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“Banks are not focused on their customers, they are expensive with their complex fee structures and they are not able to provide such a digital customer experience as their customers are expecting. New agile challengers leveraging modern technology will push traditional banks aside and conquer the customer interface of banking.”

The statement above was common thinking a few years back when Fintech disruption was arising. In reality, entry to banking market was not so easy for Fintechs as one might think in the first place. Also, banks have realised that it is more beneficial to open up and collaborate with the new kids rather than trying to block them. Today, we see more symbiosis between banks and Fintechs. Players from both sides aim to serve and create value for mutual customers via more open ecosystems of financial services. This is what we call as Open Banking. However, the market is currently just taking its shape and both banks and Fintechs – as well as all the other Open Banking ecosystem partners – will have many lessons to be learned. We interviewed few Fintechs and forerunning incumbent banks during Slush 2018 and asked their opinion what it takes to collaborate.

Technology matters – as an enabling force

Banks spend 18-26% of their total operating costs on maintaining their legacy IT systems[1]. The systems are often monolithic or interconnected with uncountable amount of dependencies between different elements of highly complex IT landscape, which is based on highly expensive state-of-the art technology – of 1990’s or beyond. Due to this technological legacy, creation of new services relevant for customers of the Digital Age is expensive and slow for the banks.

Consequently, technology is a clear area where Fintech collaboration benefits banks. Fintechs and new technology vendors are cloud native, highly modular and easy to integrate to ecosystems through API’s enabling independent and high-speed product & service innovation and customer experience development.

However, according to Kristian Luoma, Head of OP Lab at OP Group, it is tempting to focus on new technology, competition and new players, but the most important thing is to create value for customers. Incumbent banks are adopting the habits of new agile challengers in researching customers’ needs and choose the best options to fulfill those in order to stay competitive. For being able to identify and select the best options banks have opened their doors for new innovative third parties, proactively and opportunity-oriented as in Nordea, according to Gunnar Berger, Head of Open Banking at Nordea.  

Client interviews at Slush

In the end, customers will decide which services they will use.

Kristian Luoma, OP Group

Importance of cultural fit

Collaboration between banks and Fintechs has obvious benefits but it is not trivial to execute. It might be rather easy to do innovative experiments cooperatively but scaling up towards sustainable business has still many challenges to be overcome. And culture is one aspect which must not be overlooked. Incumbent banks are large, hierarchical and risk-aversive organizations where clock-speed, pace of execution and decision making is typically like from different planet compared to an agile Fintech startup. According to Eugene Danilkis, Co-founder and CEO of Mambu, successful leveraging of modern technology and Fintech collaboration require evolutionary mindset from the banks. Ignacio Villoch, Open Ecosystem Innovation Builder at BBVA, adds that banks need to be curious to explore new and humble to acknowledge the capabilities where Fintechs excel the banks.

But it is not just the banks who need to change. Also Fintechs need to adapt their thinking, adopt to banks’ mindset as well as recognize and be prepared for potential constraints. Ilkka Ruotsila, Business Angel and Director at Deposits Solutions, encapsulates success of collaboration into one word: empathy.

Client interviews at Slush

Key success factor of collaboration is probably empathy – form both sides

Ilkka Ruotsila, Deposit Solutions

In the end, perhaps Fintech disruption will not be as binary as predicted in the first place. However, banks and Fintechs need to be proactive and adaptable when banking is transforming from pipeline business models towards ecosystems where partnerships are more symbiotic rather than traditional vendor/client type of relationships. In order to succeed, collaboration between banks and Fintechs must be purpose-driven and beneficiary for the entire ecosystem, including the customers. Cultural fit makes or breaks the success of the collaboration.

Authors

Jani Ristimäki, Manager, BearingPoint Digital & Strategy
Anttu Ahlberg, Senior Consultant, BearingPoint Digital & Strategy