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Fintech hiding in plain sight




By Markus Lampinen on 11th April 2017


It’s no co-incidence J.P. Morgan is referring to its “robo-advisor” as an “automated advisor” over the more common buzzword pair. Goldman Sachs has modeled its consumer loans platform “Marcus” as a helping hand for those in need and named it after founder Marcus Goldman, who ventured forth into banking over a century ago. Fintech is indeed getting to a more mature stage in the market and soon we’ll forget the buzzwords, and be used to transacting on new technologies that hide in plain sight.

 

If you take a look at ‘Marcus’, you’ll be struck by its simplicity. It’s customer centric, clear and straight-forward. Could it be that this is exactly what a retail borrower wants out of the experience, no hidden fees, no complexities and trip wires, just the service they are after? Who would have guessed, right? I’ve earlier stated we are entering a practical era of fintech where what matters is providing the best service for the end client and it truly seems the customers preferences are shining through.

 

Yet what’s fascinating is the fact that as we focus on customer experience and service, we also are less distracted by buzzwords and hype. I would argue that’s exactly where we should be and the ocean of buzzwords merely serves as a distraction. If we’re able to lower the cost of a transaction by a few basis points will that be the most important message, or the fact that the transaction happened on a blockchain?

 

We’re entering a time where technology adoption in finance is being hidden in plain sight. Creating a new account onboarding process that empowers the individual user, yet lowers the human capital on the organization side, will likely be well received by the user and encourage them to go the extra mile due to well thought out user experience. At the same time, this process could well boast a sophisticated series of automated anti-money laundering (AML) checks and know-your-customer (KYC) questionnaires, all powered by an artificial intelligence (AI) engine that takes user input based on which it then decides exactly what calls to make and which databases to crawl. The user would never see this, but the experience wouldn’t be possible without this invisible layer.

 

This follows how technological adoption works across markets. Automatic braking systems, ticket pricing for flights, Google searches all function with sophisticated uses of narrow artificial intelligence. Does the user actually realise this and further, do they need to?

 

Similarly when applying for an SME loan through a mobile app, granting access to financial and behavioral data, will the end user marvel at the underwriting process or at the competitive rate they’ve just been offered in minutes? If we’re able to use Artificial intelligence (AI) in order to empower the consumer to utilise their data on their terms for the best product, they are likely going to remember the mortgage and how they got their dream home.

 

What are we going to see going forward? My hope is much more data driven decision-making in design of services on an organizational level, where end users can truly have a voice in how they want to acquire their services. It will be interesting to see what direction J.P. Morgan takes with its automated financial advisor and I suspect it will be telling of their take on the current state of affairs at the intersection of finance and technology. Given their history in retail services it may offer an added depth in services to other solutions in the market.

 

Adopting a user-centric research and development process requires large organisations to be able to adopt a rapid prototyping process, in order to bring feedback loops close enough to the production line so they are able to stay current with their offerings. Whether this fits in the corporate hierarchy or at innovation labs that have more freedom, the pace of technology is increasing so fast that the process for innovation itself is becoming much more central. Today’s technology will be outdated in a few years. How can services keep re-inventing themselves in order to maximise end user value and user experience?

 

We’re at the cusp of a user experience revolution in finance, not just in retail services, but across the board. How can we truly convince the borrower landing on ‘Marcus’ by Goldman Sachs, that the bank, which has historically shied away from retail services, now truly cares about that particular individual’s credit card debt? It will come down to creating a unique experience and messaging, and powering it with the right underlying technologies that complement that experience. Maybe that’s where we will see the modern John Pierpont Morgan emerge.
 

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