Part 1: Start by Accepting that Disruption will Happen!
It is well-known that incumbents in any industry seldom feel the impact of an early-stage disruption on their core business for many years or even decades. This is even truer for those industries that are heavily regulated, as regulation creates a barrier to new entrants. Hence, in such situations, incumbents are typically highly profitable and may not feel threatened. They may prefer to remain on the sidelines for an extended period of time, often somewhat skeptical of the degree to which the disruption may impact their business. In this period, they may experiment with new technologies and business models, or hedge via a investments in emerging start-ups. In some cases, they may take a wait-and-see approach. The question is at what cost?
As an example, one could say that FinTech is another oft-hyped, early-stage technology. But a look at alliances, investments, FinTech-focused technology accelerators, and the growing number of Fintech Unicorns suggest otherwise. Exponential growth in global FinTech investments attests to the industry’s path toward acceptance. Over a span of five years (2010-2015), global investment in FinTech reached $49.7 billion. In the U.S alone FinTech investment doubled from $4.05 billion in 2013 to nearly $10 billion in 2014 and by June 2015 it skyrocketed to $31.6 billion.
Today a new breed of FinTechs is focusing on crypto-currency, which are powered by blockchain technology. Crypto-currency is a blockchain technology that involves financial transactions based on encryption technology. Blockchain is on its way to disrupt a wide range of transactions in the financial industry such as stocks, bonds, loans, and payments with a subsequent transformative impact on the banking ecosystem.
From a financial perspective, blockchain technology keeps all transaction records permanently on thousands of computers from various networks distributed around the world. Each of these computers attests to the authenticity of transactions with no single entity controlling them as they all run on open-source collaboration. Hence the arrival of frictionless transactions and possible disappearance of intermediaries. Blockchains can be used to record transactions of asset exchanges (or “value”) among owners. Transfer of assets, buying and selling of stocks and properties, private banking, and lending will all be disrupted. These are what blockchain FinTechs are focusing on. 2015 U.S investments in blockchain-focused FinTechs stood at $400 million and over $150 million in Q1 2016.
The global FinTech Unicorns (20 and rising) are bound to make their impact felt at the corporate boardrooms of incumbent banks. However, it may appear that there is a lack of urgency among incumbents, this is because their market share has not, and may not be impacted for some time to come.
By now, you may have already asked the proverbial $64,000 question: How will the incumbents react?
Part 2 of this piece looks at this question and provides an approach to addressing on-going disruption.
Dawood Khan, CMC, P.Eng.
Managing Partner, RedMobile Consulting
 The State of Fintech Industry as We Know It Infographic:
 Quartz, “Money keeps pouring into blockchain startups”, April 19, 2016