Fintech momentum has fueled an explosion of solutions tailored to niche demographics and new fintech startups are sprouting up on a daily basis. In fact, it’s only a matter of time before there’s a neo-bank catering solely to aliens in disguise. Yet, success in this space isn’t a foregone conclusion, irrespective of the expanding fintech landscape (and the compelling evidence attesting to the existence of UFOs). In reality, the journey from company ideation to launch must be navigated carefully, and is fundamental to the long-term viability of any fintech product.
As a cofounder of social trading and multi-asset brokerage, eToro, where I currently serve as Executive Director, I’ve experienced firsthand the thrills and stresses of launching a successful fintech company. Having spent much of my professional life firmly embedded in the product side of fintech, I’m frequently asked by entrepreneurs what constitutes good product practice in this space. Given the lack of readily-available, domain-specific resources, I’ve come up with my own foundational checklist of key considerations when it comes to bringing a fintech product to market. Let’s take a closer look.
1: Onboard a numerically sound product manager
So, you’ve identified a gap in the market or an opportunity to reach consumers with an innovative product. Well done! Once you have your target audience in mind, or even prospective customers waiting in the wings for your product to launch, you need to find a product manager with strong analytical skills – someone who can guide you from ideation to market fit, to customer onboarding. If your product manager isn’t numerically oriented, you’re in trouble. At its core, fintech is all about dealing with formulas and reconciling numbers. You’d be surprised how many companies don’t factor this into their recruitment efforts and learn the hard way.
2: Be well versed in fintech trends
It may sound obvious, but you need to develop an air-tight understanding of your domain. Become well-versed in the trends, challenges, and opportunities. Do your homework. What missteps have been made by sector participants in the past? What recurring success attributes can you identify? Stay up to date on industry reports and news, and keep close tabs on consumer sentiment surveys. These insights will go a long way towards informing strategy direction and greatly improve your chances of developing a product that lasts longer than a cup of coffee.
2: Understand the regulatory landscape
For most domains, the product management success triangle encapsulates product, development, and marketing. For fintech, the compliance piece is a fourth core pillar. Start thinking about the potential future implications of non-compliance, both from a reputational and operational viewpoint, and don’t plough ahead without a regulatory strategy. When you’re first building a fintech startup, there’s a fine line between exploring a nascent or ‘grey’ area and upholding regulatory compliance. For example, when Venmo launched, they didn’t have money transfer licenses and ended up having to pay fines after the fact. Venmo likely had limited resources and a high-risk appetite at that early stage of development, but in today’s regulatory environment your startup might want to think twice. Engage with lawyers and compliance officers to get their take on your offering, and learn the lay of the land before diving in headfirst.
3: Fintechs must implement robust security protocols
As part of a robust compliance culture, the security and integrity of system architecture is hugely important. Cybercrime is on the rise and fintech products that aren’t ironclad from a security perspective don’t stand a chance of making it. Security breaches and system outages are blemishes on a company’s permanent record and customers might not be too forgiving when they happen. Who does your audits? What encryption is used? Do you have a contingency plan in place for when a crisis unfolds? These are just a few key questions to consider. If there’s a track record of service interruptions, system outages, DDOS attacks, or other nefarious activity, your chances of building trust with today’s digital-savvy customer base are limited, especially when it comes to their finances. This brings me to my next point.
4: Fintechs must establish trust with your customer base
Imbuing a strong sense of trust with your target audience is intrinsically linked to the success of a fintech product. Think about it: you’re expecting consumers to trust you with their hard-earned money and sensitive financial information. The stakes are high, so make sure all product branding and website copy are transparent and informative. Remember, the website will likely be the first port-of-call for any potential customer. To establish credibility from the outset, your site should communicate a sense of robustness, rigor and integrity in both the product and company. In this space, granular level details matter greatly.
5: Cultivate products and services that have an emotional connection with users
I don’t think anyone would be shocked to hear that people don’t enjoy finance-related administration. However, the inconvenience of changing providers is an equally unappetizing prospect, and very often users stick with outdated solutions to spare themselves the administrative headache. Once habits are formed, provoking behavioral change in this realm is difficult. To be successful, you need to build experiences according to a clear understanding of the end-users needs. Also consider that people frequently act irrationally when it comes to their finances. For instance, many Millennials use debit over credit, forgoing the opportunity to build a credit history or earn hundreds of dollars in cash back. This is habitual, peer-endorsed behavior, but it actually doesn’t make sense, particularly when Millenials who use debit cards clearly have sufficient funds to pay off their purchases without accruing debt.
6: Build a fintech with disruption in mind
The foundations are in place for a phase of far-reaching transformation in financial services, for which customers are absolutely ready. By looking beyond the safer strands of innovation – typically around UI and cost-saving improvements – and taking steps to engineer your product from the ground up, you can deliver your product in a completely new way, as opposed to just refining a legacy offering.
The scope of innovation taking place within the fintech space right now is staggering, with neobanks, digital brokerages and a conveyor belt of new, customer-centric solutions defining a new financial services landscape. Given the sheer vibrancy of the sector, it’s tempting for prospective entrepreneurs to try their hand at launching the next big thing. However, if hastily built, lofty ambitions will fall flat. Building confidence within a community of end-users is the name of the game, and this can be achieved with coherent brand messaging, robust security and a firm grip on the regulatory environment. Beyond this, your product needs to make a tangible difference to the lives of customers – offering something they’ve been itching for, or something they never knew they needed. Definitely not an easy path, but a hugely rewarding one.