The financial services industry used to exist according to a truism: customers were more likely to get a divorce than change their bank. Today, though, a number of fintech startups are beginning to change that.
It’s not just retail banking that’s going through a transformation. Even arcane and highly technical financial services such as international money transfers are now being disrupted. Take BitPesa, a blockchain payments company based in Kenya, which uses the cryptocurrency bitcoin to provide international money transfers across Africa, Europe and Asia.
“We’ve digitised a model which already existed,” says the founder, Elizabeth Rossiello. BitPesa is revolutionising ancient but also highly opaque payment systems such as bokeh in Nigeria and hawala in Malawi, which were often seen as enabling money laundering and even terrorist finance.
For retail consumers, change is just as dramatic. For challenger bank Monzo, it’s not just the bright pink colour of its payment card that draws a lot of attention. Starting out as a crowdfunded alternative to traditional payment cards, the bank is using data to serve customers in new ways. Monzo helps customers to track their spending in real time, and even integrates them into the process of designing new features and services, says Hugo Cornejo, Monzo’s head of design.
Both Monzo and rival fintech startup Revolut send customers instant notifications when they spend money, with graphics showing whether expenditure is on leisure, food or travel. And there is a built-in savings function: spending can be rounded up to the nearest pound, and the difference transferred to a separate savings account. It’s possible to split restaurant bills, as long as the user has the phone numbers of fellow diners.
Most customers of fintech startups still have bank accounts with traditional banks, but the incumbents are reactive while “we’re proactive,” says Chad West, Revolut’s global head of communications. Like traditional banks, fintechs make money by selling additional services such as travel and phone insurance, but traditional banks usually don’t allow users to buy cryptocurrencies such as litecoin and bitcoin straight from the banking app. Monzo and Revolut do.
Fintech startups are also getting support from government thanks to the open data initiative, which forces banks to share their data if a customer wants to do all of the banking from one single app. “Data has value,” says Imran Gulamhuseinwala, implementation trustee at Open Banking, a non-profit that helps banks to share their data. “But the data belongs to the consumer, not the financial institution.”
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