5 takeaways from Paris FinTech Forum 2020

Paris Fintech Forum reflected the content-led seriousness of the exploding European fintech ecosystem. This year we saw less bright, colourful T-shirts emblazoned with plug and play applications; and more platforms and comprehensive multi-services, in suits.

Understandably the move in the industry - from customer facing apps to infrastructure solutions - could be summed up this week by the story that Credit Agricole had acquired French aggregator Linxo. An app whose value lay in its backend technology. No surprise the names getting discussed most in the exhibitor hall were the likes and Banking Circle, Rapyd, Plaid and CurrencyCloud.

Thanks to Visa’s recent $5bn acquisition of Plaid, PSD2 and financial data access was a big topic.

Visa’s recent acquisition of Plaid catalysed discussions about simplicity vs complexity: Do fintech products have to be difficult to build in order to be easy to use? Do they need sufficient simplicity to pivot when they’re tomorrow’s old news, with such ruthless technological changes happening week by week?

Remittance systems and cross-border payments will be forced to adapt

On the back of the announced partnership between Western Union and La Banque Postale, PFF was a good chance to address trends in cross-border payments in Europe and beyond. The physical process of transferring money is declining, so new digitised ways of making transfers cheaper, quicker and transparent are on the rise. As companies like Nium demonstrated at the event, digital payment technologies have to be agile and flexible enough to facilitate high-volumes of cross-border B2B transactions (virtual cards in the retail space will be in part responsible for these volumes.)

Environmentalism and gender diversity are our biggest challenges…even in fintech

Fintech - side-stepping the complications of physical products and processes - can rapidly adopt a social conscience without that much hard work. This was the message from organisers of the Forum this year. With Goldman Sachs announcing they won’t support a client’s IPO unless they have a woman on their board, and the French Secretary of State for Digital Affairs Cedric O stressing on Day 2 the importance of diversity and its core function in the fintech ecosystem, it’s no surprise. Revolution - although gradual - ought start in places where flexibility & dexterity are already built-in (i.e. our industry).

You won’t know when you’re next using AI or Open Banking

Artificial Intelligence and Open Banking (two separate but complementary things) have suffered from clumsy media coverage the past year, but the tide is turning. As Brett King and David Birch remarked on the closing panel of Day 2 , iRobots or Darleks that behave like butlers isn’t AI; we’re thinking in the wrong terms. It will become more ‘diffuse’, useful but unnoticed.

the honeymoon period for non-compliant banks is over

Talking of Open Banking, the Chair of the European Banking Authority suggested that the ‘honeymoon period’ for non-compliant banks will be over sooner than you think, and is perhaps weeks away. An expert panel of PSD2 technology providers explained that the majority of European bank accounts could be accessed by Open APIs as soon as the end of this year. It won’t be funtime apps but structural changes to underlying infrastructure that harbours this revolution.

It’s the age of new-comers, not come-backs

There was an overall sense of disruptor domination. Tech startups are clearly managing to go-global and stand on their own two feet, even during periods of rapid growth, thanks to ever-optimised cloud engineering and platform-itisation.

Regulatory sandboxes are key to fostering innovation and supporting the scary terrority of compliance and regulations.

A new generation of fintech enthusiasts are driven as much by ‘emotional paychecks as paychecks’ as the CEO of Sunrise Bank mentioned, culture matters. It’s no longer a nice-to-have.

Overall, legacy tech and institutions not proactively making changes seemed the most threatened, judging by their conspicuous absence over the two days…

Style is key to everything

Where better to find out - in the world’s capital of fashion - that style is everything.

As the Venture Capitalist Alexandre Mars remarked during a panel on Fintech for Good, we’re all entrepreneurs now: Because even the most backend business processes imaginable now need to have the style and feel of consumer apps and trends, we’re consuming more of the sort of experiences we’re building than ever. Are terms like B2C and B2B past their sell-by date? Probably, it seems.


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Matt Cockayne

31st January 2020

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