Hardly a day goes by when we don’t reach out to Google, Apple, Facebook or Amazon (the GAFAs).
“Hey Alexa, what’s the weather doing today?”
“OK Google, what is my drive to work like?”
But there’s one area of our lives that these disruptive firms have yet to invade: our finances. While they are tinkering around the edges with everything from digital wallets to comparison engines, we have yet to see any of them become a fully-fledged bank.
However, news that Amazon is in discussion with JP Morgan Chase, and a number of other financial organisations, has reopened the question many financial services executives reopened the question many financial services executives have been wondering for some time: “Will any of the GAFAs ever become a bank?”. Whether or not they actually become a bank, one thing is certain: the GAFAs will bring further disruption to financial services. Is your organisation ready to fend off the threat and take advantage of the opportunities?
57% of retail bank IT directors believe the GAFAs will enter the retail banking sector within 5 years
36% of consumers would consider switching to a GAFA bank; rising to 50% of those between aged 25 and 34
41% think GAFAs would offer better technology
40% think they would offer more innovative products & services
Source: Research from Peru Consulting
“The banks you know today might disappear altogether over time. There are various views on how extreme [it would be] or how quickly that process might happen.”
Many financial services executives are becoming concerned that the GAFAs could become their next big rival. A recent survey carried out by Bain, the strategy consultancy, found that nearly 60% of bank customers were willing to try a financial product from tech groups they already use. Amazon and PayPal were the two brands consumers would most trust with their money, the survey found, ahead of Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Snapchat.
Sharing that concern, Clydesdale and Yorkshire Banking Group chief executive David Duffy told BBC 5 Live’s Wake Up to Money podcast: Let’s examine the points for and against the GAFAs becoming banks:
The GAFAs have everything they need to play a leading role in the era of digital financial services:
“Large technology firms like Facebook, Amazon and Google are a bigger threat to banks than Fintech start-ups.”
The World Economic Forum.
The report highlights three domains that are not only becoming critical to the competitive differentiation of financial institutions, but also where the GAFAs have far deeper experience than their financial services counterparts:
Open Banking will bring significant changes to banking. It’s an immense opportunity for traditional banks and Fintech start-ups, and also any technology company able to make use of open APIs to access customers’ accounts – including the GAFAs. You don’t, however, need to become a bank to leverage Open Banking; you can disrupt purely as an AISP1.
Open Banking’s global opportunity makes it more attractive to the GAFAs, who are global players themselves. While it’s easy to think, under the guise of PSD2, that Open Banking is a UK and European phenomena; there’s actually a lot happening internationally:
This GAFAs have a great opportunity to get ahead. Many established brands are struggling to get to grips with the Open Banking opportunities; they are simply not in the right place culturally to take advantage of the opportunity.
Some financial institutions even failed to make the January deadline to implement Open Banking regulations: RBS, HSBC, Barclays, Santander, Bank of Ireland and Nationwide.
“Next time you need to send your friend a tenner, you’ll instant-message them the money, rather than opening up your boring bank app, fiddling about finding their bank details, authenticating yourself again, and finally firing off the cash. You’ll just type “+£10” in your WhatsApp chat.”
Dave Birch, author, advisor and commentator on digital financial services
The banking business model doesn’t fit well with the GAFAs’ global ambitions. Banking is very much a local business with heavy local regulation. Moreover, cultural differences mean banks must adapt to their local customers’ specific needs and expectations:
“Technology companies do not move into banking territory to steal deposit accounts, which are highly regulated, need lots of capital, have high levels of governance and incredibly complicated in terms of compliance and audit. Why would they? It’s not core and does little for their business. But technology titans have and will move further into areas that assist building digitally integrated social, commercial and financial lifestyles, and that starts with payments and credit.”
Chris Skinner, author of Digital Bank, ValueWeb and Digital Human
Google, for example, won’t launch a bank because of the costs and regulation – and because of the advertising revenue coming from its financial services clients.
Low switching rates make the banking business model less attractive to the GAFAs. People are more likely to change their spouse than their bank. A 2013 Mintel survey found that, on average:
While the average person may be more likely to trust Google than a Fintech start-up, Tom Bloomfield, founder of Monzo, doesn’t believe the GAFAs can ever achieve the same level of trust as established banks.
“None of the big techs are in the sweet spot of being the trusted confidant that manages your entire financial life. For any of the tech companies to get there is quite a big leap from their core mission.”
Tom Bloomfield talking to Fintech Insider
Moreover, a Harvard-Harris poll published in the Guardian agrees, that trust in the tech giants is waning on the back of concerns around the use of personal data, fake news and tax avoidance.
“Google, Amazon and Microsoft are hosting a rapidly rising portion of the world’s financial data at their cloud computing divisions.”
The GAFAs are increasingly trying to leverage their technology and the data available to them to solve problems. Amazon, for instance, is extending trust outside its traditional value chain with Amazon Pay and turning Alexa into a digital financial assistant.
A logical next step would be for them to leverage a combination of product, consumer, and transactional financial data to deliver financial advice and tailored product information.
The GAFAs are already disrupting financial services and encroaching on traditional banking services:
They also have the potential to disrupt:
But success has been mixed:
The business case for Amazon becoming a bank could rest on interchange fees alone. On average, they incur a 2% interchange fee for most card transactions. So getting customers to pay directly from an Amazon current account could (according to estimates by Bain & Co) save more than a quarter of a billion dollars in annual interchange fees in the US alone.
China’s most successful and influential companies are taking the lead: Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent (the BATs for short) have moved Chinese commerce from cash-heavy to cashless, according to Forrester’s “Keep An Eye On Baidu, Alibaba, And Tencent” report. Alibaba and Tencent, in particular, have become dominant operators in China’s $5.5tn payments industry.
Now establishing themselves in the global financial services economy, the BATs are reaching out to consumers beyond China’s boundaries and posing a threat to traditional financial firms as they do so. They appear to be much more ambitious and aggressive than the GAFAs.
However, if the BATs are to make inroads beyond Asia, they will have to do so under the same onerous regulatory regimes that the GAFAs operate in.
“Europe’s introduction this year of ‘open banking’ regulation, which forces lenders to provide access to accounts of customers who authorise it, has left senior banker worrying that tech groups will cherry-pick the best parts of their business.”
As David Duffy puts it: “The banks [face] the possible consequence of death by a thousand darts, where all the individual higher margin services are being taken out by these other providers.” I don’t believe the GAFAs will obtain banking licences because they simply don’t need to.
They’re more likely to become a financial services hub, facilitating the relationship between the consumers and providers of financial services. They would become the disruptive middleman Forrester describes in Oliwia Berdak’s report “Why Google Bank Won’t Happen,” squeezing banks’ margins, reducing banks’ visibility of their customers and weakening traditional banking brands.
The GAFAs will morph into a financial services hub by leveraging the platform economy that has revolutionised many markets in recent decades.
In their book “Platform Revolution”, Parker, Van Alstyne and Choudary describe this ‘platform economy’ as an economy built on the technology platforms to enable two-sided markets. With security, regulation and consumer trust at their core, these platforms facilitate the creation and exchange of products, services and social currency in a way that ensures all participants capture value.
The GAFAs will simply leverage their own technology platforms along with the access to the customer account that will become available to them as banks build their own ‘open’ platforms.
“The bank provides an open platform for sellers, buyers, and content providers to interact, create and sell products and services and share value.”
Built using API management software, next-generation core banking systems and digital banking platforms, these platforms allow banks to share assets such as data, algorithms and transactions (both monetary and non- monetary) with business ecosystem participants such as employees, customers and partners.
The GAFAs will leverage the notion of Marketplace banking to offer the best ISAs, mortgages, loans, FX etc. developed by different companies; but manage and administer them on their platforms.
To succeed in the world dominated by the GAFAs, banks must move to the places where their customers spend their time – in the GAFAs’ apps.
In 2017, the average adult spent 2 hours 25 minutes per day (19.9% of average daily total media time) using mobile apps, a jump of 10.3% over 2016.
App usage is mainly concentrated within social networks, Google and utilitarian apps, such as maps and messaging.
Financial institutions will soon find themselves fully immersed in the apps their customers use the most: services such as WhatsApp, Amazon’s Alexa smart assistant, Facebook Messenger and Google Maps. It is also no coincidence that Visa and MasterCard can usually be found at the large technology tradeshows demonstrating commerce from a connected car.
Gartner’s Alistair Newton recently told delegates at their annual symposium that banks would do well to take note of the key attributes that set GAFAs apart as disrupters:
First, financial institutions need to build an ecosystem and platform vision that focuses on business value over IT value as APIs become second nature. That vision should identify all ecosystem components and reimagine all parts of the business for the digital era – particularly HR and procurement, which will be central to enabling change.
Second, banks need to develop the cultural vision that’s so often overlooked in digital banking strategies. They need to take on board the attributes of the disrupters threatening their market to be able to compete on a level playing field.
Third, banks need to monetise the vast volumes of data they hold. Changing data’s role is a significant shift for banks and one that they must address to thrive in the digital era where data is king.
While the GAFAs are unlikely to morph into a true bank, you simply cannot ignore the threat they pose to the financial services space. I believe they will increasingly sit over the top of the financial services customer experience, diluting your brand, reducing the competitive advantage of your data and eating into select revenue streams.
Now is the time to turn that threat into an opportunity. Learn from the GAFAs to create new financial ecosystems built around platforms and APIs. Transform your business into one of the digital era’s great successes.
Director of Strategy, Marketing and Innovation
Simon is a product marketer and strategist with almost 20 years’ experience working for a range of major international brands. Simon’s role is to set and deliver the company’s mid and long term strategy, overall responsibility for marketing, alongside being tasked with oversight of the roadmap for Interact (the company’s core product offering).
Simon joined in 2013 from Lloyds Banking Group where he was responsible for payments and also sat on the Credit Card divisions leadership team. Prior to this he worked on the launch of a number of firsts in new technology – the Blackberry (BT Cellnet), BT Openzone (BT Retail), 3G Live! (Vodafone Australia) and Sky HD (BSKYB).
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