With the economy in turmoil and mass layoffs in the sector beginning to happen, I think Money 20/20 said it best when framing its predictions for the new year: “Who in the *F* Knows?”
Based on the unpredictable ups and downs of the last few years, I tend to agree with Money 20/20’s statement. Nevertheless, there are some 2023 predictions worth paying attention to.
Big Tech and fintech layoffs could be good for banks and credit unions
A pool of very talented tech workers has recently been laid off. Many of them came from Big Tech, but plenty also came from fintech startups. Stripe laid off 1,120 people (14% of its workforce) in November 2022; Robinhood has had two layoffs, pink-slipping roughly 1,000 employees. Meanwhile, nearly every crypto firm has shrunk like the price of Bitcoin.
These moves have supplied the labor market with lots of talented workers who have specialized knowledge in areas like wealth management, alternative assets, blockchain and so on—and who understand not only the technology but also niche industries and highly regulated spaces. At the same time, banks—notably smaller community banks and credit unions—can benefit from talent with this experience as they work to digitally transform so they can keep up with fintechs and challenger banks.
The larger pool of non-fintech workers recently let go in other sectors could also be a gold mine for financial institutions. Wells Fargo's CIO and head of enterprise functions technology, Jason Strle, understands the value of the technical knowledge available in the labor market and noted that the bank is looking for expertise in programming languages, development frameworks and data analytics—but banking experience is not a prerequisite.
"Non-traditional technology verticals like banking offer similar but unique opportunities to work with the foremost innovators to redefine future customer experiences," Strle said. "The benefit is that a longstanding institution like Wells Fargo comes with an added layer of stability, consistency and scale."
Savvy leaders at financial institutions—from your local credit union on up to giants like Wells Fargo—understand that recent layoffs have made for ripe pickings in the market for technical talent, and they are definitely taking advantage of the opportunity to hire great people.
Consumers will be presented with more ways to save and invest than ever
This prediction comes from Dani Fava, group head of product innovation at Envestnet. Fava is charged with identifying and prioritizing opportunities for financial advisors to provide transformative advice in a rapidly evolving market. She calls this “impulse investing” or “impulse saving.” She explained it like this: “Whether through a consumer banking app, mobile wallet, gig work or credit card, consumers will experience an onslaught of ways to save and invest without much planning, mirroring impulse [shopping] behavior.”
As in so many of our interactions with products and services we already use, there is an opportunity when brands have consumers’ attention and can offer them something of true value. Brands can look at this transaction as not merely a purchase but something that could generate savings and wealth for future purchases, investments or other financial services. For example, the Cash App Card and Acorn App both do this with “round-ups.” Small remnants from purchases and transactions can be designated for micro-investments, which can really add up over time.
“This marks a tipping point in the market,” Fava says. “We’re on the cusp of experiencing truly democratized infrastructure for wealth accumulation.”
Leap Global Partners, a VC firm focused on talented LatinX founders and startups, agrees. Its recently issued 2023 Leap Outlook report, “Top 10 Investment Themes Worth LEAPing Into” included a section on “contextual financial services.” The thesis is that “trusted brands will offer timely, relevant and often customized financial services directly to their customers.” Importantly, these services may not come from traditional financial institutions like banks and brokerages, but from fintechs and other companies that position themselves to offer exactly the right service or product at just the right time to consumers and even merchants.
Open banking will become a reality
I tuned in to watch Plaid’s 2023 Fintech Predictions webinar, which was thoughtful and entertaining. CEO Zach Perret and a panel of executives riffed about various topics, giving different perspectives on technology, consumer behavior, financial inclusion, regulation and compliance. One stand-out prediction from the webinar matches one that Patrick Moorhead, CEO and chief analyst of Moor Insights & Strategy, and I have talked about on our podcast for more than a year: open banking.
Open banking is a practice that grants third-party financial service providers access to customer banking, transaction and other financial data from banks and other financial institutions. Achieved by using APIs, open banking facilitates the networking of accounts and data across institutions for customers, financial institutions and third-party service providers. Banks control consumers’ financial data and, unlike in the U.K. and the rest of Europe, there are currently no regulatory guidelines in the U.S. for open banking. However, there is consumer demand for control of personal data, and for regulatory moves to enforce open banking standards. While open banking currently exists in the US without a formalized regulation framework, I believe that open banking will take hold in the U.S. in 2023, provided that all parties—fintechs, banks and regulators—can come to an agreement on how it should be governed. When that happens, there will be a marked difference in the open banking experience. Plaid’s head of policy, John Pitt, likened it to “going from a dirt road to a superhighway.”
2023 will be the beginning of the age of centaurs
Huh? What’s a centaur? This prediction comes from Money 20/20 managing editor Sanjib Kalita. He explains it like this: “Unicorns will become history as we’ll see the creation of centaurs …a combination of man and beast … or of Fintech and ? The expected ones are banks, but we could see retailers, telecoms and tech companies get into the action as well. The driver behind this trend will be the funding environment coupled with greater ability of acquirers to see or anticipate value creation.”
Thanks to the power of APIs, value can be created at the place of engagement, meeting the consumer with customized products precisely at their time of need, regardless of the channel. This can also be referred to as embedded finance or embedded fintech. All kinds of financial services—not only banking—are already embedded into software, a trend that is on the rise and will continue in 2023 at an even faster pace. As banks face a slowdown in loan volume, they will need offerings that cater to customers’ needs at the right time and place.
I think that soon this will extend to automobiles as well—your car will be your new electronic wallet. Think about it: For years now your car has been able to pay for tolls using either a bulky transponder or a simple RFID tag, so why can’t it store payment information to pay automatically for gas, drive-through ordering and pick-up, parking and so on? I wrote about this during the United States Grand Prix in Austin last year. This approach will provide automobile companies and OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) with a unique differentiating feature, and I think it’s inevitable.
Social Features Will Aid Younger Retail Investors
Benjamin Chemla, cofounder and CEO of investment-app, Shares, told Verdict, “Over the last year, we’ve seen many banking and investment apps look to social media for inspiration—many have made a conscious effort to add social-first features to their platforms to attract a younger audience. We’re confident that this trend is not only set to grow in 2023 but become an incredibly important component of any tech company within the financial space.”
Public, which offers thematic investments and social features, has done this as well. My twentysomething daughters enjoy the social features of connecting on investments with like-minded environmentalists and conservationists on the app. Reddit essentially does the same thing with StockTwits for all ages. Meme stock mania aside, retail investors now account for nearly 25% of total equities trading volume. While many of these people are sophisticated investors, they don’t have the same technology and trading power that’s enjoyed by institutional investors. Sharing information can help retail investors execute more sophisticated strategies and gain access to information beyond their personal research. Power to the people!
CB Insights says: Challenger banks are back
Noting that five of the top fintech funding rounds in the last quarter of 2022 went to challenger banks—or fintechs with banking offerings—CB Insights says this trend is “signaling that this category might be making a comeback after seeing sharp drops in funding in 2022.”
While it didn’t crack the top five, Neo Financial, a Canadian challenger bank, raised a hefty $146 million (CAN $185 million) Series C round in May 2022, bringing its total funding to $234.7 million (CAN $299 million) since its inception. The digital bank has also surpassed one million customers and then some.
Andrew Chau, CEO and cofounder of Neo Financial, agreed with CB Insight’s assessment and gave it some context. “Rising rates and increasing inflation have impacted the economy. However, challenger banks with banking offerings, particularly those with a diverse set of products, have been able to weather that storm,” he said. “They did this either by having variable-rate lending products or, for those with bank charters, by benefiting from rising interest rates in the form of higher deposit float revenues.”
Chau also told me that 2023 will be a year of focus for his own company and other challenger banks—focusing on core products, improving margins by increasing revenues and reducing costs per customer. The challengers that have established distribution channels or efficient growth loops will continue to be able to grow at the same time. Chau’s outlook is that coming out of 2023 and into 2024, challenger banks will be stronger than ever, with improved economics, and will be ready to deploy their next investments into new products and features for growth.
Money movement will become a customizable, personalized experience
Consumers using online services are accustomed to instant, simple transactions, and they want their money-handling tools—whether for business or personal finances—to mirror the convenience of the other apps they use in their daily lives.
One example of this comes from Alacriti’s Orbipay Unified Money Movement Services, a cloud-based platform that enables banks and credit unions to deliver money movement “experiences” quickly and seamlessly. This encompasses modern, intuitive digital payments, including bill pay, disbursements, transfers and more for both consumers and businesses.
In a conversation I had with Mark G. Majeske, senior vice president of faster payments at Alacriti, he explained, “No one cares about the payment rail [a payment platform or network that digitally moves money from payor to payee]; they care about efficiency and the experience.” He then offered the analogy of making a money transfer the same way you would send a package. When you take a package to a shipping location or print a shipping label online, you’re given choices about how and when you’d like the package to arrive—with corresponding costs. This empowers you to make whatever tradeoff makes sense for you in terms of speed and expense.
Some choices simply aren’t available for sending money in a bank branch—for instance, on a weekend or a holiday—just like you can’t ship a package from New York to Australia in four hours. What people do care about is the experience of handling the transaction. So, whether it’s a holiday or an ordinary Tuesday, the customer can be presented with options for securely transferring money at different speeds for corresponding prices; the power is in their hands, and the experience is tailored to their needs. I think that this way of addressing the payment experience will be transformational for the industry.
This will be especially valuable for the B2B payment space, which is still bogged down by inefficiencies. In a world where the entire money ecosystem is being digitally transformed, the B2B payments market is drastically behind. Sure, B2B payments are more complicated because they need to be tied into more processes, such as invoicing and approvals. Nevertheless, many inefficiencies and pain points remain.
All in all, we should expect a big change in the payments space. “We have a set of tools ... that are competent in doing any transaction,” Majeske said. “What we have to do as an industry is identify the needs and then look for the tools to solve for this business gap.”
BNPL will finally give credit where credit is due
Sometime soon, BNPL will face a reckoning around its biggest issue: credit reporting. There are two main drivers for this. The first is consumer protection—making sure that consumers aren’t overextending themselves. The second is financial wellness—helping credit-invisible, credit-thin or sub-prime consumers to build their credit. BNPL was built to serve those customers, and the goal should be to help people beyond the convenience of splitting up their payments.
The credit bureaus and BNPL companies have yet to figure out how to report these transactions in a way that gives credit where it is due. Different trade lines and timelines of transactions—for example if someone opens too many new lines of credit in a short time span—can temporarily lower a credit score, even if everything is paid on time. Meanwhile, unreported payments don’t help a consumer’s credit score at all. Most BNPL companies report only delinquent payments, which leaves consumers with no credit-building upside. The big four bureaus and the BNPL players are discussing this, and I’m hopeful that a consumer-friendly solution will arise this year.
RegTech will have its debutant moment
This year we will see more compliance-driven technologies that will help financial services businesses optimize their risk management procedures by providing automated and accurate risk analysis. These technologies, which span data management, cloud computing and machine learning, aim to ensure that companies remain compliant with relevant regulations—without impeding the speed or scale of their operations. Such advanced technologies should make compliance in financial services both more robust and secure.
I asked my Moor Insights & Strategy colleague Will Townsend, a security expert, what he thought of this prediction. This is what he said: “The financial services industry is highly regulated, driving the need for hardened security. Cloudification presents an opportunity to scale new services and back-office capabilities for fintech players, but it also expands the threat surface for bad actors. Regtech is poised to help in closing security gaps and ensuring compliance.”
Tokenization will make private equity funds available to the masses
Private equity is one of the most opaque and difficult markets in which to participate, yet it has outperformed the S&P 500 by more than 70%, and with less volatility, since 2001. Naturally, in this age of the democratization of finance, you’d think that funds would find a way to provide access to this asset class for retail investors.
According to Jamie Finn, cofounder and president of Securitize, this is happening. “Access to some of the most important private equity funds is now happening at scale thanks to tokenization. Firms like KKR, Hamilton Lane and many others are quickly adopting this new format to reach the masses. “Using blockchain technology for automation and increased efficiency creates the opportunity for lower investment minimums—which means more inclusive access—and greater potential for liquidity via secondary exchanges like Securitize Markets.
While the phrase “democratization of…” may be getting old, “inclusive access to…” isn’t.
While fintech has been somewhat unpredictable over the last few years, watching the trends across the industry provides valuable insights into the current state of the economy, consumer behavior and preferences—revealing emerging opportunities. Years of innovation were consolidated into a very narrow timeframe during the pandemic. Fintechs and financial institutions now have the luxury of breathing room to iterate and innovate to offer efficient and cost-effective methods for managing finances, making payments and more, ultimately capitalizing on the trends that are changing how money is handled. I look forward to writing a 2023 year-end review where we’ll see where everything nets out.