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Since early 2020, many new greeting habits have formed. While the fist bump was likely the most prevalent, the elbow bump was the most COVID-friendly and politically correct. And we mustn’t forget the anticipatory stare, where two people await an acceptable lead from the other, only to time out, miss the window altogether, and result in an awkward fade to nothing.

However, as my colleague Jonathan Buxeda and I wandered in and out of panel discussions and networking events at Melbourne’s Grand Hyatt for the sixth annual Intersekt fintech conference, we noticed a strong return of the handshake. While we’re not blind to the health risks posed to some and not others, it was notable that — aside from the odd bottle of hand sanitiser— there were no visible aspects present that reminded us of the pandemic. It was a sold-out, physical, shoulder-to-shoulder, no-holds-barred live conference.

While not a small market for fintech (KPMG ranks Australia sixth globally in its fintech rankings), Intersekt is one of only a few large annual gatherings for entrepreneurs and their backers in the space here in Australia. As such, it is an important event and well attended. 

Why attend?

Cognito services fintech, regtech, climate tech and enterprise technology companies globally. Many of these firms are interested in — or already participating in—the Australian market for growth, given the country is fourth in size only to Hong Kong, Singapore and South Korea in its take up of fintech services among consumers in the Asia Pacific region.

While some of the panel discussions were a little too casual and sponsor-friendly for our liking, others were more engaging, and the event is filled with cohorts that should matter to local and global players: regulators; big banks; investors; entrepreneurs; and fellow fintech companies in various stages of their journeys.

As avid readers and researchers of financial technology media globally, we didn’t necessarily uncover red-hot breaking news and narratives; however, the anecdotes, introductions and conversations made the visit worth the ~A$500 price tag.

The 2021 FOMO anomaly

During a panel session that included three of our big four banks’ venture capital/commercial accelerator arms (NAB Ventures, x15ventures and 1835i, owned by National Australia Bank, Commonwealth Bank of Australia and ANZ Bank respectively), the tricky topic of the 2021 bull market for start-ups and growth equity opportunities was raised. While the larger, listed bank representatives were likely constrained a little in what they could say about this, AirTree Ventures’ James Cameron was more liberal. Deals were chased, little sleep was had, and the opportunity to get to know the people behind the ideas was extremely limited. This seemed to be anything but a sustainable environment in which to tease out great opportunities. 

Prior to its November 2021 peak and subsequent one-third decline, the NASDAQ index did a pretty good job of illustrating the pain that technology companies experienced over the last nine months, both public and private. The rising cost of capital, removal of liquidity, shrinkage of SPAC markets and pressure from LPs to realise investments have all precipitated a rethink of the 2021 fintech goldrush. 

However, a good idea is still a good idea. While there may be more scrutiny applied to pre-revenue pitches and total addressable markets for growth stories, all backers seemed genuinely alive with excitement about the future and somewhat relieved that the due diligence cramming that took place during the wild days of 2021 is no longer required.

The future of Australian fintech

As disrupters disrupt, and their innovations make things ‘faster, better, cheaper’ for business and consumers, one can only assume that margins associated with successful fintech start-up ideas will be squeezed. In a higher interest rate environment, the roadmap to earnings will be paramount and the power of positive brand alignment—as the big banks pointed out at the conference—will get the attention of those addressable markets being tapped.

We do know, however, that the leading country for take-up in fintech services—China at 87%, according to EY’s last survey—presents a big gap to be filled from Australia’s 58%. Getting fintech solutions onto the mobiles of consumers and platforms of business is an opportunity worth exploiting.

If you have a great story that you think needs to be heard, click here to get in touch with the Cognito office in Sydney so we can help you build the influence and authority you seek.

Scott Schuberg is the managing director of Cognito's Sydney office