Why the finance industry should be inspired by the tech sector

Simon Bramble

Friday 14 October 2016

‘Gamification’ and the financial services industry wouldn’t, at first glance, appear to go hand in hand. But the digital trend is just one of a number of innovations being embraced by businesses around the globe to make their online products more accessible, dynamic and engaging.

Financial services firms have long rivalled government departments in the conservatism stakes. Data security, identity verification and stability are the triple pillars that businesses are wary of undermining. Consequently, traditional banking applications have lagged behind those seen in other, more forward-looking industries.

Financial wildfire

Financial technology – fintech – startups are blooming across the Middle East. PayFort, the online payments engine, launched its Fintech Factory in 2016, a Dubai-based startup catalyst that will enable up to five new fintech businesses to get under way this year alone.

The fintech startup scene in the region is a curious mix of the traditional and the far-sighted. On the one hand, many young firms are cherry-picking the most successful US and European business models and then tweaking them to fit local regulations. On the other hand, companies like peer-to-peer lending platform Beehive and mobile-centred insurance vendor Democrance – both in the UAE – are taking a more disruptive stance. They and companies like them are determined to blaze their own trail.

Yet both old and new approaches would benefit from thought about how some of the biggest companies in the world recalibrated their digital services to ensure they stayed relevant to existing and prospective customers.

Looking beyond rivals

A recent study from user experience research firm Corporate Insight recommended that many of the world’s largest financial institutions ought to look beyond their own industry when it comes to creating engaging digital services.

Nike was highlighted for its Nike+ Running app, which delivers a goal-based experience that encourages its users to keep on – you guessed it – running. The report suggests that financial firms could help clients manage savings and investment goals within similarly supportive applications.

Online collaboration tools like Dropbox and Google Drive were cited as exemplars of document management, something that’s becoming increasingly prevalent in sectors such as wealth management and property.

As for gamification, the likes of Recyclebank and SuperBetter could be used as models to help leverage banking customers’ competitive and playful instincts.

Corey Limmer, lead author of the report at Corporate Insight, acknowledged that innovation wasn’t a strength of the financial sector. “To remain competitive and appeal to increasingly tech-savvy consumers, firms need to learn from top non-financial websites, apps and technology providers and rethink the experience they provide through the online and mobile channels.”

Balancing established best practices with groundbreaking techniques from unconnected fields is something all the best startups do – those in the Middle East fintech scene included.