Disruption Looms For Financial Services

by Brian Haven
@ 3:20 PM

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» Design Thinking
» Marketing



We've seen the music industry suffer at the business end of disruptive services like P2P file sharing and the shattering of a business model at the hands of Apple's superior media experience and ecosystem. And, Apple recently took the mobile phone experience and turned it on it's head, leaving the device manufacturers left scratching their heads and the carriers' panties in a wod. The travel industry suffers from transparency thanks to a little site called TripAdvisor. To a lesser degree, the media business has seen some pain and been forced to think hard about their business models, operations, and relevancy. But financial services has gone largely untouched, until now.

I've been paying attention to a number of new players in the financial services space. What sets them apart is that they have little or no affiliation with big financial institutions. What's cool about them is that they use a lot of the new social media technologies and leverage emerging social behaviors — and in many cases they deliver a far superior experience to their elder brethren. There are a handful of them doing different things so I've lumped them into 5 categories.

  1. Peer-To-Peer Lending. These services allow people to put up money for loans to other individuals--no banks involved. Default rates are apparently pretty low. Examples include Virgin Money (formerly Circle Lending), Zopa, Prosper, and Kiva
  2. Peer-To-Peer Equity (Home). Similar to the P2P lending above, these services allow people to put up a share of the money required to purchase a home, and the actual home buyer borrows from the peer lenders. Examples include Home Equity Share and Shared Spaces (UK).
  3. Aggregated Money Management. These bring a new twist to online banking. Essentially they pull in your account information from all of the financial institutions you work with — then they do smart things to help you understand where your money is going. It's very different that than the banking services that only look at the financial products you have from that institution — and the interface/interaction is significantly better in some cases. Examples include expensr, Buxfer, Wesabe, and Mint.
  4. Social Investing. This category is a bit more diverse, but essentially they are leveraging social interactions online for investment research or they offer powerful interfaces to online investing &mdash making for a better experience. Examples include bullpoo and Zecco.
  5. Micropayments. Last but not least, the ever ellusive micropayment. Financial institutions couldn't figure it out, PayPal didn't quite nail it. Those who have tried typically make the process far too clunky. And many who have tried were left in the wake of complexity. But one new service makes it simple — TipJoy (full disclosure, the founders are good friends of mine and I've been helping them out in a limited way).

I think the most compelling features here are that these services call into question everything we know about how to interact with Financial Services firms. Banks et. al. are used to maintaining control and exclusivity that is bound in complexity, inflexibility, and poor experience. The services I describe above are simple, open, institution agnostic, and delightful experiences. Financial institutions could learn a thing or two — if they're around long enough... ;-)


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