Thursday, 1 February 2018

COLLABORATING WITH FINTECHS DOESN'T MEAN TAKING RISKS, QUITE THE CONTRARY by André Casterman, Chair, ITFA FinTech Committee and Founder, Casterman Advisory

There are various ways for financial institutions to benefit from advanced technologies and business models provided by so-called FinTech's. For those still hesitating to make the step, one approach is to start collaborating with FinTech's that help them in a non-intrusive, incremental way thereby limiting business risks. For those who are more bullish, taking stakes in handpicked FinTech companies will be the way to go, albeit riskier. Whichever way, collaborating with Fintech’s will drive transformation and accelerate change.

The Bank - FinTech collaboration is the way to go

Whereas most of the early FinTech talks spurred fears of so-called imminent disruption, a change in mindset occurred in 2017 as most FinTech's realised that the shortest path to revenue generation is to partner with banks rather than compete against such established and trusted institutions. Over the last 2 years, multiple deals between banks and FinTech's have been announced demonstrating not only the viability but also the strategic importance of such collaboration. In the payments space, examples include Standard Chartered Bank’s and Santander’s investments in blockchain-based global payments network Ripple. In trade financing, examples include HSBC’s stakes in TradeShift and Kyriba as well as DZ Bank’s and DB’s stakes in TrustBills.

Whilst such "collaboration" comes as a change vs. the early days, it is actually not new at all. Financial institutions have been using third-party software solutions for the last 5 decades. What is really new with FinTech's is that incumbent institutions can now easily take advantage of very advanced ways to drastically improve or, when desired, to re-invent their businesses. The “FinTech – Bank” deals led by some banks aim at taking bold moves to deliver serious growth opportunities. Making it happen is however easier said than done. Let's focus on execution.

Options for banks to work with FinTech's

To keep it simple, let’s consider two collaboration options as per Figure 1:

·         Option 1 - Incremental. In this first prudent approach, banks take advantage of FinTech propositions to improve or extend their existing and proven business models. Benefits for banks include incremental product enhancements, increased operational efficiency, reduced costs and improved user satisfaction. In this case, FinTech propositions are usually software solutions introducing technologies that co-exist with legacy systems. Collaborating with such Fintech's is low risk given the absence of impact on existing business models and practices. Also, as some FinTech technologies integrate very smoothly in legacy environments using non-intrusive IT techniques, short time to market is to be expected on top of earlier listed benefits. This first option offers a path to major efficiency increases and product enhancements whilst minimising risks.

·         Option 2 - Radical. In this second approach, banks partner with FinTech's who have invented and own a new business model. Banks do this when they realise important changes in client expectations and behaviours are happening and that business practices are being disrupted by Fintech's. In order to embark on such FinTech adoption path, banks need to have a bullish ambition (1) to get into new markets such as additional geographies and/or underserved client segments and (2) to embark in new business models and practices (e.g., joining a market place). Such FinTech platforms usually aim at connecting all participants involved in complex business transactions, so as to enable specific features such as auctioning, multi-banking, escrow service, title registry, transaction tracking, ... Assuming the bank's risk appetite is as high as the RoI of the prospective opportunity, banks will consider taking a stake in their chosen FinTech partner. This helps them be part of the governance and benefit from growing valuation of the FinTech company itself. It sometimes offers dividend payments as well.

Figure 1 illustrates both "Incremental" and "Radical" options whilst Figure 2 provides more details on key differences between both approaches.

Figure 1. Path to Bank – FinTech collaboration

The majority of financial institutions being risk averse, they favour taking an incremental approach which is described above as the low-risk Option 1. Figure 2 outlines key differences between both options:

Figure 2. Key differences between both FinTech adoption options


Given the strategic importance of the matter, some banks started to industrialise the "Radical" approach. A recent example is Standard Chartered Bank's new business unit called SC Ventures which will lead digital innovation across the Bank, invest in FinTechs companies and promote rapid testing and implementation of new business models.

As Michael Gorriz Group Chief Information Officer of Standard Chartered Bank said: “As new technology continues to play an ever more important role in banking, there is a huge opportunity for us to promote more innovation, and at the same time develop and deliver digital solutions that work for our clients and for us.”

Whether favouring the Incremental or Radical approach, one business area where such Bank – FinTech collaboration delivers tangible and immediate benefits is related to Data Management. As Alec Ross, Futurist and Author puts it in his recent book: "Data is the raw material of the information age". Financial institutions that fail to take advantage of their client transaction data miss a huge opportunity to match emerging client needs. They ought to understand that data represents a new type of economic asset feeding top management decision making. As the nature of innovation is changing, data becomes a decisive factor in the success or failure of businesses.


The new ITFA FinTech will guide you through the FinTech landscape

At a Board Meeting which took place in September 2017, the ITFA Board identified the future impacts of FinTech innovations on the receivables space and decided to set up the ITFA FinTech committee.

The ITFA FinTech committee is starting its activities in Q1 2018 and will organise educational opportunities for ITFA members to discover the various options to take advantage of FinTech propositions. The potential FinTech impacts on payments and trade finance are expected to be huge, so information on new technology options, improvements in business processes and new business models are paramount for transaction bankers to face the wave of change.

Resourced with representatives from FinTech companies and banks, the ITFA FinTech committee will act as a neutral forum for the ITFA membership to keep abreast of FinTech innovations impacting the trade finance and risk distribution spaces. It will focus on four key market-level themes: Collaboration, Platforms, Infrastructure and Data.

We hope the ITFA FinTech will become a venue for the ITFA membership to debate common issues and grow their understanding of FinTech propositions impacting the trade receivables space. A FinTech panel as well as other educational opportunities will be available at the ITFA 45th Annual Conference that will take place in Cape Town between 4-6 September 2018.

Members of the ITFA FinTech committee

ITFA FinTech Committee Chair
·         André Casterman, Casterman Advisory

ITFA Board Members
·         Paul Coles, HSBC (ITFA Board Member)
·         Sean Edwards, SMBC (ITFA Chair)

·         Adeline de Metz, UniCredit
·         Daniel Rymer, Mizuho Bank
·         Farah Shaikh, Crown Agents Bank

Platform providers
·         Ka-Kit Man, CCRManager
·         Johanna Wissing, LiquidX
·         Markus Wohlgeschaffen, TrustBills

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