4 crucial insights for the future of financial inclusion

Fintech conference MoneyConf highlighted inclusion, data, partnerships, and more

Sarah Friar, CFO, Square, on Centre Stage during day one of MoneyConf 2018 at the RDS Arena in Dublin. Credit: Stephen McCarthy/MoneyConf via Sportsfile

Every day, I scan the news to see where the future of finance is headed and how Accion can make sure the world’s underserved benefit. So when I got the opportunity to attend MoneyConf — Web Summit’s standalone fintech-focused event — I jumped at the chance to join 5,000 other attendees to hear about the digital financial revolution from some of the industry’s brightest minds.

While speakers hailed from every corner of the world and represented different areas of finance and tech, some common ideas emerged. Here are the four central themes I observed on inclusive finance at MoneyConf.

1. More innovation is needed to reach the financially underserved

“If you look at the finance piece of fintech, it’s a space that has to-date not been very disrupted,” Square CFO Sarah Friar said during the conference’s opening panel. Her comments on the potential for innovative, disruptive financial services to reach more people helped set the tone for the rest of the event.

Over the course of the conference, more speakers continued to explore the transformational role technology and innovation can play in extending financial services to the underbanked. Accion President and CEO Michael Schlein joined WorldRemit Founder and CEO Ismail Ahmed and the Financial Times/The Banker Development Finance Editor Adrienne Klasa for a discussion about banking the underbanked and how technology can help solve this problem. “Every day, innovative ideas are killed by banks because it’s too risky,” Michael explained. But 3 billion people are currently living their lives without the stability and opportunity that high-quality financial tools can bring. Leaving this many people unserved isn’t just a humanitarian problem, it’s a business problem.

2. Partnerships between fintech startups and incumbent banks are thriving, but obstacles remain

According to several speakers, the era of strict competition between fintech startups and incumbent banks is loosening. More companies recognize the advantages of bank-fintech partnerships, from a more extensive customer base and increased access to funds, to faster and cheaper technology. These discussions were all in line with what we saw last year when the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion released their report, “How Financial Institutions and Fintechs Are Partnering for Inclusion: Lessons from the Frontlines.”

TransferWise’s Co-Founder and CEO Kristo Käärmann noted that by partnering with banks, startups can pass the cost savings along to the customers who need it most, including the world’s underserved small businesses. Even though TransferWise has had great success through partnerships with banks, he emphasized that you still need to “keep your friends close — keep your strategic partners closer.” Other speakers also recommended approaching partnerships with caution, and many pointed out that there is still a long way to go before the partnerships are as seamless as they could be.

3. Insurtech needs to reach emerging markets to have continued success

“Insurance is fundamentally a social good, but it is mistrusted,” Lemonade Co-Founder and CEO Daniel Schreiber said, linking insurtech and behavioral economics. The disruption of the insurance industry was a key topic at the conference and panelists were eager to discuss the future of the sector. Everyone seemed to agree that technology provides an opportunity to make this crucial, yet sometimes opaque, industry more human.

Developing countries provide a massive opportunity for insurance companies to leverage tech and revitalize the industry. As The Economist Finance Editor Helen Joyce highlighted during a panel, insurtech growth will have to come from emerging markets to justify the current high valuations of the insurtech industry.

4. Data has the potential to improve the lives of many, but we must harness it better

The usefulness of data in the financial services industry is not news — but at the conference, panelists spoke about the shortfalls in the current ways companies analyze and use insights from data.

“I would like to ban the words ‘big data’,” Kreditech Founder and CEO Alexander Graubner-Müller joked before his panel. Rather than droning on about buzzwords, he’s more interested in specific applications of data. During his time on stage, he discussed the large number of customers who lack access to credit and noted that alternative data algorithms that can help bring financial services to the underbanked.

Digital financial services are creating a revolution and benefitting billions of people around the world, and the speakers at MoneyConf got me excited that the future of fintech holds even more promise. I look forward to seeing how this dynamic industry evolves as technology continues to unlock doors and solve problems we once thought impossible.

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