PPS CEO, Ray Brash speaks to Finextra
During his 1962 State of the Union Address, John F. Kennedy declared: “The best time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining”. While the original philosophy behind the sentiment wasn’t intended for organisations, per se, it’s an apt quote when reflecting on fintechs in light of COVID-19.
We are all aware that the pandemic has shut down our normal way of life, and with it a quarter of UK businesses. At the same time, it has accelerated the shift to digital and contactless, as businesses have had to embrace new ways of supporting customers.
Since the dot.com crash of 2001 and the financial crash of 2008, fintech entrepreneurs have adopted a disruptive mindset in order to make headway, and survive, within financial services, launching innovative offerings such as mobile only banks, with money management tools and personalised saving solutions. And it’s this continued innovative approach that has enabled either fintechs, or businesses using fintech solutions and tools, to prevail during COVID-19. It’s the companies that already had the agile architecture and payment platforms in place who have been in the best shape to adapt.
The organisations which had “repaired their roof while the sun was shining” - in that their digital operations were continuously innovating, pandemic or not - have been most effective in helping their customers and reacting to the demand. Afterall, if you have a clear vision of an agile roadmap that is able to constantly evolve, it makes it much easier to adapt, rather than restart.
Fintechs and Challenger Banks aren’t adapting on their own though. Rather, partnerships have never been more important. In fact, an outcome of COVID-19 is likely to be the continued acceleration of these partnerships that make the impossible, and even the improbable, possible. Our long-term partner, Sainsbury’s - due to having its digital architecture in place using our platform - was able to work with PPS’ team of experts to launch its ‘Volunteer Shopper Card’ just a few days into the lockdown, enabling others to shop on behalf of vulnerable citizens. Sainsbury’s is seeing a whole range of digital vouchers coming into their own in the era of remote food distribution. Another traditional bricks and mortar customer of PPS, Tesco, has experienced increased adoption of its Tesco Pay+ payment app which allows for QR code payments and gifting of money to dependants across the country for essential purchases in Tesco stores.
Our fintech partner, Tide, has adapted to help its small business customer base. Responding quickly to the governments Bounce Back Loan Scheme and with financial support from PPS, within a few weeks Tide has adapted to become an accredited lender, lending from £2,000 to 25% of an SME’s annual turnover, up to a maximum of £50,000 for up to six years. And Coconut, the accounting and tax tool for self-employed people, launched online tools and carried out successful government lobbying initiatives to help support the small business community.
While digital banking app, Monese, has higher transaction volumes now than ever before, with a large portion of its customer base being key workers – many of which will likely not have been eligible for a bank account with a traditional bank – but includes the ‘heroes’ getting us through the pandemic. With PPS powering the mobile wallets too, its team of experts have ensured that, when contact-free living became key, transactional safety was a priority just like physical safety.
As such, these enhancements highlight how, due to the economic disruption, financial inclusion has been pushed further up the global agenda, showing the importance of serving people who could have been left out of the financial system. And there is a possibility that the lasting legacy of COVID-19 may lead to greater financial inclusion initiatives, with fintechs continuing to play an important role through ongoing strategic partnerships with retailers, governments and financial institutions.
While the digitisation of financial services has been under way for decades, the pandemic has accelerated the timeline exponentially. But it’s the companies that have best access to agile and adaptable platforms, through the right partners, that have been able to navigate the ongoing COVID-19 landscape most effectively.
Going forward into the ‘post-COVID’ world, it’ll be important for fintech players to maintain their disruptive mindset in order to continue to lead, rather than follow the new normal. We saw this with the likes of Amazon after the ‘dot-com bubble’, and the many storms it has weathered over the years to now being the world’s largest retailer. We’ll see similarities like this in fintech too, while things re-adjust. And there will always be some casualties along the way, but ultimately, the fintech powerhouses that are the most agile, with a ‘roof’ ready for any crisis, will succeed.