What does the future hold for fintech?

A career in digital finance is a great way for business graduates to address problems in global society, says Michael Donald, CEO of ImageNPay

How many credit cards, debit cards and pre-paid charge cards do you think there are in existence in the world?

I’ll give you a clue. The human population currently stands at almost eight billion, although of course many of these people are too young to have a payment card or may not have one for other reasons. Yet despite this, the number of plastic cards is expected to hit 30 billion within the next three years – more than four times the entire number of people on the planet.

The majority of these cards are made from PVC material that is non-recyclable. They are typically renewed every three to four years, with a huge carbon footprint involved in their manufacture and transportation.

This is just one of the social and environmental challenges faced by the financial sector – and technology can play a huge role in helping to solve these problems.

Is fintech right for you?

Many of the graduates who I meet through my work tell me that they wrongly assumed that an ability to write computer code is a requirement for a career in financial technology (fintech).  

In fact, just like any other thriving sector, we hire talent from across all disciplines and there is always a demand for young people with strong business skills.

My own background was not originally in heavy tech. My first job was in project management, helping to draw up plans for maritime emergencies. This enabled me, later, to join American Express (which must have liked what they saw on my CV). I spent the next 25 years working for major financial institutions before founding ImageNPay, which offers consumers the ability to make plastic-free digital payments with a virtual Mastercard,

Another key member of the team is our Head of Digital Marketing, Naomi Harris, who joined us while on a gap year from Warwick University, where she is doing a degree in global sustainable development. Fintech was not an option that she had considered when we met. This is what I find so refreshing about the digital finance sector and its ability to bring people together from different disciplines. 

Fintech’s potential for change

The fintech sector is evolving at an incredible pace and it has the ability to change the global financial system for the better.

One of the things that ImageNPay was able to achieve during the pandemic was to create an international internship, which operates remotely with students at the San Francisco de Quito University [USFQ] in Ecuador.

Conventional wisdom suggested it was risky to launch a project on the other side of the world during a pandemic, but it’s now in its second year and going strong. The programme centres on our core values of financial inclusion, financial education, sustainability, innovation, and diversity.

As a result of this initiative, our interns are now reaching out to other universities in equatorial regions of the globe to launch a movement that will seek to protect vital ecosystems on the equator. At its simplest level, this might involve enabling consumers to support equatorial conservation by making a donation when they download an image or artistic design with which to personalise their virtual Mastercard. It will also enable them to send out a powerful message to ditch plastic.

By integrating digital content into payment platforms – whether it’s images, artwork or NFTs [non-fungible tokens; a one-off digital artwork] consumers can turbocharge their relationships with charities, non-profit organisations, and socially responsible brands.

Why does all this matter?

In the future, corporations will increasingly want to get inside your head so that they can monetise you. In fact, this is something that they already try to do. They know what you spend and where you spend it. It’s just that they don’t always know for sure what motivates that behaviour.

But, as we increasingly lead our lives in virtual spaces – especially since the advent of the metaverse – brands will literally be able to map everything that you do in order to know what you think.

Why not turn this around so that it is to the advantage of the consumer? What if instead of passively letting businesses harvest your data, you could use that process to promote good and call out the unacceptable?

If you are a graduate starting out on your career, the inside of your brain is the most valuable commodity on the planet. The metaverse belongs to you, whether it’s a gaming platform like Minecraft or inside a digital arcade within a virtual shopping mall.

Of course, the future of the human race will also be shaped by how we conserve the real world and a digital NFT of a tiger or a blue whale can raise awareness about conservation. However, my fear is that if we don’t do enough to protect them today, then in the future the metaverse will be the only place you will ever see those creatures.

How will innovation change the world?

Innovation within the fintech sector offers consumers an opportunity to decentralise the powerbase within the financial system so that it calibrates away from the major financial intuitions back into the hands of consumers.

For example, according to data published by Statista there are 3.24 billion computer gamers on the planet (e.g. users of platforms like Fortnite and Minecraft).  However, many of these people are younger consumers who pay for digital services on the parent’s credit cards.

These young consumers are currently effectively invisible because their payment data is in their parent’s name. There is no definitive list of these 3.24 billion users and there is obviously a large degree of overlap between various platforms. However, imagine the power the gaming community would have if technology were able to unite them together for a common cause.

Blockchain is a case in point (but don’t worry, I’m not going to talk about Bitcoin). The significance of blockchain is that it enables peer-to-peer transactions without requiring the services of multi-billion dollar corporations.

That’s not to say that major financial institutions don’t have a legitimate role to play in society. Clearly they do and it’s likely that they always will. They just need consumers to guide them to make the right decisions.

I started this article by saying that nearly eight billion people live on the planet. According to the World Bank, around one billion of these people are ‘unbanked.’  This means they do not have access to traditional financial services or products, including banking, insurance or pensions.

For example, In South America, it is believed that more than a third of the population remain unbanked, in spite of recent improvements that are the result of government inclusion schemes. Globally, the individual countries with the lowest levels of access to financial services are China, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Nigeria, Mexico and Bangladesh. 

Encouragingly, there are signs that things will change very rapidly as technology gathers pace, but of course, we all know that technology can, equally, be a force for good or bad.

I suggest to you – as business graduates and undergraduates – that if you wish to ensure digital technology is a force for better, then join the fintech sector.   You’ll find that you will be most welcome.

Michael Donald is the founder of ImageNPay. Previously, he was a UK Board Director of Visa, Chief Commercial officer at MBNA, and Head of Emerging Payments (Europe) at Bank of America.

Headline image credit: Joshua Sortino on Unsplash

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