Tech giants like Amazon and Facebook more disruptive to banks than fintech start-ups: WEF

Key Points
  • Companies like Amazon and Facebook pose more of a competitive challenge to banks than fintech, according to a report by the World Economic Forum.
  • Banks are lagging behind tech giants in the development of cloud computing, artificial intelligence and big data.
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Banks are faced with more competitive disruption from tech behemoths than financial technology (fintech) start-ups, according to a report by the World Economic Forum (WEF).

Contrary to concerns surrounding small fintech firms drawing business away from the financial services sector, the report concluded that start-ups had less of an impact than expected.

"Fintechs have changed the basis of competition in financial services, but not the competitive landscape," Rob Galaski, co-author of the report and Canadian lead for financial services at Deloitte, said in a statement Tuesday.

"Fintechs now define the tempo and direction of innovation in financial services, but high customer switching costs and the rapid response of incumbents has challenged their ability to scale".

Drawing on interviews with finance and tech industry experts, the report found that banks were significantly lagging behind tech giants in the development of technologies like cloud computing, artificial intelligence and big data analytics.

Lenders have instead been turning to tech corporations to provide these functions, the report said. It singled out Amazon, Google and Facebook as three companies dominating the market in these areas of innovation.

Attendees stand near Web Services signage during the Station F startup campus launch party in Paris, France, on Thursday, June 29, 2017.
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One example the report referred to was Amazon Web Services, which has lured several financial institutions including Aon, Capital One and Nasdaq to Amazon's cloud computing business.

"The ability to be a fast follower has proven more important than being first for large financial institutions," Deloitte's Galaski added.

"Agile incumbents have used the fintech ecosystem as a supermarket for capabilities, making the ability to nurture and rapidly form partnerships a critical ingredient to banks' competitive success."

Not an isolated view

Comments expressed in the report are far from unique to the WEF.

Today a blockchain specialist at IBM weighed in on the subject, arguing that some start-ups lacked a full understanding of the industry they were trying to disrupt.

"Some of the start-ups that are coming in don't necessarily understand the scope of the transactions that are running all the time, and when you think about banking as an $8-9 trillion industry – that's a lot of transactions," Brigid McDermott, IBM's vice president for blockchain business development, told CNBC via phone call.

WSJ's Greg Ip: US needs more Amazon disruption
WSJ's Greg Ip: US needs more Amazon disruption

Blockchain, or distributed ledger technology, is a secure, decentralized network that records transactions. IBM revealed its "Blockchain-as-a-Service" platform earlier this year, to be used by several of Europe's largest banks.

McDermott added, "When you come at it as a start-up and you're trying to look at a small part, do you really have a sense of what the transformation is that needs to happen?"

Big banks, however, are now trying to emulate the lending models of fintech leaders, says Jesse McWaters, financial innovation lead at the World Economic Forum.

"Fintech is making inroads in defining what the user experience of the future is," McWaters said on CNBC's "Closing Bell" on Tuesday. "Lending Club and OnDeck have really defined what a lending experience should look like, and then you're seeing banks try and copy that as effectively as possible."

Two weeks ago Daniel Döderlein, CEO of Norwegian fintech startup Auka, claimed that various "niche verticals" — smaller vendors that cater to specific markets — could be bought up by larger players.

"There's a ton of companies out there that have more or less great technology, but they don't have the marketing muscle, they don't have consumer customers, and they don't have any financial traction," he said.

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