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Fintech Week, Fintech Year: What to Expect in 2016

Fintech Week, Fintech Year: What to Expect in 2016

Every year more and more events focused on the fintech industry are appearing.

In 2015 alone there have been umpteen showcase occasions focused around finance, innovation and the technological challenge to the banking industry.

From Finnovate Europe in early February and Finnovate Spring in May, to the whirligig of Fintech Week in September and the upcoming Fintechtonic Awards in December, the landscape has become busier than ever.

It’s exciting.

It’s loud.

And there’s no sign yet that fintech’s rise is slowing down.

Fintech week, The PHA Group

‘Image courtesy of ING Group on Flickr’

In fact, the sector looks to be increasing across the world. Whilst London may have reached record highs for fintech investment, securing around 75% of the $2.2bn raised by UK firms since January. According to Accenture’s new report investments in financial technology in Asia Pacific are set to quadruple in 2015. This estimate comes from the fact fintech investment has hit $3.5bn, up from $880m throughout 2014. The report also revealed that 40% of these investments were in payment innovations, and 25% in lending.

The monumental surge of interest, development and use of fintech is evident. Consider Money 20/20, the annual financial services conference held in Las Vegas in October: numbers of attendees have soared from 2300 to 10,000 in just four years, from 85 showcasing companies to 506 across a range of industries from mobile to fintech.

So with no signs of stopping and all evidence pointing to 2016 as yet another year of exponential innovation and accomplishment, what can we expect as we move through the winter and into the new year?

Expect more new entrants

The industry will be all too aware of the increase in new entrants. Primed for technological innovation, traditional financial services face a continued rise of new businesses and products with their own agendas and ability to disrupt. Generating further competition, it’s likely banking services will feel the impact more keenly in the next twelve months. This is particularly true given the focus on the ‘Uberisation of Payments’ – startups aiming to revolutionise financial services to become efficient, effective, and inclusive.

Blurring disruption and innovation

In the 7th Annual Innovation in Retail Banking Report from Efma and Infosys Finacle, banks considered new disruptors the second highest threat (41%) after big tech companies like Apple and Google (45%). However, as banks accept they can’t stop the startups, more are likely to follow the trend set by banks like Barclays who finance them. Responding to the perceived threat by increasing investment and harnessing their innovations for themselves, this could help to improve the overall customer experience at banks.

Moreover, the regulatory landscape that has enabled so many fintech startups in the UK to thrive is becoming tougher. New developments now need to integrate more successfully, to have flexible and agile IT systems capable of responding to demands from entities like the FCA. Smaller entrants may therefore need extra support due to limited resources if they’re to build robust systems. The relationship might thereforesee a shift from challenger to partner.

Bitcoin vs. Blockchain

Cryptocurrencies are beginning to shake off their dubious reputations. Part of this is because of the underlying blockchain technology. Fact is, Bitcoin might have started the conversation, but now it’s being sidelined as household names have hopped on board the blockchain bandwagon in order to better their businesses through its technology. These include UBS, Citi Group and NASDAQ, all of whom seem to agree that blockchain will fundamentally alter the infrastructure supporting the finance landscape. There’s even the first Blockchain-inspired bank in the pipeline – Secco Bank, founded by Chris Gledhill.

Millennials & harnessing fintech for good

With COP21 only weeks away, businesses that are not ready for a world where they can balance principles and profit are likely to be left in the dust. Part of the reason for this is the rise of the millennials, those 18 to 34 year olds, in particular, the older HENRYs (High Earners Not Rich Yet) that comprise the top consumers of fintech. However, beyond their dissatisfaction with traditional banks and their love of frictionless payments, they’re also much more socially conscious when it comes to business. As Bill Roth wrote, ‘their combined experiences have made them fiscally conservative, socially tolerant, environmentally aware and urgently engaged’.

This is not to say older generations don’t want to manage their assets and bank accounts from their armchairs, but millennials are the thread stitching together the desire for change with the ability to use technology. They view the sharing economy as an efficient utilisation of their money. They seek transparency, appreciate brands engaged with causes, and are more invested in harnessing business for good. We can already see it in the popularity of blockchain and fintech’s ‘Robin Hood’ narrative (see Transferwise and Lend Invest). They also seek financial inclusion, revealing yet another reason for the popularity of mobile payments and uberisation.

The problem of data and cyber-security

The digitisation of services has obviously created its own set of problems. Just look at all the different hacks over the past twelve months – from Sony to TalkTalk, the risk of data theft has become of utmost priority to consumers as well as their financial providers. Threats from malware and hackers demonstrate the need for vast cyber-security investment in the finance space, and nimble fintech companies could be more adept at this than traditional, cumbersome institutions.

Fintech becoming mainstream

As fintech influencer Oliver Bussman argued, technology is changing the dynamics in the financial services industry. This may seem obvious, but as fintech continues its climb, more people will become aware of its potential and more customers will start using it. Fintech is moving beyond revealing and disputing antiquated practices, providing opportunities for competition, and overhauling the experience for everyday consumers. It’s generating positive change. It could even be argued that technology is making finance trendy as the likes of Apple Pay bring fintech into mainstream consciousness.

And, ultimately, it is this shift of financial awareness, innovation and technology into today’s zeitgeist that makes fintech 2015 and 2016 potentially so exciting.

Crowdfunding Books and Innovation in Publishing

Pha crowdfunding

‘Image courtesy of Light Reading on Flickr’

In the upstart world of social media, crowdfunding has already established itself as one of the most disruptive and creative forces at work.

The best-known crowdfunding website, Kickstarter, first launched back in 2009 with the aim to find a ‘new way to fund and follow creativity’. Since then, over $1.4billion has been pledged to its projects. In 2014 alone, the platform brought 22,252 projects to fruition, and 3.3. million people from almost every country donated over half a billion dollars. That’s $1,000 pledged per minute.

Now, the curious meme of crowdfunding is innovating the world of books.

If anything, the only thing that should come as a surprise it that it’s taken this long for such platforms to take off.

Writers were some of the first transients to embrace the Internet as a home for their creativity. It gave them new ways to share and distribute their work.   From the outset of crowdfunding, indie authors have flocked to sites allowing them to create fundraising pages for their projects. Some have done terrifically well – Frank Chimero’s The Shape of Design and Robin Sloan’s ‘Robin writes a book project’ come to mind.  

Crowdfunding books is a beautiful idea. Even more so because of its simplicity.

The author-focused Unbound was one of the first to make such a model the foundation of a publishing house.  

Led by Dan Kieran, their platform emphasises its straightforwardness, characterising the route to publication as an almost ludicrously simple three-step system of authors pitching, readers pledging and publishers, well, publishing.  

As Sam Rennie, founder of the more recent publishing start-up, Readership, eloquently put it, ‘[Crowdfunding] gives readers the ultimate say in what gets published.’  

With Readership and Unbound, authors can publish any book they find funding for. They write and their supporters get the opportunity to interact with the author as the book is being published. By asking the reader to judge the value of the writing, aspiring authors put their faith in a peer-to-peer funding model that promises transparency and a sense of community for both funder and fundee.  

‘Stories only exist for the two people: the one telling the story and the one hearing it,’ explained Rennie, ‘So all of our activities and promotion is geared towards helping both [writers and readers].’  

This emphasis on the link between writers and readers, as opposed to publishers and publishing trends, is something clearly visible in both Unbound and Readership’s models.

Though Unbound’s focus is demonstrably focused on authors and writers-group style conversation, rather than on readers and their tastes like Readership, the creation of community through the transferal of power – back to authors and readers – is precisely what makes crowdfunding so attractive to the innovative literary mind.  

It does not only appeal to aspiring writers who have exhausted traditional routes to publication. It calls out to the readers who struggle to find what they want in the bookstore.

Yet, what is interesting about Readership is that whilst it is using crowdfunding to innovate publishing, it is also using this style of monetary backing to innovate the experience delivered by the platform.

Rennie wants to truly embed Readership in online culture, expressing concern of the fact that any investment in the digital world or internet culture seems very temporary and just a brief exploration of a trend for many publishers.

He says, for example, that he loves that publishers are engaging and collaborating with bloggers and vloggers now, ‘But I’m a bit concerned that the publishing industry is just using the community for its numbers instead of taking the time to actually become a part the community themselves. The purpose behind Readership is to allow those types of beautiful, online communities the opportunity to support writers and readers alike.’

Part of this is a vast plan for community engagement over a plethora of social media channels: Twitter, Pinterest, Soundcloud and Facebook, to name a few.

Further steps include the use of completely unique online methods to spread the word. One such method includes using MineCraft to create a book world online; whilst another hopes to form a Reddit-like voting system for site users.

‘In the future, we’ll be adding awards for the most active users, so I see in that the potential for certain users to become a trusted voice in the community. For example, we can build a system that pairs you up with a particular user on the site, should you have similar tastes, so when they post a comment on a new story, the people paired with them can see what they think of it and decide to check it out or not.’

The Internet’s collective power and crowdfunding technology mean innovation can be constant in platforms like Readership.

The passion for development, palpable in Rennie’s vision and already witnessed in the early success of Kieran’s Unbound, is much needed in publishing.

Of course, there remain challenges when it comes to creating and establishing new platforms in an industry renown for its reactive approach to technological developments.

However, it is exciting to see writers and readers taking their own proactive stance with crowdfunded, community-driven options like these.

Publishers cannot extricate the literary from the digital. People like Rennie, or Kieran, are finally encouraging the book world to catch up with everyone else.

 

How to Rebuild Trust in Your Tech Brand

Scandal, scandal, scandal. Security breaches, data hoarding and ethical ambiguity – if the likes of Apple, Snapchat and Sony are anything to go by in terms of trust in technology, they certainly didn’t do SMEs and entrepreneurs any favours in 2014.

Our trust in technology brands was found to have dipped last year.

Our trust in technology brands was found to have dipped last year.

Last week, a report highlighted that Brits’ trust in technology had substantially dipped in the last year. Consumer electronics and telecoms, in particular, both took a tumble, and now, as other countries enthusiastically steam ahead with innovation, Brits’ trust (or lack thereof) in tech is significantly impeding our progression towards a connected future.

So what can tech companies do to reassure British consumers? Here are our top three tips to inspire, maintain, or, in some cases, rebuild trust in your tech brand.

Data and Security

After numerous high profile data hacks and security breaches in 2014, consumers are understandably concerned about how their details are mined, managed and manipulated. For tech brands, ensuring you are plain and transparent with your use, storage and trading of data is vital to allay the fears stoked by these incidents and strengthen that all-important consumer trust.

High profile hacks have left consumers wondered whether their data is safe.

High profile hacks have left consumers wondering whether their data is safe.

Only a couple of months ago, MPs on the Commons Science and Technology Select Committee were compelled to call for new guidelines for apps and websites, requiring them to explain clearly their use of personal data. Increasingly, regulation is making it difficult for technology to evolve, so instead of waiting for more guidelines and possibly laws to be introduced, why not prove to society that tech brands can be responsible, transparent and effectively self-regulate? As Andrew Miller, chair of the committee, noted: “Socially responsible companies wouldn’t want to bamboozle their users”.

Quality and Safety

Technology as a topic can often seem inaccessible – after all, there’s a lot of jargon and few people understand how software and hardware is actually built. So when there are rapid developments, it almost appears too good to be true, leaving some sceptical and mistrusting consumers questioning the validity of research and the quality of the design of a product.

In fact, nearly half of UK consumers believe that innovation is happening too quickly – but then, it’s not in the best interests of tech developers to slam on the brakes. Instead, it’s vital that tech companies address these concerns directly, by allowing people to trial and test their capabilities. Demonstrating quality by offering your product for high profile reviews is a good way of gaining advocacy from trusted, independent parties.

Positioning your company as experts in a relevant field – through thought leadership pieces and interviews – will also reassure consumers that the same intelligence and conscientiousness has been baked into your product or service.

Purpose

Perhaps one of the most surprising snippets to come out of the mammoth Consumer Electronics Show 2015 earlier this month was an admission from Gary Shapiro, CEO of the event. He acknowledged that over-reliance on digital products is a “Natural trend that people are talking about”, and that he believes in the good of “everything, in reason.”

A digital detox, it seems, may well be on the horizon – and tech companies must be prepared. Consumers mistrust products and brands that serve no true purpose, or that bombard them with so many that they can’t discern what the product is really for. So decide what problem you want to solve and where your niche lies, instead of trying to be a jack-of-all-trades. Less is more – or, in the immortal words of Coco Chanel, “before you leave the house, look in the mirror and remove one accessory.”

In your communications, tech brands should ensure that the value your product adds to the market is conveyed clearly and consistently. If consumers can see how your product will save them time, bring them new information or simply entertain them, trust in your brand will strengthen. That one must-have feature of your offering should shine through: purpose over puff.

As we move forward into 2015, it seems that innovation is no longer enough. Trust in your tech brand must be built upon a foundation of transparency, independent advocacy and clear communications – only then will Brits embrace the advances you have nurtured. How will trust in your brand fare this year?