“What is fintech?” David Brear, the founder and CEO of consultancy firm 11FS, asked the 2000-strong crowd of accountants, bookkeepers and ecosystem partners gathered at Xerocon London.
“It’s the intersection between finance and technology, and the future of that relationship. And it’s a line that’s becoming increasingly blurred.”
His observation introduced a panel session featuring a cross-section of fintech industry leaders, and explored the impact of next-generation financial services solutions on small businesses and their advisors.
Here are some of the highlights.
Frictionless finance: breaking down barriers
For Colin Goldstein, Head of Partnerships at iwoca, the recent emergence of more connected financial services has stemmed from a shared desire to facilitate much-needed change.
“The complexity of small business lending has been a major source of friction in the finance space,” he explained, citing administration and non-transparent terms as prime examples.
“Another is that, throughout history, small businesses have not had access to the same range of rich products and services available to larger businesses.
“For us, it’s about using technology to break down those barriers. Making things simpler for small business owners, so they have more time to run their business.”
Frictionless finance: creating something real
To truly dissolve friction in the finance space, providers must find ways to turn technology into something real and relevant, said Stewart Roberts, Executive Vice President of iZettle.
“It’s so easy to talk about artificial intelligence, machine learning and big data – but those words don’t mean much to most small business owners,” he explained. “But give someone a way to get home to their kids before bedtime, and that quickly becomes very useful.
“The opportunity lies in finding ways to add true value.”
Frictionless finance: enhancing your own capabilities
“Fluidly is my second business, and it was built on the pain points experienced in my first,” said entrepreneur Caroline Plumb. “I’d learned you always have lots of balls in the air – and one of those balls is a knife. The knife is finance. You can’t take your eyes off it.
“That’s where technology can help. If you look at the applications of artificial intelligence today, they often focus on substitution; removing mundane tasks. But for me, the really interesting part it’s the enhancement piece; looking at your vulnerabilities and accessing a second pair of eyes and ears.
“It’s less about fearing robots and more about creating robo-cops, if you like! Using technology to create a better version of yourself.”
Frictionless finance: embracing the future
“It’s easy to take the view that the world of fintech disruption will create a big problem for banking,” said Niall Cameron, Global Head of Corporate and Institutional Digital of HSBC. “But if banks learn to embrace and engage with the opportunities available, they stand to benefit too.
“It’s about bringing all the small pieces of data together to create a more effective and holistic service. With permissioned data, for example, banks can make more intelligent and automated credit decisions. We could create exciting alerting models that proactively help accountants and their clients.
“At HSBC we’re becoming more connected through cloud accounting because we genuinely think it’s the future.”
Frictionless finance: forging world-changing paths
“It’s so interesting to think that the wave of legislation coming into Europe will create a data-driven environment that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world,” said Shachar Bialick, the founder and CEO of Curve, referencing the Payment Services Directive 2 (PSD2) as one example.
“Yes it’s disruptive but it’s also really exciting. It allows us to initiate innovative solutions in the payment and cash flow-management space.
“It also allows our customers to explore the benefits of the free movement of data. I predict that people will have increasing power to choose to exchange their data for insights – and those insights can help them create positive behavioural change.
“I can’t wait to see what happens.”