The opportunity for fintech companies to disrupt traditional financial institutions is best observed today in millennials' habits.
Millennials have a clear preference for accomplishing tasks through digital applications and services — something fintech companies are better at providing than banks in terms of speed and personalization.
Already, 62% of millennials in North America use products from fintech companies, according to the 2016 World Retail Banking Report. More disturbing, Gen Y customers are far less loyal to their banks: only 45% of North American millennials said they plan to stick with their current bank, compared to 85% of North American respondents from all other age groups.
While banks have steadily built up their online and mobile channels — in part to appeal to millennials — the products and services they offer in those channels are built on top of legacy systems and fail to provide the level of speed and personalization millennials expect. A customer might be able to deposit a check from anywhere with their mobile device, but it can take several days for that deposit to post to the user's account.
To cater to this increasingly important customer demographic, banks should embrace blockchain technology and artificial intelligence now or risk losing millennials to fintech companies that aren't bogged down with old technology.
The distributed ledger technology that underpins blockchain systems, after all, is designed for near real-time transfer of data. It can deliver instant resolution to customers' transactions and interactions with their banks. Beyond real-time payments, the blockchain can be used to transfer data quickly across a large number of use cases, including real-time account opening and flexible loyalty programs. For example, blockchain startup Ascribe is working with Capgemini to offer a distributed ledger-based application that will let customers combine loyalty points across different loyalty programs and spend them instantly with a range of different merchants.
Beyond the blockchain, machine learning — a facet of artificial intelligence — can also help speed up transactions for customers. Several banks are already using machine learning to spot suspicious transactions more quickly and accurately. More recently, banks are starting to investigate using chatbots, which are driven by machine learning algorithms to quickly answer customer inquiries and resolve their problems. Not only can they deliver information more quickly, but the algorithms — which comb through loads of transaction data — can help banks tailor financial advice and recommend products that fit customers' individual needs. Think of it as akin to how digital companies like Spotify and Amazon have successfully earned the loyalty of countless millennial customers through personalized recommendations.
To be sure, implementing blockchain and machine learning applications can be difficult given banks' existing systems. Further, finding ways to scale blockchain applications is an ongoing industry struggle. However, banks need to prioritize the implementation of these technologies in their plans.
Fintech companies that want to displace banks are going to leverage the speed and personalization offered by blockchain and machine learning technologies to win over more millennials. And unlike banks, they will have an easier time implementing these technologies because they aren't burdened by legacy IT systems.
For example, an all-digital startup bank is much more likely to implement a blockchain-based core system — like the recently-released Vault OS system from ThoughtMachine — than a traditional bank. Money transfer startup Azimo, for another, is going to let customers transfer funds through a machine learning-backed Facebook Messenger chatbot.
These are just two examples of how fintech companies can drive a deeper wedge between banks and millennials. Banks need to apply these technologies sooner rather than later to meet millennials' expectations.