Written by Brett Terespolsky (topic: technology)

No longer a buzzword, fintech has for a while been changing the way in which we transact financially both as businesses and individuals. Heralded as ‘one of the fastest growing areas for venture capitalists’, fintech incorporates anything from PayPal to online credit transactions. Loosely defined, it is the very technology used to support banking or other financial services.

Long gone are the days of standing in a bank queue! Today, the ‘online’ world appears to be our oyster. A few simple clicks of the keyboard and online payments, instant loan applications, the transferring of funds, and much more, become instantaneous. And yet this is just the beginning. So, what else can we expect …?

The recent Finovate Middle East conference, held in Dubai this past February during the UAE’s innovation month, had as its agenda exactly that. Aimed at all players in the fintech space, from early startups and innovators to multinationals, established banking institutions and funders, its goal was to inform and educate, whilst providing a platform for participants to showcase their offerings and share best practices.

Switch was amongst this year’s attendees, and so we’re sharing some takeaways around the forces and trends set to continue shaping this highly dynamic industry.

Fintech: driving today, and tomorrow’s, financial services industry

Customer centricity, the ability to provide delightful and seamless experiences, has never been more vital. And it is technology that underpins this, providing financial institutions with the ability to meet and surpass customer expectations. We live in a fast-paced and dynamic world, where so much of life happens, literally, at the click of a button. Customers want more and more, and the world of fintech is gearing itself up to continue providing.

Some exciting developments awaiting tomorrow’s customers include managing FICA related documentation remotely using selfies, as well as the opening of new bank accounts, known as onboarding, with nothing more than one’s mobile device (as opposed to face-to-face interaction in a branch). By using the latest biometric and document authentication technology, an onboarding solution that can be done anytime and anywhere is created.

Other advancements include the ability to create multiple virtual credit cards, on the fly, setting limits and budgets for one’s children, and perhaps even one’s spouse. It’s about making customers’ lives as easy as possible and using technology to do it!


What previously might have been a slightly antagonistic or difficult relationship between banking institutions and fintech companies is changing, with both parties increasingly understanding the need for partnership and collaboration.

Each armed with its own set of strengths, working together creates an opportunity to evolve and enhance current financial product and service offerings. Banks come with a strong customer base, without which a business doesn’t exist. Fintech companies, on the other hand, are dynamic, innovative and agile. A combination of these two entities provides the best way to compete with future banking products.

The reputation of the likes of Google, Apple, Amazon and Virgin and the strong leadership these companies already display around customer experiences, together with their propensity to expand into other areas including financial services, position them as a very real threat to ‘banking as we know it’. This threat will become very real unless today’s banking and financial services institutions leverage on partnerships with fintech companies to help take them into the future, whatever that future might look like.

Cryptocurrencies, and the technology serving it

With all the hype around cryptocurrencies, we can more than likely expect to see even greater traction of digital currencies over the coming years. The advantages are many including instantaneous transactions and borderless transfer of ownership. But it is the technology underpinning these digital currencies that really needs to be looked at and understood.

A case in point, Blockchain. While it might be the technology underpinning the Bitcoin cryptocurrency, it has potential applications far beyond this. The true value of technologies such as these lies in gaining a real understanding of exactly what it can and cannot do, and exactly what types of problems it can solve for customers.


While in the past, regulators potentially saw fintech as something new and cool and, as a result, something to stay far away from, the same is no longer true. A definite shift is taking place, with regulators becoming more and more involved. No longer a case of ‘how do we hinder this’, but rather of ‘how do we support and enable this’, this change in dynamic reinforces fintech’s key role in today and tomorrow’s banking and financial services industry.

But perhaps, one of the biggest takeaways for the Switch team was perspective!

Whilst we may, at times, think that the rest of the world is light years ahead of us, South Africa remains a highly innovative nation, with our local fintech industry and financial services sector proof of that. A recent case in point, FNB, being awarded most innovative bank in Africa at the 2017 African Fintech awards, further to 2012 when it won most innovative bank in the world at the Financial Global Banking Innovation Awards. And that is just one of many accolades enjoyed by local companies.

And where we are not ‘leading the way’, we are most definitely holding our own.