Editor’s note: Orange Silicon Valley will host its Digital Transformation Through FinTech Conference to discuss new tech and startups in the space on Feb. 16. Find out more here.
Financial crises of the past decade challenged institutions across the world to reassert themselves and their value propositions. As that shift took place, a new wave of fintech players began to reshape financial services in both small and large ways that have forced banks to further rethink how they interact with the people and businesses that they serve.
Online banking, mobile banking, and P2P payments have all hit financial services in waves, redefining how interactions and transactions take place. Orange, meanwhile, will play a significant role in that changing landscape as it launches new mobile banking experiences under Orange Bank this year in France.
The mobile app space for banking has never been more exciting. In 2017, institutions face disruption stemming from blockchain technology, millennials’ shifting habits, and banking API’s, all of which demand strategies that respond to — if not integrate — tech from startups that will become bigger players in the years ahead.
The blockchain has so far had its most visible impact through the popularization of digital currencies such as Bitcoin. Blockchain applications, however, extend far beyond payments into a range of operations where financial institutions will find value. 2016 was the year of the blockchain proof of concept at financial institutions, and 2017 will likely be the year that we see PoCs and pilots advance into production for enterprise companies.
In addition to facilitating the exchange of cryptocurrency and allowing users to move assets across international borders, blockchain projects have included means for verifying personal identities, as well as facilitating smart contracts, which allow for the transferal of funds when certain conditions are met.
Established names have already begun to stake out territory, with IBM leveraging its position in the Linux Foundation’s Hyperledger to promote the use of Hyperledger Fabric on the IBM Bluemix cloud platform. Microsoft, meanwhile, continues to build out a blockchain platform as a service offering through Azure.
Against the backdrop of similar disruptions in other industries, much of what the financial services industry needs to solve involves speed and automation. Millennials have become dissatisfied with standards that banks have in the past taken for granted. Multi-day waits for opening accounts or receiving customer service responses seem unacceptable to young customers, and automated forms of financial advice have become time-saving options for investment planning.
Messaging apps will be a part of this millennial-friendly future. 53% of millennials prefer messaging to phone calls or emails, and 67% of young consumers expect to have messaging available when dealing with businesses, according to a Nielsen survey commissioned by Facebook.
More broadly, however, financial institutions will face the same pressure as businesses in other sectors to respond to their customers in real time and on mobile screens. As companies search for ways to bridge that mobile divide, API’s are likely to play a key role.
In Europe, many of these API opportunities will be forced open as the Revised Payment Service Directive — popularly known as PSD2 — comes into effect in 2018. There, new rules will require banks to use open API’s for their customers’ financial services, allowing third-party apps to step in and compete with banks as portals for money management, even when the banks themselves remain responsible for assets.
Startups such as Token, a payment infrastructure company that participated in Orange Silicon Valley’s Orange Fab accelerator program in 2016, see potential as financial institutions comply with PSD2. Token, for instance, markets itself directly to banks by making the case that they can generate revenue and re-establish dominance in the digital transaction era by embracing the opportunity in order to profit from their open API’s.
In the U.S., lawmakers and regulators have not yet compelled banks to take such steps, but there has been momentum at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and within the financial information access granted to consumers by the Dodd-Frank Act, which could make widespread use of open API’s a reality. That momentum, however, could stall in 2017, depending on the new leadership that arrives with the Trump administration. The positions that the CFPB takes as the new administration asserts itself could have far-reaching implications for the relationships between fintech startups and U.S banks, which may see their fates as collaborators or competitors come into focus.
Many U.S. banks have not yet offered comprehensive public API’s — and indeed some banks, including Bank of America, Wells Fargo and JPMorgan Chase have at times actively — if only temporarily — blocked third-party apps such as Mint from accessing their data. Still, fintech startups, including Yodlee, which was acquired for $590 million by Envestnet in 2015, have found traction developing applications that provide API access to banks — even in cases where third-party API use has not been approved.
When banks do not offer public API access and instead wall off data from third-party apps, they leave a gap wide open for others to improve services and meet customers’ needs in new and innovative ways. Financial institutions can choose to become confident, active players within those gaps by expanding their in-house capabilities, or they can find partners that work with them to create user-friendly products that add value to their services. Regardless of whether established institutions choose to build out their services or continue playing defense by walling off data, new disruptors will emerge. Looking ahead, the choices banks make in 2017 will set the tone for how competition and collaboration within the industry evolve.
And regardless of which strategies banks choose, 2017 promises to be a year that will be remembered for the emerging fintech that is either shunned or embraced.
At Orange Silicon Valley, we are always watching to see where the next fintech opportunities will be found. On Feb. 16, we will host our Digital Transformation Through FinTech Conference to bring the banking industry, startups, and venture capital world together for a day-long series of discussion about where fintech is headed. We hope you will join us.