Navigating Fintech Disruption Day 1: Fintech Revolution

This is the first in a series of articles which take an in-depth look at the content of SVIC’s Navigating Fintech Disruption executive immersion program. A five-day experience in the heart of Silicon Valley bringing together financial service executives from across the world, the program consists of meetings, presentations and hands-on workshops hosted by a range of fintech startups, tech companies, and innovation practitioners. The program provides established financial services firms with a broad overview of Silicon Valley’s fintech ecosystem and helps them engage with the fast-moving world of fintech. With digital-first businesses appearing regularly in the financial services space, now is the time for established banks and financial institutions to delve into fintech and discover the opportunities behind the threats of emerging technologies.

In this article, we cover day one of the Navigating Fintech Disruption Program: Fintech Revolution.


What is fintech? This is the question we answer on the first day of the SVIC Navigating Fintech Disruption executive immersion program. Yet this is a tricky question. Fintech is not a stable, easily-definable concept or industry. Its nature changes in line with the innovations which appear and are given its label. Today, fintech might mean opening a bank account on a mobile device with online identity verification. Tomorrow it could be decentralized, machine-to-machine monetary transactions.

Fintech is best understood as a commitment to using technology to solve problems in banking and financial services. It means providing consumers and businesses with constantly improving ways to move funds, collect or make payments, save, invest or take any other conceivable action with their money. On day one of Navigating Fintech Disruption, we introduce executives to this conceptual framework through meetings with Google, Airbnb, and DocuSign.

Each of these sessions pulls the curtain back just a little more on how innovation happens in today’s digitally-driven economy. While the focus is on teaching participants to reimagine the role of banks and financial services providers for the 21st century, the aim of the day in a broader sense is to provide an initiation into the theory and practice of disruptive innovation.

“The first day of the Navigating Fintech Disruption program is about the innovative ecosystem of Silicon Valley,” says Joana Carrasqueira, the SVIC manager for the program. “It’s an immersion into the ecosystem, so participants get a first-hand experience of the culture of innovation.”

The User Experience

The culture of innovation as it is found today in Silicon Valley rests on a number of key principles. Chief among them are customer-centricity and openness, traits which have become essential for any enterprise to embrace in the current era of rapid technological change and digital transformation.

We introduce executives to the concepts of customer-centricity and openness on day one of the Navigating Fintech Disruption program through a presentation and Q&A with Google. During the session program, participants learn about the Google innovation culture which has enabled the company to disrupt a huge range of industries in the years since it was founded in 1998 as a humble search engine.

Today, Google is challenging the status quo in financial services through products like Google Wallet and interfaces like its PaymentRequest API, both of which simplify e-commerce for shoppers. According to the tech giant, these inventions were born out of a commitment to customer-centricity, that is, to aligning product development around the current and future needs of customers or, in Google’s case, users.

“We’re focused on users,” says Zack Koch, a Google product manager. “We’re focusing on taking that user experience that seems stuck in legacy mode and moving it out of that into a much faster, streamlined experience.”

An emphasis on the end user is just one aspect of Google’s approach to innovation. Another key ingredient is openness. The PaymentRequest API, for example, works not just with Google payment platform Google Wallet but also with other payment platforms like Alipay. One of the biggest payment providers in China, Alipay is also a member alongside Google in the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) web payment working group.

“Third-party payment application providers can participate directly in the ecosystem,” says Koch. “The reality is that the web is global and payments are global. If we want to have global scope, we have to open it up so that everyone can participate freely.”

Building Digital Communities

The messages of open participation and customer-centricity are also heard elsewhere in Silicon Valley. Among the companies espousing these principles is Airbnb, the sharing economy platform where the founding mission is to “create a world where you can belong anywhere.”

Brian Chesky, one of Airbnb’s co-founders, describes the commitment to this mission as the first core principle of the company’s culture. When executives take part in our Navigating Fintech Disruption program, it is this unique culture which we immerse them in during a visit to Airbnb’s headquarters. When executives hear from Airbnb, they learn about how the organization’s leaders passionately believe that it is Airbnb’s culture which is the cornerstone of its success both now and in the future. As Chesky has written:

“If Airbnb is around 100 years from now, surely we won’t be a booking website for homes. The thing that will endure for 100 years, the way it has for most 100-year-old companies, is the culture. The culture is what creates the foundation for all future innovation. If you break the culture, you break the machine that creates your products.”

In the context of fintech, Airbnb’s key innovation has been in the sphere of payments. When the platform started out in 2008, transactions between hosts and guests happened in cash, in person. Today that inconvenient interaction has been replaced by an online system which processes payments in 70 currencies and nearly 200 countries worldwide. This now-seamless user experience is the result of gradual improvements made by Airbnb over the years in response to customer feedback. It is also down to an early decision made by the company to handle all aspects of payments in-house.

“Without that ownership, we wouldn’t be able to add the trust, belonging, and legitimacy that is required for a marketplace like Airbnb to work for so many millions of people,” write Angela Zhu and Karen Kim of Airbnb Payments Engineering.

Executives on our Navigating Fintech Disruption program hear the Airbnb payment innovation story directly from the company itself. This insider’s perspective provides rare insights into the workings of one of the internet era’s most successful – and disruptive – ventures.

Payments and Trust

The challenge Airbnb faces of building trust and legitimacy is common to all digital businesses. At e-signature platform DocuSign, where hundreds of millions of users exchange contracts annually, this quest for credibility is arguably even more crucial than at the home-sharing platform.

DocuSign is rising to the challenge; it is consistently ranked among the world’s top e-signature platforms and is often hailed as having revolutionized the way business is conducted in a wide range of sectors.  

Yet the trust DocuSign enjoys with users did come under the spotlight in February 2017. That was when the company integrated payment collection into its application. The initiative seems to have been a success, with users reporting that the experience of using built-in payments is smooth and that the feature satisfies a need they long had. DocuSign’s credibility in the payments sector is undoubtedly boosted by its partnership with Stripe, a global payments processor and Silicon Valley ‘unicorn’ business that is today valued at around $20 billion.

At a session With DocuSign, executives on the Navigating Fintech Program learn about the company’s  journey from a small startup to a huge global network, as told by the team who were there every step of the way. DocuSign’s story is emblematic of how innovative ideas can be turned into successful businesses in Silicon Valley.

Innovation Culture

Day one of Navigating Fintech Disruption is all about getting to grips with the one-of-a-kind culture of the Silicon Valley ecosystem. Program participants are unlikely to have ever seen such a diverse concentration of resources and people geared toward innovation in one place. What’s more, all of these resources are uniquely open to the world, with startups and big tech firms alike always ready to engage on developing new solutions that meet the changing needs of businesses and consumers. Executives who step into the world of Silicon Valley are embarking on an exciting journey of their own, which promises to take them to new heights of innovation they never knew possible.


Visit Silicon Valley Fintech Startups

Silicon Valley Innovation Center helps financial sector executives experience and connect with the Silicon Valley fintech startup ecosystem through a fintech executive immersion program. As Silicon Valley is a hotbed of fintech innovation, company executives will benefit greatly from visiting the innovation hub and interacting with startups like the ones mentioned in this article. Through this immersive experience, executives will also gain deep insights into how partnering with Silicon Valley startups can be a game-changer for their businesses.

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