Coronavirus: New Challenges and Opportunities for Fintech

The paradigm shift that the coronavirus has caused will leave permanent marks on the fintech industry....

By Rachel McIntosh 25 March 2020

Coronavirus: New Challenges and Opportunities for Fintech

The paradigm shift that the coronavirus has caused will leave permanent marks on the fintech industry.

Many countries around the world are hitting the 2- or 3- or even 12-week-mark of quarantine, and many are looking at just as many (or more) weeks of quarantine ahead. The virus has brought about a powerful shift in reality; in addition to the effects that the virus has had on our personal lives, companies in every industry are being forced to find new ways of operating on every level.

In a way, the fintech industry has been presented with a kind of advantage–being a fairly new sector, fintech companies are already fairly well-positioned to adapt to a world that suddenly exists primarily online; most fintech platforms already exist in online formats anyhow.

Still, the paradigm shift brought about by coronavirus is forcing the fintech sector to come up with creative solutions to new and unprecedented problems when it comes to supporting customers, building relationships, boosting company morale, and planning for the future.

Banks are suddenly relying on fintech companies more than ever

Paul Geiger,
President and Co-founder of post-trade
asset management firm Theorem Technologies.

Indeed, Paul Geiger, President and Co-founder of post-trade asset management firm Theorem Technologies, told Finance Magnates that “fintech companies are probably some of the best-equipped organizations to take on this crisis.”

“If you’re a Fintech, you’re probably no more than ten years old and, as a result, have built your backend and developmental stacks on cloud environments allowing for operations to continue anywhere,” he said.

“Also, many business-to-business (b2b) communication tools that FinTech companies have naturally adopted and made available to employees such as Slack, Teams, Skype have been more heavily leveraged. Legacy financial brands are more than likely finding this time to be a bit more difficult.”

Indeed, traditional financial institutions have suddenly found themselves between a rock and a hard place. Fintech platforms–including payments services, challenger banks, and others–have increasingly posed a threat to these institutions. However, with the rise of the coronavirus, reports of banks being forced to temporarily shutter branches across the globe signify that the virus has undoubtedly affected business.

Sandeep Todi,
chief business officer and co-founder of Remitr.

On the other hand, Sandeep Todi, chief business officer and co-founder of payments platform Remitr, told Finance Magnates that the crisis had presented an opportunity for banks and fintech companies to strengthen their relationships.

“The relationships between banks and fintechs are playing to each other’s strengths more than ever,” he said.

“With banking partners having to connect remotely and experiencing the dependency for digital touchpoints, the need to catering to consumers’ needs wherever they are is more important than ever before,” Todi explained. “This is where fintech makes it possible to face crisis situations like this with agility.”

And while these relationships may have scaled up quickly in the short-term, they could prove to be long-lasting and beneficial to both parties: “the pace of fintech adoption is expected to increase in the coming months as they enhance their solutions to support customers and businesses affected by the crisis.”

” Working closely while not being in the same place is no longer a luxury.”

Jim Nevotti,
President of Sterling Trading Tech.

Of course, the fact that fintech companies may be much more adaptable to the current crisis doesn’t mean that they are totally in the clear.

Jim Nevotti, President of Sterling Trading Tech, told Finance Magnates that his company’s first order of business has been to ensure that user experience is better than ever–and as such, having a contingency plan for events like the coronavirus has been vital to success.

“As a FinTech company operating in a time of massive global uncertainty, the most important thing we can do is provide fast, stable technology so our clients can focus on running their business,” Nevotti said.

This “[…] includes planning for not only technical system outages, but also natural disasters, pandemics, and other reasons why staff may not be able to make it into a physical office. For the safety of our team, our BCP (Business Continuity Plan) allows employees to be fully remote with no impact on our client base,” he explained.

“While it’s impossible to anticipate specific events like COVID-19, FinTech companies can be prepared for market volatility and the stress it places on their systems by investing in their infrastructure ahead of time. We’ve spent several years investing in both infrastructure and technical operations staff, and we are pleased with how our systems and staff have handled this period of unprecedented volatility.”

The impact of the coronavirus also means that the adaptability of fintech companies to change operations at the drop of a hat is becoming increasingly important: “tech firms, especially FinTech firms, starting now will be graded and valued on their ability to adapt their cost models and serve remotely,” Paul Geiger said to Finance Magnates.

“But no matter the industry, this crisis will have every organization rethinking its operational, backend, sales, and marketing tech stacks. When it comes to the systems that you choose to build your business on, it’ll be essential moving forward to ensure these systems are accessible and not grounded to a client site.”

For example, “up until now, even tech firms have viewed internal video chatting and remote working as perks for employees. We might see a new normal where tools like these are used more seamlessly—and seriously. Working closely while not being in the same place is no longer a luxury.”

Remote team-building is vital to company success

And indeed, the movement towards working online could represent a permanent shift toward operating remotely. Jim Nevotti told Finance Magnates that he expects to see “an industry-wide shift in attitudes about remote work in general, which will have far-reaching implications.”

This means that “FinTech firms may start de-prioritizing the importance of physical proximity when making hiring decisions, assuming they are successful in remote team building.” Nevotti also said that much of the creativity that he’s seen springing up in the industry with regards to remote work has come on the individual level–” the most original ideas we’ve seen in response to the crisis have really involved how individuals find a balance between their personal and professional lives,’ he said.

“Employees now have their entire families at home, which can be challenging, especially for families with young children.” This also presents logistical challenges that require creative solutions: “not all families have enough dedicated workspace or home offices to handle everyone working at once, so we’ve seen people turning their garages or closets into temporary home offices and other ‘make it work’-style setups.”

This, of course, has also been mirrored in trends developing beyond the fintech world: “virtual happy hours, Zoom family calls, and virtual concerts are now commonplace, which nobody would have predicted just a few weeks ago.”

Virtual book clubs, coffee breaks, and meditation sessions help boost team morale and keep operations running smoothly

The logo of Ethic,
an investment firm.

Realizing the importance of maintaining strong social connections in the workplace, some companies have additionally begun taking measures to find ways of keeping employee morale and team spirits up: a spokesperson from investment firm Ethic told Finance Magnates that “maintaining a strong interpersonal connection, even when working separately, is important.

As such, “managers are conducting daily video meetings with their direct team, checking in on goals for the team for the day and, just as important, what is going on for them personally.” When things go well, “wins are celebrated publicly via video calls and Slack channels.”

Additionally, the company says that it has “launched a team book club, incentivizing employees to discuss interests and concepts outside of their work duties”; further, “team members are encouraged to take part in meditation sessions, and virtual coffee meetings, together.”

And perhaps, most importantly, “all employees are reminded to take regular breaks to get outside — at least six feet away from others, of course!”

Building relationships with clients and communities

Having these kinds of contingency plans in place is exactly what has also allowed many fintech companies to be able to creatively extend their services and build relationships with communities and potential new customers.

Sandeep Todi told Finance Magnates that indeed, “the fintech ecosystem, across service offering, has extended a hand during this time. With a wide diversity in products from lending to wealth management to payments, we’ve seen organizations leverage their various strengths to offer support.

For example, “Kabbage really stepped up to the plate, creating a directory for small businesses that need support to increase reach for their gift cards,’ he said. “Earnin is using their data to help support government decisions on how to support daily-wage workers. At REMITR, we’re offering free transfers for all customers to help make payments a bit easier during these challenging times.”

Rob Odell,
Co-President and Chief Product Officer
of crypto lending firm SALT Lending.

And even if companies aren’t offering extra or free services, simply having strong communication skills could present an opportunity to strengthen relationships with clients. Earlier this week, Rob Odell, Co-President and Chief Product Officer of crypto lending firm SALT Lending, explained to Finance Magnates that having a strong and personable communication strategy is vital, particularly when clients may be feeling particularly vulnerable.

“Businesses with quality customer service and an empathetic support team have likely fared well, as they have been able to help clients manage stress and work through any issues stemming from market volatility, all while protecting their business,” he explained. “When businesses help customers when they need it most, customers remember the experience, and it builds brand loyalty over the long term.”

“Similarly, those that have offered assurance to customers along with alternative tools and ways to take productive actions during this time to minimize frustration have fared best, given [the fact that] transparency and communication are essential, especially in times of crisis.”

Fintech companies are uniquely positioned to assist small businesses

Todi also said that fintech companies are also in a position to gain stronger footholds with small businesses that may be struggling as a result of the corona outbreak.

“Fintech plays a big role when it comes to supporting small businesses. We’re seeing a lot of retail customers [having] to rework their model to support online sales,” he said.

“Restaurants and the hospitality industry are also having to make a pivot into the digital space. Paytech is at the center of the stage here. Sending and receiving payments digitally isn’t necessarily native to these folks, but it serves as a lifeline for small businesses.”

As a result, “[fintech] companies have launched campaigns to help small businesses sell gift cards, locate supplies when there is a perceived shortage everywhere, raise funding for donating medical supplies–each of these has a fintech that is leading from the front to help.”

A number of companies have also made their services temporarily free of charge. Agora Services, which offers financial institutions a cloud-based offering that enables banking customers to use and manage accounts in real-time, has waived its setup fee and will defer billing for three months; Brace’s lending platform has introduced a new feature to allow for users to apply for mortgage assistance in the event that the hardship is caused by COVID-19.

Digital lending firm Numerated, shopping assistance firm Nav, Velocity Solutions, and many others have also made efforts to extend free or discounted services to assist small businesses and their employees.

Do you know any companies that have gone above and beyond to serve their users during this time of crisis? Let us know in the comments below.

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