Bracing for seven critical changes as fintech matures

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McKinsey&Company | By Miklos Dietz, Vinayak HV, and Gillian Lee | Nov, 2016

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The fintech sector is being shaped by shifting market conditions, new regulations, and changes in consumer demands and behaviors.

For the past decade, fintech companies—technology firms that focus on financial products and services—have moved quickly, forcing incumbents to rethink their core business models and embrace digital innovations. But now, the fintech industry is itself maturing and entering a period of rapid change. Companies wondering how they will fit into this new era must first understand the forces that are pushing the changes.

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While the industry will undoubtedly continue to expand as its customer base grows and investor appetite remains unsated, changes are imminent. Indeed, the very concept of what comprises fintech will shift. As the industry evolves, it will play a role well beyond financial products and services, individual companies will vie to become undisputed leaders by size and breadth, and ecosystems will develop that have a tight grip on customer loyalty.

This new fintech era is being shaped by changes in market conditions, new regulations, and shifts in consumer demands and behaviors. As a result, the industry, generally, is becoming more cautious, even as it becomes more diverse across technologies and products. McKinsey research and work with fintechs in many markets suggest seven critical aspects of this new environment that must be understood to thrive in the shifting market.

Expanding scope

The scope of products and services offered by fintechs is expanding rapidly. Where once companies focused on payment applications, lending, and money transfers, the industry’s reach has extended into more than 30 areas (exhibit). The shift brings fintechs away from a focus on frontline activities to a broad engagement throughout the value chain. The new offerings cut across a wide swath of financial services: retail, wealth management, small- and midsize enterprises (SMEs), corporate and investment banking, and insurance.

Various fintechs using a variety of technologies are active in each of these areas. Some, for example robo-advisory systems that provide automated recommendations with little human input, use tested technologies to meet customer needs, while others pursue more experimental technologies, such as blockchain systems that track and store an expanding series of transactions to help reduce infrastructure costs and improve efficiency.

In addition, fintechs are moving beyond addressing a customer’s financial needs to offering a wider range of services, blurring the industry’s boundaries. For example, Social Finance, known generally as SoFi, began by offering financial products to students and young professionals and has since expanded to provide career coaching and networking services. Holvi Payment Services, a Finnish start-up acquired by Spanish financial group Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria (BBVA) in 2016, began by offering banking services to SMEs and expanded to provide complementary offerings, such as an online sales platform, bookkeeping services, expense-claims systems, and a cash-flow tracker.

Increasing diversity

The fintech industry is also becoming more diversified, with a wide variety of business models seen across geographies, segments, and technologies. One common model would be a start-up backed by venture-capital funding emerging to address a specific customer need.

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For example, the US-based Stripe, one of the largest fintech players, was founded in 2011 to offer an improved online payment system and has attracted more than $300 million from venture-capital funds, including Founders Fund, Khosla Ventures, and Sequoia Capital.1 Stripe was one of the first fintechs to dramatically accelerate and improve the process merchants followed to accept payments online. While legacy payments companies needed five to seven days to set up a new merchant, Stripe gave merchants the chance to launch a website and start accepting payments within minutes.2 Another model would be a large technology company expanding into financial services. China’s Alibaba, one of the best-known examples of this model, started as a major e-commerce site and has moved into financial products, with its Alipay subsidiary boasting more than 800 million registered users in 2016. Another emerging model would be an established financial company creating its own fintech unit. For example, Ping An Insurance (Group) Company of China, China’s largest insurer by assets, launched a peer-to-peer service, Lufax, in 2012, and by 2016 the unit was valued at almost $19 billion.3

Fintech pioneers, such as PayPal, are also adjusting their business models to encompass a wider range of services. PayPal, launched in the 1990s to provide a payment system for online purchases, then a new phenomena, has since expanded to provide instant lines of credit and mobile applications that locate nearby stores and restaurants that accept payment by PayPal.4

Along with diversified models, performance has also become highly variable among fintechs. Certain players have seen share prices fall more than 50 percent. At the other extreme, fintechs that retain the confidence of investors and customers have continued to see strong performance as reflected by share price and business growth. Among the examples, share price for IHS Markit, a financial information and data provider, rose by more than 20 percent over the 12 months ending October 2016. IHS Markit had shown consistently strong financial performance, with, for instance, adjusted third quarter 2016 revenue up 5 percent from a year earlier and its full-year margin forecast at about 36 percent.5

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