How fintech has gone mainstream

Once a niche sector, fintech was everywhere in 2023.

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Last year, financial technology (fintech) finally went mainstream. Here are some examples that underline my case. 

Exhibit one: stockmarket indices. AI-focused equity indices had a superb 2023. Investment group WisdomTree, for instance, has an AI-focused exchange-traded fund (ETF) tracking a specialised index. In 2023 it rose by almost 50%. But the fintech news website AltFi runs a similar stockmarket index for global fintech firms. It gained nearly 60% last year.

Then there is exhibit two: AltFi runs an annual awards ceremony for the most innovative fintech companies. Can you guess which provider won the award for the best digital bank in 2023? Chase UK ( a brand also known as JPMorgan Chase) which happens to be one of the world’s largest banks and a late convert to the potential of fintech. Its digital banking app Chase has been an enormous success and is giving the likes of Revolut, Monzo, and Starling a run for their money.

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Exhibit three: buy now, pay later (BNPL). Wander around the high street in my small Hampshire town and you’ll see a new sticker plastered on most cash tills proclaiming that you can space out your payments using a BNPL app. The remorseless rise of BNPL has even attracted the attention of regulators worried about the rise of short-term debt among younger customers.

If fintech is going mainstream and everyone and their aunt now has a digital banking app of some kind – not to mention the long list of digital savings platforms that have hoovered up cash deposits – what’s left to innovate with, in the coming year? I would keep a watchful eye on the credit card subsector. New products such as the Curve app are emerging, heavily influenced by the BNPL movement, alongside more rewards-based ideas.

Opening doors
The ascendancy of fintech has also helped ensure that private investors have gained access to UK Treasury bills. The UK Treasury has long sold very short-duration Treasury bills to institutional investors (with a duration of a month for each bill). For many years, the interest rate on these bills was almost imperceptible, but now that we have entered an era of higher interest rates these short-duration bills are a worthwhile investment, with recent yields above 5%.

This is where the upstart online broker Freetrade comes in. Fresh from its campaign to ensure that UK investors can still hold fractional US shares within a UK individual savings account (ISA), the platform last month launched a service whereby UK investors can keep investing in UK Treasury bills on a rollover basis and generate a very secure, high yield. Democratising access to investments that were once the preserve of institutions is exactly the sort of innovation that fintech platforms were designed to provide.


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David C. Stevenson
Contributor

David Stevenson has been writing the Financial Times Adventurous Investor column for nearly 15 years and is also a regular columnist for Citywire.
He writes his own widely read Adventurous Investor SubStack newsletter at davidstevenson.substack.com

David has also had a successful career as a media entrepreneur setting up the big European fintech news and event outfit www.altfi.com as well as www.etfstream.com in the asset management space. 

Before that, he was a founding partner in the Rocket Science Group, a successful corporate comms business. 

David has also written a number of books on investing, funds, ETFs, and stock picking and is currently a non-executive director on a number of stockmarket-listed funds including Gresham House Energy Storage and the Aurora Investment Trust. 

In what remains of his spare time he is a presiding justice on the Southampton magistrates bench.