Posted by Cognito on Wed, Apr 08 2015

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5 Key Themes from the New York Fintech Startups Conference

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This is the first in a series of blogs recapping highlights from the recent New York Fintech Startups Conference

Financial technology is all the rage these days. What was not too long ago an industry focused on powering back office functions or running core banking systems, fintech is disrupting consumer payments, lending, real estate financing and everything in between. The interest in this space was evident Tuesday as more than 350 attendees of the third annual New York Fintech Conference packed legendary venue Webster Hall, not for Django Django or Faith No More, but rather to hear about the future of financial technology.

Cognito was there for all the action, at the front lines of all the latest and most buzzworthy fintech ideas. Here are five key themes we noticed that emerged from the conference.

Lost in the Supermarket

Modern consumer habits and tastes have changed. People – especially millennials – have certain expectations about how they expect retail experiences to be; namely, customizable, targeted and digital. Financial services, however, still operates on a model that is very product-centric, and not one that is user-centric.

Chris Chen, a Vice President and General Manager with Yodlee Interactive, says this approach is much like the traditional supermarket model, where consumers must self-navigate different aisles, each with similar product groupings. To survive being disrupted and to thrive into the future, financial institutions will need a highly customized product and service offering, simplicity and ease of use in purchasing their products, and the ability to conduct all transactions in a paperless, digital environment.

Banks as Startups

To achieve this optimal customer experience previously described, financial services firms will need to drastically change the way they operate. Unfortunately, legacy systems and crushing regulation tend to stifle innovation in the finance sector. To combat this, some firms are acquiring startups – such as BBVA’s acquisition of digital bank Simple last year – and incorporating them into the larger corporate structure.

But another idea that came out of the conference was that of firms acting like venture capitalists, with banks creating corporate venture arms. These departments within larger financial firms would seek and seed early-stage fintech companies, with the idea of eventually bringing that startup innovation into the fold as proprietary technology in-house.

The Power of APIs

APIs are the building blocks of innovation; allowing individual developers to create products and services that can change the way companies operate. As Stephane Dubois, CEO and founder of Xignite, a provider of market data cloud solutions, noted “You can now literally build a whole business from scratch based on APIs. APIs bring simplicity, and simplicity brings innovation.”

With more companies opening up their APIs to developers, the speed of innovation has never been greater. Opening up their APIs and courting the developer community is a key strategy for financial firms to ensure they remain on the cutting edge of innovation. Ultimately, they must look to the fintech community with a spirit of cooperation instead of competition.

The Mobile Payment Wars

With the much-hyped debut of Apple Pay now 6 months in the rearview mirror, it is a good time to take stock of the state of mobile payments. While some in the media are quick to declare Apple Pay a rousing success, those in the fintech community know we’re still at the nascent stages of mobile payments. Indeed, several panelists at the conference noted that Apple Pay is not much different from the now-failed and much derided Google Wallet, except that it had perhaps better timing when it entered the market, and benefited from more flattering press.

Still, overall consumer adoption of mobile payments is small. Much of this has to do with security concerns, though some at the conference were quick to point out mobile payments are generally more secure than using a magnetic stripe card, so this may be a mental hurdle that must be overcome.

But more importantly, for mobile payments to really catch on like wildfire, consumers need to feel compelled that paying with their phone adds real value versus paying with cash or a card. This will come when mobile payments incorporate elements that can only be implemented via smart digital devices, such as geo-targeted offers.

Making Lending Accessible

Securing a traditional loan is something many people throughout the world are unable to do. Banks typically have very stringent requirements of who they will lend to. And after the financial crisis of 2008, credit and capital is even harder to come by.

But technology is poised to change all that. The rise of crowdfunding and p2p lending has made it easier for folks to raise money. And new lending startups are helping the unbanked and others who have not built up a traditional credit score receive microloans. Other companies are creating algorithms to reduce the credit underwriting process from weeks to minutes.

There’s lots of innovation going on in the financial technology space, and the most exciting thing is that we’re only in the beginning stages. We’ll be continually keeping an eye on the latest trends and hot topics as they arise.

Compliance, Data Driven, Financial Technology, Innovation, Payments,
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