Can Fintechs sail a sea of fear?

Article by Geoffroy de Schrevel, CEO.


Hold on a minute…

A few months ago, I was invited to attend a meeting with a bank’s top executives and a few board members. On the agenda, the topic read: “The Impact of digitalisation on the bank”. Naively, I didn’t give it much thought, instead I prepared myself for an in-depth session on the ways and means to digitalise banks and financial services.

Digitalisation = fear

Umm, well this is not quite what the others were thinking….as, the majority of the meeting consisted of discussions on whether digitalisation is just another bubble about to burst, whether Fintechs were more useful than a wake-up call, whether customers really had new expectations since the churn rate has been stable over the last decade while the bank only created digital POCs, local tests and a basic mobile app.

Then came further concerns of staff being worried for their jobs, the IT top man arguing that his team was overloaded just keeping the bank lights on, the legal head arguing that regulators would anyway never let the bank do what on the other hand, they allow Fintech companies to put in place. And it went on and on. One thing was clear: the most pregnant feeling across the room was, overwhelmingly, fear.

Digitalisation a challenge of a different nature

Despite this, digitalisation remains a hot topic. Sometimes at the very top of many banks’ to do list. We all know that banks face numerous challenges (who doesn’t?) like regulations, low interest rates, legacy culture, etc.  But digitalisation is a challenge of different nature, falling completely outside their comfort zone. So, unless there is a clear vision supported by strong leadership and governance, digitalisation tends naturally to slip by the wayside. It crystalizes in “Proofs of Concept”, prototypes or web-based facelifts of legacy services. Even if communication, both internal and external, is there to assert the financial institution is rapidly becoming digital.

There are many reasons why the finance industry is taking to digitalisation slowly, but the reason I’ve observed most preeminently is fear. From boardrooms to desk clerks, from sales to IT, fear of succumbing to another bubble, fear of cash cows cannibalisation, fear of losing jobs, career setbacks, fear of changing what took a long time to learn, fear of losing control (or the illusion of), fear of becoming obsolete, fear of operational hiccups, and so on. Fear…, sometimes disguised under the more honourable cloak of ‘risk management’.

Some technology, little invention

Of course, some financial institutions have strongly and concretely engaged in using technology to reshape themselves into truly more client-centric and inclusive firms. They have done this through a combination of external partnerships (new ways of thinking, new blood, new enthusiasm, faster delivery), significant investment in internal change management, and, on top of it, strong governance in execution. But let’s face it, the “non-invented here” syndrome is everywhere, and Fintechs often put their finger on where it hurts the most: the legacy culture.

This may seem like a steep hurdle for B2B Fintech companies. For a young company the challenge looms (in every aspect) to beat such a fear pervading almost every level of the industry. When you come with something new, sometimes half-baked, barely tested and highly disruptive, it’s tough to reassure the fear.

But it is also a fantastic opportunity.

At least if you keep in mind the sense. The reason of being. The purpose of your Fintech company.

At Gambit, we are not ’against’. We are not against legacy IT systems, nor last century business culture, nor traditional highly successful service or products. We are not there to stoke the fires of fear with further stress.

Money for what comes next..

Rather, we believe in “making money a better support for what comes next”. And with the right proposals, the agile solutions, the necessary empathy and the disciplined execution, we are very well placed to turn fear into enthusiasm. We are very well placed because we have earned a legacy, even  if it’s one of just a few years old. Because co-construction is in our DNA, because we substitute divas, for teams. We are not impatient but we live to get things done, we live to see results. We are so proud, so happy when our “clientners” (contraction of the words clients and partners) like BPCE or AXA Bank deploy our solutions, and when we do indeed help make money a better support for what comes next…

And if there were no fear?

Returning to the meeting with the bank executives, instead of insisting in arguing and challenging, I asked a simple question: if there were nothing to fear, how would you lead the bank to really digitalise itself?  “Time to break for coffee!”  announced the CEO. Not sure I will be invited to the next session.