Google recently announced that it is teaming with eight US banks to offer checking accounts powered by its Google Pay product and built on top of the banks’ existing infrastructures. Google is not the only BigTech firm that is pushing its play in the Banking, Financial Services, and Insurance (BFSI) industry. Facebook recently launched a new unit called Facebook Financial that consolidates all its payment products under David Marcus, the former President of PayPal. In a call with investors in July 2020, Tesla announced that it is planning to launch a major insurance company.
The transformation of the BFSI industry is powered by the ability to create innovative products and experiences using digital capability platforms and data. The BigTech firms see this as a massive opportunity to use their digital platforms and data processing infrastructures to gain a significant share of this transformational opportunity in the BFSI industry.
Additionally, the emergence of a globally connected ecosystem and ambient technology have led end customers to demand seamless experiences to manage their lifestyles and finances. Realizing yet another opportunity, BigTechs such as Amazon, Ant Financial, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft entered the BFSI industry to offer complementary financial services to support the BFSI firms’ core businesses. They gradually started providing technical capabilities to enable BFSI firms to enhance their operations, products, and experiences, eventually offering competing products and services. In fact, today, BigTech firms are at the epicenter of accelerating a shift in both demand and supply ecosystems, blurring traditional industry boundaries.
In our recently released report, BigTechs in BFSI Industry: The Theory of Co-existence for Market Expansion, we analyzed BigTech firms’ investments in the BFSI industry to dissect their strategic bets and provide recommendations for BFSI firms.
Traditional BFSI players are understandably concerned about BigTechs’ increasing sphere of influence, but their complex relationship with BigTechs makes it difficult for them to devise a focused strategy – to compete or collaborate – with their new peers. While some BFSI firms are expecting regulatory scrutiny and industry watchdogs to keep BigTechs away from their turf, others are developing technologies in-house and in collaboration with enterprise technology firms such as SAP, Salesforce, and Oracle to shore up their capabilities. For example, the top five banks in the US recently increased their technology budgets by more than 10 percent, with a large proportion focused on building proprietary technologies and platforms, as well as R&D, to better compete with BigTechs and FinTechs. In 2019, Bank of America alone filed 418 technology patents.
We believe BFSI firms should find a fine balance of working with BigTechs as fellow ecosystem players to leverage synergies and create a win-win for all stakeholders. Here’s why.
A look at BigTechs’ scale of technology investments and R&D reveals that they heavily outperform BFSI firms in their technology capabilities. In 2019, AWS obtained 2,400 US patents and IBM obtained 9,262. These numbers indicate that their technology and research prowess position them as strong allies of BFSI firms. BigTechs have further strengthened their foothold in the industry through open banking and asset and data monetization models. FinTechs are already disrupting BFSI incumbents, with BigTechs powering many of them with technology and funding.
Thus, partnerships with BigTechs and other players in the ecosystem can help BFSI firms strengthen their role as orchestrators of customer lifestyle experiences. Armed with large technology investments and R&D budgets and a wide range of technology and IT infrastructure offerings, BigTechs have a lot to offer to traditional players. Cloud computing services such as Amazon AWS, Google Cloud, and Microsoft Azure can help – and are helping – BFSI firms improve their operational efficiencies and reduce costs. For instance, financial institutions in China are leveraging Ant Financial’s ZOLOZ platform for biometric authentication of customers.
Add to this BigTechs’ data and analytics capabilities, and the value they bring to the table increases manifold. BigTechs are not only helping incumbents manage and analyze their own data, but also offering aggregated data from various sources to support BFSI firms and deliver value to their customers.
And that’s not all. BigTechs enjoy a loyal customer base, and BFSI firms can tap into this vast pool. In fact, customers want to see their favorite banks and BigTechs come together to make their lives easier –the launches of Apple Card and Amazon Visa Credit Card are testimony to this fact.
Partnerships can also help banks reach out to the underbanked and underinsured populations. A case in point is Goldman Sachs offering credit to Amazon sellers. Facebook, with its widespread reach, can also act as a liaison between customers in remote areas and financial institutions that do not have brick-and-mortar branches in such areas. Addressing the issue of financial inclusion will not only help BFSI firms and BigTechs increase their market size, but also benefit the lives of those who still do not have access to credit and insurance.
When striking a bargain with BigTechs, BFSI firms must remember that they are equally powerful in the partnership. Traditional BFSI firms command customers’ trust and are better equipped to manage risk and compliance requirements. In contrast, BigTechs are struggling to make a name for themselves in the financial space and are eager to partner with BFSI firms to leverage the trust they enjoy, their access to vast capital reserves, and to bypass some of the regulatory compliance issues.
This situation makes the alliance between BFSI firms and BigTechs an accord between equals, a relationship that is mutually beneficial and sustainable. BFSI firms should confidently partner, co-innovate, and co-exist with BigTechs not only to carve a bigger share for themselves but also to share the benefits with their customers.