What Is Fintech?

Definition and Examples of Fintech

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“Fintech” refers to any technology that automates and facilitates access to financial services. Companies in fintech provide people with bank accounts, loans, insurance, investments, and more, entirely online and often within minutes. 

In this story, you’ll learn about this expanding technology and how you can use it to your benefit.

What Is Fintech?

Fintech is short for financial technology. It’s an umbrella term describing several different companies, products, and services. If you’ve ever deposited a check using a mobile device or transferred money using an app, you’ve used fintech. But its uses can be more complex and substantive than that. These days, you can obtain a personal loan or settle an insurance claim completely on your mobile device.

In fact, fintech companies are trying to disrupt the entire financial services industry. And competitors are hearing the noise. 

The mission of fintech is to provide access to financial services at a fraction of the cost and time required by brick-and-mortar counterparts. 

According to a study by accounting firm PWC, 88% of legacy financial institutions believe they are losing revenue to fintech companies. Consumers are also riding the wave. Digital payments made using fintech worldwide grew by nearly 5% in 2019, bringing total global payments revenue to just under $2 trillion, according to a McKinsey study. 

How Does Fintech Work?

At its core, fintech is technology and innovation that simplify financial transactions. To better understand how fintech works, here are some examples of fintech sectors and the companies that operate there. 

Digital Payments

One of the most common examples of fintech is apps that allow you to seamlessly transfer money to another person or business. 

You’ve probably already used PayPal or Venmo to do this. But even traditional financial institutions are following suit with their own versions. Many partnered with Zelle to offer digital payment. Now, you can use mobile banking apps to transfer money via the Zelle addition. Those payments are typically processed within minutes.

And traditional banks may keep flirting with fintech. In fact, a 2017 survey by PWC found that 82% of incumbent financial institutions expected to increase their partnerships with fintech companies in the next three to five years.

The use of any form of mobile payment by U.S. consumers increased from 48% in 2018 to 60% in 2019.

Online Banks

In recent years, online banks have emerged to compete with their brick-and-mortar counterparts by offering products with low-to-no fees and competitive interest rates. Chase, the biggest U.S. bank by assets under management (AUM), in late 2020 offered a savings account with an interest rate of 0.01%. 

But even as interest rates slide in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the online entity Axos Bank offered an account with a rate of 0.61%. And even though juggernauts like Bank of America and Wells Fargo still rake in the most AUM, online banks like Ally and Discover also cracked the list of the top 30 banks by asset size in 2020. 

Personal Loans

Gone are the days when you had to bring a ton of paperwork into a bank to see if you qualify for a loan. Now, the entire process can be done on your laptop or smartphone. Online marketplaces like LendingTree, Credible, and SoFi provide you with multiple offers after you enter some basic information. You can also bypass banks and lenders by borrowing directly from individuals online. This is called peer-to-peer (P2P) lending

The P2P lending market is projected to grow from $43.16 billion in 2018 to $567.3 billion by 2026.

Mortgages

Online mortgage lenders aim to simplify the homebuying process by allowing you to compare instant quotes online and close on a mortgage at a fraction of the time and possibly cost it would take with a traditional lender. 

Some fintech companies like Better.com even claim to deliver a preapproval in as little as three minutes of your applying. Another well-known online mortgage bank is Rocket Mortgage by Quicken Loans.

Investing Apps

Investing in the financial markets is no longer just for the wealthy. With investment apps like SoFi Active Invest, you can get started with $1 and trade stocks directly from your phone with no commission fees. 

But if you don’t have the time for careful stock-picking, you can turn to robo-advisors like Betterment. These are automated and diversified investment portfolios designed for your risk tolerance and financial goals. You can start with as much money invested as you want (there is no minimum balance) and an algorithm does the rest. 

Cryptocurrency

Digital money, or cryptocurrency, is becoming increasingly popular. It’s an unregulated and decentralized form of currency that can be used to buy goods or invested in through brokerages. And while you may have heard of Bitcoin, there are thousands of cryptocurrencies out there. 

Insurance

You no longer need to sit with an insurance agent to discuss policies, get a quote, or even file a claim. You can pull out your smartphone and do all that right now. Digital insurance companies are using technology to make shopping for coverage easier. 

Whether it’s car, health, or life insurance, there’s a fintech for that. In fact, the website Policygenius helps you compare several different types of insurance types at once online. Just enter some basic info and the site matches you with offers.

Pros & Cons of Fintech 

Pros
    • Faster transactions
    • Sometimes low or no fees for services
    • Minimal paperwork
    • Mobile access almost anywhere, often 24/7
Cons
    • No physical branches
    • Requires internet access
    • May not be linked to widespread ATM network for cash access
    • May lack a long, reliable track record

While many fintech companies offer a seamless, fast, mobile, and inexpensive banking experience that minimizes paperwork, they may fall short for some. 

For instance, most online banks have no physical branches. If you lose internet connection, you can’t go to a physical bank and get access to your money. So make sure your online bank works with a big ATM network from which you can withdraw money for no fees—if they offer a linked card. 

And while many online financial services firms have fully staffed customer support centers, some people prefer discussing their matter face-to-face. This may be especially important when asking about matters as important as retirement savings, your child’s college fund, or a life insurance policy. 

With fintech, most of this is done by yourself, on a screen. Plus, many fintech companies are startups or emerging companies with short-term track records. The biggest traditional banks are established and well-known.  

Overall, the fintech world may better suit someone ready to fully embrace the digital revolution. For others, a traditional bank or a combination of both may be the best fit.  

Key Takeaways

  • Fintech is technology that facilitates access to financial services, often at a fraction of the cost of traditional institutions. 
  • Fintech companies offer bank accounts, credit cards, loans, insurance, and more—entirely online.
  • Legacy financial institutions are noticing the fintech disruption, so many have partnered with emerging fintech companies to deliver a better digital experience for their customers. 
  • Financial technology may better suit people who are ready to fully embrace digital developments and manage their finances entirely online, without physical bank branch support.

Article Sources

  1. PWC. "Global FinTech Report 2017." Accessed Oct. 28, 2020.

  2. Payments Journal. "Mobile Payments: Making a Comeback." Accessed Oct. 28, 2020.

  3. Axos Bank. "Savings Accounts." Accessed Oct. 28, 2020.

  4. Reports and Data. "Peer To Peer P2p Lending Market." Accessed Oct. 28, 2020.