Fintech in 2023: Navigating uncertainty

Introduction

Just like everything else in the world right now, fintech in 2023 is whirling through unprecedented amounts of change. The aftershocks of the pandemic are still being felt across the financial world, while the ongoing economic crisis seems set to worsen with far-reaching implications for the industry.  

And although for many fintechs, the pandemic launched huge waves of innovation and record-breaking hauls of investment, the oncoming uncertainty will likely bring new challenges that many in the sector have never dealt with.  

It was this uncertainty that formed the thesis for The FinTech Playbook: Navigating Uncertainty. A report we wrote in partnership with SAP and VC Innovations that contains interviews with fintech experts on how they were planning on navigating, surviving and thriving in that uncertainty. 

Throughout those interviews, we noticed four recurring ingredients in the recipe for success. In this blog, we’re going to summarize those ingredients and explore how the space’s experts are applying them.  

The full report can be downloaded here 

SPEED to serve rapidly changing customer needs 

The fintech revolution of the 2010s had already drastically altered the financial needs of most customers. But the pandemic accelerated this even further. ‘The pandemic […] increased the velocity of change for businesses, and particularly for finance teams,’ says Rupert Lee-Browne, CEO at CAXTON.IO, a multi-award winning fintech payments company. Since the pandemic, that level of pace hasn’t relented and it looks like more of the same for 2023 and beyond.  

In response, businesses are having to rapidly innovate new products and get them ready for market far faster than they would have just a few years ago.  

‘Future changes in finance systems and technologies that were projected to be five years out, instead needed to happen within two,’ explains Lee-Browne. ‘Digitization of processes, particularly making payments, has really affected our clients. […] To address those needs, we rapidly developed connectivity tools for them to integrate, rather than use our services remotely. Where once we would have expected our clients to call us or log onto our platform from a desktop, they now demand API-driven integration with existing or new applications.’  

What became clear across the interviews is that within times of great change, there’s opportunity.  

But, says Lee-Browne, to thrive, agility and speed must be paired with preparation. ‘For many startups and founders, this will be their first financial crunch, but Caxton has already weathered many storms, most notably the 2008 financial crisis. 

‘We learned long ago that risk is a constant, and creating opportunities out of disasters as they arrive is crucial to success. Our strategic direction for the past two decades has been to assume that unexpected changes will happen, and to work to make the most of the opportunities that affords us.’  

DATA to empower decision-making 

Clearly good decision making is key at any stage in a business’s life. But in times of uncertainty, when cash flow may be waning and new ventures can make or break a company, businesses simply can’t afford to get things wrong. In response to this, many of our interviewees revealed how they were investing further into data analysis to gain real-time insights at a truly granular level.  

This goes for decisions that will directly impact their business, and decisions on how they support their clients.  

Take The Bank of London, the world’s first purpose-built global clearing, agency and transaction bank. The bank has a global clientbase and helps its clients launch fully compliant financial products and services in-country and cross-border.  

This means monitoring the foreign exchange market in a deeply granular way is essential. ‘One of the core components of our business is cross-border payments,’ explains Felipe Hillard, UK Chief Client and Product Officer.

“Therefore, we are very conscious of what exchange rates are doing and where certain remittance flows might matter. We need the ability to zoom in on certain types of payments, understand the impact on different communities and sectors, and what matters and what doesn’t.”

-Felipe Hillard, UK Chief Client and Product Officer at The Bank of London

This granular approach is being used across the sector. ‘We take a much more granular approach to lending, using data and analytics to build an in-depth understanding of each business,’ explains Valentina Kristensen, Director of Growth and Communications at OakNorth Bank

This allows the bank to separate itself from its competitors, many of whom ‘tend to lump businesses into one of a dozen or so categories – for example, all restaurants, bars, hotels, golf clubs’ – an approach that disregards the fundamental differences in how these businesses operate. It also significantly reduces the risk on those loans, helping the bank to provide clients with products that perfectly suit their business in the short and long term. ‘It’s so important for lenders to use data and insights to build a clear picture of a business’s future growth potential and where it’s going, rather than simply relying on where it’s been.’ 

FOCUS to deliver long-term value 

The best entrepreneurs find opportunity amidst turmoil. So over the next year, along with numerous challenges, expect numerous opportunities to present themselves. The trick, almost all our interviewees pointed out, is knowing which to act on. Figure out which are future-proof and which are just a flash in the pan by focusing on your business’s purpose and concentrate on what long-term value you can bring to your customers.  

This doesn’t mean adapting to every change, but adapting in line with the changing needs of your clients and where your business can have the most impact. ‘When we stay oriented towards clients, we find success,’ says Hillard. ‘Ultimately, how are we meeting our client’s needs? How does that translate to our clients delivering value back to the market and to their clients? If we stay entangled in that model, as tightly as we can, we will see success. This approach means that even in uncertain times your priorities do not necessarily need to shift.’ 

This laser-focus on customers’ needs was echoed by Dorothy Copeland, Global Head of Partner Ecosystem and Alliances at Stripe.

“Our biggest asset is the consistent drumbeat of insights and learnings we’re hearing from our customers. Listening to their feedback is driving our day-to-day operations and ensuring we’re doing the right things to help them survive.”

Dorothy Copeland, Global Head of Partner Ecosystem and Alliances at Stripe

This approach is especially essential for companies operating in particularly volatile market segments. Just ask anyone working in crypto. ‘The last 6 months saw crypto’s ‘Lehman moment’, says Joe Flanagan, Co-Founder of Maple, a crypto capital network. However, by focussing on their long term goals and adapting to meet the needs of its clients, Maple has survived while many in the space have collapsed spectacularly – lending businesses operating on Maple outperformed the market materially with less than 1% default rate.  

In response to a market that is currently prioritizing risk management and short-term liquidity, Maple is acting fast to diversify the number of lending opportunities on the platform. But, explains Flanagan, the focus remains on the long-term. ‘Throughout the recent turmoil our focus on continuing to build our product has not waned and that will remain the case […] as we work towards achieving our vision of bringing institutional credit markets on-chain.’  

PARTNERS to multiply your reach

Nobody achieves anything alone – especially in a crisis. Luckily, many of the innovations fintech has seen over the last few years has been geared specifically towards collaboration. Now, thanks to APIs, product builders can offer their services to a far wider market, while other fintechs and digital businesses can easily increase their own offerings with a simple integration. This creates huge opportunities.  

‘What is powerful about where we’re heading,’ says The Bank of London’s Hillard, ‘is that we’re in a time where, frankly, there is no firm, no institution, no organization that can do it on their own. […] Through tough times, problem solving isn’t going to just be about what The Bank of London can do on its own, but, ultimately, what we can do with other organizations. 

‘Our partnership with SAP and SAP Fioneer is an amazing example of that because it allows us to have conversations with our peers at different levels of maturity, in different parts of the world. It also allows us to talk to each other not just as banking institutions or fintechs, but effectively as partners and clients of one another.’  

Conclusion 

All these ingredients have a massive implication not just on business strategy and culture, but on the underlying technology. For safe steering in uncertain times, software solutions that provide speed, agility, smart use of data and interconnectivity are essential. At SAP and SAP Fioneer, we don’t just equip our clients with these solutions but work in close partnership to help them navigate the turbulent landscape.  

And, while we’re all addressing challenging times, we must never forget the broader responsibility we hold to our world. As heralds of the financial ecosystem, with great technology at our fingertips, we can assist in creating the services that aid millions of people through the cost-of-living crisis.  

The possibilities are endless – using real-time data to reward positive financial behavior, personalizing debt offerings or embedding products where people need it most. By using technology to its full potential, we can create financial services which deliver against profit and loss expectations whilst helping millions of people build a path to sustainable financial wellbeing.