The Magic of Fintech

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Fintech not only solves problems for banks and their customers, it has also helped me break a curse.

Before I started covering this space, I was a bad-luck charm for every industry I covered as a journalist. My first job out of college was at a small newspaper in South Florida. Housing was part of my beat. It was roaring when I arrived, with houses no one could ever afford going up where no one would ever want to live.

Then came 2007. What was supposed to be a "rolling bubble," in which the number of people moving to the Sunshine State each day would offset the correction in prices, ended up bursting in the most spectacular way.

Next I joined American Banker as a community banking reporter. I remember asking my editor what was considered a bad nonperforming asset ratio in early 2008 as we combed through banks' fourth-quarter results. "Historically, anything over 1% is bad," he said.

As you're likely well aware, that metric got historically worse.

When I moved over to the American Banker tech team in June 2015, I wondered what my jinx might mean. Would fintech entrepreneurs succeed in their quest to topple banks? Could banks use their might to crush the scrappy startups looking to stick it to The Man?

More than a year later, neither has happened. Knock on wood, or perhaps a wood-veneer iPhone case, I finally shook off the bad juju.

I have to admit, it is kind of a relief. Not to sound too hokey, but it's nice following what is shaping up to be a new era in the way consumers and businesses interact with banks and our money. Rather than a period of destruction, it is marked by what people can build when they come together, acknowledge the value each brings to the other and work on something that is intended to make something better, easier or faster.

But it requires a different mindset than covering crises, or even quarterly earnings.

That's been the hardest adjustment — so much of what I've written about at American Banker lives and breathes on the bottom line. Tech is not quite that cut and dried. The costs of making an investment, the value it brings, the costs of not making one — all are much more complicated when you're writing about the intersection of banking and technology.

My favorite stories ponder the divide between legacy technology and the omnipresent demands of the digital world. What can I say? I love the drama.

Much of what we write about now is conceptual. Blockchain is going change the world in ways we don't know. Data is going to give banks new ways to connect with customers. Robots are going to run our lives.

Come to think of it, perhaps it is too soon to declare my curse broken. Maybe I just arrived early to cover the machines' takeover.

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