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Banks should set aside pride and embrace their fintech peers

Traditional financial players need to be bold – and accept that the market needs fintech entrepreneurs

Digital payments Unsplash
Digital payments make up 25 percent of the fintech market – for now

Some weeks ago, I was at a fintech conference chatting with top executives from an East African bank, when I noticed a young man lingering around our table, seemingly waiting for one of us.

As I watched him, I was reminded of all the times I’d stood waiting on the sidelines for a chance to meet one of the big players in the business – even for just a minute to pitch them our company’s unique selling proposition. 

Excusing myself for a moment, I walked over to the young man and asked if he was waiting to speak to me. 

He said yes, but added that he – a fintech entrepreneur – was more interested in speaking to one of the bankers in our circle, and had travelled from a different city just for an opportunity to approach him.

I proceeded to tell the bankers that I’d like to give the rest of my meeting time to the startup founder because (and I speak from experience) a meeting like this could change his life. 

Make no mistake, of course I would like to have kept talking with them. But as a business with more than 200 financial institution clients, I could afford to help the founder get a foot in the door.

Why? Because we need fintechs to fill gaps in the market and, for all we know, this guy could be the next unicorn. 

Supporting the next wave of unicorns

The global market share across 48 fintech unicorns – late-stage startups that are valued at over $1 billion and are either private or have gone through an initial public offering – was over $187 billion in 2019.

With the staggering pace of change in fintech, a 2022 Vantage Market Research report predicts that the global fintech market size will reach $332.5 billion by the year 2028.

The rise of numerous fintech startups also contributes to the growth of other sectors, ultimately fuelling the growth of our economies. 

At Network International, we believe our role as an engine of the economy means we must be willing to forgo short-term gains in order to support the growth of startups.

Building a fintech company isn’t easy. The path to market is riddled with obstacles and we know that fintechs simply cannot operate on their own, which is why we are investing to modernise and standardise our APIs to cope with the new era of such startups – creating sandboxes for them, reducing on-boarding times and removing cost barriers to help them start their businesses and push revenues.

More importantly, successful startups bring innovative solutions to the market, supporting national visions to become smart and innovation-driven economies.

It’s no coincidence that the UAE aims to be home to 20 unicorns by 2031 – and I am certain that these will include a number of fintechs.

Fintech partnerships could become your biggest strength

Today, digital payments represent 25 percent of the global fintech market and, as I recall the hurdles we had to jump over when we first started building our fintech 25 years ago – a company that went from a local payments processor to listing on the London Stock Exchange in 2019 – I urge traditional financial players to put aside their legacy pride and be bold enough to meet startups where they are today.

Ultimately, it could be the innovation and agility of these fintechs that will enable you to showcase your strengths.

Hany Fekry is group managing director, processing business, Network International