Social fintechs: the revolutionary promise…
Indeed, what currently can be witnessed, as we speak, is the replication of the financial system by aspiring information technology entrepreneurs worldwide. They all redevelop parts of the financial system, focused, pureplay, independent and without conflicts of interest. And excellently: they are hungry to achieve. And why? Because it should be redeveloped, there is so much unmet social need. The tasks are daunting: societies are facing grand challenges, whole groups in society are underserved, inefficiencies in the financial system are staggering, trust in financial services is still low, and so on. The issue is of course that we cannot do without a financial system. Vulnerable as people are, we need to be able to trust the financial system to do the right thing, meet societies’ need, in a way condoned by society.
Why does this redevelopment of the financial services sector attract many of the brightest minds, climbing their first or second mountain, why do they invest all their savings and accept low or no pay, and certainly no cash bonus or fancy job title. Why do these bright minds accept doing menial tasks, associated with start-up life, and do them with pleasure? Why do many people at incumbent players have a feeling of jealousy when they think about these entrepreneurs, on who they often times only read about in the media? Why do private investors flock to these social fintech ventures, which often times fail to get any interest from regular investment firms, venture capitalists and others? Why is there so much energy in these scarcely clad (home) offices, which are in essence made up of a computer, a fast internet connection and coffee. Why?
The promise of a better world
Many people want to do meaningful work, they want their talents to unfold where their contribution can be largest, and don’t mind risking something. Yes, it is the promise of a better world social fintechs are acting on, first and foremost. Looking at the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals there is ample opportunity to find new purpose, where social fintech can play a role. Purpose was always there, from early corporate life on, but it got snowed under over time. All financial services firms have a social purpose and a huge social impact, if their management and employees realize it or not. However, the priorities in incumbent firms may oftentimes lie elsewhere, as engrained in their incentive systems, cultures and processes. Increasingly, as can be seen from the social fintech space, it becomes visible that those financial services firms that put purpose first, in their services and in their management, attract talent, capital, clients and positive vibes. Together they create a highly productive level of engagement, where relationships are formed, where stakeholders become partners. These partners develop, in an uncomplicated and natural manner, an agile and productive way of working. Does this sound too aspirational, is this on another planet? No, it is well-documented. As Alex Edmans of the London Business School in his popular 2020-book Grow the Pie, published by Cambridge University Press, shows: providing social value is creating financial value.
Fintune: Social value through financial literacy
It is this mission that I recognize Fintune to be on: enabling financial literacy for kids is badly needed. For kids, parents, kids who become parents, and society at large. It supports financial resilience, lowers financial fragility, lowers inequality, supports navigating uncertainty, in short, improves financial wellbeing for individuals and society. Clearly, this is filling a market gap, a market gap that, without purpose, may not have been spotted. Given their clear sense of purpose, their positive energy, and their agile way of working, social fintechs are perfectly positioned to do that what society needs, support redevelopment of the financial system, and reap the benefits of it. After all, are we not all faced with financial decisions all our lives? Are we not all also interested in financial security, as shareholders, and pension beneficiaries? Are we not all parents or children?
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Dr Eelco Fiole, CFA, CDir, managing partner of Alpha Governance Partners, is a Zurich-based risk governance expert in the investment and fintech spaces. He is also an adjunct professor of Finance Ethics at the Universities of Lausanne and Neuchatel as has a keen interest in fintechs, which aim to bring social innovation.