Financial technology, also known as fintech, is quickly earning a reputation as the most potentially disruptive force of the decade, with almost every country in the world an adopter and with fintech quickly becoming the go-to financial system worldwide.
It describes the industry encompassing any kind of technology in financial services - including crowdfunding platforms, payment platforms, cryptocurrency, robo-advising, budgeting apps, and online trading - but specifically it refers to the act of using the internet, mobile devices, software technology or cloud services to perform or connect with financial services.
Thanks to advances in encryption technology - driven largely in part by the U.S. military and DoD research - fintech is making financial transactions more efficient, which is something that desperately needs to happen in an industry that has needed invigoration for decades.
Banking sucks. Anyone who ever stood in a long queue during bank business hours only to be told they weren’t eligible for a loan or needed to call a Philippines-based customer service centre for further action will agree.
Fintech has the power to change all that, and is already doing so by making peer-to-peer lending an on-the-spot transaction, revolutionising the way we pay bills, and enabling online banking and stock trading using any number of mobile apps.
An average trading week no longer looks quite the same, with fintech having brought trading to the masses who now trade shares from the comfort of their homes, and going to the bank is no longer the arduous task it was just five years ago.
But for the world’s 2.5 billion “unbanked” communities, and for the 200 million small businesses with no access to financial services, fintech is symbolic of something much greater - inclusion in the global economy, and a better future.
In Africa, Latin America, parts of the Middle East, and Asia, fintech could be the single biggest gamechanger of the century. With mobile technology and internet access, fintech allows people with access to mobile phones to transfer funds, apply for loans, and manage money digitally - all of which were not previously possible.
Think about it, for farmers who previously depended on barter for trade or who had no access to a bank in their local community, fintech is - for the first time - allowing them to receive payment for goods or services with the simple click of a button. Of the world’s unbanked individuals, 1 billion have mobile phones, meaning that financial mobility is at last a possibility for them now.
And so, it is in the developing world where fintech startups are focusing their efforts, in the knowledge that a brand new market could be opened as a result. Consultancy Accenture estimates that the world’s “underbanked” population is for financial service providers a global market worth $380 billion, giving some serious incentive to fintech leaders to target such markets with new financial products and services.
But so too is fintech enabling new opportunities in the developing world through startup innovation and employment. Just last week, Kenyan start-up Alternative Circle was recognised as one of the world’s leading fintechs in a first ever global survey on the emerging industry.
The Nairobi-based fintech firm has a mission to provide financial access through technology to over 200 million new users globally, and operates out of a city that has been ranked as the 42nd most innovative hub for fintechs, with an ecosystem that has enabled innovations in payment, technology, banking and lending solutions.
CEO Kevin Mutuso said,
“We at AlternativeCircle recognize that technology has the ability to give financial access to everyone in a sustainable way. We are proud that our efforts are being recognized globally.”
They aren’t alone, either. Brazil, Israel and Mexico have nascent but rapidly developing fintech hubs, as well as the right kind of regulatory environment to support fintech innovation, meaning they could very well soon take over from the traditional leaders in the tech space: the U.S., United Kingdom, and China.
These new emerging leaders are already demonstrating the potential of newer, conventionally untapped markets, leading us to believe that perhaps those countries that until now have relied on coal, cheap labour and agriculture might soon upset the global balance and dominate into the next industrial revolution - the fintech revolution.
Each emerging fintech hub is vying to become an established fintech leader in their own right, and fintech “unicorns” are also popping up in countries where we least expect it.
According to TechCrunch, there are now over 20 fintech "unicorns" - startups worth over $1 billion. If all that is needed is talent and an internet connection, then the developing world stands a chance to truly come out on top.
Bill Gates has famously said that “in the next 15 years, digital banking will give the poor more control over their assets and help them transform their lives.” He speaks the truth.
In places that until now have been denied access to the global economy due to weak infrastructure and non-standardised banking processes, fintech could be the beginning of an era of colossal change: change that could lead to the subversion of the current global order.