5 takeaways from Money20/20 Europe

Money20/20 hosts several of the world’s largest conferences about financial services and the future of money. Speakers and attendees at these events have critical conversations that highlight and shape how fintech can help advance financial inclusion and reach the three billion financially underserved people around the world.

Last fall, Accion’s Michael Schlein joined more than 11,000 leaders for Money20/20 in the U.S., where he spoke about what the U.S. can learn from emerging markets and how to apply those lessons to accelerate financial inclusion here. More recently, I had the opportunity to attend Money20/20 Europe in Copenhagen to listen, learn, and take part in conversations about the disruptive innovations shaping financial services today. Below are 5 takeaways from the event:

1. When it comes to fintech, the industry is often talking about financial inclusion — even when it’s not saying “financial inclusion.” Last month’s event didn’t have a specific track dedicated to inclusion, but the theme was everywhere — from the keynote stage to breakout sessions to one-on-one conversations. Square CEO Jack Dorsey spoke about the moment that inspired his company, when a business owner was unable to accept credit cards and lost a sale. That moment wasn’t just about being unable to accept a card, Dorsey explained; rather, it was about making a sale and enabling the merchant to participate in the economy. The alignment of profits and purpose that can result from fintech’s potential to advance financial inclusion means that, even when the industry is talking about business growth and outcomes, it’s often also talking about building a more inclusive financial system.

2. We’ve moved beyond a binary that positions fintech startups and legacy financial service providers as fundamental competitors. Numerous sessions explored the increasingly common partnerships between large financial service providers and fintech startups. Speaking alongside several startup partners, including Airwallex, CardUp, and RecommenderX, Amy Neale of Mastercard identified that the nature of these partnerships is “not about simply recommending each other’s products. This is a new frame of true co-development and co-creation.” And the numbers seem to match this narrative of collaboration: Jeff Tijssen of Capco highlighted 2016 research from SAP and IDC Financial Insights, which found that six in ten global banks were open to partnering with fintech companies.

3. Partnerships between fintech startups and established corporate financial service providers (FSPs) hold significant promise for both parties — and for financial inclusion. SIX, the operator of Switzerland’s financial market infrastructure, and the startup Veezoo highlighted some of the benefits that they both realized through a partnership in which they co-created and launched a new product. Veezoo gained access to data, a customer base, resources, and industry experts. SIX enriched its idea pipeline, learned, minimized risk, fostered innovation, and accessed ideas, talent, and prototypes. This collaborative environment demonstrates the prominent roles that each has to play in the future of money, and we think they have significant potential for the future of financial inclusion. Keep an eye out for upcoming research from the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion and its partners around partnerships between financial institutions and fintech startups — and how they can advance financial inclusion.

4. There are exciting possibilities around emerging technologies to advance financial inclusion, but we have a way to go before realizing those benefits. The conference agenda featured multiple sessions on the latest innovations around virtual reality, artificial intelligence, social robotics, and machine learning. While we’re excited about exploring the potential for FSPs to engage customers in new ways, the sessions reiterated that we’re at the advent of these new technologies and that it will take time for the industry to realize their full potential. That distance may not be far, however — Money20/20 Europe coincided with the 10th anniversary of the iPhone, a stark reminder of how quickly the technology landscape evolves.

5. There is still much work to be done to create an inclusive financial sector. Mark Burnett, president of Mastercard UK and Ireland, reminded attendees from the keynote stage that half of the world’s population is financially excluded, and 80% of the world’s financial transactions are still conducted in cash, which tends to be costlier and far more labor-intensive to produce, transport, and protect. He also reiterated Mastercard’s commitment to bringing 500 million more people into the economy by 2020. Burnett’s remarks were a reminder that — while we’ve made progress and have much to be excited about when it comes to fintech’s potential for good — Accion’s mission of reaching the three billion financially underserved individuals around the world is as critical as ever.

Money20/20 Europe 2017 left me energized and excited about Accion’s own work and partnerships, the state of the industry, and this real moment of opportunity for digital and fintech innovations to drive access to economic opportunity.

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