Canada needs get ahead in fintech

Canada is an innovative nation, but for some reason or other it is lagging behind its peers when it come to new financial technology. More co-operation between the banks and the fintechs is needed if the country is not to be left behind, as Financial Post suggests.

In the summer of 2018, the Canadian government announced, “it needed someone to study the landscape for financial technology companies, or fintechs, and figure out how they were getting along with the big banks and other financial institutions,” journalist Geoff Zochone reported. As he said, “Large multinational companies have jumped out to a headstart in the race to succeed, and Canada runs the risk of falling behind. At stake is nothing less than our prosperity and economic well-being.”

Toronto-based Fintech Growth Syndicate Inc., won the contract for the study, which became a 240-page report, the first of its kind made available in Canada.

The report used only publicly available data sourced from more than 60 different websites and discovered, amongst other things, that there were “approximately 1,000 fintechs across Canada offering services or products related to crowdfunding, insurance, wealth management, cryptocurrency, artificial intelligence, capital markets, lending and payments.”

Although most of the companies were startups and had small staff numbers, when combined they employed more than 30,000 people and they had an estimated combined value of $30.5 billion. This was exciting. However, what it also showed that very few of the fintechs had partnerships with the banks. Instead the study found “Canada’s Big Five banks may have been increasing their engagement with fintechs, but “the majority of their efforts” were still on building their own products and digital experiences.”

The result is that one of Canada’s biggest industries is innovating at a snail’s pace, plus the country is lagging behind its peers in adopting new financial technologies. It also means the Canadian consumer is probably paying more for financial services than they should.

Sue Britton, director at Fintech Growth Syndicate Inc., said, “To the extent that we could find publicly available information, we were able to show that, yes, there are some fintechs that are partnering with financial institutions. But certainly the majority of those partnerships are on the financial institutions’ terms. They’re not groundbreaking new business models … It’s not going to make the marketplace more competitive, because it’s going to, in fact, if anything, grow the business for the incumbent.”

Sticking with the status quo may be Ok for the banks in the short-term, and consumers may not mind, because they are used to the ‘traditional’ banking services. And it appears that they see no need to shake up Canada’s acclaimed stability on financial services. However, as Zochone says, “the incumbents could wake up one day to find their lunches being eaten by big-tech firms such as Amazon.com Inc. and Apple Inc., which are already offering a payments solution, some more aggressively than others.”

Britton added, ““What our big banks aren’t doing is moving as quickly as other parts of the world, innovating their business models, extending financial services to more small businesses or reducing their fees.” She added, “Perhaps, as Abraham Lincoln famously said, ‘give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe,’ they are still sharpening the axe.”

Royal Bank of Canada chief executive Dave McKay reported in March of this year that he was increasingly concerned with the prospect of Facebook Inc., Amazon.com, Apple, Netflix Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google (the FANG companies) getting into banking. He told Bloomberg, “They are getting between us and the moments of truth of our customers, and currently what they do with that is they sell that insight back to us in the form of search and advertising and other perspectives, and they earn a certain amount of economic rent.”

It will take time for Canada to begin adopting tech like other countries, Britton said. But it will happen.

“It’s not a blip, it’s not a bubble, it’s not a one-off,” she said. “It is the future.”

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