Fintech is a much-hyped buzzword in the financial services industry these days and everyone from the corporate giants to the infant startups is talking about it. Though Fintech is gaining this attention for all the right reasons, its specific meaning always gets diluted along the way. It is proclaimed to be a game-changing, disruptive innovation that holds the capability of shaking up the traditional financial markets. This blog aims to clearly define what is Fintech and how Blockchain technology is driving disruption in the financial services industry.
What is Fintech?
Fintech, an abbreviation for Financial Technology that describes the evolving intersection of financial services and technology. The term Fintech was originally referred to the technology applied to the back-end of established consumer and trade financial institutions. Since the internet revolution, the term Fintech stands for technologies that are disrupting traditional financial services, including mobile payments, money transfers, loans, fundraising, and asset management. Although, in its broadest sense, Fintech stands for technologies used and applied in the financial services sector, it also touches every other business the financial services industry deals with.
Every time you go online to see your financial transactions or use tools to manage your spending and investments, you are making use of the Financial technology or Fintech.
Another most hyped term in the financial world today is Blockchain. Blockchain plays a significant role in financial innovations and is the backbone technology that is driving the Fintech revolution.
Everywhere you look these days, someone has a crazy new solution built off of Blockchain technology and you may be asking yourself this question: What does Blockchain mean, and how is it relevant to me? If you are an investor, entrepreneur, government worker, teacher, or well anyone who is collecting a paycheck, then this is the most important advancement to date, of any kind. It will have significant consequences on our lives and how we do business in the future.
A Blockchain is a type of decentralized and distributed ledger for maintaining a permanent and immutable record of transactional data in a chronological order. Blockchain stores transactional data in a continuously growing list of records called blocks. Blockchain uses cryptography to link and secure these blocks. Each block typically contains three elements:
- A Hash pointer- link to the previous block
- A timestamp
- Transaction data
For better understanding, the key features of Blockchain can be categorized as follows :
Decentralized– A Blockchain-enabled decentralized network operates on a peer to peer basis. Meaning that by storing data across its network, blockchain eliminates the risks that come with data being held centrally.
Distributed ledger– A distributed ledger allows sharing of a ledger of activity- such as arbitrary data or virtually anything of value between multiple parties. Each of the computers in the distributed network maintains a copy of the ledger to ensure transparency and also prevent a single point of failure (SPOF) and all copies are updated and validated simultaneously.
Immutable record– By design, blockchains are inherently resistant to modification of data. All blockchain networks adhere to a certain protocol for validating new blocks. Once recorded, the data in any given block cannot be altered without the alteration of all the subsequent blocks, which requires the consensus of the network majority.
Blockchain opens new doors of opportunities for all the stakeholders in the financial world. The future of the financial services industry depends on how these stakeholders capitalize on this technology and how do they interact with each other. Let us have a look at the different participants of the Fintech ecosystem and what are the various challenges faced by them.
The Fintech Ecosystem
The Fintech ecosystem is a very fluid environment and is creating surprising winners and the most stunning losers in the financial world. According to Jeff Koyen, an active blockchain investor, entrepreneur and journalist:
“It’s a very interesting space to watch. It’s clear that blockchain has the potential to make finance more efficient, but the big players are well-established. And establishments don’t tend to favor innovation. I’d keep an eye on the startups who want to disrupt, but also know how to play nice with the institutions.”
The industry is growing at a rate of 23% year on year. To make sure that you don’t fall back or get lost, let us understand what are the roles of the various participants and the various challenges faced by them.
Governments, financial services companies, and Fintech startups together form an ecosystem. All the participants of this ecosystem face different challenges and opportunities and with the advancement in technology every day, this landscape becomes more dynamic and complex than ever.
Traditional financial institutions, also referred to as incumbents are trying to leverage the best outcome by adding technology to their existing legacy systems and preventing them to become obsolete. Holland FinTech (2015) forecasts that approximately $660 billion in revenue may migrate from traditional financial services to Fintech services in the areas of payments, crowdfunding, wealth management, and lending. Banks are investing more heavily in innovation, however, they haven’t yet fully diffused these innovation strategies to all their processes – owing it to the threats these might cause to the existing system and the huge clientele.
The Fintech Startups
The value of global investment in Fintech startups has increased from approximately three billion U.S. dollars in 2013 to eight billion U.S. dollars in 2018. While the disruption opportunity for Fintech startups is massive, startups will have to find a way to scale out their business while facing increased regulations, higher costs, and larger infrastructures.
Governments have an important role in the evolution of Fintech, but they need to balance their activities carefully – encouraging innovation without inhibiting evolution. As governments develop policies and programs, there needs to be active engagement with stakeholders, whether through formal feedback mechanisms or ad hoc opportunities and conversations, in order to shape a future that benefits all stakeholders of the Fintech ecosystem.
Blockchain Driving Disruption In The Fintech Landscape
There is no doubt in saying that Blockchain is the backbone technology which is revolutionizing the Fintech industry. And as the financial service industry is moving from exploration phase to application phase, it is very important for the financial institutions or experts to understand the role of Blockchain in the Fintech if they want to take advantage of this financial revolution.
Why Fintech needs Blockchain?
The biggest challenge a Fintech company face is trust. How to make people trust them, and how to make a safe and secure financial product? Banks and financial institutions have huge cash reserves using which they create secure networks on which banking transactions take place. Fintech companies lack funds which restrict them from developing or procuring a high-security system.
Enter Blockchain. Blockchain is cheap in terms of developing and also highly secure or “trustless” as we call it. As Blockchain is a series of immutable blocks, this allows companies to track the complete lifecycle of a financial transaction. Blockchain has given the opportunity to create secure and safe financial products and bring innovation in the financial sector.
Blockchain has the potential to truly disrupt multiple industries and make the processes more democratic, secure, transparent, and efficient. This leads us to another question:
What makes Blockchain so powerful?
The answer to this question lies in the two inherent properties of a Blockchain – Decentralized and Distributed.
For centuries we have trusted a third party for carrying out all our transactions. All the data is centrally stored and these central parties majorly formed the way economies work. Have you ever wondered what would happen if one or all of these third parties went corrupt? It would create huge chaos in the society. With blockchain the data is centralized and there is no single authority. The blockchain potentially cuts out the middleman, giving back the power to the owner of the assets – data or tokens carrying some financial value.
The distributed infrastructure provides blockchain with an ability to share information that is secure and provide for the unalterable transfer of data– ensuring data integrity. This makes the blockchain technology an important tool in building trust among business and consumers. A distributed ledger can take over many of the functions performed by central third parties. This is particularly relevant for the financial services industry which trusts these third parties to build trust.
If you are running a business or are a part of leadership, then you must seriously start re-imagining your business model and explore how you can integrate blockchain to remain viable.
Now that you know what is blockchain and Fintech, and the way blockchain is driving disruption in the Fintech industry let us take a look at the current use cases of blockchain technology in the Financial services. It is clear that there are a number of major areas for applying the blockchain technologies emerging but, right now, it seems to me these are the major ones:
Blockchain technology use cases in the Financial Services
1: Smart Contracts: A smart contract is a computer code running on top of a blockchain containing a set of rules under which the parties to that smart contract agree to interact with each other. When these predefined rules are met, the agreement is automatically enforced. The smart contract code has the ability to facilitate, verify, and enforce the negotiation or performance of an agreement or transaction.
2: Digital Payments: The transfer of value or assets has always been a slow and expensive process. Imagine you have to send $100 from the USA to your friend in your Europe, who have an account with a local bank, it takes a number of banks and institutions to finally collect the money. With Blockchain, this process is simplified and faster at a cost much less than the traditional banking institutions.
3: Digital Identity: When identity management is moved to blockchain technology, users are able to choose how they identify themselves and with whom their identity is shared. Users still need to register their identity on the blockchain of course. But, they don’t need a new registration for every service provider, provided those providers are also connected to the blockchain.
4: Share Trading: Buying and selling stocks and shares involves many middlemen, such as brokers and the stock exchange itself. A blockchain is a decentralized and secure ledger that gives every stakeholder a say in the validation of a transaction and eliminates some of the ‘middlemen’ while changing the role of others. Eliminating the middlemen from the share trading process speeds up the settlement process and allows for greater trade accuracy.
Future of Blockchain Technology in Fintech
Although the Fintech industry is thrilled about blockchain, the technology will take a few years to become a mainstream financial model. As with any emerging technology- Blockchain poses certain challenges that need to be addressed to fully utilize its potential in the financial services industry.
It is obvious that even though Blockchain technology is still in its growing phase and the possibilities are still being explored, it is important to research and keep up with new developments to make the best use of this technology to fully transform how we carry out our financial processes in our day-to-day life.