How “big tech” finally turned its hand to fintech in 2019

By Oliver Smith on Monday 30 December 2019

Alternative LendingDigital BankingSavings and Investment

Apple, Google and Facebook all succeeded, to varying degrees.

How “big tech” finally turned its hand to fintech in 2019
Image source: CEO Mark Zuckerberg at F8 2019/Facebook.

The heady days of fintech as the disruptor looking to completely overturn the old financial order are, fortunately, long behind us.

Instead in 2019 the landscape shifted towards blossoming partnerships between fintech and finance, like Monzo working with Axa Insurance or NatWest turning to Tink for its spending analysis.

Fintech and big finance seem to be working in harmony at long last.

But, among industry-watchers, the looming arrival of “big tech” in finance has always been just around the corner, and in 2019 it started to happen in three big ways.

Apple – Apple Card

Apple’s fintech play started back in 2014 with the arrival of Apple Pay, the mobile wallet that triggered a huge upsurge in the adoption of contactless payments.

This year the second part of Apple’s plan was revealed, with the March announcement of Apple Card.

The project, in partnership with Goldman Sachs, bundles an Apple-branded credit card with all the app-based features which digital banks like Monzo and Starling spent the last four years pioneering.

While Apple has remained silent on Apple Card’s success since its launch in August, the CEO of Goldman Sachs, David Solomon, was more loose-lipped calling it “the most successful credit card launch ever”.

Whether or not that’s true, Apple Card avoided any major scandals (setting aside Goldman Sachs’ credit scoring sexism scandal) and achieved widespread awareness.

Google – Cache

Technically Google’s fintech play hasn’t quite arrived, but the search giant has detailed what we can expect in the new year.

Working with Citigroup and Stanford Federal Credit Union, Google will offer a checking account for its customers in 2020, an executive told The Wall Street Journal.

Interestingly the project, called Cache, will look to put Citigroup and Google’s other partners forward as the face of the account, rather than Google itself.

While Google has a lot to gain from harnessing the insights that financial data could bring to its advertising efforts, payments executive Caesar Sengupta who spoke to the Journal made it clear that Google wouldn’t be ‘selling’ anyone’s data.

Google’s Cache still has a lot to prove when it launches in 2020, and most crucially the big tech giant needs to show that it can avoid becoming the lightning rod that tears down the project… speaking of.

Facebook – Libra

Oh Facebook. The social network wins the 2019 award for the most disastrous fintech play of the year.

From the moment it began with an announcement in June, the wheels began to fall off of Facebook’s Libra cryptocurrency.

Libra is positioned as a consumer-friendly version of bitcoin and also an effort to create a new global payment system, complete with 28 heavyweight founding partners like Visa, Mastercard, Spotify, Uber and eBay.

The launch couldn’t have come at a worse time, as regulators around the world, fresh from inspecting the social giant’s activities in 2018, immediately locked eyes on the project (eventually dragging Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s in to testify before the US Congress).

The intense scrutiny quickly sent several founding members of the Libra Association running, including PayPal, eBay, Stripe, Visa and Mastercard.

Today Libra exists as a shell of what the project once was, originally planned to launch in June even its co-creator David Marcus admits that won’t happen now.

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