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What even is ‘fintech’ anyway?

You might see us throw the word fintech around on social media or in our blogs.

But what does it really mean? And why is it relevant to you, me, or anyone else?

Fintech in its simplest form is a technology-based financial product. It’s banking’s Brangelina. Welding the words finance and technology together into one; it symbolises the synergy of two forces otherwise characterised as mutually exclusive.

I stumbled out of University as a fresh faced grad last summer and despite having always banked online, religiously (and unfortunately for my balance) using apps like Paypal, Amazon and Uber, I had never heard the word ‘fintech’.

Instead, I saw those things as intelligent, but no more intelligent than the other tech I was using. The only difference was that my money was involved.

To give a very very brief backstory to fintech (whilst avoiding a political, technological or economical essay), the products we’re seeing now really took root in the wake left by the 2008 financial crisis.

A lack of trust in the big banks accelerated change, meaning that tech companies were catapulted to the public as providers of a new wave of product. Faster, safer and simpler.

Fintech therefore emerged as a counterpoint to the established players.

Saving time and energy, technology is now making money simpler for a generation of mobile users. The days of unhelpful paper bank statements and frustrating visits to the branch are being left behind.

When there’s an app for everything, we have the ability to more easily navigate the market to find the best deals, whether we’re looking for a mortgage or just getting our friends to pay us back.

Challenging traditional financial models, fintech delivers smarter technology to do money differently.

So in reality, fintech has come to mean much more than just ‘financial technology’.

From where we’re sitting, being a fintech start-up is all about creating a customer-focused product and building a faster and more accessible way to respond to everyone’s financial needs.

But it’s more than just speed and ease too.

It’s a movement towards streamlined services that prioritise customer experience. Because what’s the point in new tech if the company behind it is full of the same flaws as the companies that run on old tech? Fintechs believe in listening to the customers and in technology that solves real problems.

And the best bit is it has started to make tangible changes for the UK already.

A perfect example of this is the fintech success story, TransferWise.

Founded in 2011, the peer-to-peer money transfer platform matched demand from people wanting to send money with those wanting to send it back, both saving money by not actually converting the currency.

Low cost and simple money transfers were demanded. Fintech supplied.

The trend continued into savings accounts. Moneybox provides a mobile app that makes saving and investing intuitive rather than laborious. For instance, not only does the app make opening a stocks and shares ISA simple, but it ingeniously enables you to round up your ‘spare change’ from everyday card transactions and deposit them in a tax-free savings account.

A huge draw to consumers was also the highly competitive rates, which owe themselves to the reduced overheads at a fintech in comparison to an incumbent provider based on an out-of-date legacy platform.

Through simple but smart means, the tech behind modern financial products is capable of providing a step change in experience whilst the digital and mobile focus means they naturally fit in with people’s lives, rather than interrupting it.

One perfect example of this is fintech start-up, Secco Aura, which rewards you for your social interactions and transactions, enabling app users to decide upon their own currency and trade with people near them.

Likewise, similar minded start-ups are harnessing our data-rich lives to ensure we as the consumer are in control.

It’s a fascinating concept and highlights fintech’s diverse application to modern life.

However, it’s not just the UK that’s seeing a fintech revolution. Meanwhile, technology is enabling a huge amount of people in developing nations with smartphones and payment apps, empowering them without the need of a traditional banking network.

The benefits have been particularly clear in China, India and Africa, with more than 85 percent of Kenyan adults now using some kind of mobile payment app to pay bills and conduct other transactions.

In China, fintech companies now serve about as many customers as the major banks do, partly due to the widespread use of mobile phones.

Importantly, what fintech can do (and the established kind of struggle with) is respond to customer needs quickly. Start-ups are famed for their fleet of foot and adaptability.

With Starling, we are creating a product that truly fits the app generation, with a responsive customer-focussed approach. Because whilst 64% of UK adults now use mobile banking, 43% claim existing products no longer fit their lifestyle.

So in response to this, fintech has become synonymous with a movement for change and a mind-set geared towards disruption, consumer visibility and speed of access.

Talking about a world where money tackles problems rather than creates them, Harriet wrote in her blog that ‘It’s more than mere money management. It’s about boosting everyone’s financial wellbeing.’

Providing new ways to spend, save, borrow and invest, challengers like Starling will give the customer a new way to see their money.

Technology has been able to transform our lives in many different ways, from how we enjoy music or how we shop.

The banking experience is about to go through the same revolution. Whatever we call it, we are keen to lead the way.