financial institutions alike.

Valued at £1.1bn and £23bn respectively, the Personal and SME Business transfer revenue markets make for ripe pickings. With this in mind, the growth in the number of companies offering money transfer services comes as no surprise: in the last 5 years alone, there has been an increase from 35 to 112 in the online space.

This rise has yielded some notable work by disruptors who have sought to improve costs, transparency and aesthetics, but there hasn’t yet been any revolutionary change in terms of the actual underlying technology. Waves have been made, but it wasn’t the tech advancement that made this possible, it’s been the drive to be more transparent and cut out excessive fees.
The money transfer marketplace is therefore crying out for any real innovation that can demonstrably simplify the process and elevate the overall user experience – be it shining a light on hidden charges, unravelling the layers of confusion caused by multiple rates, or solving the challenge of hard-to-locate bureaus. New technologies such as blockchain can make the waves of change significantly bigger as you can add a new layer of tech efficiency, security and transparency to an industry, building on the ripples that were started by the original disruptive pioneers.

The global move towards mobile and digital has been an important catalyst in imposing change across financial service companies: people can work from anywhere – home or away – and even functions like payroll have evolved to allow for multi-currency accounts. The mobile and digital movement is far from new, but the dominance of mobile for the banking customer is influencing the course of innovation.

Time-poor, impatient and on-the-go, customers need more than ever to be able to organise their transfers from the palm of their hand. But poor mobile offerings and sluggish transfer systems from the traditional players fall way short of these needs. If transfer companies can’t innovate quickly and their mobile offering is inadequate, customers will simply move on. What developers must keep front-of-mind is that the key to successful innovation is user-centricity. The reinvention of the customer experience is paramount.

The credibility challenge

And this is where the dynamic startups come in to play. Startups have been blooming left, right and centre in the FinTech space and are, excitingly, shaking up the money transfer marketplace. It’s been fantastic to witness so many innovative finance solutions brought to the table for SMEs, expatriates, students, families – every user group really.

While many might promote the idea that startups are taking power away from the big banks, we’re not there yet. Long term, it’s likely they will pick up a more significant share of the market, but this will be progressive rather than explosive as they still have many challenges to overcome.

Starting a business in any industry has its challenges, but the FinTech space is one of the toughest, and that’s largely down to the issue of consumers’ trust – a fundamental necessity in the finance world. It’s not an impossible hurdle to overcome, but it does mean that for users to trust you with matters of finance, you have to be absolutely transparent and direct in your intentions. It’s vital to keep communicating every step of the way, explaining clearly how your solution works and benefits them. And building this level of trust takes time – time that startups simply don’t have.

On the other side of the money transfer fence, large companies possess decades of experience, high street exposure and authority behind their brand. As a result, they appear naturally more trustworthy. And this throws the balance out for startups straight away: it creates an immediate impression that startups are less trustworthy and less reliable, when in fact they can offer fantastic solutions to common problems.

The good news is that the perception of FinTech startups is changing, thanks to the significant growth in startup culture, spurred on by proven companies such as TransferWise and Revolut. Players like these have effectively authenticated startups as just that; the start of something. Moreover, they are becoming increasingly synonymous with potential, ambition and hunger. It’s been a difficult journey, but startups are finally receiving the recognition they deserve, and instead of being seen as ‘get nothing done operations’, they are being taken seriously as real and transformational companies of the future.

Joined-up forces

Startups rarely offer an end-to-end solution, but the speed and agility they have to implement new technologies and user experiences that improve functionality are significant advantages which are becoming more attractive to established companies. In this respect, the positive opportunities that collaboration can bring to the table far outweighs any downsides felt by the threat of competition.

A myriad of new, next generation technologies are creating the potential to streamline so many financial operations. For large banks to implement these new technologies, it’s costly and time-consuming at best because of the layers of changes they need to implement to existing legacy systems.

This is where startups can really capitalise: being smaller makes it easier, faster and more cost-effective to adopt and develop these new technologies. By creating platforms which big banks can plug-in to their services, startups can create a solution which is far more logical for the banks to implement, rather than creating their own. Not adopting these new technologies puts the banks at risk of falling behind the competition.

And so, when you have an industry that’s expanding at an exponential rate, innovations rolling out at lightning speed, and consumer behaviour continually on the move, the joining of forces could be the remedy needed by one and all.

Engendering a commanding transformation within the FinTech ecosystem, successful and targeted collaborations could bring with them a new breed of experience in the money transfer landscape: products and services will be improved dramatically and delivered seamlessly, resulting in a win-win-win scenario for the consumer, the startup and the traditional financial institution.

6 top tips on how traditional institutions can engage effectively with startups:

1. Approach startups directly and engage with their team and founders. They don’t just bring creativity to the table, but they have an extraordinary capacity to design, develop and implement with knowledge and experience at tremendous speed. The energy and new wave of thinking is infectious.
2. Organise hackathons – they are an effective way of bringing creative problem-solving minds together in one sociable space. It’s not always about finding an end result to a problem, it’s about the journey – exploring new ways of thinking, preparing participants for future problem-solving journeys; strengthening your community; and creating a space where people can learn
3. Hold competitions – launching challenges for startups is a great way to get up close to entrepreneurs and their teams, and are highly effective in filtering out the very best tech talent in the space.
4. Host conferences, events and meet-ups to open up your networking channels and meet top industry professionals. As well as sharing success and failure journeys, its also an effective platform to help recruit the best talent that can solve your needs.
5. Run an Accelerator scheme. This is a cost for the larger company, but by working with the right startups and teams over a defined period of time, it can help deepen your understanding and knowledge of how startups are developing and products and services
6. Acquisitions are a next step up from the Accelerator schemes. During the Accelerator programme, the larger company can measure the increase of user traction or improvement of the technology – and if the results are right, this can lead to the acquisition of the startup. Importantly, an acquisition isn’t just about the product, you’re also acquiring the skills and experience the team brings to the company.

Ricky Lee is CEO and founder of Find.Exchange – the Skyscanner of the money transfer world. During his 18+ year career, he has garnered a wealth of experience across multiple sectors as a product designer in cross-payments, gateways, FX and digital currencies. An innovative leader in his field, Ricky has achieved a number of professional milestones, from designing and architecting apps for major banks in the UK from concept to completion, to being an instrumental player within the founding team at Revolut. Ricky and the team have been touring the world these last few months, attending blockchain events and networking as they are looking to use blockchain technology to take the 3-year old startup to the next level and make international money transfers faster, cheaper and more secure.

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