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You must be kidding me

Time to ruffle some feathers. Innovation, payments, fintech - there has been a lot of buzz and commotion there for the past few years. The end result - mostly fizzle. Why? There has been no real problem to solve. That conclusion surprised Rory Cellan-Jones when he interviewed me at the Payment Council's "Payments Innovation" conference last year - I said it was all empty talk and there would be no tangible change until Apple comes along with NFC. The audience gasped, Rory roared with laughter (those were pre-Apple Pay days). Guess who was right.

One year later I had almost a deja vu when the best "innovation" at one of the recent fintech events I attended was an app that prompted the user to move some money from the current to savings account... You must be kidding me!

Why do most companies in fintech areas fail? Because they don't solve a real problem. Current "innovations" are mostly vitamins for healthy or average bodies. Or naive souls who don't understand what they are up against (I was one). To succeed, you have to be an antibiotic (or at least a painkiller) in the context of pressing pain. Doing something just because you can will get you nowhere. I know that it sounds obvious, but then many banksmerchants and smartphone OEMs still don't get it. At all.

Even when you are truly innovative, things are not easy. Remember Google Wallet? Their value proposition was not dissimilar to that of Apple Pay's, yet mass adoption never materialised. When Apple Pay came to the party, things changed dramatically. Why? Because Apple, unlike Google, were not playing it alone. They brought major card schemes and banks in tow. And they had an army of fanatical customers. 

Then there is a question of timing. Google were fronting their Wallet with own card, whilst "hiding" other cards behind it. That upset major banks and card schemes who told Google off an nipped it all in the bud. Fast forward to 2015 - Barclays' BPay is using exactly the same architecture and no one bats an eyelid. Even more so, EMV tokenisation is nothing else but "card fronting". It's not "what", it's "who", "how" and "when" that matters...

That brings us to the moral of this story. Where is that real pain? Mass transit where we still buy paper tickets. Plastic cards that have my name on the front and three digits (CVV) on the back. (When was it the last time a store assistant looked at your card?) Retail transactions where we still have to fiddle with plastic (payment and loyalty cards) and paper (coupons and receipts). Online fraud when someone can pretend to be me. Using your payment card overseas, with banks declining authorisation just because you are abroad (when they finally implement that simple "I am away" button in their apps, don't call it "innovation", please - you've heard it here first).

As for timing, there is a huge macro trend to ride - contactless EMV. That rising tide will lift many boats, you just have to push yours out.

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Comments: (1)

Pierre Galeon
Pierre Galeon - Forward Business Ventures - London 16 November, 2015, 09:04Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

I would concur with your views Alexander. Quite a lot of hype in Fintech at this time with some high profile accelerators generating half thought through propositions through an array of start ups. The who/how/when questions are also essential indeed. Good to read some counter-cyclical blogs on that topic.  

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This post is from a series of posts in the group:

Innovation in Financial Services

A discussion of trends in innovation management within financial institutions, and the key processes, technology and cultural shifts driving innovation.


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