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No, Automation Won't Kill Banks, But it Will Change the Financial Services Game, Part 2

Roland Alston, Appian
February 11, 2021

Technology drives change but change has become particularly frenetic in the last decade.

This trend, says Fintech expert Chris Skinner, is partly inspired by the global financial crisis, but equally enabled by the digital revolution.

"I am a technologist," says Skinner "and have spent all of my career looking at how technology might change the future of finance and financial services. ÖBut this is a digital revolution of planet earth and goes much further than just changing banking."

Skinner's commentary in HYPERAUTOMATION a recently published collection of essays on the future of low-code development and business automation schools us on the forces driving the radical change we've seen in the last decade, and on how the rise of non-traditional finance has created inclusive societies and new models of finance.

5 Forces of Radical Change in Banking

"These constantly changing times," says Skinner, "call for fintechs and the broader financial services ecosystem to ensure the least fortunate among us do not get left behind."

This is more important than ever as hyperautomation delivers hyper-personalized experiences that customers demand in these constantly changing times.Which is a good segue to the five forces of radical change that will propel us forward in the age of hyperautomation according to Skinner:

    • Financial inclusion: The fact that anyone who can get access to a mobile telephone can now get access to finance is why so many people are getting engaged in trading and transacting. According to the World Bank, 69% of adults 3.8 billion people now have an account at a bank or mobile money provider a substantial rise from the mere 51% in 2011. And it's all thanks to the mobile phone and the internet. In short, digital is cheap.

    • Financial literacy: Considering finance is the major factor in our lives for comfort and wealth, it is also one of the areas most overlooked in our school years. Many firms are now focused on providing financial literacy for children, using gamification technologies to make it fun and easy.

    • Financial capability for the financially less-abled: This builds on financial literacy but is focused specifically on the most vulnerable financial users, such as financial management for the elderly. For example, if a parent gets dementia, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, or another disease it means they can no longer cope, says Skinner. These apps help their children if they have them look after their finances and avoid being ripped off by scammers and criminals.

    • Financial wellness: Psychologists have found that those who have the worst mental health problems are usually those who have the worst financial health. Multiple studies report people with mental health problems are more likely to be in debt. And those with addictions are most likely to be at issue. Which is why UK challenger banks Monzo and Starling are helping customers to give up gambling by offering a block to prevent their financial accounts accessing anything related to gambling.

    • Sustainability and responsible banking:Skinner says that sustainable finance is best illustrated by Ant Forest which encourages Alipay's 800 million users in China to play a game of growing virtual trees. To grow a tree, the system encourages users to avoid doing things that increase carbon emissions. You get more points the more environmentally friendly your lifestyle becomes and you save even more.

"There are many ways for us to change our lifestyle to become more eco-friendly," says Skinner, "including making online payments."

Going Digital and Planting Trees

By playing a fun app while making payments, 500 million Chinese Alipay users have planted more than 100 million real trees in Inner Mongolia and Gansu province that cover nearly 1,000 square kilometers of land. This will reduce the carbon emissions of China by an estimated 5% by the end of 2020, according to Skinner.

This is how lessons are learned, by looking at new economies that had little or no historical infrastructure, says Skinner. We see this occurring in India, China, across Asia, Africa and South America. These countries started their infrastructure projects in the internet age, and are turbocharging their economies as a result.

Skinner says that he learned this lesson when visiting Ant Financial in Hangzhou, China. The company has a mission for mobile financial inclusion and has exported its technologies to local partnerships in Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, Pakistan, India and more.

Digital technology is bringing simple and easy financial services to markets that have historically been ignored by banks.

"My favorite example is in India," says Skinner. "What's happening there really brings home what is happening with technology and financial inclusion. Paytm, for example, is a mobile wallet that is used across all of India. It has around 400 million users today whereas, just before demonetization in November 2016, it had about 150 million. Because of demonetization and other moves by the Indian government, the story of inclusion in India has risen dramatically, and much of this is thanks to the mobile payments wallet network."

Unlocking Value for Digital Humans

Vijay Shekhar Sharma is the founder of Paytm. He is also a fan of Jack Ma and Alibaba, and wanted to copy Alibaba and Alipay in India. Sharma went to see Jack Ma and persuaded him to invest in his venture. This is why Alibaba and Ant Financial own a substantial part of Paytm. Core technologies behind Paytm are provided by Ant Financial through Open Banking, open payments and open financial services.

These technologies have enabled Paytm to both grow and scale very quickly thanks to cloud-based services. And Ant Financial and Alipay are not just doing this in India, but also with partners in many other countries, from Pakistan to the Philippines to Indonesia, Thailand and South Korea. In other words, Ant Financial has gone global.

As for Paytm's Sharma, he is India's youngest multibillionaire today. But he was homeless just ten years ago, bankrupted by his business partners and sleeping on his friends' sofas to survive. The takeaway according to Skinner?:

"Scaling financial services networks will enable opportunity and inclusion for everyone."

Drawing on years of experience and numerous interviews with senior execs in banking and financial services, Chris Skinner's must-read essay shows us the hidden forces of change that are creating new models of finance.

(PS: If you missed the first episode of this two-part post, read part one here. To read Skinner's essay, download your free copy of HYPERAUTOMATION.)