The emergence of financial technology in the 21st century has been a turning point in how we deliver our financial services and how we lay down the road-map towards greater financial inclusion. The scope of fintech services now ranges from traditional banking services such as loans to the growth of cryptocurrencies and digital transactions. In 2020, COVID-19 has had an extremely disruptive economic impact. In its World Outlook Report June 2020 update, ‘A Crisis Like No Other, An Uncertain Recovery’, the IMF has predicted a further economic turn-down and placed importance on liquidity assistance as one of the measures for recovery.
The Hard Facts
While talking about recovery and fiscal stimulus, it is important to address one of the biggest challenges that lie in our way – financial inclusion. Fintech aims to provide cheaper and convenient financial services to all and has the potential to be an integral part of the road ahead. But there are some hard facts that we need to consider while talking about technological advancement in the financial world.
- The Pew Research Centre has revealed major statistics in its studies on mobile connectivity in emerging economies. While the majority of adults own a mobile phone, there are still a non-insignificant number of adults in emerging economies who do not own one. Mobile phone ownership also varies according to age, gender, and education. As a consequence, women and marginalized groups are less likely to have access to digital services. In this case, there is a pressing need to bring about advancements in fintech as well as policy interventions to make fintech services more inclusive.
Another aspect here is that while the majority of adults may own mobile phones, not all of them have access to smartphones. Basic phones are those that cannot connect to the internet while feature phones can connect to the internet but typically do not support smartphone apps. Taking these distinctions into consideration, we find that only in many emerging economies – less than half of adults use smartphones. What does this mean for the fintech world that has been trying to increase its base?
- This brings us to yet another challenge. Even as we understand the need to ensure access to smartphones and internet connectivity, the need for digital and financial literacy also requires to be addressed.
- Cybersecurity and online frauds are another crucial focal point for the fintech world. If we are to aim for greater inclusion then it is necessary to build safe and secure services so that people may have faith in digital financial services.
- As far as the development of blockchain and cryptocurrencies is concerned, there is a need to understand and develop legal frameworks.
After a successful past decade for fintech, many experts and research companies have made predictions regarding recent trends and what the future might look like. Will there be a significant change in the post-pandemic world? It seems so.
- KPMG has predicted bigger deals, product expansion, even to diverse locations, and cybersecurity and digital identity management in its Pulse of Fintech H2’19 report.
- Sergey Balasanyan, the co-founder of Longevity Bank, has predicted that the coming years will see an integration of health tech and fintech. These platforms will make use of Artificial Intelligence and data science to provide integrated and redesigned financial and well-being marketplaces.
- At the World Forum Disrupt’s Strategy and Innovation Summit, one of the predictions was that bank profits will become increasingly squeezed. This is mainly because fintech companies are presenting a challenge as they cherry-pick different areas to specialize in. As customers become wiser, bank profits might shrink.
The Issues and How to Counter Them
Pete Watson, CEO of Atlas Cloud, has said that there is ‘an opportunity for us to rethink our working practices.’ Fintech companies not only need to reconsider working practices but also need to look for solutions for the vulnerabilities in the system. We need to leverage mobile banking and take steps towards a cashless economy.
Needless to say, the post-lockdown world is going to be significantly different from what we have known. As social distancing becomes part of our everyday lives, the need to have a good system in place to enable contactless banking and other financial services for all is higher than ever.
Interoperability is yet to be achieved and innovative players in the fintech industry will need to step up to resolve this bottleneck. The use of blockchain technology could be a potential solution to this. In a post-COVID world, the fintech sector must perform its role in expanding its services to all.
While COVID-19 has exposed the vulnerabilities in our system, it is crucial to step up and address the underlying issues. For the fintech world, the aim is not only to be accessible to a wider population to deliver existing banking services but also to innovate and deliver new and emerging services to all. Cyber-security, seamless services, user-friendly interfaces and lower costs are primary goals that the fintech sector needs to collectively achieve.