Treasury Today Country Profiles in association with Citi

Fintech: accessing the landscape

Fintech financial technology and world economy astract visual

In recent years, fintech has become the industry’s latest buzzword, used to describe seemingly every technological advancement made in finance: today everybody wants to be a fintech.

For treasurers, the term fintech creates great excitement, but also great frustration. On one hand, they are very interested in the ways that technology can help them perform better and achieve their objectives. But, on the other hand, most of these concepts are in the nascent stage of development, meaning treasurers are still having to wrangle with manual and inefficient processes that remain unsolved.

But are we reaching a stage where fintech will truly begin to make an impact? Fintech accelerator, Startupbootcamp Fintech, certainly think so, citing in its latest reports with PwC that “after several years of excitement about the sector's potential to change the face of financial services, some of that change is starting to be realised”.

Disruptors to enablers

According to the report, a lot of this progress is being made because of the shift in thinking from the industry. Today, rather than seeing fintech as a threat, banks are seeing them as enablers and focusing on collaboration rather than fighting back. Many fintechs themselves have also changed their rhetoric, focusing on positioning themselves as enablers who are there to help the banks, rather than disruptors looking to eat into their profits.

This is evidenced by the swathes of recent public announcements of partnerships between banks and fintechs. HSBC, for instance, recently announced its partnership with Tradeshift, while Deutsche Bank has bought a stake in receivables auction platform TrustBills. Most banks also either operate their own fintech programme or are part of an external programme.

According to the Startupbootcamp report, a lot of this development is driven by a “growing understanding of each other’s [banks and fintech] cultures and working practices which has seen fintech companies and incumbents work together much more frequently”. Indeed, start-ups offering business-to-business propositions now account for over 50% of fintechs.

Areas of focus

Aside from the rise in B2B fintech businesses, there has also been a shift in the areas that these companies are looking at, with AI and machine learning becoming in vogue.

Again, this is because there seems to have been a shift in mindset. Until recently, fintechs in this space looked at developing technology and then found use cases. But now, as the report cites “fintech companies in this space are identifying customer problems to be solved and then considering how the technology might help”.

Typically, this is focused on alleviating the burden of manual, non-value adding work by automating this through machine learning. Some banks that Treasury Today has spoken to, for instance, are already using this to automate a lot of back office functions.

Blockchain

Interestingly, despite blockchain being the most discussed fintech trend, Startupbootcamp don’t see this gaining the same traction as things like AI and machine learning. Indeed, only 6% of applicants to its accelerator programmes were companies using blockchain technologies and most of these were focused on digital currencies.

The report suggests that fintech innovation around blockchain may have slowed down compared to the work being done by the banks because of the need for collaboration between multiple firms when dealing with blockchain. Despite this, the work being done by incumbent financial firms around blockchain means that most fintech start-ups have a blockchain strategy in place. As the report cites, this means that “we will start to see fewer blockchain start-ups and more start-ups using blockchain,” notes the report.

More to come

What is clear is that this focus on fintech will not abate any time soon and that it may not be long until treasurers are able to reap the rewards of all this work being done. The key is understanding and being prepared to embrace the change by talking to banks, fintech accelerators, consultancies and start-ups and making sure they are aware of your needs and the solutions that might help.

Hear from some of the world’s leading fintechs

Each month Treasury Today and Treasury Today Asia profile some of the world’s most innovative fintechs and their founders. Tallysticks and Overbond have already been featured and in the May/June edition we will see how KYC-Chain plans to revolutionise the KYC space.

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