Ammar Akhtar, co-founder and CEO at Yobota, explores the steps necessary to the creation of successful fintech.
The first national lockdown in March highlighted the importance of the quality and functionality of digital banking solutions. Indeed, most of us quickly became accustomed to conducting our financial affairs entirely online.
Financial services providers have needed to adapt to this shift, if they were not already prepared, and consumers will continue to demand more. For instance, Yobota recently surveyed over 2,000 UK adults to explore how satisfied customers are with their recent banking experiences. The majority (58%) of banking customers said they want more power to renegotiate or change their accounts or products, with a third (33%) expressing frustrations at having to choose from generic, off-the-shelf financial products.
Consumers are increasingly demanding more responsive and personalised banking services, with the research highlighting that people are increasingly unlikely to tolerate being locked into unsuitable financial products. This is true across all sectors of the financial services landscape; from payment technologies (where cashless options have become a necessity as opposed to a trendy luxury) to insurance, the shift to “quality digital” poses challenges throughout the industry.
Providers and technology vendors must therefore respond accordingly and develop solutions that can meet such demands. Many financial institutions will be enlisting the help of a fintech partner that can help them build and deploy new technologies. Others may try to recruit the talent required to do so in-house.
The question, then, is this: how is financial technology actually created, and how complicated is the task of building a solution that is fit for purpose in today’s market?
Compliance and regulation
The finance sector is heavily regulated. As such, compliance and regulatory demands pose a central challenge to fintech development in any region. It is at the heart of winning public trust and the confidence of clients and partners.
Controls required to demonstrate compliance can amount to a significant volume of work, not just because the rules can change (even temporarily, as we have seen in some cases this year), but because often there is room for interpretation in principle-based regulatory approaches. It is therefore important for fintech creators to have compliance experts that can handle the regulatory demands. This is especially important as the business (or fintech product) scales, crosses borders, and onboards more users.
The finance sector is heavily regulated. As such, compliance and regulatory demands pose a central challenge to fintech development in any region.
Businesses must also be forthcoming and transparent about their approach towards protecting the customer, and by extension the reputation of their business partner. Europe’s fintech industry cannot afford another Wirecard scandal.
Compliance features do not have to impede innovation, though. Indeed, they may actually foster it. To ensure fintech businesses have the right processes in place to comply with legislation, there is huge scope to create and extend partnerships with the likes of cybersecurity experts and eCommerce businesses.
The size and growth of the regulation technology (regtech) sector is evidence of the opportunities for innovations that are actually born out of this challenge. The global regtech market is expected to grow from $6.3 billion in 2020 to $16.0 billion by 2025. Another great example would be the more supportive stance regulators have taken to cloud infrastructure, which has opened up a range of new options across the sector.
Addressing technical challenges
It is the technical aspect of developing fintech products where most attention will be focused, however. There are a number of considerations businesses ought to keep in mind as they seek to utilise technology in the most effective way possible.
Understanding the breadth of the problem
The fintech sector is incredibly broad. Payment infrastructure, insurance, and investment management are among the many categories of financial services that fall under the umbrella.
A fintech company must be able to differentiate its product or services in order to create a valuable and defensible competitive advantage. So, businesses must pinpoint exactly which challenges they are going to solve first. Do they need to improve or replace something that already exists? Or do they want to bring something entirely new to the market?
The end product must solve a very specific problem; and do it well. A sharp assessment of the target market also includes considering the functionality that the technology must have; the level of customisation that will be required from a branding and business perspective; and what the acceptable price bracket is for the end product.
Knowing your client
In the same vein, as a vendor it is important to be specific and strategic when it comes to pursuing the right clients. A fintech might consider itself to be well-positioned to cater to a vast selection of different businesses; however, it’s important to have a very clear target client in mind. This will ensure product and engineering teams have a clear focus for any end goal.
The value of a good cultural fit should also not be underestimated. The business-to-business relationship between a fintech and its client (a bank, for example), particularly at senior levels, is just as important as finding the right niche. There must be a mutual understanding of what the overall vision is and how it will be achieved, including the practical implementation, timeline and costs.
Balancing “best tech” with (perceived) “best practice”
Leveraging the newest technology is not always the best approach to developing a future-proof proposition. This has been learned the hard way by many businesses keen to jump on the latest trends.
Shiny new technology like particular architectures or programming languages can have an obvious appeal to businesses looking to create the “next big thing”. But in reality, the element of risk involved in jumping on relatively nascent innovations could set back progress significantly.
The best technology systems are those that have been created with longevity in mind, and which can grow sustainably to adapt to new circumstances. These systems need to run for many years to come, and eventually without their original engineers to support them, so they need to be created in modern ways, but using proven foundational principles that can stand the test of time.
Curating a positive user experience
To revert back to my original point, fintech businesses cannot forget about the needs of the end customer. There is no better proof point for a product than a happy user base, and ultimately the “voice of the customer” should drive development roadmaps.
The best technology systems are those that have been created with longevity in mind, and which can grow sustainably to adapt to new circumstances.
Customer experience is one of the most important success factors to any technology business. Fintechs must consider how they can deftly leverage new and advancing technology to make the customer experience even better, while also improving their underlying product, which users may not necessarily see, but will almost certainly feel.
Another important consideration is ease of integration with other providers. For example, identity verification, alternative credit scoring, AI assisted chatbots and recommendation algorithms, next generation core banking, transaction classification, and simplification of mortgage chains – these are all services which could be brought together in some product to improve the experience of buying a mortgage, or moving home.
Progressive fintech promotes partnerships and interoperability to reduce the roadblocks that customers encounter.
The human side of fintech
Powerful digital solutions cannot be created without the right people in place. There is fierce competition for talent in the fintech space, especially in key European centres like London and Berlin. Those who can build and nurture the right team will be in a strong position to solve today’s biggest challenges.
In all of these considerations, patience is key. It takes time to identify new growth opportunities; to build the right team that can see the vision through; and to adapt to the ever-changing financial landscape. Creating fintech is not easy, but it is certainly rewarding to see the immense progress being made and the inefficiencies that are being tackled.