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As financial technology transforms the banking industry, experts are placing bets on the banks and startups most likely to thrive in the digital future. Here are seven top contenders, according to insiders from both sides of the divide at last week's Next Bank USA conference in New York.

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Marketplace lenders
"They've found a new way to set an intermediation market between people who have liquidity and the ones that do not," said Michael Panowicz, senior director of the tech-savvy Polish bank mBank. Another reason he puts stock in the future of this niche, also known as peer-to-peer lending: the industry has fewer pesky regulations to deal with.

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Blockchain technology firms
"Blockchain technology alleviates the need for many of the payment networks and is a possibility to transfer and store money in a very new way," said Panowicz. Mainstream companies also seem to believe the blockchain has staying power: Nasdaq and Overstock.com each announced plans to use Bitcoin technology to issue securities this year.

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Investment management startups
Panowicz also cheered the surge in startups looking to democratize investing. "It's typically a difficult process that requires specialization, which cut off huge segments of the population," he said. Now startups like Wealthfront, Betterment and Covestor are "addressing the limitations of access, knowledge and price."

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Amazon
While Amazon may not be a fintech company, "they really understand that the key is attacking payments, and they're the ones that are smart enough to go after payroll," said Ron Shevlin, director of research at Cornerstone Advisors. Amazon has yet to signal plans to enter that territory, but Shevlin has faith in the company's strategic thinking. "If you capture the funding source through payroll, you've got a lot of control over how money flows from there."

Pictured: Amazon chief Jeff Bezos

Image: Bloomberg News

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BBVA Compass
"I'm bullish on them," Moven chief Brett King said, lauding the Houston lender's tech-focused strategy. Under the leadership of chief executive and chairman Manuel "Manolo" Sánchez, BBVA Compass acquired online banking startup Simple in 2014 and recently spent $13.5 million creating a software development center in Birmingham, Ala.

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Alibaba
"A fintech company that has a banking license, that's going to be hard to beat," King said of the Chinese e-commerce giant, which runs the wildly popular payments service Alipay as well as the private bank MYBank.

Pictured: Alibaba founder and chairman Jack Ma

Image: Bloomberg News

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African banks and financial services providers
"The countries with the least amount of regulation are the places where you're going to see banks doing the most interesting things. Right now that's Africa," said consultant Robert Tercek, citing mobile payment platforms such as M-Pesa (launched in Kenya) and Zimbabwe's EcoCash.

Image: Bloomberg News

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