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Opinion

Fintech: Is banking for wimps?

The big banks underestimate ‘big tech’ at their peril.

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All those fintech partnerships are in vain, because in the end banks will lose to the tech giants, not the startups. So suggests a report from the World Economic Forum in August. 

According to the authors, while competition from fintech and insurtech has made financial institutions nervous, it has been a red herring. Not only are the small techs not a serious threat – they know their lifespans to be short and are keen to partner up or be bought out – but they have distracted us all from what is really happening. 

Financial institutions are becoming ever more dependent on firms like Amazon and Google for the things that count: cloud computing, customer experience and big data analytics. These are more important to any bank’s bottom line than, say, alternative credit scoring from a fintech.

Expertise

‘Big tech’ has been underestimated. Given their expertise, there is no reason the big technology firms couldn’t just walk into the financial and insurance sectors themselves if regulation allowed it – after all, finance firms have opened their doors and provided them with the information that would enable them to run the business. 

In a battle of big tech versus big banks, could big tech really win? 

Ten years ago, the answer would have been ‘no’. Most of them said they wanted little to do with finance. But then 10 years ago, Silicon Valley had the aura of being full of bright, young individuals who wanted to improve the standard of living of the world. They considered themselves apart from, if not a cut above, the Wall Street that had just caused a crisis. But as the banking industry should have figured out, time but chiefly money, changes things. There are now 52 tech billionaires in California and 53 finance billionaires in New York. 

Hustle

Big tech and Wall Street look pretty evenly matched in a fight. A recent oped in the NY Times on Silicon Valley’s work ethic makes one shudder. While banks introduce ‘protected weekends’ and limit hours for junior bankers, tech firms are doing the opposite. They have their own version of ‘lunch is for wimps’, and it is called the “hustle”; where 18-hour days are worn like badges and Lyft drivers who ferry passengers while in labour are heroes (or rather heroines). 

“Outgrind, outhustle, outwork everyone,” is one of many similar slogans on the T-shirts of young tech billionaire-wannabes. If it were written on a tie, you could mistake yourself for being on Wall Street in the 1980s. 

Faced with a younger, hungrier version of themselves, banks indeed have a reason to be nervous. 

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