Assuming ‘FinTech’ as a thing started in 2005 with the appearance of Zopa in the UK and picked up speed as the smartphone became ubiquitous, we have been learning new things for 15 years now and it’s pretty exhausting.
New ways of working.
New business models.
New value drivers.
New ways of engaging with employees, consumers and communities.
When is this going to end?
The exhaustion inside banks was real before COVID hit and it’s palpable now.
Decision-makers and delivery teams alike are tired. The choices, the risk calibration, the proof points and the sheer toil of delivering change inside a big organisation have been grinding people down long before the pressures of COVID hit.
And just because those on the outside have (rightly) lambasted the incumbens for not doing, building and learning things fast enough, it doesn’t mean the work actually delivered wasn’t hard to do, leaving bank workers of all levels exhausted and wondering when is this going to end.
But it’s no use.
I have bad news.
It’s only getting started.
And I have more bad news.
Learning ‘about fintech’ is not like inoculation.
You don’t get to do it once and be done with it.
It’s an ongoing thing, both because whatever you learned is yesterdays’ news by the time you learn it but also because, if you are really learning, you have questions.
So many questions.
New questions every day.
Based on what you learned yesterday but not covered by it.
New knowledge that makes you challenge what you thought you knew before you started on this learning journey. New knowledge that opens up more avenues of learning. Exposing ever-increasing areas you don’t know enough about and questions you had not before thought of asking.
And that applies to bankers and entrepreneurs alike.
Learning to do business together is not a one-way street. Figuring out what works, how and why is not up to the banker alone.
Calling your client a dinosaur and waiting till they come round to your way of thinking does not have the markings of a winning strategy. And although an entrepreneur should not have to go back in time and learn COBOL to get their snazzy new idea to fly, they sort of also do if they want to make money selling said idea to a bank.
Learning is not just about the new thing. It’s also about the useful thing you don’t yet know but need to know in order to move forward.
Are you talkin’ to me?
I guess if you have questions and ask them – rather than resenting them and throwing your hands in the air asking ‘when is this going to end’ – then I am preaching to the choir.
But if you don’t have questions, or wish you didn’t. If you want to ‘learn about APIs or data governance but not both’ (rael quote, circa 2017) or if you want to know if you ‘have to learn about blockchain given I will be retiring soon’ (also real quote, circa 2015), then this piece is for you.
And this is where I tell you I have more bad news.
There is no such thing as a dumb question, unless you ask it twice.
But there is such a thing as a dangerous question.
And that is the one you haven’t thought to ask but need to, such as ‘is this technology that scares me because it undermines my pricing logic gaining traction in other industries making it inevitable that the regulator or client base will soon demand I use them?’
And no, it’s not about keeping up with the Joneses, it’s about buying yourself time to think instead of thinking you have time to decide whether something is real or not.
Because, if we have learned anything in the past 15 years, it is that this choice is not the industry’s to make. And if you are a banker that is bitter because a lot of time was spent trying to make said decisions that weren’t yours to make (insistently asking if instead of what). And if you are an entrepreneur that is equally bitter because the waiting depleted your resources and forced you to compromise your product to stay afloat.
Learning is not always easy. Or pleasant. Or shiny.
But fatigue is what mates the dangerous questions so lethal.
These are the question you are not asking when you are too busy dealing with the urgent at the expense of the important, such as throwing a team of engineers at the problem when your government asks you to allow for payment holidays and interest rate changes for loans in the wake of COVID and not once thinking you should invest in a system that allows you to make these changes in minutes, not weeks next time.
There is another type of dangerous question too.
The displacement question.
Asking what can this do to my business but never what can this do for my business. Asking what is dangerous about this but rarely what is valuable. Asking why not but not what for.
So the bad news is this isn’t going to end.
If you are running a business in this digital era of ours, your learning hat is your only hat.
And now for the really bad news…
‘What am I looking for’ I asked my CTO many years ago. When I started having to make hiring decisions for engineers all my own, some years back.
‘Teachability’ he said.
Whatever they know today, is not what they will need to know tomorrow.
So check how they learn, not what they know.
Yeah yeah I can hear the next question before you even ask it: how the hell do I do that?
Well. As I was saying, the bad news is: you have to learn it.
The good news is you can learn it.
But first you have to unlearn a thing or two.
Teachability is about making space for new ideas and information with the absolute conviction that the best may be yet to come and when it does/if it does, you will course-correct accordingly.
We don’t go on skills courses and follow fintech developments and delve into new business models looking for answers, despite the industry spending the last 15 years looking for unicorns and silver bullets and paying good money for horizon-scanning that never really tells us anything.
We look and learn because learning sharpens our thinking.
And sharper minds make better decisions.
And good decisions are needed when business is challenged by compressed margin and regulatory change, increased competition and higher client sophistication.
You learn so you can understand what your clients and regulators and competitors are getting inspiration from. You learn so you can keep your ideas fresh and solutions relevant.
You do all that before, during and in order to run your business better.
It’s not a side show. It’s not optional. Or rather it is. Entirely optional, as is survival.
So you make your choices.
If you are looking for definitive, unchanging, permanent answers, I would recommend religion.
But if you are looking for ideas, tools and questions – questions that will make you challenge yourself to do better for your customers, to be better as a business, then FinTech may just be the place for you.
What we do, how we do it, what we use to do it and how we make money doing it is constantly challenged and reformed and rethought and streamlined.
It never ends and that’s the point.
Only one thing is constant: why we do it.
Digital capabilities are about re-imagining how the world fits together.
So that we serve our purpose better, serve people better.
Because if better is possible, then better is its own moral imperative.
It’s a hell of a ride.
But I have some good news at last: it is totally worth it.
For you, for your business and for your community.
At the end of the day, if better is possible what possible reason may you have to ignore it?
And if better tomorrow is the inevitable shape of progress what choice do you have but become teachable, immediately and with great urgency.
Because this is not going to end.
In fact, fintech is only just getting started.
By Leda Glyptis, PhD, Chief Client Officer at 10x Future Technologies