Banks often use risk management as a scapegoat to avoid working with fintech startups, especially in the post-recession environment. Instead of thinking about how risk can be transformative, we complain that it inhibits our growth and creativity.
Traditionally, bankers view themselves somewhat like football linemen: The 99% of the time you do your job well, it goes unnoticed. However, if you slip up, either the quarterback gets sacked or your team is penalized and 50,000 people are screaming at you.
There is good reason to exercise caution before embracing innovation in banking. There are trillions of dollars at play, high barriers to entry, heavy regulations and conflicts of interest between profits and serving customers.
Without a doubt, there is a big challenge in finding intelligent risks to unlock new ideas, products and services that don't harm an institution or people's money. It's also the biggest opportunity. Banks should actively work to build cultures and environments that embrace positive risk taking, like working with startups. With a positive-risk-taking framework in place, it is much easier to build teams, processes and technology that help proactively mitigate risks you take with your bank.
However, establishing such a framework is just the start. To maintain a business that is open to risk requires continually updating models, investing in tools and people, upgrading technology and, where appropriate, leaning on third-party partnerships.
There's plenty to choose from. In the last few years, we've seen an explosion in fintech. There are more than 4,000 fintech companies in the U.K. and the U.S., according to Forbes. To continue innovating within finance, upstarts such as these must partner with established financial institutions and actively work with regulated entities to increase their credibility. Fintech firms, which drive innovation, shouldn't get a free pass, but they should be allowed to test out new offerings without legally becoming banks. Ultimately, it will make the customer experience better.
What drives innovation, after all, starts with the customer. Every decision to improve the banking process should be in the best interest of the consumer, just like most regulations are put in place with the intent of protecting consumers. If you start by taking care of customers as the guiding principle, then innovating while remaining compliant is more achievable. When compliance compromises the customer experience, it's important to recognize that and push back. There will always be a natural tension between risk and other segments of the business. Deciding when to embrace that tension rather than avoid it is a fundamental key to success.
One area that is ripe for experimentation is the open-platform model, which requires making application program interfaces available to developers. BBVA, our partner company, the payments startup Dwolla and Mondo in the U.K. are among the financial services firms that have already adopted this model. More institutions need to follow suit. APIs turn the traditionally unwelcoming landscape of banking technology into an open sandbox: Everyone can come in and access this technology, try out new innovation and find new ways to improve the customer experience.
Brian Maher is Simple's vice president of operations.