For most of its existence, the financial industry has had a reputation for being slow to change. It's often been a field where the already-established leaders stick to what already works and don't take kindly to innovations that truly rock the boat.
These past two decades have, however, shaken the old assumptions about how to do business to the core. Not only has this been a time of cultural and political change, it's also seen rapid innovations in the ways we do business.
Financial technology (or "fintech") is creating an era of peril and promise. Here are three transformative technologies that are altering the financial sector forever.
PERSONAL FINANCIAL APPLICATIONS AND SERVICES
One of the areas that has seen the most change due to technology has been consumer banking. According to a recent study, almost a third of Americans have online-only bank accounts. The ability to do banking from the comfort of one's own home is largely overcoming initial public fears regarding the safety of internet finance.
Indeed, advancements in security like smart cards are doing an admirable job in preventing online abuses, as is growing computer literacy among adults. Smartphone applications are the vanguard of this new technology, however. Many banks can now be accessed entirely from a mobile device and often include customer service via text messaging. This has ushered in a sea change in not only how we do business, but where we do it.
Another emerging phenomenon is the rise of app-based investment platforms, such as Robinhood. The percentage of Americans who own stock is actually near record lows. With many younger people in debt and elderly Americans on a fixed income, the large amounts of liquid capital traditionally expected of investors can be intimidating to stock market newcomers. Enter personalized web-based investment services. These companies have successfully carved out a niche by marketing themselves on the promise of versatility and of making high finance at least feel trendy to a young market.
THE RISE OF BLOCKCHAIN
Not enough can be said about the impact of blockchain technology on the financial world. Online security is obviously a major threat to financial institutions and customers as the industry goes digital.
Blockchain at its core is a type of distributed ledger. It's basically a kind of database that stores information in blocks which are then linked together using advanced cryptography. This technology offers the promise of vastly increased security and efficiency in transactions, as well as greater transparency.
The most famous application of blockchain has been in online currency, but in the coming decade, blockchain has the potential to make traditional transaction systems like debit cards a thing of the past.
THE PROMISE OF ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE
Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning may in fact offer the greatest potential for fundamental change in both the business world and global culture in general. AI technology is currently proving foundational to several new ways of interacting with consumers. Right now, studies show that people overwhelmingly prefer a human voice in customer service, especially when it comes to lengthy and nuanced queries. Advancements in natural language processing and personality simulation hold the potential to upend this statistic in the coming years though, as automated chatbots become more user-friendly than ever before.
Another role for artificial intelligence is in data analysis. In the era of "big data," artificial intelligence offers an unprecedented tool to digest statistics more efficiently than a human mind can. AI algorithms can be used to model economies and economic patterns and thus grant insight into the nature of fiscal growth. They can also predict stock market changes, a boon to investors and investment institutions during volatile markets.
Ignoring the pace of technological change is no longer an option. But with all of the advantages that these innovations promise to both companies and consumers, perhaps we no longer desire stasis to be an option. Certainly there will be challenges to face in applying these new ideas to the field of finance, but wise management combined with a savvy consumer base foretells a bright future.