Former Citigroup chief Vikram Pandit sees one macro trend running through much of the innovation that's happening in finance today — whether it's peer-to-peer lending or the revolution in payments — and that's the widening availability of financial products.

"For the first time in a long time, I can see the real ability to democratize finance," Pandit told American Banker in a recent interview. "And that to me is really exciting."

Since being ousted from Citigroup in 2012, Pandit has devoted much of his time to investing in financial startups.

His investments over the last couple of years include CommonBond, a startup that allows people with advanced degrees to refinance their expensive student loans; Fundbox, an online small-business lender; and a banking venture in India, where much of the 1.2 billion-population remains outside the financial mainstream.

"There's still a lot of unbanked people around the world," Pandit said. "Some people think there's about four billion people that are not part of the financial system; others think there are two-and-a-half [billion]. I don't know whether it's two and a half or four, but it's still a large number."

Pandit, a onetime hedge fund investor, argued that the democratization of finance is being fueled by both technological advances, including the spread of cloud computing, as well as the preferences of regulators.

"For any financial institution, the question should be: 'what role are we going to play in this march toward the democratization of finance?'" he said. "And the answer is going to determine exactly what their strategy is, how they adopt technologies, and how they position themselves."

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