Chicago conversations on FinTech Entrepreneurship

On the 15thFebruary, in a completely filled room showing the huge interest about the topic, on their London campus, the University Of Chicago Booth Business School organized a panel discussion to hear entrepreneurs and other influential figures at the forefront of FinTech to discuss the trends and challenges they are navigating in this field. The panel was moderated by Waverly Deutsch, Clinical Professor of Entrepreneurship at Chicago Booth, with opening remarks from Robert Wardrop, Executive Director Cambridge Centre for Alternative Finance. Robert Wardrop outlined a few words about the city. London has always been an important financial innovation center due to its geographical position. It is very well connected to the other continents which facilitate the financial transactions. Furthermore, the proximity of investors and entrepreneurs makes businesses more flexible. By contrast, in the US it can be very challenging to connect the investors in the east coast to the startups in the west coast. Panelists include:

  • Rahul Pakrashi — Chief Risk Officer, Funding Circle, a peer-to-peer lending service.
  • Joel Perlman — Co-Founder and Chief Strategy Officer, OakNorth Bank Limited, a digitally-led bank focused on lending to small and medium-sized growth businesses and entrepreneurs
  • Guillaume Piard — Founder of Evest, one of France’s first “Robo-Advisors”.
  • Hiroki Takeuchi — CEO and Founder, GoCardless, Online Direct Debit provider

Prior to the event, the team of the University of Chicago did an introduction session about their MBA program and their initiative to fund startups in the tech fields. I had an interesting chat during the pre-event drinks with a tech entrepreneur, Dolaur Liberte Crozon Cazin Caboupe, CEO of Meaning Engines, a start-up providing meaningful connectivity for data, big and small. His technology seems to be very smart in this manner to help companies to efficiently analyze data before using them.

At around 7.30pm, the attendees moved into the event room. After the kick off by Robert Wardrop, Waverly Deutsch introduced the panelists who gave a brief description about their background and early stage journey as a FinTech entrepreneur then followed challenging questions from both the moderator and the audience.

Here are the key highlights:

Relationship between Banks andFinTech

According to the panelists, the relationship between Banks and FinTech has not always been simple, sometimes complicated, but they seem to collaborate together more and more. The panelists emphasized the importance of working in partnership with Banks to offer better services to the customers. The key role played by the banking infrastructure was another point mentioned by the panel to strengthen this partnership. Thus, it is a win –win game for both parties.

However, the FinTech entrepreneurs differentiate themselves from Banks by pointing out that they are more specialized and focus, and therefore delivered better consumer satisfaction compared with traditional financial structures.

Challenges face by the FinTech founder

  • Build strong company culture and find the right people who share the same values, and identify them through different skill sets to build up the best team.
  • Create the illusion of the service and understand the customers’ needs. These tips have been suggested by the panel for the ones don’t have any tech or marketing background and would like to launch a company in this fields. Nonetheless, the FinTech experts highlighted how important it has been for them to understand the technical aspect of their product at the early stage of their company. Thus, Hiroki Takeuchi shared his beginning where he learned to recode and then coded the first generation of this technology before hiring coders
  • How to fund your FinTech?
  • Bootstrapping as a means of growing your startup at the very beginning has been recommended by the panel. This gives the ability to better understand the customers’ behaviors and improve your product as opposed to a fund raising campaign.

How about the regulation for Fintech?

FinTech experts explained their good relationship with the regulators to build up together the requirements for their businesses. “Regulary — friendly” has been used by one of the panelists to explain the partnership with the regulators. It sounds like the regulators are supportive in the development of the new technology in this field.

Bitcoin in investment strategy

I was really expecting to have more flavours about Bitcoin from the panel’s viewpoint but its comments about it were not really tasty. The panel did not go in details about this area. The peer to peer entrepreneurs highlighted that Bitcoin is not in the immediate pipeline to be used for their business model. One panelist mentioned that the most interested aspect of Bitcoin is the innovation behind its technology.

Fintech in the future

The FinTech experts shared with the audience their vision about the fields for the next couple of the year to conclude the session. Here are some key takeaways:

  • The online banking service should look like an “Amazon bank”.
  • The blockchain technology, still experimental should be a great open source of innovation.
  • Diversification of the technology: since the technologies used by FinTech are pretty much similar due operations costs concerns, there are some rooms for innovation there.
  • What about current account? From the online banking entrepreneur’s viewpoint, the current account has not been touched yet; this can be a new slot to explore.

Originally published at thestartupmag.com on February 22, 2016.

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