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Five years ago, The Economist prophesized fintech’s promised revolution to upend finance and give the power back to customers. That article was three years off the back of the 2008 financial crisis - of course, a well-told story in how a crisis breeds innovation. Since then we have seen fintech fulfill its promise in growing companies with huge valuations and investments. Yet, arguably it still has progress to make in revolutionizing how the world interacts with money and finance.

Cue the COVID-19 pandemic and its unnerving impact on employment, communities, and businesses. Amid the uncertainty, many fintechs have suffered, but some have stepped up by delivering stimulus checks to businesses and individuals, assisting underserved and underbanked communities, and keeping money moving, to not only survive this crisis but grow through it.

To further understand how fintechs have achieved growth during COVID, Cognito partnered with the UK’s Department for International Trade (DIT) for North America to host a webinar with Stash, OakNorth, and Mastercard Start Path.

The panel found that achieving growth can be achieved in the following four ways:

Listen to clients and focus on meeting their needs

Danni Fang, Senior Analyst, Strategy & Development at Stash, points to the growth the financial services app has witnessed this year as a result of its customer-centric approach. Fang commented, “we are able to keep our customers' needs and pain points in mind, to make sure that everything we’re bringing to them can resonate and make a lasting impact.”

For Stash, customer education has been a core value proposition of its offering during these times. “We wanted to give our customers the resources to understand these sometimes complex financial topics, and then also provide them with products to put the knowledge into practice,” said Fang.

For an infrastructure provider like Mastercard, how it reacted to the pandemic was vital to the operations of thousands of businesses globally, as people avoided cash and relied on eCommerce and contactless payments. Sabrina Tharani, Director of Partnerships, Mastercard Start Path, the company’s startup engagement program explained, “Mastercard had to support the rise of these new types of payments and capabilities to make sure that no transaction fails.”

Find partners to increase speed and scale

Much in the same way the world quickly learned to live with a pandemic, fintechs like OakNorth, which focuses on commercial lending both as a Platform-as-a-Service (global) and a bank (UK only), adapted to the environment its clients found themselves in. Neil Kahrim Director, Growth & Operations at OakNorth pointed out “our clients are pivoting, they need to pivot quickly, they need to be able to plugin a solution that will help solve their challenges as quickly as they can. I think the way to do that is via partnerships”, rather than building software which is costly and time-consuming.

Fang agreed that partnerships are a strong strategy for fintechs. On customer acquisition, she outlined, “through referral or two-way affiliate programs, we can actually work with partners to share customers and build brand awareness for both companies”, which can help realize growth.

The digital ecosystem is yours for the taking

One of the knock-on effects of the pandemic is the acceleration of the digital economy. Cash to cashless, branches to branchless. Tharani challenged fintechs to take advantage of the new “digital ecosystem.” Kahrim agreed that for OakNorth’s clients, due to the stress from the Paycheck Protection Plan, “the need to digitize is now imperative for them and has become a priority.”

For Tharani, fintechs “have an opportunity now to acquire customers like never before.” Those companies that are “well-adjusted to the new digital environment” are set for backing. Tharani concluded, “the industry will definitely see capital flowing into these new digital platforms.”

Harness your ability to communicate to influence and grow

While the panelists experienced a variety of similar and different challenges in reacting and growing through the pandemic, there was consistency in their need to connect with audiences. For Stash, it was continuing to provide financial education and other resources for its customers through these uncertain times when customers needed financial support and education more than ever before. OakNorth needed to communicate with its partners in a clear and nimble manner. While Mastercard took a human-centric approach through its communication to its people in addition to guiding its global network of partners. All fintechs need to reach different internal and external audiences, how they do so can make the difference between a reputation that drives growth, and one that puts them on the backfoot during an economic crisis.

Moderator of the panel, Benjamin Thiele-Long Cognito’s Director, Head of West Coast, concluded with a positive message to attendees that fintech, despite the trying times, “still looks positive, still looks bold, and it still looks brave.” COVID-19 is proving an accelerant of many trends, one of which is fintech’s long-promised revolution.