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Fin companies fear FinTech

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Results from a PwC survey in the financial services (FS) sector has revealed that 83% of respondents from traditional FS firms believe part of their business is at risk of being lost to standalone FinTech companies.

Traditional financial services (FS) firms believe part of their business is at risk of being lost to standalone FinTech companies.

A new PwC survey, which assesses the rise of new technologies in the FS sector and their impact on market players, reveals 83% of respondents in general see this as a risk, rising to a staggering 95% in the case of banks.

The report, ‘Blurred Lines: How FinTech is shaping Financial services’, features the responses of 544 CEOs, Heads of Innovation, CIOs and top management involved in digital and technological transformation across the FS industry in 46 countries. Incumbents believe 23% of their business could be at risk due to further development of FinTech. What’s more, FinTech companies themselves anticipate they could capture 33% of the incumbents’ business.

Banking and payments feel most heat from FinTech

The survey shows the banking and payments industries are feeling the most pressure from FinTech companies.  Respondents from the fund transfer & payments industry anticipate that in the next five years, they could lose up to 28% of their market share to them, while bankers estimate they are likely to lose 24%. This compares to around 22% in the case of asset management & wealth management and 21% in insurance.

Top threats from FinTech

Two-thirds (67%) of FS companies ranked pressure on profit margins as the top FinTech-related threat, followed by loss of market share (59%). One of the key ways in which FinTechs support the margin pressure point through innovation is step function improvements in operating costs. For instance, the movement to cloud-based platforms not only decreases up-front costs, but also reduces ongoing infrastructure costs.

Blockchain untapped and underestimated by FS

Blockchain, a distributed ledger technology, represents the next evolutionary jump in business process optimisation technology. According to PwC, it could result in a radically different competitive future in the FS industry, where current profit pools are disrupted and redistributed towards the owners of new, highly efficient blockchain platforms. Not only could there be huge cost savings but also large gains in transparency. Yet it ranks low on the agendas of participants.

While the majority (56%) recognise its importance, 57% say they are unsure or unlikely to respond to this trend.

“When faced with disruptive technologies, the world’s leading companies succeed by rapidly weaving them into their DNA, as part of their ‘business as usual’ process,” says Haskell Garfinkell, US FinTech co-leader, PwC.

“Blockchain and disruptive ledger technologies offer a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for financial services companies to transform the way they do business. In our view, the lack of understanding of blockchain technology and its potential for disruption poses significant risks to existing business models and the firms that do not take the time to understand the impact will underestimate the opportunities and threats that blockchain can provide.”

To put this into perspective, PwC’s Global Blockchain team has identified over 700 companies entering this space, 150 of whom it says are ‘ones to watch’ and 25 of which it expects will likely emerge as leaders.

Challenges for FinTech companies and incumbents

PwC’s survey shows the most widespread form of collaboration with FinTech companies is joint partnership (32%), which, says PwC, is indicative FS firms are not ready to go all in and invest fully in FinTech.

Asked what challenges they face in dealing with FinTech companies, 53% of incumbents cited IT security, regulatory uncertainty (49%) and differences in business models (40%).

In the case of FinTech companies, differences in management and culture (54%), operational processes (47%) and regulatory uncertainty (43%) were deemed the top three challenges when dealing with traditional FS firms.

Steve Davies, EMEA FinTech Leader at PwC comments:

“FinTech is changing the FS industry from the outside. PwC estimates within the next 3-5 years, cumulative investment in FinTech globally could well exceed $150bn, and financial institutions and tech companies are a stepping over one another for a chance to get into the game. As the lines between traditional finance, technology firms and telecom companies are blurring, many innovative solutions are emerging and there is clearly no straightforward solution to navigate this FinTech world.”

Paul Mitchell, Fin Tech Leader, PwC South Africa, says:

“South African financial services players, old and new, are uniquely positioned in a sophisticated industry on a high growth continent. The opportunities for innovative solutions for a young and adaptable population is huge, and the impact of FinTech in Africa could well overtake what we are seeing in the US and Europe.”

“Customers’ behaviour, and their expectations around how companies interact with them, is changing quickly. The FinTech industry is driving these changes in financial services, and the established businesses in the industry who recognise this are having to learn fast. This is leading to a reassessment of many elements of the customer experience and engagement process that will play out over the next few years.”

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Smart home arrives in SA

The smart home is no longer a distant vision confined to advanced economies, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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The smart home is a wonderful vision for controlling every aspect of one’s living environment via remote control, apps and sensors. But, because it is both complex and expensive, there has been little appetite for it in South Africa.

The two main routes for smart home installation are both fraught with peril – financial and technical.

The first is to call on a specialist installation company. Surprisingly, there are many in South Africa. Google “smart home” +”South Africa”, and thousands of results appear. The problem is that, because the industry is so new, few have built up solid track records and reputations. Costs vary wildly, few standards exist, and the cost of after-sales service will turn out to be more important than the upfront price.

The second route is to assemble the components of a smart home, and attempt self-installation. For the non-technical, this is often a non-starter. Not only does one need a fairly good knowledge of Wi-Fi configuration, but also a broad understanding of the Internet of Things (IoT) – the ability for devices to sense their environment, connect to each other, and share information.

The good news, though, is that it is getting easier and more cost effective all the time.

My first efforts in this direction started a few years ago with finding smart plugs on Amazon.com. These are power adaptors that turn regular sockets into “smart sockets” by adding Wi-Fi and an on-off switch, among other. A smart lightbulb was sourced from Gearbest in China. At the time, these were the cheapest and most basic elements for a starter smart home environment.

Via a smartphone app, the light could be switched on from the other side of the world. It sounds trivial and silly, but on such basic functions the future is slowly built.

Fast forward a year or two, and these components are available from hundreds of outlets, they have plummeted in cost, and the range of options is bewildering. That, of course, makes the quest even more bewildering. Who can be trusted for quality, fulfilment and after-sales support? Which products will be obsolete in the next year or two as technology advances even more rapidly?

These are some of the challenges that a leading South African technology distributor, Syntech, decided to address in adding smart home products to its portfolio. It selected LifeSmart, a global brand with proven expertise in both IoT and smart home products.

Equally significantly, LifeSmart combines IoT with artificial intelligence and machine learning, meaning that the devices “learn” the best ways of connecting, sharing and integrating new elements. Because they all fall under the same brand, they are designed to integrate with the LifeSmart app, which is available for Android and iOS phones, as well as Android TV.

Click here to read about how LifeSmart makes installing smart home devices easier.

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Matrics must prepare for AI

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students writing a test

By Vian Chinner, CEO and founder of Xineoh.

Many in the matric class of 2018 are currently weighing up their options for the future. With the country’s high unemployment rate casting a shadow on their opportunities, these future jobseekers have been encouraged to look into which skills are required by the market, tailoring their occupational training to align with demand and thereby improving their chances of finding a job, writes Vian Chinner – a South African innovator, data scientist and CEO of the machine learning company specialising in consumer behaviour prediction, Xineoh.

With rapid innovation and development in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), all careers – including high-demand professions like engineers, teachers and electricians – will look significantly different in the years to come.

Notably, the third wave of internet connectivity, whereby our physical world begins to merge with that of the internet, is upon us. This is evident in how widespread AI is being implemented across industries as well as in our homes with the use of automation solutions and bots like Siri, Google Assistant, Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana. So much data is collected from the physical world every day and AI makes sense of it all.

Not only do new industries related to technology like AI open new career paths, such as those specialising in data science, but it will also modify those which already exist. 

So, what should matriculants be considering when deciding what route to take?

For highly academic individuals, who are exceptionally strong in mathematics, data science is definitely the way to go. There is, and will continue to be, massive demand internationally as well as locally, with Element-AI noting that there are only between 0 and 100 data scientists in South Africa, with the true number being closer to 0.

In terms of getting a foot in the door to become a successful data scientist, practical experience, working with an AI-focused business, is essential. Students should consider getting an internship while they are studying or going straight into an internship, learning on the job and taking specialist online courses from institutions like Stanford University and MIT as they go.

This career path is, however, limited to the highly academic and mathematically gifted, but the technology is inevitably going to overlap with all other professions and so, those who are looking to begin their careers should take note of which skills will be in demand in future, versus which will be made redundant by AI.

In the next few years, technicians who are able to install and maintain new technology will be highly sought after. On the other hand, many entry level jobs will likely be taken care of by AI – from the slicing and dicing currently done by assistant chefs, to the laying of bricks by labourers in the building sector.

As a rule, students should be looking at the skills required for the job one step up from an entry level position and working towards developing these. Those training to be journalists, for instance, should work towards the skill level of an editor and a bookkeeping trainee, the role of financial consultant.

This also means that new workforce entrants should be prepared to walk into a more demanding role, with more responsibility, than perhaps previously anticipated and that the country’s education and training system should adapt to the shift in required skills.

The matric classes of 2018 have completed their schooling in the information age and we should be equipping them, and future generations, for the future market – AI is central to this.

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