Why FinTech and Why Now? The executive point of view

(by Evans Munyuki, 30 Nov 2016)

There is no denying that technological innovation is an evolutionary force in business, politics and even culture; in the industry of finance, it is driving capital, captivating attention and connecting us more efficiently to our institutions, to our communities and to each other. In my experience and in my line of work, you either harness innovation to your benefit (or to the advantage of your customers or company) or else you get left behind. Amidst the seismic aftershocks of Brexit (more than a period of temporary quavering of London-traded shares) and its impact on global markets, we admire Britain’s commitment to maintaining a foothold on technological innovation in ensuring those who carry an expertise in leveraging its enterprising opportunities stay within the UK borders. Further, we commend British investment in to the sector, noting a recent commitment from the Treasury to invest £500,000 a year into financial technology (dubbed ‘FinTech’) enterprises.

Conversely, the European Commission (EC) has just announced the unveiling of a new initiative it has set up aiming to give many of Europe’s FinTech and block-chain innovative entrepreneurs every opportunity to become world leaders, entitled the ‘Start-up and Scale-up’ program. But geopolitics aside, why the sudden surge of interest? Why are governments, public and private entities and intrepid investors alike from around the world taking a fresh look at technological innovation and in particular, at FinTech? Why did I leave an Executive Leadership position at Barclays Africa in order to join my colleagues at MyBucks?

Due to the realization that we now share that FinTech is not a bubble about to burst nor is at the forefront of some dynamic upswing. It is inherently disruptive to the status quo of access, inclusion and interaction with the financial marketplace, driving emerging market development and from it, competition. FinTech is matching the tempo with which the world presently does business, while providing a real opportunity for customers to enjoy greatly improved customer experiences which are enabled by FinTech’s challenging needlessly complex business processes and introducing alternative business models. Indeed FinTech is a social progression akin to sending an email today rather than penning and mailing a letter.

The FinTech EcoSystem – Its Parts and Its Partners

The FinTech ecosystem can be subdivided broadly to the sectors of insurance, regulation, wealth/asset management, lending, and money management for masses (person-to-person payments, domestic and cross boarder payments) among others. Each of these segments corresponds to a respective building block in the chain of financial institution service. These building blocks are especially applicable to the emerging markets of today; their diverse but no doubt effervescent limitations and fundamental consumer needs are met with unique yet collectively market-shifting solutions. These solutions are enabled by the growing infrastructure of application programming interfaces (APIs) which are serving to connect the building blocks, thus creating ecosystems which create value. My bucks, among other notable FinTech enterprises in Africa, China, India and beyond, has tapped into the widespread and growing availability of mobile phones and greater boons in internet connectivity of recent years, analyzed the virtual lack of banking infrastructure in certain ruralized marketplaces and outright enabled consumers from those budding regions to pay for services, receive real-time loans and transfer money, while leveraging artificial intelligence for fraud detection and prevention.

Notably, MyBucks has recognized the social responsibility impetus behind the provision of this service. Emerging markets’ concerns with investments will stifle growth if not properly checked, challenges including very low savings rates driven by low incomes, lack of a social safety net and limited liquidity in both equity and credit capital. The FinTech enterprise has partnered with Opportunity International, a U.S.-based social venture committed to empowerment via entrepreneurship, to better allow capital to be accrued responsibly, provide on-site training for ‘clients’ to start and grow their businesses and invest in education for the next generation of global market players, men and women alike.

Indeed there is no question that the elite crop of tech companies, now backed by public sector bodies sensing the momentum, seeking to play a role in transforming the world of investments and finance are headed by or host portfolios tailored towards the next generation of dedicated and ‘digitized’; the Millennials.

The Revolution is Televised

According to the British Treasury, in 2015, the FinTech sector in the UK generated $8.7 billion in revenue. In the first quarter of this year alone, according to a recent study by Accenture, investments in FinTech hit $5.3 billion.

And despite present-day commodity crises, fortunes will diverge across the continent of Africa but maintain trajectory through innovation. While in 2014, only one third of African adults had owned a ‘traditional’ bank account, more than half a billion Africans now have a mobile phone, and 300 million smartphones will enter the African market in the next five years, connecting new consumers, providing smart access, allowing for better functioning markets, enabling alternative business models, and allowing for an improved infrastructure for investments to flourish.

Indeed we recognize that FinTech is not lightning in a bottle; it’s a storm shaking the foundations of traditional banking and one with no end in sight. And so, looking back as 2016 comes to a close, I’m proud of my decision and the transition, no, the evolution of my professional career in making this move from Barclays to MyBucks – it is today in our hands to create lasting change and harness the innovation that stewards our ever-globalizing marketplace and society.