Why people are at the heart of FinTech
One might be forgiven for thinking that FinTech was only about Finance and Technology. Jacking the words together in that fashion gives a big clue about what people in the sector are focusing on!
Yet, by working with FinTech Accelerators we are learning more and more that human factors are right at the heart of the burgeoning FinTech sector. This might be obvious to some, but it is worth while exploring why the sector is so sensitive to the role human factors can play.
We are moving from an older virtually integrated industry model, where banks have designed technology solutions around their own customer needs; towards a more lateral industry model where money flows more directly on a peer to peer basis and more non-banks enter financial services space. This is disruptive and perhaps even chaotic. In this context, FinTech firms will have to navigate major challenges which in many cases are neither about the finance nor about the technology.
Many are predicting that the FinTech revolution will be a shock for the banks. For instance, Pascal Bouvier of Route Sixty Six Ventures says: “Software is eating the financial services industry” (1). Disruption is one of the most frequently used words in any commentary about FinTech.
However, newer established technology firms entering this space will also face significant challenges. Any business must create a social utility and find its underlying purpose for existing. To do this they must understand how unknown user needs are evolving. This requires fine attunement to social and consumer needs. FinTech entrepreneurs must also learn to collaborate across shifting boundaries and put deals together, as no one one can hope to cover the FinTech landscape by themselves. Above all they must build trust amongst the different various stakeholders and communities. People must trust the FinTech solution on offer, be it a piece of software, card system or lending platform.
At Pivomo, we see these human challenges seem to boil down to three key ingredients for FinTech to work:
As a study by KPMG makes clear (1), the FinTech landscape is complex, and stretches from financing, payments and infrastructure, operations and risk management, data management all the way through to customer management. Working out the right niche will require start ups to be intuitive and agile. Combining two the industries of finance and technology requires start ups to integrate and align two very distinct industries, with different language, mindsets and processes.
Both finance and technology require complex maps to chart the territory and putting the two together requires quite intricate engineering and deep understanding between different players. For years, banks have been struggling to get bankers and IT people to talk to each other. According to Goldman Sachs, they employ twice as many software engineers as Facebook (1). Banks have been evolving financial technologies for decades, but have always struggled to deliver this seamlessly, even within their own banking products. FinTech start ups need to create this alignment between finance and tech professionals in just months, weeks or even days.
By efficacy, we must remember, that this can only be defined by the end user and the key stake-holders in the value chain. If software is “eating financial services”, it is by no means clear what consumers will buy off the menu. Banks have had decades to fine tune their services around specific customer groups, but also to develop quasi-monopolies over certain customer categories. In disrupting this model, FinTech represents a leap into the unknown future which has to take account of intangible felt concerns, such as security, privacy, risk and convenience. There is no point developing the most technologically advanced money-moving software if this is simply not going to meet a felt need of the end consumer, or fit within an evolving industry landscape.
FinTech entrepreneurs therefore need to be unusually able to both focus down on the specific technologies they are developing while being able to scan the landscape and understand people and how they live their lives. This agility is not easy to maintain in the context of a time-intensive tech start up. This level of agility will stretch human cognition to its limits.
As internet users, we are all learning to trust technology and this is perhaps the biggest upside for the emerging FinTech industry. We like the lifestyle convenience and we like having our money accessible and under our control. Yet, while banking has had a history of tarnished reputations, internet companies such as Uber, Instagram and more recently Spotify have breached trust with various user groups over privacy and security issues. Who owns your data? How secure is it? What is it being used for? These are emerging concerns that are more psychological and emotive, as much as they are technical in nature. Therefore, a major challenge within the FinTech industry is to be clear about the philosophy and ethics that are needed to build sustainable and trusted company, and to not simply rely on the “Wow!” technology factor and a spike in valuations.
One of the biggest challenges FinTech entrepreneurs face is the very expectations placed upon them. High valuations are nice problem to have, as it oils the wheels of the new venture. But these valuations also mean that FinTech must work to intense timelines and high delivery expectations. These are exactly the conditions that often make it difficult to give to much airtime to the rather intangible and easily solvable human-centred questions underlying the ventures future.
At Pivomo, we believe that these human considerations are not just “nice” add-ons. They are existential to a new venture. Dialogue around these issues needs to be as much an intrinsic part of the FinTech start up activity as business planning or user testing. These human questions need to be designed in to the FinTech solution, and are not simply part of the “blah” included in the pitch deck. FinTech start ups will need to specifically address how understanding, efficacy and trust have been hard wired into their solution.
The Dynamiqe psychometric instrument enables co-founders and start up team members to analyze their respective mindsets, values and work styles and provides a platform for having a great dialogue about these human-centred questions. By providing an analytical framework and a common language, FinTech firms can reach alignment on these issues far more readily than they would otherwise.
To find out more about the Dynamiqe psychometric instrument, click here:
Or, please contact us to find out more about the work we are doing in the FinTech sector:
(1) Making Hong Kong a FinTech Centre (KPMG, 2015)